Okay, the days are getting longer, discussions of global warming have started heating up again and the under served students in public schools around the country are getting closer to the end of their 180 days of standardized test preparation. Those things can only mean that summer is here yet again. With summer comes the obligatory recommendations for summer reading. It is in that spirit that I offer up a couple of selections, something to relax with while on a summer vacation or while taking shelter from the oppressive heat, someplace air conditioned.
First up is The The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. For those of you who have been following this blog from it's initial entry, you know I wanted to call it candles in the dark, so clearly I found this book influential. If you happen upon a copy in a library or book store, I recommend turning right to chapter 12, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection. In this chapter Mr. Sagan presents a baloney detection kit filled with tools for skeptical thinking. Among these tools are definitions of "the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric." (Sagan, p. 212). Great stuff to keep i mind the next time you hear a politician talk. Sagan writes intelligently but also accessibly, so you don't need a degree in astrophysics to follow him.
Second, I recommend Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer. You might imagine that the publisher of Skeptic magazine would be a little shrill and possibly confrontational but that is not the case. Mr. Shermer comes across as a person who seeks to understand why people believe the things they do and to seek the truth whenever possible. I think one of the more profound things you can take away from his book is that skepticism is a method, not a belief. If you turn to chapter 3 of the book, How Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things, you might be reminded of chapter 12 from Carl Sagan's book. They both cover similar material but do it in sufficiently different ways that I think both are worth a read.
I think that a couple of books about science, skepticism, and critical thinking are in order this summer. After all, this is the first summer since the eight year mini-dark ages that the United States had to endure. You remember, when science was scorned and sidelined, intellectuals were laughed at and dismissed, and religious fundamentalist ran wild in the streets, burning copies of The Origin Of Species and frightening the children. In short, it's time to take to heart the words of J-Bone in Johnny Mnemonic when he said, "Snatch back your brain, zombie, snatch it back and hold it!"