Book Review: The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe by Dr. Steven Novella
As a fan of Dr. Steven Novella’s podcast, I was very much looking forward to the Skeptics’ guide to the universe. Social media and the internet in general has helped a lot of false information gain traction rather quickly. Whether it’s your grandma sharing from satire websites thinking they were serious to people sharing from websites known for pseudoscience, we have a problem with fake news.
Dr. Novella clearly had in mind the same general idea as the late great Dr. Carl Sagan, as his work serves as a sequel to Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World.” It is no easy task to perform after Sagan and still come out looking good. Dr. Novella manages to do just that.
Dr. Novella provides an introduction to what he calls “Scientific Skepticism” which I find a useful and almost necessary distinction between skepticism as is. I see it this way. You can be a skeptic of plenty of things but that only tells us that you’re skeptical of that thing.
Dr. Novella’s scientific skepticism is more than telling someone what you’re skeptical of, it also tells you the methodology in which you use to judge claims. That is very helpful to everyone, especially if you disagree with him. It is one thing to know what someone believes, it is another to know why they believe it.
If you’re familiar with the podcast, some of the topics won’t surprise you. Some people may be turned off by Dr. Novella’s snark but you expect it if you’ve listened to his podcast. I’m a fan of snark, so it presented no problem for me.
He manages to cover a lot of topics and some key ideas for self-evaluation. Realizing your brain can trick you, why we should be charitable to those we disagree with while also being humble about our own arguments. The old adage “no one likes a know-it-all” applies here.
Some of the scientific jargon in the book could be difficult if you aren’t familiar with the topic, but Dr. Novella has said before on the podcast that he thinks some ideas shouldn’t be simplified because they require a higher level of thinking.
Overall, The Skeptics’ guide to the Universe was an excellent introduction into how to improve our critical thinking skills in a world where false ideas abound and the choices and variety can easily overwhelm us.