Monday, November 14, 2016

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age - by Daniel J. Levitin

I downloaded this e-book after watching this short interview with the author. Levitan has a lot to say about information literacy and includes chapters on understanding numbers, graphs, and statistics (and how all can be used to deceive); and how to think critically and logically so as to avoid being duped. Crucially, he discusses the importance of doing our own research in order to verify claims we've heard
Time spent evaluating claims is not just time well spent, it should be considered part of an implicit bargain we've all made. Information gathering and research that used to take anywhere from hours to weeks now takes just seconds. We've saved incalculable numbers of hours of trips to libraries and far-flung archives, or hunting through thick books for the one passage that will answer our questions. The implicit bargain that we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some [emphasis in original] of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification.
Levitan also makes clear the importance of librarians in the information age. He specifically mentions asking a librarian for assistance in finding the origin of a quote often misattributed to Mark Twain ("It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."). He tells of consulting expert research librarian Gretchen Lieb at Vassar who explained the difficulty in tracking it down explaining that "Quotations are tricky things. They're the literary equivalent of statistics, really, in terms of lies, damn lies, etc." The quote in question most likely originated with humorist Josh Billings.

Levitan also explains about the scientific process, and what peer-review entails. Further he explains that it is becoming more difficult to tell which journals are reputable with the "proliferation of open-access journals that will print anything for a fee, in a parallel world of pseudo-academia". He goes on to say that "Reference librarians can help you distinguish the two" and specifically gives a shout out to Jeffrey Beall, a research librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver who has created a "blacklist" of disreputable journals.

This book was especially useful for me as I am currently researching how to teach students how best to evaluate websites and other open-access sources. In fact, I would recommend this book to all budding researchers (and I know a few experienced ones who might benefit from it as well). It is written clearly with just enough illustrations and was well worth the time I spent reading it.

No comments:

Post a Comment