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Book Review: Leaving the Land of Woo by Bob Lloyd

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"If you don't know where you're going, you won't know it when you get there." I first heard that in a goal-setting seminar. It's also important to know where you are so you can decide if you want to leave at all. Bob Lloyd's first non-fiction book is an attempt to convince the reader to take an imaginary journey and depart a belief system (The Land of Woo) and reside in a place that he thinks is better. The destination? The land of rational thinking. He clarifies, "What we are calling The Land of Woo is that growing sector which relies on mystical or unfounded beliefs about how the world is, and how it works." His purpose in writing this book is "to encourage you to question what you have so far taken on trust, to move from a position of believing to one of being skeptical." In the preface, he alerts us to be aware that he has chosen not to include footnotes and a bibliography. His choice makes the book easier to read but also presents a conundrum. He asks us to trust his research as he attempts to convince us not to trust our previous convictions. Trust him (it is easy enough to verify his claims on the internet), and the departure on the journey away from Woo is easier to begin.

Anthropologists have said that we have to believe in something to give meaning to our lives. In the opening chapter, Lloyd addresses this basic human need and how our belief systems are formed. He goes on to address how some of our beliefs turn out to be fiction when compared to reality and how our culture actually encourages us to suspend rational thinking in some areas of our lives. We all want to know at some point, "Who says, besides you?" so he discusses the different forms of evidence. Next comes perhaps the most important portion of the book. Lloyd presents in clear, precise, easy-to-read and understand form, a primer on the scientific method. He covers the components and steps and how experimentation leads to repeatable results and conclusions. It is important to know and understand how real science differs from scientific marketing and does not have room for "consensus." There is no need for a majority vote of experimenters to confirm that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.

An in-depth look at the subject of rational thinking follows four chapters on specific areas of woo: medicine, food, psychic and religion. It is in this chapter that the author makes his most significant points and gives the reader useful information, relevant comparisons and techniques that help distinguish woo from reality. Topics such as risk, judgment, and decision-making require good skills at asking questions; lots of questions. Many of us fall victim to woo not because of bad reasoning, says Lloyd, but because we are not applying rational thinking to these particular areas.

We learn from our mistakes, and I suspect that if more people had read this book, they would have made fewer mistakes and learned fewer lessons the hard way. Read it now and save yourself the heartache and bruises. Even if you never entirely leave the land of woo, you will be far better off.

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