From Publishers Weekly
A self-proclaimed socialist and "unabashed Whig," Rutgers mathematician Levitt (Higher Superstition) believes that history is "a march of progress, leading steadily to a more enlightened social order and to an increasingly accurate grasp of the principles underlying the natural world." Here, he analyzes the role that science plays in American society. Taking particular aim at postmodernists and proponents of "science studies"Awho, he claims, believe that science offers no more insight than any other belief systemALevitt attempts to assert the primacy and value of the scientific method. While he articulates superbly the importance of science and makes critical distinctions between science and pseudoscience, especially in chapters focused on health and journalism, his attack on postmodernism falls short of the mark because of his overblown style and his refusal to present more than a caricature of his intellectual opponents (postmodernism "seems to provoke its adherents to the most galling kind of snobberyAobnoxious, self-infatuated, and comically hierophantic"). Nonetheless, there is a great deal of thoughtful material here addressing the tension between democratic principles and a scientific worldview. In the end, however, Levitt provides many more questions than answers. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"An eminently readable and even exciting contribution to a topic that seems ever more intensely active, in and beyond academe." -- Gerald Holton, Harvard University
"Norman Levitt is a new enlightenment hero, a post-postmodern Prometheus bringing fire to the bellies of scholars and students intimidated by obscurantist intellectual bullies and needing encouragement to fight back. There is a real world, we live in it, true and false things can be said about it, science is how we find out about it, and it really matters." -- Richard Dawkins, author, The Selfish Gene and Unweaving the Rainbow
"Since we live in the Age of Science, of all the burning issues in our culture today none stands out in scope and magnitude more than the 'science wars,' and no one has been in the thick of the fight more than Norman Levitt. Prometheus Bedeviled cuts to the heart of the issue like no other book before. Levitt has taken the debate to a new level and Prometheus Bedeviled will become a watershed work that forces fence-sitting science critics to get off the fence." -- Michael Schermer, publisher, Skeptic Magazine, and author Why People Believe Weird Things
"What is the role of science in a wise democracy? That goes awry when empirical values are disprized? In Prometheus Bedeviled, Norman Levitt joins common sense to passion. In the process, he shows himself to be an exemplary scholar-citizen." -- Frederick Crews, author, The Memory Wars, and editor Unauthorized Freud
Levitt is particularly good in dismantling the arguments of those who wish to "democratise science". There is currently a debate in America about the teaching of evolutionary science in schools. Christian fundamentalists demand that the Biblical account of Creation be taught as an equally valid theory of the origins of life. Astonishingly, many radicals support them on "democratic" grounds.
What such radicals propose, Levitt points out, "is not so much the democratisation of science as the supplanting of science by a melange of viewpoints in which populist enthusiasm or even quasi- religious dogma will be anointed with the cultural authority of the 'scientific'."
Levitt's is a brilliant polemic, both thought-provoking and entertaining. I am deeply sympathetic to his main arguments about the nature of scientific knowledge and to his claims for a privileged role for science. I also agree that the general "dumbing-down" of society has had a disastrous impact both on science and on perceptions of science. -- Kenan Malik, The Independent, July 11, 1999