Review: Your Day, Your Way, by Timothy Caulfield

Russ Allbery eagle at
Sun Dec 27 20:42:43 PST 2020

Your Day, Your Way
by Timothy Caulfield

Publisher: Running Press
Copyright: December 2020
ISBN:      0-7624-7248-0
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     236

In case you're wondering why I would pick up a self-help book with such
an uninspiring title, it's because this book was originally published
in Canada with the title Relax, Damnit! Why Caulfield's US publishers
would have changed that title is beyond me. Canada clearly got the
better end of this deal. (I'm hoping it's not because they thought
"damn" would scare someone off, but it probably is.)

The topic of this book is a scientific take on all the little decisions
that you may worry about throughout the day: whether to eat breakfast,
how much water to drink, whether public toilet seats are risky, whether
to weigh yourself, how important flossing is, and much more. Caulfield
is a law professor at the University of Alberta specializing in health
law and scientific ethics, but the hat he's wearing when writing this
book is that of professional skeptic. I found out about this book
through Dr. Jen Gunter, a connection that you won't find surprising
when I mention that one of Caulfield's earlier books is titled Is
Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?. (Spoiler: yes.)

Caulfield chose to organize this collection of random essays around the
timeline of a single day, starting with waking up (how long should you
sleep?) and morning routines (what do scientific studies say about
brushing your teeth?), going through a work day (there's a chapter on
multitasking and why you really shouldn't do it), and concluding with
dinner (no, you can't taste the difference between most wines even if
you think you can), evening routines, and sleep. This worked for me.
It's still a bit arbitrary, but it's hard to organize random bits of
skepticism, and this layout let Caulfield make a point about how
frequently most people check their phones. (Stop doomscrolling. It
makes you feel bad. Yes, I'm talking to myself.)

I've now read several books, and considerably more essays, on
scientific skepticism of this type. They're all a bit the same, and
unless you enjoy this general genre of writing, there aren't many
compelling reasons to read this specific entry. (Ben Goldacre's Bad
Science is still my favorite.) I think the only tidbit that I found
surprising and hadn't heard elsewhere is that the science on flossing
is meh at best. The rest is the standard mix of mainstream scientific
advice (don't drink raw milk, you're not going to catch something from
a public toilet seat, multivitamins just give you expensive urine),
advice that's scientifically correct but that I'm still not going to
follow (there's no scientific reason to wash your hair daily but I
still prefer how it feels), and advice to not worry about things with
no evidence on either side (it doesn't matter whether you eat
breakfast, ten thousand steps is a marketing gimmick, drink water when
you're thirsty and don't worry about how much). Caulfield does have a
particularly good debunking of the myth that angry ranting helps you
calm down and feel better (it does the exact opposite), but if you're
reasonably well-read on scientific trivia, nothing here will be that

If you don't follow scientific trivia and want a good collection of
debunking essays, this book is fine. I certainly won't discourage you
from reading it. Caulfield is engaging and succinct, and there's a
balanced mix of odd trivia, debunking of pseudoscience, and good public
health advice, all comfortably in line with what I've read elsewhere.

That said, I found it striking to read this book shortly after Can't
Even. I was hoping that Caulfield would tackle the larger problem of
anxiety and overload that is in part created by the proliferation of
arbitrary standards and rules to which we hold ourselves. He does
tackle some related topics, such as our bizarre belief in the US (and
apparently Canada) that it is unsafe to let children walk to school
without adult supervision, but Caulfield's solutions are nearly all
individual. He wants to inform the reader, he wants to show you how to
analyze scientific research and notice when news articles are scaring
you unnecessarily, and he wants you to become more immune to

Petersen's salient point in Can't Even is that many of us are burned
out already and this is even more work. In order to avoid being
gratuitously frightened and deceived by con artists and sensational
news stories, we have to run a mental checklist of evidence evaluation
and go do independent research. Sure, this works, makes you better at
risk analysis, and may thus make you feel calmer, but this takes a lot
of time and energy. Wasn't a point of having the news media that other
people would do some of that work for you? Once again, everything
that's wrong with the world becomes another chore or energy expenditure
that we all have to independently make.

I know, it's asking too much of a harmless book on the scientific
evidence behind daily life decisions to make a political point about
individual versus collective effort. But it's hard to shake the feeling
that asking individuals to try harder to ignore intentionally deceptive
and well-funded propaganda campaigns doesn't scale. Not everyone enjoys
skepticism as a hobby, and there's only so much individual energy to go

Relax, Damnit! is good advice as far as it goes. But I'm more in the
mood for the books that look at who is making us so anxious in the
first place and how we can (collectively) get them to stop. I don't
know what that looks like (there are obvious free speech concerns), but
we need reliable sources of information that don't make us anxious.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2020-12-27


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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