Book Review: A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Normally, I hate to use the cliché “in this day in age,” but this book gives me a perfect reason to do so. In this day and age, information is spread constantly, whether it be through social media, academia, or news. A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age, by Daniel J. Levitin, teaches the reader how to sort through this information and determine what is right, what is wrong, and what is just a well-concealed lie.

This is, to say the least, an important book to read. I feel like I come across a different statistic every day, posted on someone’s Facebook wall and blindly accepted by everyone commenting. Even just a little digging can reveal that that statistic is just plain nonsense. And not only can this misinformation have an effect on our thoughts and beliefs, but they can affect lives as well. Have you ever heard that vaccines cause autism? I know that I have heard this from many people, and as this book reveals, it is completely false. But some parents still refuse to vaccinate their children for this reason, leading to outbreaks of measles across the world.

Surprisingly, although this book contains many ways to interpret statistical information, it is fairly easy to read. This is coming from a person who has struggled with mathematics her whole life. Levitin explains concepts using simple and relatable examples.

An aspect of this book that I appreciated wholeheartedly is that it is unbiased. Levitin seeks to expose misinformation everywhere, and even discusses misinformation on both sides of a very recent, heated event—the 2016 presidential election. For example, Levitin wrote about when Donald Trump said at a rally that he remembered watching thousands of Muslims cheer on 9/11, and later said that he had seen it on television. However, this was nowhere to be found in any of the records of television broadcasts and news reports. Levitin also wrote about how Hillary Clinton claimed that all of her grandparents were immigrants, but only one of her grandparents was actually born abroad. The rest were born in the United States.

I enjoyed Levitin’s writing style, as it was lively and colorful, while still being informative, which is especially enjoyable in a book about critical thinking, data, logic, and statistics. Two of my favorite quotes are:
“The probability of finding someone over six foot six is greater if you’re looking at a basketball practice rather than at a tavern frequented by jockeys,” (p. 104), and “Infographics are used by lying weasels to shape public opinion…” (p. 51).

However, my favorite part of the book is when Levitin explains the logical fallacy cum hoc, ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this) with a graph that is titled “Number of People Who Drowned by Falling into a Pool Correlates with Number of Films Nicolas Cage Appeared In.” It seems ridiculous, and it is, but there are plenty of logical fallacies and ridiculous correlations in this world that are taken seriously.

I am glad that I read this book, and I have recommended it to many of my family and friends. It gives the reader the valuable ability to interpret and sort through the tons of information that is presented to us every day.