Cover image for Not a scientist : how politicians mistake, misrepresent, and utterly mangle science
Not a scientist : how politicians mistake, misrepresent, and utterly mangle science
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2017]

Physical Description:
xxi, 256 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
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 -- The straight-up fabrication.
Politicians who have chosen to act as advocates for vested corporate interests have been known to manipulate and distort scientific facts. Some politicians don't have malevolent intentions: they just don't understand science, and repeat what their sources gather for them. Levitan helps you spot the types of blunders and obfuscations that flood the media and create an anti-science acceptance that affects our world.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Item Notes
Book 303.483 LEVITAN 1 .SOURCE. BT 6-9-17

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The Butter-Up and Undercut. The Certain Uncertainty. The Straight-Up Fabrication. Dave Levitan dismantles all of these deceptive arguments, and many more, in this probing and hilarious examination of the ways our elected officials attack scientific findings that conflict with their political agendas. The next time you hear a politician say, "Well, I'm not a scientist, but...," you'll be ready.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this breezy read, science journalist Levitan contends that when politicians talk about science, "they end up spewing misinformation and errors virtually at every step." He goes on to argue that detecting these inaccuracies is fairly easy: "This book groups these rhetorical and logical errors into clear types to help you find them when they arise, and to cut through the misinformation once you've spotted them." He focuses on 12 such types, including cherry-picking facts, ignoring follow-up studies that yield contrarian results, ridiculing scientific studies by ignoring the context in which they were performed, and simply fabricating results. Levitan presents a range of examples that demonstrate his point, including controversies over fracking and vaccination, but he devotes most of his time to climate change, using political statements about the topic to illustrate most of his 12 types of error. In each case, he presents a politician's argument and then follows up with a readily understandable explication of the underlying science. The book is accessibly written but sarcasm-heavy, and it superficially flits from topic to topic. Levitan professes to focus on science, but his critique of politicians can be applied to virtually all disciplines and largely amounts to suggesting that constituents use critical thinking skills when listening to political speech. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A look at how trends in political rhetoric are used to undermine scientific evidence.In 1980, then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan uttered a now infamous preface to a statement disputing the amount of sulfur dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by cars: "I'm not a scientist." Journalist Levitan highlights Reagan's succinct deflection as a precedent and entry point into the upside-down world of misinformation and science denial that would be parroted and paraphrased by succeeding generations of politicians through the present. The author organizes his chapters around strategies of misinformation highlighting the methods in which politicians, usually Republicans, manipulate data and public perception to cynically sow doubt in scientific fact. With chapter headings such as "The Oversimplification," "The Straight-Up Fabrication," "The Cherry-Pick," and "The Blame the Blogger," it's clear that Levitan doesn't think their tactics are subtle or terribly ingenious. However, as he shows, underestimating these brazen tactics overlooks their startling efficacy. Though the author's examples of political misinformation skew predominantly Republican, he qualifies this perceived bias by flat-out stating this majority is simply a reflection of the party's unfortunate abandonment of mainstream scientific values. The most obvious and discussed subject is climate science. As the most pressing scientific issue of the day, climate change is given ample pages for Levitan to work out the incredibly erroneous and egregious falsehoods peddled by the GOP to deny the overwhelming scientific evidence and community consensus that climate change is caused by human consumption of fossil fuels, among other things. Other subjects of discussion include the debate on embryonic life and the cutoff for abortion, the anti-vaccination movement, and genetically modified organisms. Levitan's levelheaded 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

New York Review of Books Review

"The Cherry-Pick," "The Oversimplification," "The Literal Nitpick." These are just a few of the categories Dave Levitan sets forth in "Not a Scientist," his book about the "variety of subtle, nuanced and sometimes downright malevolent ways to manipulate science toward political ends." His broad survey includes the way that leaders such as Chris Christie and Rick Perry have sought the glory for happy environmental statistics, which are especially prone to the maneuver Levitan calls "The Credit Snatch." "Reducing pollution is a catchy and universally popular idea," he writes, "even if your audience isn't entirely sure what the pollution in question is, and the reasons for those reductions are often nebulous enough that anyone could take credit. T was there when it happened!' is good enough for many a politician."

Library Journal Review

Science journalist Levitan exposes the various ways that politicians have misused or dismissed scientific claims to further their agendas. The book lays out a taxonomy of rhetorical devices employed, devoting a chapter to each. From the outright untruths (often easily refuted) and use of scare tactics to games with attribution, such as hiding untrustworthy sources, taking credit for a predecessor's policies, or being selective in what facts are used to generalize about an issue, these tactics are laid open, and numerous examples are given. While the author covers the expected intersections of science and public policy, morality, or business interests (drug legalization, vaccination, abortion, climate change), sometimes the science is stretched to cover other fields, such as immigration being tied to public health. Though Levitan claims to be attempting a nonpartisan treatment, virtually all of the examples are Republican, and the few Democrat or leftist cases are minimized. The final message of this book is to be vigilant and skeptical about all scientific claims used to support a political agenda. VERDICT A valuable guide to spotting and dissecting obfuscating rhetoric from those in elected office.-Wade M. Lee, Univ. of Toledo Lib. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 The Oversimplificationp. 9
2 The Cherry-Pickp. 28
3 The Butter-Up and Undercutp. 44
4 The Demonizerp. 60
5 The Blame the Bloggerp. 73
6 The Ridicule and Dismissp. 96
7 The Literal Nitpickp. 111
8 The Credit Snatchp. 124
9 The Certain Uncertaintyp. 138
10 The Blind Eye to Follow-Upp. 155
11 The Lost in Translationp. 172
12 The Straight-Up Fabricationp. 186
Conclusion: The Conspicuous Silencep. 201
Notesp. 207
Indexp. 241