Reading: David Levitan

David Levitan

Not A Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science

Monday, April 24 at 7:00pm
You can be sure of one thing in politics: politicians always have scientific facts on hand—sometimes with their fingers crossed. No matter the complexities of climate change, infectious diseases, pollution, or vaccines—it’s easy to justify almost any position with the help of infallible scientific experts. The recent election season was no exception: every candidate claimed deep expertise on specialized subjects from fisheries to fracking.
Trouble is, as journalist Dave Levitan demonstrates in his delightfully functional book, there are many ways to misread the data—and our friends in Washington turn out to be very creative readers indeed. It was Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator himself, who made famous the disingenuous humblebrag “I’m not a scientist, but…” And thus a rhetorical monster was born.
In friendly, fair-minded prose for the layperson and science buff alike, Levitan breaks down lawmakers’ questionable takes on scientific research into cleverly worded categories worthy of Dr. Seuss. There’s The Oversimplification, The Cherry-Pick, The Butter-Up and Undercut, The Demonizer, The Blame the Blogger, The Ridicule and Dismiss, The Literal Nitpick, The Credit Snatch, The Certain Uncertainty, The Blind Eye to Follow-Up, The Lost in Translation, and, last but definitely not least, The Straight-Up Fabrication.

In each case, Levitan provides succinct and persuasive examples from recent decades and all the way up to today’s headlines. Not only is NOT A SCIENTIST a vital guidebook for the thickets of political rhetoric, it would make a pretty good drinking game.

NOT A SCIENTIST will give everyone invested in the political process (and with any luck, that’s all of us) the tools to identify the whoppers in the stump speeches and diatribes on the Senate floor. Most important, beyond the talking points and tweets of any given election year, he gives us more reasons than ever to keep scientific research and education at the forefront of our national values. It’s funny, but our survival depends on it. 

“Levitan's level-headed examination of these rhetorical gymnastics is a vital antidote to and warning against a dangerous, regressive future. A no-holds barred takedown of political idiocy and the terrifying reality of science denial.” — Kirkus Reviews

Dave Levitan is a journalist whose work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Scientific American, Slate, and many other outlets. He lives near Philadelphia with his wife.
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