Best Weller's Pick

Every other month the staff of Weller Book Works nominates and then votes on books we deem worthy of extra attention, our Best Weller's selection. We discount these books to you by 20% during the months for which they're chosen because we believe in them.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake Cover Image
ISBN: 9781538760536
Availability: On Our Shelves Now

Published: Grand Central Publishing - October 2nd, 2018

Reviewed by Emma Fox

When I was a child, the truth was the truth, and a lie was a lie. Even a few years ago I would have laughed at the suggestion of a ‘post-truth’ world; yet here we are.

It seems timely, then, that The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Tell What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake should find its way into public discourse amid social media cries of ‘Fake news!’ In this book by Steven Novella and his podcast co-hosts, the Yale University neuroscientist and science educator looks at the various ways we can be manipulated into belief, how facts are skewed, and how our own brains trick us on a moment to moment basis.

Our biology is set up to deceive us. An example given in the book is that we have tiny blind spots in the centers of our eyes, right where the optic nerve is, but no one sees them. This is because the brain prefers a cohesive picture and edits them out for us. This and other mind-blowing facts about the flaws in human perception make up the meat of The Skeptics’ Guide, but due attention is given to classic examples of charlatans, cons, and grifters. Novella discusses the types of logical fallacies that plague us and gives concrete examples to help us spot them. Through the rigorous application of scientific skepticism, Novella takes on the potentially harmful beliefs of alternative medicines as well as the devastating science-denying beliefs of political leaders, such as those of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose denial of HIV/AIDS led to the deaths of tens of thousands of South Africans.

Unlike other scientific skeptics, Novella doesn’t require that people give up their non-scientific beliefs, so long as they’re not harming anyone. Harm comes with the application of alternative treatments that aren’t medically sound, or when one who engages in climate change denial is elected to government. Though Novella is not a believer, he writes with compassion for those who are. The ultimate point, however, is that science and belief do not belong together. Science is an objective method of truth-finding; belief, no matter how fervent, will always be subjective.

I read this book with the resolve to challenge myself. As a crystal-hugging, plant-whispering hippie mama, some of my long-held beliefs were put into question, and my sacred cows were brought dangerously close to the slaughter. However, this exercise was good for me; this is a book that sharpens one’s skills of critical thinking, and ultimately arms one to better face a world that’s full of real-seeming fakes and alarmingly real lies.