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47 MIN READ TIME

Playing Whac-a-Mole with Science Deniers

“I’m not a scientist” is, according to Mike McKenna, a Republican consultant and strategist, “the dumbest talking point in the history of mankind.” Yet, as the science journalist Dave Levitan describes in the introduction to his book Not a Scientist, it emerged as a popular way for politicians to evade questions about science. (Examples are offered from Ronald Reagan, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell.) And, Levitan adds, “even when they do try to dodge the question, they end up spewing misinformation and errors virtually at every step” (p. 5). His book, in fact, is less about the titular phrase and more about the spewage.

Not a Scientist is thus primarily devoted to discussing a baker’s dozen of rhetorical devices used by politicians to misrepresent science. Twelve are allotted their own chapters: 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 the straight-up fabrication. (Surely a literal nitpick would involve actually removing the eggs of lice, but perhaps “the literalistic nitpick” seemed too pedantic a phrase.) The thirteenth, the conspicuous silence, is discussed in the conclusion.

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Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas by Steven Poole
A review of How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality by Richard G. Bribiescas
Reviews of: Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History by Nate Hendley Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff by Edward J. Balliesen Houdini’s ‘Girl Detective’ compiled by Tony Wolf The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For it…Every Time by Maria Konnikova
Review of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari.
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We’ve all heard the story of Chicken Little—a fanciful