neuroscience | August 15, 2016

First Look: Daniel Levitin’s New Book, A Field Guide to Lies

Our lives are flooded with more information than ever before: emails, Facebook updates, push notifications, Google alerts, Tweets, texts, and even (still, somehow) telemarketers and junk mail. And if we need a question answered, Wikipedia is just a few clicks away. But how do we know what’s truth and what isn’t? Neuroscientist, musician, and author of the #1 NYT bestseller This Is Your Brain on Music Daniel Levitin brings us A Field Guide to Lies (September 6)—a three-part critical-thinking primer that will turn you into an expert in navigating today’s minefield of misinformation.

We’ve all done it. Cramming to finish an essay, you slot in a few tailor-made Wikipedia figures without checking citations. Or you slide a couple Reddit TIL-facts into everyday conversation, saving the verification for later. In A Field Guide to Lies, Levitin helps us separate solid fact from convenient half-truth. The book’s first section is dedicated to bad statistics of both the deliberate and the uninformed variety, and how to ferret them out. Here, plausibility, probability, and the scientific method reign. Next, Levitin unpacks messy verbal arguments and the process of identifying them. He cautions us against blind faith in any one source: “You shouldn’t trust everything you read in The New York Times,” he writes, “or reject everything you read on TMZ.” And he warns us that “expertise” is a term too easily thrown around. In A Field Guide’s final section, Levitin demystifies the scientific method, and explains how it’s actually the best litmus test for everyday truth-seeking. Evidence, control groups, alternative explanations—arms and armor for the increasingly puzzling Internet age. 


Passive gullibility is the default mode of many, and must be overcome. But Levitin also warns us against outright cynical rejection. A happy medium involves careful analysis, a keen eye, and above all, common sense. After all, the decisions we make—at work, at home, in relationships—are based on what we interpret to be fact. 


A Field Guide to Lies is Levitin’s fourth book, following an impressive string of #1 NYT bestsellers: This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, and The Organized Mind. He’s published more than 100 scientific articles on music and the brain, in journals such as Science, Nature, and Neuron, and his writing has been translated into more than 20 languages. Levitin’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The London Times, Scientific American, and Rolling Stone. In the music world, he’s performed with Sting, David Byrne, Bobby McFerrin, and Blue Öyster Cult, helped build Columbia/415 Records, and produced and consulted on albums by Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan. 


Until A Field Guide to Lies drops in September, here’s the description from the publisher, Penguin Random House: 


From The New York Times bestselling author of THE ORGANIZED MIND and THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC, a primer to the critical thinking that is more necessary now than ever. 


We are bombarded with more information each day than our brains can process—especially in election season. It’s raining bad data, half-truths, and even outright lies. New York Times bestselling author Daniel J. Levitin shows how to recognize misleading announcements, statistics, graphs, and written reports revealing the ways lying weasels can use them.


It’s becoming harder to separate the wheat from the digital chaff. How do we distinguish misinformation, pseudo-facts, distortions, and outright lies from reliable information? Levitin groups his field guide into two categories—statistical infomation and faulty arguments—ultimately showing how science is the bedrock of critical thinking. Infoliteracy means understanding that there are hierarchies of source quality and bias that variously distort our information feeds via every media channel, including social media. We may expect newspapers, bloggers, the government, and Wikipedia to be factually and logically correct, but they so often aren’t. We need to think critically about the words and numbers we encounter if we want to be successful at work, at play, and in making the most of our lives. This means checking the plausibility and reasoning—not passively accepting information, repeating it, and making decisions based on it. Readers learn to avoid the extremes of passive gullibility and cynical rejection. Levitin’s charming, entertaining, accessible guide can help anyone wake up to a whole lot of things that aren’t so. And catch some lying weasels in their tracks! 


To book neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music, The Organized Mind, and the new A Field Guide to Lies, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive bureau for speaking engagements.

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