"NOT A SCIENTIST: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science"
The book was released on April 18, 2017, from WW Norton. Order it from these booksellers, or at your local bookstore!
Click here to see a list and links to interviews, podcast appearances, and events related to the book.
PRAISE/REVIEWS FOR "NOT A SCIENTIST"
“This deliciously mordant critique [is] a key handbook for an era of “alternative facts” and pressures on research.” — Barbara Kiser, Nature)
“Levitan’s anecdotes range from the ridiculous to the terrifying . . . If it were up to me, it would be required reading for all congressional staffers working on issues related to science, engineering, and technology.” — Sheril Kirshenbaum, Science
“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
“A clever, timely guide to the sneaky ways sleazy politicians bamboozle us on climate change and other scientific issues. Ernest Hemingway said every good writer needs a built-in, shockproof BS detector, and now thanks to Dave Levitan we can all have one.” — Dan Fagin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toms River
“Read Dave Levitan’s bare-knuckled book for insight into the manipulations and distortions by anti-science politicians who have chosen to act as advocates for vested corporate interests rather than the people they’re supposed to represent.” — Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University, and co-author of The Madhouse Effect
"Not A Scientist" is a sort of playbook of all the ways politicians get scientific topics wrong, organized into chapters based on the types of those errors. For example, The Lost in Translation focuses on when politicians pass on second-, third-, or fourth-hand information from varying sources that gets somehow mangled along the way. The Demonizer describes the technique of connecting a scary scientific issue -- in general, diseases -- to foreigners and immigrants, even when the science doesn't remotely back up that connection. The Straight-Up Fabrication -- well, that one is probably obvious; sometimes politicians just make stuff up.
Each chapter will feature a discussion of these errors, with specific examples from recent and not-so-recent politicians. Readers will come away with an ability to cut through these obfuscations, and an understanding of a large number of scientific topics currently of import to political discussion. These include vaccines, illegal drugs, abortion, basic science research, and of course, climate change.
The idea for NOT A SCIENTIST grew from my time as a staff science writer for political watchdog FactCheck.org. Thanks to a grant the organization received from the Stanton Foundation, I helped them launch a new section of the site called SciCheck, specifically targeting claims made about science. The book expands on that work, looking further back in time and offering more in-depth analysis of both the science and the methods of political speech.
The title of the book arises, of course, from the repeated use of the line "I'm not a scientist" by various politicians in recent years, often to skirt the issue when asked about climate change. Just for fun, here are a few examples of this technique, which was later called "the dumbest talking point in the history of mankind" by a GOP strategist:
- Florida Governor Rick Scott, discussing "flooding around our coast" while neglecting to connect that to climate change and sea level rise.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, falsely claiming that global cooling in the 1970s was just as big a concern as warming is today.
- Florida Senator Marco Rubio, incorrectly stating that there is a significant debate over whether humans are causing climate change.