There is no doubt science is currently suffering from a credibility crisis. This thought-provoking book argues that, ironically, science's credibility is being undermined by tools created by scientists themselves. Scientific disinformation and damaging conspiracy theories are rife because of the internet that science created, the scientific demand for empirical evidence and statistical significance leads to data torturing and confirmation bias, and data mining is fuelled by the technological advances in Big Data and the development of ever-increasingly powerful computers. Using a wide range of entertaining examples, this fascinating book examines the impacts of society's growing distrust of science, and ultimately provides constructive suggestions for restoring the credibility of the scientific community.
Introduction: Disinformation, Data Torturing, and Data Mining
Part I - Disinformation
1. The Paranormal Is Normal
2. Flying Saucers and Space Tourists
3. Elite Conspiracies
4. A Post-Fact World
Part II - Data Torturing
5. Squeezing Blood from Rocks
6. Most Medicines Disappoint
7. Provocative, but Wrong
Part III - Data Mining
8. Looking for Needles in Haystacks
9. Beat the Market
10. Too Much Data
Part IV - The Real Promise and Peril of AI
11. Overpromising and Underdelivering
12. Artificial Unintelligence
Part V - The Crisis
13. Irreproducible Research
14. The Replication Crisis
15. Restoring the Luster of Science
Gary Smith is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Economics at Pomona College. He received his PhD in Economics from Yale University and was an Assistant Professor there for seven years. He has won two teaching awards and written (or co-authored) more than 100 academic papers and 15 books. He is the author of The AI Delusion (OUP 2018) and co-author with Jay Cordes of The 9 Pitfalls of Data Science (OUP 2019), which won the 2020 Prose Award for Excellence in Popular Science & Popular Mathematics by the Association of American Publishers.
"Gary Smith has done it again. Distrust is a wild ride that derails the Big Data hype train with force, style, and above all sardonic humour. Smith is a master of illustrating by example – examples that are fresh, unexpected, at times shocking, and at times hilarious. Come along on Smith's tour of statistical snake-oil and you'll never look at AI or data science the same way again."
– Carl T. Bergstrom, Professor of Biology, University of Washington. Author of Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Digital World
"Any fan of Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World will love this book. Like Sagan, Smith discusses the challenges to human progress that result from a lack of critical thinking skills, and he does so with a Sagan-esque keen eye and eloquent voice. Smith also makes clear how the threats to sound judgment and effective decisions are more formidable than those of Sagan's day, as faulty thinking is now aided and abetted by an internet-fuelled distrust of science, viral misinformation, and venomous conspiracy theories. The wisdom in this book is desperately needed."
– Tom Gilovich, Irene Blecker Rosenfeld Professor of Psychology, Cornell University. Author of The Wisest One in the Room
"It turns out that, unlike the mythical hero, AI has two Achilles' heels. Not only are the technologies not intelligent, more perniciously, neither are too much of the statistics and data use on which AI and big data rely. Gary Smith provides a brilliantly executed counter against pseudo-science and the accumulating garbage we misleadingly call information, including timely and important warnings and ways forward for policy-makers, practitioners, academics, and citizens alike."
– Leslie Willcocks, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics and Political Science
"An immensely readable look at why we need science more than ever, but also why and how science needs to clean up its act. Recommended for anyone who occasionally wonders whether that 'outspoken' family member on Facebook might just have a point."
– Nick Brown, PhD, scientific integrity researcher
"Smith marvellously illustrates the evolution of disinformation. He richly demonstrates how blind faith in technology enables more misrepresentations of the truth. Distrust articulates a humbling view of how we should think critically about new findings from hyped technology trends."
– Karl Meyer, Managing Director, Digital Alpha Advisors LLC and former Partner at Kleiner Perkins