This rather ambitious title sets out high expectations for the book. You do not need to be a science teacher or a scientist to recognize the importance of good scientific thinking. I started reading this book when it seemed that global warming was the most significant crisis of the day requiring scientific thinking skills. The COVID-19 global pandemic quickly leapt onto the stage as a critical concern before I could finish. “With almost seven and a half billion people in the world, there is no room for delusion anymore. Having an ape brain couldn’t happen at a worse time.” How prophetic.
Stanley A. Rice has identified several ways our brains deceive us into seeing what we want to see and thinking what we want to think. The information that stays with us is the information that confirms what we already believe. These inherent biases and simplified methods of interpreting information leave us ill-equipped to respond to problems big and small. We leave ourselves vulnerable to being manipulated by faulty interpretations presented to us by leaders and other sources of information. There is no shortage of evidence for this to be true, but how do we recognize it in ourselves?
The book is arranged in several short chapters each identifying a particular skill or challenge to our scientific thinking. Real-world examples are often presented in a humorous way, such as the description of the author’s tobacco hornworm experiments determining effects of leaf toxicity to demonstrate construct validity (how do you know you are really testing for what you think you are testing for?). There are many chapters that are so relevant to current events, such as “Trust Us, We’re Scientists,” “Natural Selection,” and “The Rediscovery of Human Nature.” That last chapter explores the evolution of altruism, which has been highlighted by stories about health care providers, essential workers, and neighbors helping neighbors around the world. His explanations and exercises help understand motivations and behaviors of people that may seem hard to understand.
An opportunity for personal growth is presented in small chunks that are easily incorporated into the classroom to help students look at things differently and question their beliefs and understandings, not just to change but also verify their accuracy. This is exactly what people need to do to address problems of today and tomorrow. Darwin is quoted from the Descent of Man: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” You may question your confidence as you read through this book, but it is a small price to pay to address ignorance. Plus it is fun. As Rice concludes “Science is an adventure.”