According to a recent article in Eos (Doran and Zimmermann, ‘Examining the Scientific consensus on Climate Change‘, Volume 90, Number 3, 2009; p. 22-23 – only available for AGU members - update: a public link to the article is here), about 58% of the general public in the US thinks that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing the mean global temperature, as opposed to 97% of specialists surveyed. The disproportion between these numbers is a concern, and one possible explanation may be that the science literacy among the general public is low. Perhaps Sherry Seethaler’s new book ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science’ can be a useful contribution in raising the science literacy?
The book is about science in general and about how science often is miscommunicated in the media. It addresses a range of issues, such as how statistics often is misused, how scientific progress is made in general, that the ‘scientific method’ is not always as straightforward as one might like to think, the influence of stake-holders, the importance of knowing the context of the research, relationships between science and policy, and ploys designed to bypass logic. Many of the points made in the book are probably well known for the RC readership – albeit used in different situations to the case studies discussed in the book. There is also some discussion about AGW, amongst other subjects.
One little paradox is that the book claims (p. xx) that it will empower people of all ages and educational backgrounds to think critically about science-related issues and make well-balanced decisions about them. To me, that sounds like a big promise, and after having read the book, I started to wonder whether that statement is just the sort of claims it tries to make people become more skeptical about? Or maybe Seethaler really did succeed after all – because I saw how the arguments in her book could be applied to this promise?
The book touches on AGW, and does in general do a good job in my opinion. However, I cannot avoid bringing up some small details to pick at: The description of the greenhouse effect is not quite correct, as the reader gets the impression that it involves reflecting infrared radiation back to space (p. 84). That is not the case, as the energy from the sun lies mainly in the visible spectrum, and the infra red light from the Earth is a product from the absorption of the sunlight and a re-emittance due to Planck’s law.
Another point that I think is that the book discusses the controversy around AGW, but this can be a bit misleading. If you look in the climatological field, you may not see much controversy, but if you search the web, you may see something that looks like one. But I think that this controversy to a large extent is constructed out of thin air, an impression I feel is supported by Doran and Zimmermann’s, Eos article.
I get the impression that ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science’ has much in common with the older book ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics’, and that they try to convey similar take-home messages.
‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Science‘ gives a nice collection of anecdotes and general tips. The book has a nice index and overview, so it’s easy to find your way through the book. I think the book is very useful for a lot of people – especially students, scientists, journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, and the voters.