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Social Science Media Studies

A Field Guide to Lies

Critical Thinking with Statistics and the Scientific Method

by (author) Daniel J. Levitin

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Dec 2020
Media Studies, Statistics, Applied Psychology
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2020
    List Price

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Winner of the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction
Winner of the 2017 National Business Book Award
Shortlisted for the 2016/2017 Donner Prize


Updated with an exciting new package, a primer to the critical thinking that is more necessary now than ever. We are bombarded with more information each day than the mind can process--especially in election season. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Levitin shows how to recognize misleading announcements, statistics, graphs, and written reports with engaging humor and authority.
     It's becoming harder to separate the wheat from the digital chaff. How do we distinguish misinformation, pseudo-facts, distortions and outright lies from reliable information? Daniel Levitin groups his field guide into two categories--statistical information and faulty arguments--ultimately showing how science is the bedrock of critical thinking. Infoliteracy means understanding that there are hierarchies of source quality and bias that variously distort our information feeds via every media channel including social media. We may expect newspapers, bloggers, the government, and Wikipedia to be factually and logically correct, but they so often aren't. We need to think critically about the words and numbers we encounter. This means checking the plausibility and reasoning--not passively accepting information, repeating it, and making decisions based on it. Readers learn to avoid the extremes of passive gullibility and cynical rejection. Levitin's charming, entertaining, accessible guide can help anyone wake up to a whole lot of things that aren't so. And catch some lying weasels in their tracks.

About the author

Daniel J. Levitin is Founding Dean of Arts and Humanities at the Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute and James McGill Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience and Music at McGill University. He is the author of four bestselling books, including This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.

Daniel J. Levitin's profile page


  • Winner, Axiom Business Book Awards - Business Ethics - Silver
  • Short-listed, CSWA Book Award - Excellence General Audience Books
  • Winner, National Business Book Award
  • Short-listed, The Donner Prize

Editorial Reviews

Winner of the 2016 Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction
Winner of the 2017 National Business Book Award
Shortlisted for the 2016/2017 Donner Prize
One of The Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2016

“Daniel J. Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies is smart, timely and massively useful....We’ve grown quick to outrage, quick to form online lynch mobs; we trade our opinions and ‘facts’ as though they were beads at a bazaar. Levitin demands that we do better. And that doesn’t just mean becoming good fact-checkers or savvy readers of charts and figures. It means taking up real, adult responsibility for our own minds’ work. It means becoming critical of our deepest-set beliefs and, like the scientists that Levitin praises, shaping our opinions with the scalpel of honest exchange.” —Michael Harris, author of The End of Absense (winner of the 2014 Governor General's Award)
“A smart, accessible approach to becoming a better reader in an age where advertisers, politicians, and other interested parties have become increasingly savvy about manipulating statistics to demonstrate questionable truths.”—Quebec Writers’ Federation jurors’ comments (QWF 2016 Awards Gala)
“Compelling. It makes its points carefully, clearly, and with a good dose of humour.”—Quebec Writers’ Federation jurors’ comments (QWF 2016 Awards Gala)
“Well researched, insightful and concise. This book genuinely blew my mind.”—Quebec Writers’ Federation jurors’ comments (QWF 2016 Awards Gala)

“Daniel Levitin’s field guide is a critical-thinking primer for our shrill, data-drenched age. It’s an essential tool for really understanding the texts, posts, tweets, magazines, newspapers, podcasts, op-eds, inter­views, and speeches that bombard us every day. From the way aver­ages befuddle to the logical fallacies that sneak by us, every page is enlightening.” —Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better
“The world is awash with data, but not always with accurate informa­tion. [Levitin’s book] does a terrific job of illustrating the difference between the two with precision and delightful good humor.” —Charles Wheelan, senior lecturer and policy fellow, Rockefeller Center,
Dartmouth College; author of Naked Economics
“Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin lays out the many ways in which each of us can be fooled and misled by numbers and logic, as well as the modes of critical thinking we will need to overcome this.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Valuable tools for anyone willing to evaluate claims and get to the truth of the matter.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This useful, entertaining, and highly readable guide is ready to arm everyday citizens with the tools to combat the spread of spurious, and often ridiculous, information.” Library Journal
“A book you may want to have close by at all times.” Success Magazine
“If everyone could adopt the level of healthy statistical scepticism that Mr Levitin would like, political debate would be in much better shape. This book is an indispensable trainer.” –The Economist

“Serves as a kind of Strunk and White for sloppy thinkers.” New York Journal of Books
“Smart and humorous .... The tools anyone needs to tell good infor­mation from bad are in this definitive guide to critical thinking.” Shelf Awareness  

“An entertaining, user-friendly primer on evaluating data wisely.” Washington Independent Review of Books
“This is a wonderful book. It covers so many of the insights of science, logic, and statistics that the public needs to know, yet are sadly ne­ glected in the education that most of us receive.” Edward K. Cheng, Tarkington  Chair of Teaching Excellence, professor of law, Vanderbilt University Law School
“Hits on the most important issues around statistical literacy and uses good examples to illustrate its points. I could not put this book down. Reading it has been a pleasure, believe me. I am so impressed with Levitin’s writing style, which is clear and simple, unlike much of the murky stuff that is written by statisticians and many others.” Morris Olitsky, former vice president, Market Research and Analysis, Prudential Financial; statistician, USDA

“A valuable primer on critical thinking that convincingly illustrates the prevalence of misinformation in everyday life” Publishers Weekly

“Smart, timely and massively useful.” The Globe and Mail 
“Regardless of one’s political persuasion (apolitical, third party, democratic, or republican) all individuals of this nation would benefit from making the effort to read and understand the concepts presented in this book. Eminently easy to read.” —Portland Book Review
“Levitin talks about the crucial role of critical thinking and seeking out the truth in today’s media landscape.” —NPR Forum/Michael Krasny.
“A guide for those who wish to test the authenticity of information that inundates us from every corner, dark and light, of the Web.” The Washington Post.
The timing could not be better ... a survival manual for the post-factual error. Levitin offers a set of intellectual tools to help distinguish the real from the unreal, and often surreal.” The Literary Review of Canada
"Daniel J. Levitin’s timely guide to critical thinking in the digital age makes statistics both understandable and intriguing.” Macleans
"Misinformation is a curse of the information age, and Levitin offers blow-by-blow demonstrations of how words, numbers and graphics can be manipulated to distort truth.” —Stanford Magazine

“Levitin is about as knowledgeable a guide to neuroscience as one might hope for.” —New York Times Book Review

“Daniel J. Levitin has more insights per page than any other neuroscientitst I know. The Organized Mind is smart, important and, as always, exquisitely written.” —Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness

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