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Many of these titles will be available at your local library. If you cannot find them, try Amazon, which we would recommend based on reputation and delivery.
For Australian and New Zealander visitors, a “science mad” bookstore, Embiggen Books is available. They have a physical and an online store—we recommend them too! In fact, this reading list is mostly comprised from a “recommended reading” list by Embiggen Books and Kylie Sturgess.
Leave a comment at the bottom of this page if you believe we’re missing any excellent books in our bookshelf. And don’t forget to share this list via Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites!
On Critical Thinking
Informing, engaging books on critical thinking skills such as understanding and spotting logical fallacies. Most of these books cover similar issues, but in their own way and for different audiences. As a starting point, we recommend the Free eBook Edition of Humbug!
This is the “cut down” eBook edition of Humbug! the skeptic’s field guide to spotting fallacies in thinking. It has all the fallacies from the original paperback. It does not include the introduction. The cartoons in the eBook edition are of lower image quality than the paperback edition; most are early drafts. (Free eBook edition available HERE; paperback orders directed here.)
Kida vividly illustrates these tendencies with numerous examples that demonstrate how easily we can be fooled into believing something that isn’t true. In a complex society where success – in all facets of life – often requires the ability to evaluate the validity of many conflicting claims, the critical-thinking skills examined in this informative and engaging book will prove invaluable.
Astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.
The book covers several sections, beginning with basic argumentation (Fallacies, Premises, etc…) and expanding out into complex ideas such as Hume’s Fork, Leibniz’s Law of Identity, Ockham’s Razor and similar concepts. It is also very well cross-referenced, providing an almost instantaneous ability to further investigate topics.
With examples ranging from the spread of AIDS to the weight of Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, he skewers popular but mistaken assumptions. Faulty reasoning from incomplete or ambiguous data, a tendency to seek out “hypothesis-confirming evidence” and the habit of self-serving belief are among the factors Gilovich pinpoints in his sophisticated anaylsis.
On Beliefs and Human Psychology
Books exposing why we believe the things we do, and the processes that allows it happen. The next time you encounter someone who says “But I saw it with my own eyes!”, you’ll be equipped to begin asking the right questions!
With more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing.
- The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceives Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons asked volunteers to watch a 60-second film of a group of students playing basketball and told them to count the number of passes made. About halfway through, a woman dressed head to toe in a gorilla outfit slowly moved to centre screen, beat her chest at the camera, and casually strolled away. Unbelievably, almost half of the volunteers missed the gorilla.
This title uses common myths as a vehicle for exploring how to distinguish factual from fictional claims in popular psychology. It explores topics that readers will relate to, but often misunderstand, such as ‘opposites attract’, ‘people use only 10 per cent of their brains’, and handwriting reveals your personality. It provides a ‘mythbusting kit’ for evaluating folk psychology claims in everyday life. It teaches essential critical thinking skills through detailed discussions of each myth.
For years, gurus and ‘life coaches’ have urged people to improve their lives by changing the way they think and behave, but scientific research has revealed that many of their techniques, from group brainstorming to visualization, are ineffective.
Mike shows how our tribal brains are driven by beliefs and biases and the need to belong, and how this social way of thinking meddles with our capacity to think critically. From here he charts an intriguing history of science, from the emergence of critical enquiry among early philosophers, to the development of the scientific method, major scientific discoveries and bizarre delusions, and our current dependence on modern medicine and technology.
Can you spot the logical flaw in an argument (even if it’s hiding from you)? And how will you fare on the tricky terrain of ethics when your taboos are under the spotlight? If all this causes your brain to overheat, there is a philosophy general knowledge quiz to round off with.
Martin Bridgstock provides an integrated understanding of what an evidence-based approach to the paranormal – a skeptical approach – involves, and why it is necessary. Bridgstock does not set out to show that all paranormal claims are necessarily false, but he does suggest that we all need the analytical ability and critical thinking skills to seek and assess the evidence for paranormal claims.
Using scientific methods to investigate offbeat topics that interest the general public as well as the scientific community, Quirkology brings a new understanding to the backwaters of the human mind and takes us to places where mainstream scientists fear to tread.
On the Misuse of Numbers
Numbers, too, require critical eye. When we read about a ‘40% increase in the risk of cancer’, what does this really mean? What is the difference between an absolute and relative risk? Can statistics be trusted?
Far too many of us, argues Gerd Gigerenzer, are hampered by our own innumeracy. Here, he shows us that our difficulties in thinking about numbers can easily be overcome.
Health, Medicine and Quackery
The amount of misinformation and bad science related to health and medicine issues is staggering. These books will help put into perspective who is selling the snake oil.
Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the bad science we’re fed by the worst of the hacks and the quacks!
Vaccinologist and paediatrician, Paul Offit, takes a look at how the vaccine-autism scare got started, how it took hold in the USA and the personalities responsible for perpetuating the false claims that vaccines cause autism. Further, he goes on to describe the dangers posed by ‘treatments’ and ‘cures’ offered by the groups who emerged as the farrago reached its height.
- Trick or Treatment – Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst
- Homeopathy and its Kindred Delusions
- The Panic Virus – The True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear
- Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations
From Bad Astronomy to just plain Bad Science. A range of interesting books over a range of topics that are sure to be informative AND entertaining to read.
The work describes 24 common astronomical fallacies, including the beliefs that the Coriolis effect determines the direction that water drains in a bathtub and that planetary alignments can cause disaster on Earth.
In this lively collection, Gardner examines the rich and hilarious variety of pseudoscientific conjectures that dominate the media today. With a special emphasis on parapsychology and occultism, these witty pieces address the evidence put forth to support claims of ESP, psychokinesis, faith healing, and other pseudoscience.
- Making Sense: Philosophy Behind the Headlines by Julian Baggini
- Nonsense on Stilts – Massimo Pigliucci What separates science from bunk? Philosopher, botanist, geneticist and host of the Rationally Speaking podcast, who better than Massimo Pigliucci to lead us on an entertaining exploration of the nature of science and pseudoscience with the occasional lesson in philosophy along the way?
- The Science of Superstition by Hood
- Crimes Against Logic by Whyte
- Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Specter
- Doubt: A History by Hecht
- Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde and Sandra Blakeslee
- Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History by David Aaronovitch
- Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Vyse
- Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries by Radford
Book Recommendations? Leave them in the comments!