Yes, I read it and it’s excellent. Though I don’t think a skeptic will find anything revolutionary or surprising in it, is summarizes in a useful and organized fashion the kinds of errors in thinking we all make and which lead us to believe things that clearly aren’t true. I find the explanations and examples especially useful when trying to point out to colleagues why they have come to believe somehting that is likely false. As a critical thinking book it is perfect for an audience not interested in highly complex works about rhetoric or philosophy. I immediately donated copies to the local library and my daughter’s public school. It did also help me to remeber that people don’t have to be stupid to believe irrational things and that we all commit such thought errors. And while Kida doesn’t touch on this area, his ideas fit nicely with some of the work currently being done on human psychology and evolution. We are “designed” by naure to seek meaning in random data, to overemphasize the importance of anecdotes and individual events in establishing cause/effect relationships, etc. Irrational beliefs develop out of natural tendancies of the human brain, and it requires constant effort to deliberately apply more rational and scientific methods to establishing our beliefs.
Here’s an excerpt which gives you the main categories of error he talks about in greater detail in the book:
As you can tell from the title, Kida’s focus is on six of the most common mistakes in thinking which people make across a wide variety of fields and issues. He doesn’t claim that these are the only ones, but they are the mistakes which he sees the most often and which he thinks leads to the most problems.
Mistake #1: We prefer stories to statistics. Even a bad story is preferred over great statistics, and this shouldn’t be surprising. We’re social animals, so whatever seems to connect us to others will have a bigger impact than cold, impersonal numbers. This leads us to making decisions based upon a single story which may not be representative of larger trends while ignoring the statistics that tell us about those trends.
Mistake #2: We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas. Everyone wants to be right and no one wants to be wrong. This may be the primary driving force behind the fact that when people look at neutral evidence before them, they almost invariably focus on what seems to confirm what they already believe while ignoring what might count against their beliefs.
Mistake #3: We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events. Odds are that any randomly chosen person has no idea how odds, chance, and randomness affect their lives. People think that unlikely events are very likely while likely events are very unlikely. For example, people forget how large the numbers around them are — an event with a million to one odds against it will happen given a million tries. In New York City alone, this means that several such events could happen every day.
Mistake #4: We sometimes misperceive the world around us. We simply don’t perceive things happening in our vicinity as accurately as we think or might like. We see things that aren’t really there and we fail to see things that are. Even worse, our level of confidence in what we have perceived is no indication of just how likely we are to be right.
Mistake #5: We tend to oversimplify our thinking. Reality is a whole lot more complicated than we realize. Indeed, it’s more complicated than we can deal with — every analysis we make of what goes on must eliminate lots of factors. If we don’t simplify, we’d never get anywhere in our thinking; unfortunately, we often simplify too much and thus miss things we need to take into account.
Mistake #6: Our memories are often inaccurate. To be fair, this isn’t a mistake because we can’t help the fact that our memories are unreliable. The real mistake is in not realizing this, not understanding the ways in which our memories can go wrong, and then failing to do what we can to make up for this fact.
Again, as Kida notes these are not the only mistakes people make; but if you can make a habit of noticing and avoiding these, you’ll be well ahead of most people and doing far better than you were before. You can’t focus on just these, though. Instead you must keep in mind that the point is to become more skeptical and critical in your thinking and thereby more consistently distinguish the things most likely to be true from those which just aren’t worth our time.