Below is a list I have compiled of my personal favorite books, blogs, and Facebook pages. I should divulge that some of the books are still on my “to read” list, but I included them based on the number of times they are referenced or recommended by other skeptics.
The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. 1995, Random House
Carl Sagan is among my favorite people to have ever lived. His profound wisdom has made and continues to make a huge impact on my thoughts and interpretations of the world. You will probably notice that I quote him frequently, so I will admit my bias right now that if there is one book on this page to read, it is this one. In a series of essays, he explains how using scientific inquiry and critical thinking to evaluate a claim is the only light in an otherwise dark world. Eerily prophetic at times, Carl Sagan defends why skepticism is so important not only to the body of knowledge that is science, but to liberty and independence.
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh. 2008, Bantam
I picked this book because Edzard Ernst is actually a professor of complementary medicine, but he advocates for natural treatments to be rigorously tested. It is a fair and honest assessment of what “alternative medicine” actually has to offer. It breaks down the fields of homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and other placebo medicines. It pulls no punches in describing if and how a treatment really works.
On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert A. Burton 1999, St. Martin’s Griffin
Written by a neurologist, this book explains how our brains trick us into being positive in something’s certainty. Spoiler alert: one’s measure of certainty is not good evidence for its absolution. The parts of our brain involved in “active reasoning” likely work completely independently from the bits that give us our feelings of certainty.
Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner 2008, Virgin Books
Risk examines why, in a period of time when the average citizen in most major countries is the healthiest and safest, we as society perceive such risk of harm when the reality cannot back it up. Is our culture of fear driving us into unnecessary peril?
Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients by Ben Goldacre 2013 Faber & Faber
This is a follow up to his previous book, Bad Science, which I also highly recommend. Unlike Bad Science, which is a much more generalized look at pseudoscience and charlatans, Bad Pharma turns the lens to the pharmaceutical industry, something which, as an MD, Ben Goldacre is well-experienced with. It is a self critical book that identifies all the many flaws which make “big pharma” its own worst enemy. Ben Goldacre is one of the founding minds behind the AllTrials Campaign to mandate all clinical trials be registered and available for review, so that healthcare professionals can make more objective choices in how to treat patients.
The Cure for Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness by Timothy Caulfield 2013 Beacon Press
This is a great book for the lay-person, especially those interested in nutrition and fitness, which examines many facts and myths surrounding wellness advice. Caulfield also shows exactly how alternative medicine practitioners use pseudoscience in marketing, spinning the evidence and invoking a veneer of scientific legitimacy.
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff orig pub 1954 W.W. Norton & CO
The name says it all. This is one of those classic books that will probably never stop selling. Granted, I have not read it, but I know enough of its reputation to feel confident in recommending it. It’s always good to remind oneself of how data can be spun to purvey a message which is maybe not so true.
The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr 2014 The Overlook Press
A psychological look at why people will hold on to a belief even in the face of hard evidence. The author demonstrates how people who believe wacky conspiracy theories, in faith healing, and in natural remedies are not necessarily unintelligent, but just examples of cognitive bias run amok. The title is almost misleading, because it sounds like it will be a hardcore debunking of pseudoscientific threats in an epic “us versus them” battle for the truth. This is not the case, as it really is looking at how human we all are, and how we must learn to empathize how others arrived at their “unpersuadable” position before judging them.
BLOGS AND PODCASTS:
The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe www.skepticsguide.org
NeuroLogica Blog- Personal blog of Dr. Steven Novella, host of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe www.theness.com
Respectful Insolence- Skeptical medical blog written by a not-so-anonymous surgeon under the name Orac. www.scienceblogs.com/insolence
Science Based Medicine- a group blog written by a handful of MDs regarding –you guessed it—science based medicine. www.sciencebasedmedicine.org
Point of Inquiry- Official podcast of the Centers for Inquiry and CSI www.pointofinquiry.org
If you have reading recommendations for this blog, please leave them in the comments below!