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A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age


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Table of Contents

Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction: Information, Misinformation, and Our Planet's Future 1. A Walk in the Park 2. What Is Science? 3. A Sense of Scale Interlude 1: Numbers 4. Discoveries on the Back of an Envelope 5. Insights in Lines and Dots Interlude 2: Language and Logic 6. Expecting the Improbable 7. Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics 8. Correlation, Causation ... Confusion and Clarity 9. Definitional Features of Science 10. Applying Scientific Habits of Mind to Earth's Future 11. What Isn't Science 12. The Triumph of Misinformation; The Peril of Ignorance 13. The Unfinished Cathedral Appendix: Practicing Scientific Habits of Mind Notes Index

Promotional Information

This book provides an inoculation against the misinformation epidemic by cultivating scientific habits of mind. From dissolving our fear of numbers and demystifying graphs, to elucidating the key concepts of probability and the use of precise language and logic, Helfand supplies an essential set of apps for the pre-frontal cortex while making science both accessible and entertaining.

About the Author

David Helfand is the former chair of the Department of Astronomy at Columbia University where he has served on the faculty for nearly four decades. He has also been a visiting scientist at the Danish Space Research Institute and the Sackler Distinguished Visiting Astronomer at Cambridge University. He was a founding tutor and served as president and vice chancellor at Quest University Canada; he recently completed a term as president of the American Astronomical Society. He has published commentary in Nature, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications.


A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age is a no-holds-barred paean to the scientific mode of thinking. Helfand's wide-ranging, interdisciplinary, humorously cynical intellect comes through at every turn. -- J. Craig Wheeler, University of Texas at Austin A Survival Guide for the Misinformation Age is an impassioned plea for science literacy. Given the state of the world today, in which scientifically underinformed voters elect scientifically illiterate politicians, David Helfand has written the right book at the right time with the right message. Read it now. The future of our civilization may depend on it. -- Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History David Helfand's Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age gives readers a chance to spend time with one this country's clearest and best critical thinkers. Helfand channels Steven Pinker's ability to dissect language with John Alan Paulos's ability to explain numbers with Richard Dawkins' ability to explain our existence (to obtain food, to avoid being food, and to reproduce) with George Carlin's ability to make us laugh. Using personal anecdotes (he's a Red Sox fan), Helfand teaches us how to think through questions as diverse as why the moon doesn't make us lunatics to why it only takes twenty-three people to have a 50:50 chance that two will have the same birthday. A real pleasure. -- Paul Offit, University of Pennsylvania Important and timely. Library Journal Helfand's work is an admirable response to a long-standing problem of sloppy thinking. Publishers Weekly Helfand is a man brimming with incredible insights on the universe. Dave's Universe A must-read for anyone presuming to call themselves a scientist and a should-read for anyone just trying to make sense of the overwhelming volume of data and real and concocted 'proofs' of nearly everything that spews forth from the Internet on demand. This book provides a road map for teaching students how to both celebrate science and how to view their primary source of information with skepticism and caution. Every science teacher should read this book. -- John Ziegler NSTA Recommends For those with an arts and humanities background, this book offers many valuable lessons... For everyone else it provides a vital antidote to the ills of misinformation by teaching systematic and rigorous scientific reasoning. -- Marina Gerner Times Literary Supplement Highly recommended. CHOICE How I wish everyone would read, appreciate, and follow [David J. Helfand's] guidance. Physics Today

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