Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science by Dave Levitan

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

An eye-opening tour of the political tricks that subvert scientific progress.In 1980, Ronald Reagan created one of the dumbest talking points of all time: “I’m not a scientist, but . . .” Since then, politicians have repeatedly committed egregious transgressions against scientific knowledge prefaced by this seemingly innocuous phrase. Yet, as science journalist Dave Levita...

Title:Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:039335332X
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:208 pages

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

  • jeanmarie
    Mar 28, 2017

    This book is well-written, interesting, packed full of interesting anecdotes and delivers exactly what it says it will: the many (13) ways politicians get science wrong.

    So why 3 stars? Honestly, I feel it's 3.5 but you can't do half stars, so here we are. The book is great in many respects and the different ways it lists are legitimately different ways (cherry picking vs over simplifying, for example).

    However, the problem for me was that this book just read as a (very interesting and engaging)

    This book is well-written, interesting, packed full of interesting anecdotes and delivers exactly what it says it will: the many (13) ways politicians get science wrong.

    So why 3 stars? Honestly, I feel it's 3.5 but you can't do half stars, so here we are. The book is great in many respects and the different ways it lists are legitimately different ways (cherry picking vs over simplifying, for example).

    However, the problem for me was that this book just read as a (very interesting and engaging) laundry list. I've been delaying writing this review because I'm really not sure what I was expecting or how the author could have done better -- this book LITERALLY is a compilation of how politicians get it wrong and it's so well-done. The examples are spot on and easy to interpret, clearly relating back to the chapter's point, for example.

    I still felt like something was missing. I feel like I learned how to spot the different types of mistakes, but there wasn't really an arc -- we don't see much beyond just 'how they get it wrong'. I guess that is why the book felt so unsatisfying. I'm not sure if it's fair to expect the book to deliver beyond its premise, but because of how it was laid out, I had a very hard time making myself read it. Each chapter was more of the same with a slightly different twist.

    So, who should read this book? People who a) engage in political debate or research and want some handy facts and anecdotes or who are b) dissatisfied with politics as-is and want a better way to catalogue, explain, or describe why this 'not a scientist' bit is unsatisfactory.

    Note: I received a copy of this book through a goodreads giveaway

  • David Kent
    Jun 09, 2017

    I tag this is an important book that everyone should read, while recognizing that the people who need it most will refuse to do so. The main title is derived from the oft-heard refrain from Republican politicians in the year or so leading up to the recent presidential campaign: "I am not a scientist." Invariably this meaningless throwaway line was followed by some statement that was both false and already refuted by the science.

    Each chapter of the book introduces one of a series of what the aut

    I tag this is an important book that everyone should read, while recognizing that the people who need it most will refuse to do so. The main title is derived from the oft-heard refrain from Republican politicians in the year or so leading up to the recent presidential campaign: "I am not a scientist." Invariably this meaningless throwaway line was followed by some statement that was both false and already refuted by the science.

    Each chapter of the book introduces one of a series of what the author calls mistakes, misrepresentations, and errors. [I would call them tactics] They include the "oversimplification," "cherry-pick," "butter-up and cut," "demonizer," "blame the blogger," and so forth. Some of these will sound familiar and others not, but all are common tactics used by politicians to mislead the public and give cover for fellow science-denier legislators. The examples he uses will be recognizable by most people who watch or read the news.

    The "oversimplification," for example, is done by boiling down a complicated science into a simple statement that appears to be true and definitive (though is likely to be neither). The example he gives is when several Republican politicians argued "the scientific evidence is clear" that unborn babies at 20 weeks feel pain. In fact, there is essentially no scientific evidence supporting this argument (and much evidence to refute it), but by stating something as settled fact that isn't settled fact they are able to push their anti-abortion agenda.

    On the flip-side of this is the "certain uncertainty" tactic. Republican politicians often claim that since we don't every single detail of man-made climate change (e.g., how many feet the seas will rise by 2030 or the temperature by 2050) then we should not take action. Politicians who don't want to take action on climate change demand absolute certainty to avoid responsibility; politicians who do want to take action to block funding for women's reproductive choices claim as certainty conclusions that are in no way certain. In both cases, politicians are selectively choosing a tactic that misrepresents the science for their political gain.

    There are two aspects of the book that I believe keep it from reaching the entirety of its potential. First, the format of each chapter is to introduce examples from politicians mouths to illustrate the tactic being discussed. This is a good start, but then Levitan spends considerable time documenting the research that debunks that particular politician's statement. I agree that explaining the reality is necessary to show the fallacies, faults, and fallaciousness of the statements, but in my opinion these discussions go on way too long. The author is a respected journalist and does an excellent job digging out the background behind the statements, but I wish he had covered the material more concisely so that he could provide more examples and more insights into how to recognize these tactics. No casual viewer or listener of these political statements is going to do investigative reporting to know that the statements are false. The public needs to be able to recognize in real time when politicians are misleading them.

    The second aspect is that Levitan works hard to avoid calling a lie a lie. Many of the tactics he describes as errors and misrepresentations are intentional. The carefully constructed "literal nitpick" of James Inhofe, for example, is done intentionally to misinform the public so that they won't call him out on the science denial that negatively impacts his constituents (but greatly helps his campaign donors, and future donations to his coffers).

    [See this article on The Dake Page for more discussion of this James Inhofe example:

    ]

    Considering the critiques above, I think the book falls short of what it potentially could have accomplished. That aside, I also highly recommend that everyone read it. The tactics that Levitan discusses are used repeatedly by politicians - mostly, but not exclusively, Republicans - and the general public MUST be aware of how science deniers intentionally misrepresent the science. Why the capital letters "MUST?" Because denial of science, and the resulting abdication of responsibility to take policy action to address it, endangers each and every American (not to mention everyone else on Earth, and Earth itself).

  • Richard
    Mar 09, 2017

    Considering that the White House is currently occupied by the most disingenuous president in America's history, this book is a must read for anyone interested in recognizing how science is misused to buttress political agendas. Citing primarily modern examples of politicians employing scientific non-facts to mislead their constituents, Dave Levitan names names, quotes their own words, and then proceeds to disprove their statements with the real scientific facts, which he has scrupulously researc

    Considering that the White House is currently occupied by the most disingenuous president in America's history, this book is a must read for anyone interested in recognizing how science is misused to buttress political agendas. Citing primarily modern examples of politicians employing scientific non-facts to mislead their constituents, Dave Levitan names names, quotes their own words, and then proceeds to disprove their statements with the real scientific facts, which he has scrupulously researched.

    Written in a breezy, conversational style, "Not A Scientist" is a surprisingly quick and enjoyable read. The data used to rebut the political pseudoscience is presented in a simple and straight forward manner, enabling even scientifically challenged readers to get in on the fun.

    Unfortunately, even though the publishing date for this work is April 2017, it was clearly written in early 2016, and thereby completely misses The Donald's utter lack of scientific comprehension, and that of and his accomplices. However, this book is a primer on how to recognize when phony science is being employed for some political purpose, and that is a skill which is imperative for every citizen to master in order to avoid being led down the garden path by unscrupulous civil decision makers.

  • Erin
    Mar 07, 2017

    Available in April 2017

    Dave Levitan explores the ways in which American politicians( majority appear to be the Republican party candidates in the last presidential campaign) have misinterpreted and misused data all in the name of Science.

    The book is divided into twelve chap

    Available in April 2017

    Dave Levitan explores the ways in which American politicians( majority appear to be the Republican party candidates in the last presidential campaign) have misinterpreted and misused data all in the name of Science.

    The book is divided into twelve chapters:

    1) The Oversimplification

    2)The Cherry Pick

    3)The Butter-up and Undercut

    4)The Demonizer

    5)The Blame the Blogger

    6)The Ridicule and Dismiss

    7) The Literal Nitpick

    8) The Credit Snatch

    9) The Certain Uncertainty

    10) The Blind Eye to Follow up

    11) The Lost in Translation

    12) The Straight Up Fabrication

    Conclusion The Conspicuous Silence

    I must confess that reading a print copy of the text would have been thoroughly more enjoyable because many of the images didn't fit within the size of my e-reader. But I digress.

    I liked the way in which the author approaches the topic and repeatedly emphasizes the importance of equipping ourselves with the proper information. A timely reminder in 2017. Issues discussed in the book include: climate change, global warming, vaccinations, epidemics, and abortion.

    Thanks to NetGalley for an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are subject to change for final copy.

  • Robert Hausladen
    Mar 30, 2017

    A read disappointment. Lack of clear critical thinking about what science can and cannot do and about the role of politics in society.

  • Siobhan
    Apr 19, 2017

    The publication timing of this book is extremely appropriate. Not just because of our current political climate, but also literally -- debuting in April, it's something that I would want to assign as summer reading for high school and college students. While the political overtones may make it a difficult sell in that context (though it can't be denied that the bulk of scientific misinformation in media is heavily weighted towards one side of the aisle), nonetheless this is a fast, accessible re

    The publication timing of this book is extremely appropriate. Not just because of our current political climate, but also literally -- debuting in April, it's something that I would want to assign as summer reading for high school and college students. While the political overtones may make it a difficult sell in that context (though it can't be denied that the bulk of scientific misinformation in media is heavily weighted towards one side of the aisle), nonetheless this is a fast, accessible read with practical applications to developing critical thinking while consuming today's news media. Chapters are divided to address the different techniques (from "Oversimplification" to "Blame the Blogger" and "The Certain Uncertainty") used both intentionally and inadvertently by politicians using specific examples and quotes from the Reagan years to the present. It concludes with the "Conspicuous Silence", illustrating that silence on an issue (such as in the case of Reagan and the AIDS crisis) can be nearly as damaging as misinformation, and that "normalizing science and discussion of science" are imperative to the science literacy of the general public. In a sea of misinformation, we could all use all use a refresher. Highly recommended for everyone, and thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!

  • Melora
    May 31, 2017

    Sigh. Hard not to appreciate the relevance of this when the president is currently threatening to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Why not, after all, since, as he's explained, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

    I enjoyed Levitan's book, but it has the same problem most books of this sort do, which is that he's preaching to the choir. As Levitin admits in his introduction, though he includes a

    Sigh. Hard not to appreciate the relevance of this when the president is currently threatening to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Why not, after all, since, as he's explained, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

    I enjoyed Levitan's book, but it has the same problem most books of this sort do, which is that he's preaching to the choir. As Levitin admits in his introduction, though he includes a few inaccurate scientific claims from left-leaning politicians, the great majority of his examples come from the right. Senator Jim Inhofe, Senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Todd Akin, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and other Republican notables make repeat appearances, either attempting to confuse situations in which the scientific consensus is clear, or making outrageous claims masquerading as science. It seems unlikely to me that readers who believe politicians who claim that climate change is a hoax, that vaccinations cause autism, that women's bodies magically prevent conception from rape, and the other similar sorts of claims Levitan offers as examples will pick this up and give it a thoughtful read. I appreciated his breakdown of the various ways these deceptions are proffered, and there were some useful tips on spotting rhetorical tricks used to hide certain sorts of bamboozlements, but I didn't receive any stunning insights. Still, despite my having listened to dishonest politicians for over fifty years now (or, I

    have, if my parents hadn't chucked out the television during my early years due to their dismay at what the politicians had wrought), the internet does offer new opportunities for trickery, political and otherwise, and reminders to be watchful and skeptical of hucksters who preface their scientific pronouncements with the phrase “I'm not a scientist but...” are always useful.

    As Levitan reminds us with examples such as acid rain and AIDs during the Reagan years, often the weight of evidence, the persistence of scientists, and the pressure from citizens who see through the flimflam is eventually enough to win the day for choices made on the basis of fact rather than opportunism and ignorance. I'm clinging to that hope, along with the fantasy that Mr.”I'm like, a really smart person” will chose to

    smart and listen to the 97% consensus (according to climate.nasa.gov, until the administration removes the information) of climate scientists on climate change and

    pull the U.S. out of the Paris treaty and the serious business of saving the planet.

  • Atila Iamarino
    Jun 12, 2017

    Um livro bastante interessante sobre como políticos desprezam, mal tratam ou distorcem ciência para passar a agenda política. Geralmente começando com a frase "Não sou cientista, mas..."

    Os exemplos são principalmente americanos, pois o autor vai pegando pronunciamentos de políticos para mostrar o que cometeram naquela fala. Mesmo assim, são dicas bem proveitosas de quais sinais indicam a atrocidade que vem a seguir. A maior delas, que mais me impressionou, foi a "butter and undercut" ou assopra

    Um livro bastante interessante sobre como políticos desprezam, mal tratam ou distorcem ciência para passar a agenda política. Geralmente começando com a frase "Não sou cientista, mas..."

    Os exemplos são principalmente americanos, pois o autor vai pegando pronunciamentos de políticos para mostrar o que cometeram naquela fala. Mesmo assim, são dicas bem proveitosas de quais sinais indicam a atrocidade que vem a seguir. A maior delas, que mais me impressionou, foi a "butter and undercut" ou assopra e bate, onde o político se pronuncia a favor de uma agência ou pesquisa, mas pelas costas enfia a faca no orçamento. Elogiar a pesquisa espacial da NASA, por exemplo, para depois cortar o financiamento de pesquisa atmosférica e em torno de mudanças climáticas.

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