How do scientists approach the world, or in other words, how do they think?
As public opinion about science shifts and misinformation endangers our understanding of the world and ourselves, it seems more important than ever to understand the scientific modes of experimentation and interpretation.
It can be a challenging topic to broach in a way that is comprehensive, accessible, and engaging, but Kenneth D. Keith and Bernard C. Beins take on the task in The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy: Thinking Like a Psychological Scientist.
Written primarily for introductory psychology students, The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy addresses a wide range of conundrums and obstacles facing new scientific thinkers — from how to take an empirical approach, to developing an awareness of bias to properly interpreting measurements and data.
Keith and Beins likewise tackle a number of common misconceptions in psychological science and draw firm distinctions between belief and knowledge.
While at times dry and on occasion overly focused on correcting misunderstandings rather than providing new knowledge, The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy provides a crucial foundation for analytical thinkers from all fields and backgrounds.
Keith and Beins seem primarily concerned with empowering their readers to develop the necessary skills to grapple with scientific and nonscientific assertions alike and to draw meaningful conclusions about both. Prospective readers should make note of the fact that the guide covers scientific — rather than science — literacy.
Keith and Beins helpfully draw a distinction between the two, pointing out that scientific literacy refers to a mode of thinking and analysis, while science literacy is best understood as knowledge of specific science facts and concepts such as the atomic weight of Uranium, or the process by which osmosis occurs.
Scientific literacy allows us to interrogate our own assumptions and preconceptions. While science literacy may establish our expertise in a particular field, it does not necessarily prevent us from harboring unverifiable beliefs about the world or ourselves.
Each of the book’s ten chapters are thoughtfully constructed, beginning with a concise overview and introductory points in the form of a “Did you know that…” list, which includes a diverse range of concepts from the difference between theory and hypothesis, the meaning of statistics, and the pervasiveness of psychological science in daily life.
Chapters also include exercises and interludes, as well as the thoughtful subheadings to divide up the text, which offer the reader opportunities to pause and consider key concepts, as well as to grapple with their implications in a more in-depth or personal sense.
Each chapter concludes with its own series of notes, and the book itself concludes with a comprehensive glossary, index, and reference list. For the psychology student just beginning her studies, The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy should prove to be an invaluable resource.
For the layperson, however, this book might prove to be less engaging. Not because the ideas included are inaccessible; in fact, they are easy enough to grasp. But because the mode of presentation is somewhat more rigid and formal than one would find in a less academic text.
Keith and Beins spend a considerable amount of time dismantling prevalent misconceptions regarding popular industries and ideas such as homeopathy and spirituality, particularly at the beginning of the text. In this way especially, the focus seems somewhat unbalanced in earlier chapters.
While the authors rightly see this as a necessary aspect to cultivating scientific literacy, these discussions are somewhat more onerous to read and rely on a reader’s investment in the process beyond what a casual reader might bring. In other words, The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy presupposes the reader’s interest in and desire to finish the book. It is not always successful in cultivating or maintaining that interest and desire.
Consequently, while nonacademic readers will certainly find valuable insights in this book, they might be best served by reading it more gradually and grappling with its ideas in smaller sections, such as by reading a chapter per week. There is plenty to take away here given a certain amount of patience and persistence.
And for readers with an academic background or just beginning their studies, there are many key lessons to take away from The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy. These readers would certainly be well advised to keep their copy on hand, and fortunately it is well constructed for easy revisiting and reference.
The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy: Thinking Like a Psychological Scientist
Kenneth D. Keith and Bernard C. Beins
Worth Publishers, August 2016
Softcover, 292 pages