Today represents one year since we joined scienceblogs, and I think we’ve had a great deal of success in defining the problem of denialism, establishing a new vocabulary for dealing with the problem of pseudoscience, and establishing uniform standards for what is legitimate scientific discourse and debate.
Our first post describes the problem of denialism, and our subsequent posts on cranks, and the 5 tactics of denialism – Conspiracy, Selectivity, Fake Experts, Moving Goalposts, and Fallacies of Logic – have stood the test of time. They accurately describe the types of argument that fail to meet the standards of legitimate scientific debate and inevitably are utilized by those that, for one reason or another, choose to deny reality.
Ultimately my goal with this blog is to educate people about how to detect pseudoscience and dismiss it without requiring an impossible level of expertise in every scientific discipline. I want people to understand that when they see an article that alleges conspiracies, and cites some crackpot, and makes crazy claims of causation that they don’t need to spend a year looking up legitimate sources of information to debunk it.
Pseudoscience follows a predictable pattern of argument. Sources are selectively quoted to provide a sciencey-sounding argument (often using logical fallacies of causation etc.), fake experts are cited to confer a patina of scientific legitimacy, conspiracies are alleged to dismiss the vast expanse of contradictory data and scientific opinion, and criticism is further deflected by constantly moving goalposts to deflect mounting evidence against the fixed belief. In a way science should be flattered – it is the gold standard of reality after all – and the efforts of pseudoscientists to make their nonsense sound like science inevitably indicates the esteem of anti-science movements for the legitimacy of scientific belief.
Detection of denialism by now should be a reflex (if not review the 5 tactics above). You should be able to smell a bad argument by now. Granted, authoritative debunking requires a certain amount of research to familiarize oneself with a topic and understand the basis of denialist argument. But as a practical guide, the 5 tactics should have armed you with the basic tools you need to sort through the vast amounts of information available to the average Joe these days, and decide rapidly that which should be listened to, versus that which belongs on the junk-heap of pseudoscientific nonsense. I’m writing this blog not just to vent about this nonsense that pisses me off, but hopefully to arm the the rational with a vocabulary for systematically dealing with bullshit. I think success for this effort will ultimately rest with my readership, and hopefully one day the media and public at large, regularly applying these tests to information sources to see whether they meet the basic standards for legitimate discussion of scientific fact.
So my friends, show me what you’ve learned. I received an email asking me what I thought of this article appearing in the American Chronicle – a news/opinion aggregater with no standards for inclusion. Tell me what you you guys think, and if you can’t spot the problems that should allow you to dismiss it out of hand. I’ll post my analysis based on denialist factors and the scientific evidence later in the comments and we’ll compare notes. Good hunting!