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An Afternoon with Dave Levitan

The Midtown Scholar Bookstore is pleased to welcome journalist Dave Levitan to Harrisburg, as he presents his new book, NOT A SCIENTIST: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science. 

About the book:

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 book NOT A SCIENTIST: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science 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 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. What’s more, while he’s deftly sketching the skewed science of decades of political skullduggery, Levitan is also writing trenchant and entertaining social history. Readers will find plenty of familiar characters, from Reagan to Bush to Palin to Obama (and everyone in between), and can instantly apply his handy taxonomy to our current political menagerie.

While certain figures and politic parties showup more than others, confusing science is a bipartisan occurance. As Levitan is quick to point out, there have been plenty of examples of Democrats skimming convenient facts for special agendas—while, in fairness, Republicans are the most reliable culprits. But Levitan’s mission is to get the facts right, not to point fingers.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.

About the author:

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

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