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When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education

ISBN: 978-1-118-13027-8
272 pages
July 2012, Jossey-Bass
When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (1118130278) cover image


Clear, easy principles to spot what's nonsense and what's reliable

Each year, teachers, administrators, and parents face a barrage of new education software, games, workbooks, and professional development programs purporting to be "based on the latest research." While some of these products are rooted in solid science, the research behind many others is grossly exaggerated. This new book, written by a top thought leader, helps everyday teachers, administrators, and family members—who don't have years of statistics courses under their belts—separate the wheat from the chaff and determine which new educational approaches are scientifically supported and worth adopting.

  • Author's first book, Why Don't Students Like School?, catapulted him to superstar status in the field of education
  • Willingham's work has been hailed as "brilliant analysis" by The Wall Street Journal and "a triumph" by The Washington Post
  • Author blogs for The Washington Post and Brittanica.com, and writes a column for American Educator

In this insightful book, thought leader and bestselling author Dan Willingham offers an easy, reliable way to discern which programs are scientifically supported and which are the equivalent of "educational snake oil."

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Table of Contents

About the Author  xi

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction: What Are You to Believe?  1

PART ONE Why We So Easily Believe Bad Science

CHAPTER 1 Why Smart People Believe Dumb Things 31

CHAPTER 2 Science and Belief: A Nervous Romance 57

CHAPTER 3 What Scientists Call Good Science 81

CHAPTER 4 How to Use Science 107

PART TWO The Shortcut Solution

CHAPTER 5 Step One: Strip It and Flip It 135

CHAPTER 6 Step Two: Trace It 167

CHAPTER 7 Step Three: Analyze It 183

CHAPTER 8 Step Four: Should I Do It? 207

Endnotes 223

Name Index 237

Subject Index 243

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Author Information

Daniel T. Willingham is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. His bestselling book, Why Don't Students Like School?, was hailed as "a triumph" by The Washington Post and "brilliant analysis" by The Wall Street Journal; it is recommended by scores of education-related magazines and blogs and is published in ten languages. Willingham writes a regular column called "Ask the Cognitive Scientist" for the American Federation of Teachers' magazine, American Educator.

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"Parents increasingly come face-to-face with important educational decisions that they feel ill prepared to make. Whether they are choosing among schools, math programs or early interventions for a learning disability, this book will help them figure out which options are backed by the best science. (Recommended)"—Scientific American

"By my bedtable is Dan Willingham's new book, When Can You Trust the Experts?... This is help we all can use, from one of the most sensible guys around."—John Merrow, The Huffington Post

"A brilliant new book... Willingham presents a 'short cut' to assessing the value of a given idea—a set of four steps that will be useful to anyone sizing up an unfamiliar concept.  I’ve read Willingham’s book and I recommend it highly!"—Annie Murphy Paul

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Press Release

June 21, 2012
When Can You Trust The Experts?

"This is a wise, engagingly written book on an improtant topic.  If you see education as an evidence-based frield, it would be worthwhile for you to read it.  If you see education as an art not amenable to science, it is essential that you read it."  Russ Whitehurst, driector, Brown Center on Education Policy, The Brooklyns Institution

How To Tell Good Science From Bad Education

Those in education—including classroom teachers, school and district leaders, and even parents of school-aged children—face a never ending stream of new education software programs, games, and staff development workshops that are “based on the latest research,” according to marketing claims.  Unfortunately, the science behind many of these programs is minimal at best.  As a consequence, too many educators and parents are shelling out money,and their precious time, on approaches that simply don’t work.

In, best-selling author Daniel Willinghams new book WHEN CAN YOU TRUST THE EXPERTS? (Jossey-Bass, August 2012, ISBN: 978-1-118-13027-8, $24.95 / Cloth / also available as an e-book) addresses this problem by providing a four step solution:

  • Step 1) Strip It - clear away the verbiage and look at the actual claim
  • Step 2) Trace it - who created this iea, and what have other said about it?
  • Step 3) Analyze it - for what reason are you being asked to believe the claim is true?
  • Step 4) Should I do it?

These steps provide an analytic framework for those in education to help enable them to ask the tougher questions, think more logically about why an intervention might now work, and will ultimately allow for more informed decisions.  Additionally, it will allow parents, teachers, adminstrators and policy makers to suss out which new approaches truly have a reliable evidence base behind them, making them wiser consumers of educational programs and products.

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When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (US $24.95)

-and- Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom (US $19.95)

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