A Field Guide to Lies

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A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age (republished as Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era)
A Field Guide to Lies, Critical Thinking in the Information Age.jpeg
AuthorDaniel J. Levitin
LanguageEnglish
SubjectsCritical thinking, skepticism
PublisherDutton (US), Allen-Lane (Canada), Viking (U.K.)
Publication date
September, 2016
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages304
ISBN978-0-525-95522-1
Preceded byThe Organized Mind 

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age, written by Daniel J. Levitin was originally published in 2016 in hardcover by Dutton, and was republished in 2017 in paperback with a revised introduction under the new title Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-truth Era. It is a non-fiction book to help people learn critical thinking skills, recognize logical fallacies and biases, and better test the veracity of information received through mass media. The book was listed on Canadian best sellers lists in September 2016.[1][2] It won the Mavis Gallant Prize for non-fiction presented by the Quebec Writers' Federation,[3] The National Business Book Award,[4] a Silver Medal from the Axiom Business Book Awards, and was a Donner Prize finalist.[5]

About the author[edit]

Daniel Levitin was, at the time of the publication of A Field Guide to Lies, dean of social sciences at the Minerva Schools at KGI, a faculty member at the Center for Executive Education at the Haas School of Business,[6] UC Berkeley, and professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University.[7] His interest in writing the guide developed in response to the overwhelming amount of information people receive through mass media on a daily basis and a desire to help people develop techniques to distinguish factual information from that which may be distorted, out-of-date, unscientific or in error.[8][6][9]

Overview[edit]

A Field Guide to Critical Thinking is a handbook for people who want to learn ways to examine the veracity of information that comes to them through a variety of media. Levitin notes that people "have a tendency to apply critical thinking only to things we disagree with."[10] He demonstrates how people can be "fooled and misled by numbers and logic" and offers strategies to recognize cognitive biases, logical fallacies and evaluate the reliability of sites encountered on the Web.[11][8]

In the book, Levitin discusses the importance of evaluating numbers, something that people fear, he asserts, but can cause people to be misled.[8] He cautions that "statistics are not facts." Numbers, statistics, charts and graphs can (inadvertently or by design) be skewed to fit particular points of view and should not be taken at face value.[12][8]

Other key concepts outlined in the book include recognizing confirmation bias and belief perseverance, which lead to snap decisions and faulty reasoning, checking the experts (not giving authority to people who speak outside their areas of expertise), assessing the reliability of studies or surveys, and, for science and health news, looking for control groups and avoiding single-study results.[12][8][10]

"Critical thinking is not something you do once with an issue and then drop it. It's an active and ongoing process."

— Daniel Levitin [12]

Reception[edit]

Reviewers of A Field Guide to Lies have found the book to be an entertaining, timely, useful primer for "critical thinking in the information age."[6][8] It was listed on bestseller lists in Canada and received the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction, presented by the Quebec Writers' Federation in the same year it was published.[3][1][2]

Criticisms of the book included the observation that readers may have seen the topics (e.g. confirmation bias) covered in the book elsewhere,[11] overemphasis on "sophisticated probability theory that many readers are likely to find more intimidating than numbers",[10] and picking the wrong sources of "expertise" in his discussion of American religious trends.[10]

Samuel Arbesman posited that some readers might find the book "akin to eating your vegetables: something you recognize that you need to be familiar with but only if you are forced to learn it." He goes on to recommend the book and, in his view, the benefits of consuming "healthy information more regularly than the misinformation that is all around us."[11]

"Ultimately, Mr. Levitin appears to be advocating a scientific mind-set in how we approach the world around us and the information within it, constantly querying what we encounter with a skeptical and critical eye."

— Samuel Arbesman[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Bestseller List". Toronto Star. Toronto, Ontario. September 17, 2016. p. E.23.
  2. ^ a b "National Post bestseller list". National Post. Don Mills, Ontario. October 22, 2016. p. WP.9.
  3. ^ a b McGillis, Ian (November 22, 2016). "Underdog Durcan wins top QWF literary prize". Montreal Gazette. Montreal, Quebec. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  4. ^ LaRose, Lauren (April 24, 2017). "Daniel J. Levitin wins $30,000 National Business Book Award". Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  5. ^ "2017 Winners". Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Rowe, Georgia (September 18, 2016). "New works might change your thinking: Hochschild's "Strangers in their own land" is a thought-provoking work". The Mercury News. San Jose, CA. p. D.6.
  7. ^ "Calendar of Events". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. August 28, 2016. p. B.8.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Harris, Michael (September 2, 2016). "Review: Daniel J. Levitin's A Field Guide to Lies is smart, timely and massively useful". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ontario. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  9. ^ "Best books of the year". The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ontario. December 3, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d Jacoby, Susan (October 7, 2016). "In the Google age, knowledge (without clicking) still matters". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d Arbesman, Samuel (September 16, 2016). "The Misinformation Age". Wall Street Journal. New York, NY. Retrieved 4 January 2017.
  12. ^ a b c Ross, Martha (September 11, 2016). "How to get what you believe to be true". The Mercury News. San Jose, CA. p. D.1.