Hello and welcome to denialism blog.
Here we will discuss the problem of denialists, their standard arguing techniques, how to identify denialists and/or cranks, and discuss topics of general interest such as skepticism, medicine, law and science. I’ll be taking on denialists in the sciences, while my brother, Chris, will be geared more towards the legal and policy implications of industry groups using denialist arguments to prevent sound policies.
First of all, we have to get some basic terms defined for all of our new readers.
Denialism is the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one’s viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.
Examples of common topics in which denialists employ their tactics include: Creationism/Intelligent Design, Global Warming denialism, Holocaust denial, HIV/AIDS denialism, 9/11 conspiracies, Tobacco Carcinogenecity denialism (the first organized corporate campaign), anti-vaccination/mercury autism denialism and anti-animal testing/animal rights extremist denialism. Denialism spans the ideological spectrum, and is about tactics rather than politics or partisanship. Chris will be covering denialism of industry groups, such as astroturfing, and the use of a standard and almost sequential set of denialist arguments that he discusses in his Denialist Deck of Cards.
5 general tactics are used by denialists to sow confusion. They are conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.
Throughout this first week we’ll be discussing each of these 5 tactics in turn to give examples of how they are used, and how to recognize their implementation. We’ll also introduce our handy little icon scheme that we’ll attach to each post discussing denialists. If you just can’t wait a whole week, well, visit our old blog’s definition to see what we’re talking about.
Finally, some ground rules. We don’t argue with cranks. Part of understanding denialism is knowing that it’s futile to argue with them, and giving them yet another forum is unnecessary. They also have the advantage of just being able to make things up and it takes forever to knock down each argument as they’re only limited by their imagination while we’re limited by things like logic and data. Recognizing denialism also means recognizing that you don’t need to, and probably shouldn’t argue with it. Denialists are not honest brokers in the debate (you’ll hear me harp on this a lot). They aren’t interested in truth, data, or informative discussion, they’re interested in their world view being the only one, and they’ll say anything to try to bring this about. We feel that once you’ve shown that what they say is deceptive, or prima-facie absurd, you don’t have to spend a graduate career dissecting it and taking it apart. It’s more like a “rule-of-thumb” approach to bad scientific argument. That’s not to say we won’t discuss science or our posts with people who want to honestly be informed, we just don’t want to argue with cranks. We have work to do.
Second, denialism isn’t about name-calling or the psychological coping mechanism of denial. The first reaction of any denialist to being labeled such is to merely reply, “you’re the denialist” or to redefine the terms so that it excludes them (usually comparing themselves to Galileo in the process). However, denialism is about tactics that are used to frustrate legitimate discussion, it is not about simply name-calling. It’s about how you engage in a debate when you have no data (the key difference between denialists and the paradigm-shifters of yesteryear). There are a few more common defenses that we’ll discuss in time.
So while the denialists will inevitably show up and suggest my belief in the validity of carbon dating shows I’m a Bible denialist, or my inability to recognize the wisdom of some HIV/AIDS crank shows I don’t understand biology, we won’t tend to engage them. They’re cranks and we aim to show how you can instantly recognize and dismiss crank arguments.
Finally, just because some people believe in stupid things, doesn’t make them denialists. A lot of people get suckered in by denialist arguments and benefit from having the record corrected or being shown how to recognize good scientific debate versus unsound denialist debates. We aren’t suggesting everybody who has a few wacky ideas is a crank, part of the reason denialists abound and are often successful in bringing the masses over to their side is that their arguments don’t necessarily sound insane to the uninitiated. Denialist arguments are emotionally appealing and work on a lot of people. We’re trying to inform people about denialism and how to recognize denialist arguments so that ultimately they will be less effective in swaying those that may not be fully informed about science. Hopefully, by creating awareness of the ground rules of legitimate scientific debate, citizens, policy makers, and the media may better distinguish between sound and unsound scientific debate.
73 thoughts on “Hello Scienceblogs”
Welcome. A most welcome addition.
Welcome! It’s great to have you aboard!
May I be the first to say “LALALALALA I cant hear you LALALALALALALA.”
Hey guys, I’ll be viewing your blog with interest. Any chance you folks might cover multi-level marketing (e.g. Amway)? It fits in nicely with the rest of your topics.
Welcome to the club!
Aha ! The government stooges have arrived.
How very convenient……
Just to get a proper Scienceblogs reception it would be immensely helpful if one of you could claim to be a born again Christian and then make a nasty comment about Richard Dawkins.
Government stooges? Ha!
That would be a fun way to get started. Then I should also insult PZ, tell Orac surgeons are twits, and profess my love for Francis Collins’ philosophy.
(I think you’re safe)
Thanks for the welcome guys.
Welcome to the Family!
Mark and Chris, welcome to the fold. What a fabulous addition to ScienceBlogs!
I’m thrilled to have you two on board…almost can’t wait for the next big controversy to erupt, just so I can read your analyses – anyone out there getting ready to go on Nightline and proclaim that exercise causes cancer? No? How about eating red M&Ms leads to autism?
Welcome! We’ve got high expectations of you fellows. . . .
Hey there! Nice to have you on…
Thanks everyone for your kind notes! This is going to be fun! Chris
Speaking of conspiracies, you’ve been taken up into the scienceblogs mothership. Does that mean the folks at scienceblogs have put bar code tattoos on the back of your necks and implanted transmitters under your skin?
Congrats on being picked up by scienceblogs.
Glad to see you over here. Bit weird to be listed with the autism group, since I haven’t done that topic in a while, sticking with general skepticism.
Maybe I should get back to it sometime.
Welcome, I’ll be checking in regularly. Consider yourselves added to the blogroll.
welcome, I’m looking forward to your posts!
Awesome. Can’t wait to get reading you…
MD-PhD pride — we need more of them.
Welcome to you both.
Bronze, I’ve been looking at all these different types of denialism for a while now, and I used many of your old posts as a resource. Wouldn’t be fair not to mention you.
And factition, you’d be surprised how much we had to agree to in order to become members. We had to swear allegiance to the materialist atheist conspiracy and were inducted into the inner-scienceblogs cabal during a lengthy ritual that took place in PZ’s basement. After that we got our pharmaceutical company pay-offs, and greenpeace gave each of us 100k to keep that global warming conspiracy going. Finally, we were informed if we make sure no one finds out HIV doesn’t cause AIDS that all of our grants will be funded for perpetuity. It was quite a time.
Welcome guys! Great to have you on board.
Glad to be of service, then.
Looking forward to the posts. This looks fantastic!
Welcome! I’m already completely dazzled – and I’ve only read your profiles!
Glad to see you. Now, about the 20 year backlog you’ve got to catch up on …
Go get ’em boys! Welcome…
Glad to see you’ll be dealing with some of the denialist tactics in extreme animal rights movements – something that’s often left out. Scientific misinformation (usually the smeering of “conventional” medicine) is often a big part of some of the extreme groups’ claims. I live in Oxford (UK), which has been the focus of the country’s animal rights protests over the last couple of years, and aside from violence and threats one of the chief annoyances has been the bombardment with claims that prescription drugs cause more deaths than road accidents and similar nonsense. Looking forward to the posts!
You’re not going to forget me now that you guys have hit the big time, will you?
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this blog. I was thinking of starting one for this very reason, but I don’t really have the time or (more importantly) the expertise. THANK YOU for doing this.
Just when I got to love the blogger lack of markup elements…
and why do you have a halo behind your head?
Hey there. Nice addition to the blogroll. Thanks for the link :o) I’m looking forward to reading some of what you have to say – understanding denialism is perhaps as important (if not more so) than combating it.
Never minimalist. If you didn’t show up I was going to start writing you emails. Same for you Ted.
And Bennet, could you publish an RSS feed for your site? It would be helpful and you can do it for free through feedburner.
Tee hee. I think I’m going to enjoy this blog.
This blog should be an interesting read–I look forward to it. I’m a little worried about your generalizations in this definition (or list of properties) of denialists that you give. For example, you write
Denialists are not honest brokers in the debate (you’ll hear me harp on this a lot). They aren’t interested in truth, data, or informative discussion, they’re interested in their world view being the only one, and they’ll say anything to try to bring this about.
If you define a denialist this strictly, you won’t get very many, and for the ones the definition covers, we won’t need a blog to help us pick them out! It’s the boundary cases where insights are needed. For example, Richard Lindzen (global warming skeptic) most certainly does not satisfy these criteria. But he nevertheless opposes a scientific consensus. What does that make him, since he’s not a denialist? How can you help a layman decide whether to trust someone like him?
Sounds great! Can’t wait to get into the denialism (so to speak).
Hmmm. Sam, I don’t know if I’d consider Lindzen a borderline case. I’ve seen him do conspiracy theories (that peer reviewers blackball “dissenters”), he definitely does selectivity in terms of ignoring evidence he doesn’t like and changing the topic to accuracy of models, he himself is a false-expert, he creates impossible expectations for models (his main source of anger), and as far as fallacies, I can’t think of any, but give me time. I track his stuff.
Pretty much anyone who says that peer review stifles people who disagree with consensus is a crackpot. It’s actually a bit hard to understand how people come by this idea when all the science I see that’s end up in the big journals are usually splashy and change perceptions about existing fields. It’s only fair that if you challenge consensus you’ll have to suffer a greater burden of proof, and some people have had to really fight before their ideas were accepted generally, but to say, as Lindzen did in the WSJ that it’s used to tow a specific and unassailable party line, that’s just tinfoil hat kind of stuff.
Can someone else confirm that the RSS feed for this blog isn’t working? Gets a file not found, it seems.
Welcome indeed. There’s a lot of denialism in the field of education, especially attending to k-12 education.
I got the feed to work Andy. I use bloglines. Did you enter it by hand?
Welcome, gentlemen. I’m a regular reader of Pharyngula and some of the other fine scienceblogs, and I’m very glad to add y’all to the list.
Plus, it’s nice to cross paths with you again, Chris. It’s been quite a while since our Sagan Society days at UGA…
While there are many cases where there are indeed crackpots who claim peer review is the reason their nutty ideas aren’t taken seriously, the issue of whether peer review can suppress studies that are contrary to a concensus is a valid one. See Card, D. and A. B. Krueger (1995), ‘Time-series minimum wage studies: A meta-analysis’. American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings 85(2), 238-243. The conclusion Card and Krueger arrive at is not necessarily universally accepted – see Neumark, David and Wascher, William, “Is the Time-Series Evidence on Minimum Wage Effects Contaminated by Publication Bias?” (June 1996). NBER Working Paper No. W5631. and the issues regarding the validity of the meta-analysis are too technical for me to express an informed opinion on who is right, but the impacts of publication bias cannot simply be written off.
G Felis, thanks for spinning by! It’s been some time and it’s great to see you, even if it’s only online.
Matt, I’m not saying you can’t get bad peer reviewers or generally peer reviewers can’t obstruct new findings. Any reading of Kuhn would suggest otherwise. But to suggest there is some monolithic cabal designed to suppress dissent is where the conspiracy takes hold.
If you’ve got the data, you’re going to eventually get believed, that’s the real message of Kuhn. Peer reviewers might be a delay, it might take work to convince them, but ultimately, data speaks for itself.
When you’ve got no data…
“Examples of common topics in which denialists employ their tactics include: Creationism/Intelligent Design, Global Warming denialism, Holocaust denial, HIV/AIDS denialism, 9/11 conspiracies, Tobacco Carcinogenecity…”
One of the most successful ones I’d add to that list is the anti-nuclear power industry.
Like many of the ones you list there was at some time reasons to suspect the position *might* be true, but a bunch of people get committed to the position that it *must* be true and any who disagree are agents of evil, so the data doesn’t matter.
First, just for the record, I am not a priori opposed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, I am convinced that there are legitimate uses for the same. Certain medical procedures come to mind, if nothing else. As for large scale nuclear power generating facilities, I’m still on the fence on that one for a number of reasons, economics being a big one and safe disposal of nuclear waste being another. I’m certainly willing to entertain the possibilities that neither of these is an insurmountable problem. Having said that something you say leapt out at me, “the anti-nuclear power industry”, Huh?
I am aware that there is auch a thing as the nuclear power industry, but an industry devoted to opposing nuclear power?
In my humble opinion you seem to be skating on rather thin ice with that comment, wouldn’t you say? Or is it that you are clutching rather tightly to a paradigm and world view that you dearly hold to be true whether it really is or not?
I say let the facts speak for themselves. I for one think a deeper analysis of the long term consequences may be in order before I’m willing to put my money on the table. So I would like to keep an open mind one way or the other.
Hmm I haven’t had my full mug of coffee yet, “anti THE nuclear power industry” Ok. but the gist of my comment still stands.
My use of the phrase “anti-nuclear power industry” was only partly tongue-in-cheek since there are some people who seem to make a career out of opposing nuclear power. (One could make up a similar phrase about eg: PETA)
An example of what is wrong with the anti-nuclear power arguments is the fuss about nuclear waste, which stays stored on the site & harms no one, while the waste from nuclear’s major competitor power source ie: coal, gets spewed into the air & does poison people.
See eg: http://nnadir.dailykos.com/ for interesting arguments for building lots more nuclear.
I like this guy’s ( http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/ ) ideas on how to make nuclear more economic & reduce nuclear waste below what it is now.
Things must be looking pretty bad for the anthropogenic global warming cranks if they have to put up a whole blog of ad hominems to deal with technical challenges to their work.
Welcome, guys. We commenters are going to keep you busy.
I’d love to see you discuss Lindzen more. His biggest argument seems to be that scientific consensus has been wrong before, so we should not trust it. But, of course, this leads to a logical black hole: “I will have succeeded once every agrees with me that we should not accept consensus … oops.”
Your blog looks interesting, but you need to get the atom feed working. You have a link pointing at http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/atom.xml – but that does not exist. Fix it, or lose this potential reader. (Which may not scare you, but surely, I am not the only person who will not read a blog except via an atom or rss feed?)
Er, I did find a working feed after all. It’s at http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/index.xml and not at atom.xml. There are two <link rel=”alternate”> elements in the head element of the blog pages, and firefox for some reason recognizes only the atom.xml one, which as I stated before does not exist.
So then YOU TWO must be the people who can find us some evidence for the likelihood of catastrophic warming. Or for the idea that a little bit of human-induced warming is a BAD thing in a brutal and pulverising ice age.
Lets see the evidence then you denialist tax-eaters.
I don’t think thats too much to ask.
GMB, where’s *your* evidence? please start by providing a few links to the peer reviewed papers that contradict the evidence put out by the IPCC just recently. Then also please back up your statement regarding “denialist tax-eaters” whatever that means. BTW I hadn’t noticed the fact that we happen to be going through a brutal and pulverising ice age either. Then again that might be because I live in Florida. I am breathlessly awaiting your reply! Cheers.
Don’t be throwing it back on ME fella.
We need some positive evidence from the alarmist side.
Running down people who don’t agree with you, or even finding authentic mistakes of theirs, or even proving that they lack personal hygiene and their chicks are ugly…..
….. None of this amounts to POSITIVE evidence that this most brutal and pulverising ice age has come to an end under our influence.
We have 39 million years of evidence telling us that we are in an ice age.
Now where is the evidence that industrial-CO2 can end this.
Bear in mind the techniques of the denialist-alarmists third parties. You just saw Fernando-the-Hungarian-tribalist use one right there.
We have 39 million years of evidence telling us that we are in an ice age… Fernando-the-Hungarian-tribalist, LOL!
Just give me a few links to the evidence or I’ll have to accuse you of having personal hygiene worse than Atilla the Hun’s. Oh and before *you* bring it up, let me admit, up front, that I have always wanted to play polo with recently harvested human skulls, got a problem with that? Roasting my enemies over an open fire helps to keep the chill of the brutal and pulverising ice age that we are going through at bay. Come on GMB was that response the best you could come up with? How about the names of scientists and links to their papers, do you think you could give me a few? Let’s say 10 peer reviewed papers, I’d really like to read them.
Oh, never mind.
“Finally, some ground rules. We don’t argue with cranks. Part of understanding denialism is knowing that it’s futile to argue with them, and giving them yet another forum is unnecessary.”
Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, should perhaps go into your weblog? Certainly, the Planet X folks and Hoagland aren’t very fact-based…
“Denialism” is a strictly religious notion. “You are a Denier” is something shouted when a offical government approved party dosen’t have the facts and doesn’t need the facts when confronted by a dissident. This notion of “Denialism”, if combined with government is a dangerous assault on free-speech rights. The government will combine itself into the controversy, and questioning government’s line will be “denialism”. In fact, Bush, and his sympathetic media has used the methods you entertain except without having a special word for them.
What you want is that if someone “denies” something, he/she is a “witch”. He/She is fit for the gulag. Congratulations, you are a NEOCON.
I see the Hoofnagle line carries the Chertoff/Wolfowitz/Pipes/Feith/Krauthammer/Rand/Strauss/Bela Kun geneline, your inborn instinct is to profit and exploit your host society. But I bet your a Race-“Denialist” anyway.
Wow, someone just went off their meds.
This promises to be fun. I love the idea of categorizing “denialists” not by their theses, but by their rhetorical methods. In particular, their over-reliance on polemic just points out the weakness of any alternative apologetic they might propose.
NO NO FERNANDO.
Stop the alarmist filibuster???
Its not up to me to show up with evidence.
LETS GO OVER IT AGAIN.
We have 39 million years of evidence that we are in an ice age. The alarmist side of the argument doesn’t have any evidence that this has changed.
So its up to YOU LUNATICS. And most particularly the two absolute denialists to the nth fucking degree that started this science-forsaken-blog to come up with some evidence!!!
Now no matter how many times you guys try to throw up denialist diversions it WILL-NOT-MAKE-THE-SPELL.
We see another fob-off technique from Fernando.
Fernando didn’t have any evidence in the first place. Yet he’s still a believer. He still has faith. So he tried one technique. We might call it leftist projection.
When that didn’t work he had another variant which tried to make a joke of it.
What the fucking dumb fuckhead anti-science lefitst DOESN’T have is EVIDENCE.
WE WEREN’T AFTER DENIALIST FOB-OFFS. WHAT WE WERE AFTER INSTEAD IS EVIDENCE.
We were after evidence for the likelihood of catastrophic warming and evidence that a little bit of human-induced-warming is a bad thing in a brutal and pulverising ice-age.
The alarmist-denialist side of the argument are leftist lunatics.
They have no evidence and they refuse to discuss the science.
Now have you got that fucking evidence you complete moron.
Because it doesn’t matter how many tricks you fucking come up with.
The fact is you need evidence to believe in something or else its religion.
notiz=disemvoweled for abuse
Lets go again. The board hosts showed their DENIALIST TECHNIQUES by refusing to come up with any evidence.
We didn’t want any denialist techniques.
What we were after was evidence for the likelihood of catastrophic warming or for the idea that a little bit of human-induced-warming is a bad thing in a brutal and pulverising ice age.
ONE DENIALIST TECHNIQUE AFTER DODGING THE NEED FOR EVIDENCE IS TO BLOCK SOMEONE EVEN BEFORE THEY START SWEARING AT YOU.
notiz=disemvoweled for abuse
Lets go again:
“We have 39 million years of evidence telling us that we are in an ice age.
Now where is the evidence that industrial-CO2 can end this.”
Now play nice or I’ll set it to disemvowel everything you say.
Great to have this new blog here !
And about a very relevant subject, too… Welcome !
GMB, now that you have calmed down a bit, I thought I’d mention that polar ice caps and glaciers tend not to melt during glacial periods such as they are currently doing. So whatever the cause, the one thing you can’t do is argue that we are in an ice age. We are not and the evidence is very dramatic. You can find a general time line to past glacial periods at the link below. As for how C02 effects the warming of the atmosphere, you might want to stop by over at realclimate.org and read some of the linked papers and discussions.
“There have been four major periods of glaciation in the Earth’s past. The first, and possibly most severe, may have occurred from 800 Ma to 600 Ma (million years ago, the late Proterozoic Age) and it has been suggested that it produced a “Snowball Earth” in which the earth iced over completely. It has been suggested also that the end of this cold period was responsible for the subsequent Cambrian Explosion, a time of rapid diversification of multicelled life during the Cambrian era. However, this theory is recent and controversial.
A minor series of glaciations occurred from 460 Ma to 430 Ma. There were extensive glaciations from 350 to 250 Ma. The present Pleistocene ice age has seen more or less extensive glaciation on 40,000 and later, 100,000 year cycles. The last glacial period *ENDED* about 10,000 years ago.”
This is a great and much needed addition to scienceblogs (and probably blogs in general). I would also like to suggest that you guys talk a little about the Schopenhauer work “The Art of Controversy,” which is practically the bible of slick (read dishonest) rhetorical devices. Truth be damned, if you master this you’ll probably win every argument regardless of the facts. There’s a great online version here:
Thanks and I look forward to more posts.
Alas, there are no new ideas. Neat link ASW.
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