Authors: Kenneth Keith and Bernard Beins
APA Style Citation
Keith, K. D., & Beins, B. C. (2017). The worth expert guide to scientific literacy: Thinking like a psychological scientist. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Buy This Book
What comes to mind when you think of science? Are you picturing a large textbook and scientists lecturing facts or are you picturing beakers, microscopes, and lab coats? Do you think of science as a body of knowledge, as a process, or both? According to the authors of The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy: Thinking Like a Psychological Scientist, “For scientific literacy is not just about what we know; it is about how we know it, and how we conduct our lives.” Kenneth D. Keith, Ph.D. is professor emeritus of psychological sciences at the University of San Diego, and Bernard C. Beins Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at Ithaca College. Both authors are well-published and focus on the teaching of psychology. In addition, both have held leadership roles for the AP Psychology Reading. The focus of this text is on why scientific literacy is important and how to increase it through psychology. Teachers in psychology have the ability to enhance their students’ critical thinking and help their students go beyond what they know and start to question how they know it is true.
It is said that over a quarter of the American population could be considered scientifically literate. While this dismal statistic is alarming, at least it has been on the rise in the past few decades. Where does the discipline of psychology stand in the world of scientific literacy? Some believe the recent Reproducibility Project has challenged psychology`s standing as a science. The project began in 2011 and was led by the Center for Open Science’s co-founder Brian Nosek, who set out to replicate the findings of original studies published in 2008. Of the 100 published studies that were repeated by independent researchers, 39 had the same outcome, 24 had moderately similar results, and a little over one third had patterns noticeably discrepant from the original. However, this replication crisis is not confined to the field of psychology. The replication crisis is across all sciences but is most commonly discussed in psychology, especially social psychology, and medicine.
The authors argue that psychology helps to develop scientific literacy. Our discipline focuses on empirical questions and devotes more space to scientific literacy than the natural sciences. Psychology also has more complex explanations that require we control extraneous factors and utilize random samples. We are considered one of the seven hub sciences, along with chemistry and medicine, and it has been demonstrated that psychology students become more scientifically literate as they take more classes in the discipline. Introduction to psychology books devote much attention to the scientific process and overall the discipline helps prepare individuals to think about questions related to psychology in complex ways.
What are the characteristics of scientific literacy? A small quiz is provided to check the reader’s scientific literacy. In addition, the authors help break down the types of reasoning and the knowledge of facts. It is important to note that psychology has a rather short half-life of facts, only seven years. After that time, half the facts would be considered wrong or irrelevant. In physics, the half-life of facts is 13 years and in some areas of medicine, it is up to 45 years. Knowing this, it is important to check facts to see if they are valid and credible. As teachers of science, we should encourage our students to think like scientists and continue to question the content as our discipline and other scientific disciplines progress. While the base of knowledge is continuously growing, we should not be scared to question what we learn and look for new evidence to either refute or support earlier findings. As the authors explain the questions necessary for scientific literacy, they provide multiple examples and offer readers an antidote to fix their thinking. Psychology is ripe with examples and is useful in helping to increase scientific literacy.
A large portion of the text is dedicated to evaluating evidence and interpreting numbers. Once again lots of examples and antidotes are provided to guide the reader as they question what they believe to be true. Readers learn to decide what appropriate evidence is and how knowing about probability helps make better decisions. As we look at the evidence we must learn to call into question what is involved, such as personal experiences, authority, and anecdotes. While interpreting statistics we need to understand the numbers and check for deception. Numbers are a tool to help us make the best conclusion possible, but statistics are not infallible. Problems arise when people don’t understand or misinterpret statistics. We need to learn to understand numbers and recognize appropriate evidence and relevant facts, all while learning to avoid potential traps. Not necessarily an easy task, but psychology students are ready!
The authors return to myths and misconceptions. This time they take the approach of why we believe them. They explore culture, self-deception, intuition, authority, faith, personal experience, sources, and evidence. The fallacies underlying common misconceptions are identified and strategies to recognize and overcome these myths are provided.
Another large portion of the text is assigned to scientific literacy within specific fields of psychology. Many terms within the introduction to psychology course are addressed. First, the authors look at psychological beliefs and values. A variety of examples in the fields of sensation and perception and cognition are explored. Second, the authors look at social behavior. Specific attributional errors are addressed. Third, they focus on explanatory style and health-related behaviors. These three chapters are filled to the brim with connections to the psychology classroom.
Finally, psychological science is discussed in the frame of everyday life beyond the lab and classroom. Pioneers in science have not always been received fondly, but we utilize the fruits of the field on a regular basis as we search the Internet, use a cellphone, watch TV, or take a medication. According to the authors, the need for scientific literacy is important as we tackle important topics, such as the anti-vaccine movement, recovered memory therapy, and global climate control. Each of these topics can have dire consequences if the truth is not addressed. Some may question the field of psychology as a science. They use arguments, such as research having to be politically correct, intuition and common sense encompassing an individual’s truths, the pervasiveness of pseudoscientific claims, and the belief that everyday life equals training in psychology. Furthermore, our discipline is faced with the common belief that theories are mere speculation when really they constitute an explanatory framework. Thinking like a scientist can help us overcome misconceptions and make us better problem solvers, decision makers, and partners in relationships. We can better understand motives and avoid being misled with self-deception and selective use of data. Science has a significant role in our everyday lives. On a final note from the authors, “Psychology offers a strong foundation in scientific literacy and it is not just for psychologists.”
Other Related Resources
NOBA Thinking Like a Psychological Scientist
Lumen Introduction to Psychology
Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science
What psychology’s crisis means for the future of science- Vox article
Stanford Prison Experiment: Why famous psychology experiments- Vox article
The Stanford Prison Experiment was massively influential. We just learned it was a fraud.
Philip Zimbardo’s response to recent criticisms on Stanford Prison Experiment
The “marshmallow test” said patience was a key to success. A new replication tells us s’more. - Vox article
Cancer scientists are having trouble replicating groundbreaking research- Vox article
The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists
What a nerdy debate about p-values shows about science — and how to fix it- Vox article
Science is often flawed. It's time we embraced that- Vox article
The replication crisis in science
Students are the answer to psychology’s replication crisis
Why is the replication crisis focused on social psychology?
Neuroscientist explains psychology’s replication crisis
What Do Talking Apes Really Tell Us? Koko, Kanzi, and ape language
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Franz Anton Mesmer
Henry H. Goddard
John B. Watson
Sir Cyril Burt- educational psychology
ABC cognitive approach
Black swan hypothesis
Extrasensory perception (ESP)
False consensus effect
File drawer problem
First instinct fallacy
Fundamental attribution error
Law of small numbers
Mean (arithmetic mean)
Outgroup homogeneity bias
Regression to the mean
Short-term memory capacity
Thermal grill illusion
Type I error
Type II error