The best books on science’s eroding reputation

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College. I started out as a macroeconomist but, early on, discovered stats and stocks—which have long been fertile fields for data torturing and data mining. My book, Standard Deviations: Flawed Assumptions, Tortured Data, and Other Ways to Lie with Statistics is a compilation of a variety of dubious and misleading statistical practices. More recently, I have written several books on AI, which has a long history of overpromising and underdelivering because it is essentially data mining on steroids. No matter how loudly statisticians shout correlation is not causation, some will not hear.


I wrote...

Distrust: Big Data, Data-Torturing, and the Assault on Science

By Gary Smith,

Book cover of Distrust: Big Data, Data-Torturing, and the Assault on Science

What is my book about?

There are three ways in which science is being threatened, ironically, by using tools created by science itself.

Disinformation. Fanciful nonsense is the kind of dragon that science was intended to slay and is now more powerful than ever because of the internet that science created. Data Torturing. The scientific demand for empirical evidence has incentivized statistical mischief that undermines the usefulness and credibility of the evidence that scientists report. Data Mining. The Big Data and powerful computers created by scientists fuel the ransacking of data for statistical patterns that are far more likely to be coincidental than meaningful.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World

Gary Smith Why did I love this book?

The title is provocative but justified because so much of the “evidence” that we are bombarded with daily is bullshit. This is a wonderful compilation of statistical mistakes and misuses that are intended to persuade readers to be skeptical and to show them how to recognize bullshit when they see it.

By Carl T. Bergstrom, Jevin D. West,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Calling Bullshit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bullshit isn’t what it used to be. Now, two science professors give us the tools to dismantle misinformation and think clearly in a world of fake news and bad data.
 
“A modern classic . . . a straight-talking survival guide to the mean streets of a dying democracy and a global pandemic.”—Wired

Misinformation, disinformation, and fake news abound and it’s increasingly difficult to know what’s true. Our media environment has become hyperpartisan. Science is conducted by press release. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. We are fairly well equipped to spot the sort of old-school bullshit that is based…


Book cover of How We Know What Isn't So

Gary Smith Why did I love this book?

One of Gilovich’s most famous papers is a (co-authored) 1985 study arguing that the widespread belief by athletes and fans that athletes get a “hot hand” is in fact a statistical illusion. This book is a compilation of similar examples of how everyone—even, or perhaps especially, the most highly educated—believe things that are doubtful or clearly wrong.

By Thomas Gilovich,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked How We Know What Isn't So as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thomas Gilovich offers a wise and readable guide to the fallacy of the obvious in everyday life.

When can we trust what we believe-that "teams and players have winning streaks," that "flattery works," or that "the more people who agree, the more likely they are to be right"-and when are such beliefs suspect? Thomas Gilovich offers a guide to the fallacy of the obvious in everyday life. Illustrating his points with examples, and supporting them with the latest research findings, he documents the cognitive, social, and motivational processes that distort our thoughts, beliefs, judgments and decisions. In a rapidly changing…


Book cover of Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth

Gary Smith Why did I love this book?

Ritchie was part of a team that attempted to replicate a famous study led by a prominent psychologist, Daryl Bem, claiming that people did better on a word memorization test if they studied the words after taking the test.

Ritchie and his co-authors attempted to replicate this study and found no evidence supporting Bem’s claim. This is but one example of a scientific crisis in that attempts to replicate influential studies published in top peer-reviewed journals fail nearly half the time. Ritchie explains and illustrates the reasons for the current replication crisis in science.

By Stuart Ritchie,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Science Fictions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An insider’s view of science reveals why many scientific results cannot be relied upon – and how the system can be reformed.

Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless – or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad…


Book cover of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

Gary Smith Why did I love this book?

A biting quip in the debate about whether computers are on the verge of surpassing (or have already surpassed) human intelligence is, “It is not that computers are getting smarter but that humans are getting dumber.”

In the same spirit, Nichols argues that “These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything.”

By Tom Nichols,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Death of Expertise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything; with only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual
footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism.…


Book cover of The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do about It

Gary Smith Why did I love this book?

A potentially enormous benefit of the scientific revolution is that government policies can be based on empirical evidence rather than hunches, guesses, and biases.

Unfortunately, the eroding credibility of science and scientists undermines the persuasiveness of scientific evidence supporting or refuting the likely consequences of government policies. Otto explains how and why evidence-based policy-making is under attack from identity politics, political ideology, and businesses.

By Shawn Otto,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The War on Science as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the MN Book Award for Nonfiction. "Wherever the people are well informed," Thomas Jefferson wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government." But what happens when they are not? In every issue of modern society--from climate change to vaccinations, transportation to technology, health care to defense--we are in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of scientific progress and a simultaneous expansion of danger. At the very time we need them most, scientists and the idea of objective knowledge are being bombarded by a vast, well-funded, three-part war on science: the identity politics war on science, the ideological…


You might also like...

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of American Flygirl

Susan Tate Ankeny Author Of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

Susan's book list on women during WW2

What is my book about?

The first and only full-length biography of Hazel Ying Lee, an unrecognized pioneer and unsung World War II hero who fought for a country that actively discriminated against her gender, race, and ambition.

This unique hidden figure defied countless stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman in United States history to earn a pilot's license, and the first female Asian American pilot to fly for the military.

Her achievements, passionate drive, and resistance in the face of oppression as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a female aviator changed the course of history. Now the remarkable story of a fearless underdog finally surfaces to inspire anyone to reach toward the sky.

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

What is this book about?

One of WWII’s most uniquely hidden figures, Hazel Ying Lee was the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license, join the WASPs, and fly for the United States military amid widespread anti-Asian sentiment and policies.

Her singular story of patriotism, barrier breaking, and fearless sacrifice is told for the first time in full for readers of The Women with Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown and all Asian American, women’s and WWII history books.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in statistics, philosophy, and the Universe?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about statistics, philosophy, and the Universe.

Statistics Explore 27 books about statistics
Philosophy Explore 1,603 books about philosophy
The Universe Explore 62 books about the Universe