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.