Book by: Guy P. Harrison
Review by: Martha Reck
Laboratory of Genetics
University of Wisconsin Madison

Guy Harrison writes about questioning, using science to think critically, and looking for evidence.  He defines skepticism as “thinking and withholding belief until evidence is presented or science in action.” (p. 26) He talks about skepticism as a way in which to think in order to not be taken advantage of and to not fall for the extraordinary claims of others and also discusses using skepticism with unusual claims. The book stresses numerous times that it was written to teach people how to think.

While this book is not specifically for students and/or academic advisors there are points made in the text that have applicability. An advisor can be better by both thinking skeptically themselves and by teaching students to think skeptically. Using this manner of thinking can result in more enriching conversations with students because they are thinking more deeply and more openly about the conversation. For example, rather than drawing conclusions about why a student is on academic probation, an advisor thinking skeptically would first gather all the evidence about the situation. Think provides a good reminder about the importance of holistic advising in a time when everyone is taxed for time and resources.  

Students can benefit from using skepticism both in and out of the classroom.  They can likely improve classroom performance by understanding and using the methods of thinking described by the author. Harrison explains the steps of the scientific method and how it works with skeptic thinking. He also does a nice job of describing how the human brain and memories work using stories and anecdotes that can help a student to better understand the importance of not relying on familial beliefs and memories for decision making. He discusses in detail what he calls “unusual beliefs” such as the Bermuda Triangle. While this section could be controversial for some, a student who reads it skeptically could learn a lot about how to approach their thinking in situations they encounter and decisions they make.  The book includes some easy to understand information on how the brain works and how to take care of it. While the tips provided are common sense things like exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep, it is helpful to have them framed as ways to take care of the brain. A student’s behavior is more likely to indicate that they think about doing well academically by staying awake all night to study for an exam when in fact it may be neglecting their brain health.

The book includes a section on biases that is especially eye opening as to how we subconsciously make judgments. As an advisor, understanding these biases could be helpful for conversations with students regarding things such as transitioning from high school to college, choosing courses, getting involved on campus, and navigating college life. For example, a student could be unhappy or performing poorly in a major that is not a good fit, but suffer from irrational escalation (feeling overly invested in a decision) and be unable to change that major.

Overall, Think could be a good resource for both students and advisors. Some readers may find the author’s writing style a bit difficult and his opinions about what are unusual beliefs controversial. Therefore, both advisors and students would need to read Think skeptically.

Think: Why You Should Question Everything (2013). Book by Guy P. Harrison, Amherst: Prometheus Books. Review by Martha Reck 240 pp. $16.95, (Paperback), ISBN #978-1-61614-807-2

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