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"No matter what ideas the human mind generates, they must never be quashed."
May 28, 2010 2:34 PM   Subscribe


 
This is the cover story for their May 15th 2010 issue.
posted by zarq at 2:36 PM on May 28, 2010


For the most part, science journalists have only themselves to blame.
posted by wobh at 2:39 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Good to see them taking on the issue. It comes in all political stripes, and irrationality just can't be good at the policy level.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:40 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


What man has not been reasoned into, he cannot be reasoned out of - Johnathan Swift (Or Mark Twain).
posted by prodigalsun at 2:43 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I seem to remember having the impression that 5 years ago, a skeptic was a person who questioned the mainstream belief in God, tested whether or not alternative medicine worked, and tried to convince people to be rational. When did it shift to mean a person who just knows that vaccines are dangerous, or that global warming is a government farce, or that you just shouldn't go to a doctor to treat cancer?
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:46 PM on May 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


What man has not been reasoned into, he cannot be reasoned out of - Johnathan Swift (Or Mark Twain).

I don't agree with this. I've been reasoned out of several irrational beliefs that I wasn't reasoned into, and I would bet most people can think of examples where they formed beliefs without reasoning and were convinced away from them by the application of reason.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:46 PM on May 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


When did it shift to mean a person who just knows that vaccines are dangerous, or that global warming is a government farce, or that you just shouldn't go to a doctor to treat cancer?

I think climate "skepticism" is where it really came into play- most denialist movements (like those mentioned in the denialism article) didn't really use the phrase. Climate change denialists used the word "skeptics" to refer to themselves to suggest that they were reasonable people who had reasonable doubts, a suggestion to which the lie has been put over and over and over.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:49 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


All right, so the trick to winning over morons seems to be to forget your facts and figures and logic and just to share engaging, illustrative anecdotes and compelling narratives.

Oh, and not to refer to them as morons. Damn, I always forget that part.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:59 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


My favorite is the Glenn Beck JAQ'ing Off technique: "Why HAVEN'T scientists conclusively proven Obama isn't a Muslim? I'm just asking questions!" etc.

The unwillingness to accept evidence, to be bothered to learn anything about the subject, and yet demand it be handed over instantly is rather like, "Explain nuclear physics to me in 5 minutes, in complete detail, otherwise it's completely A LIE."
posted by yeloson at 2:59 PM on May 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


> ...is rather like, "Explain nuclear physics to me in 5 minutes, in complete detail, otherwise it's completely A LIE."

This also frequently describes client/contractor relationships.
posted by ardgedee at 3:05 PM on May 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


For the record, the most popular parody of the Glenn Beck JAQ-off maneuver is verbatim here.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:06 PM on May 28, 2010


Hovind is my favorite skeptic. Dropping science on dinosaurs all up on the liberal ivy elites.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:10 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think, to follow up on Pope Guilty's comment, that some global warming denialists are vicarious in their skepticism, in the sense that they may've read, say, Bjorn Lomborg (who may've been reasonable at one point), and been shaken to their boots, and resolved thereafter to oppose the public school environmentism of their youth, having otherwise removed themselves from the course of the debate. They're "skeptics" insofar as they've extracted a moment of dissent and embosomed it.
posted by flechsig at 3:27 PM on May 28, 2010


I seem to remember having the impression that 5 years ago, a skeptic was a person who questioned the mainstream belief in God, tested whether or not alternative medicine worked, and tried to convince people to be rational. When did it shift to mean a person who just knows that vaccines are dangerous, or that global warming is a government farce, or that you just shouldn't go to a doctor to treat cancer?

Each of these articles discusses the difference between denialism and skepticism, and they explain pretty thoroughly that a skeptic is someone who questions accepted beliefs and looks for evidence to determine truth. At the same time they should remain tolerant, because they understand that science is not a guide to absolute truth. On the other hand, a denialist is someone who irrationally refuses to change their mind from a tightly held belief when presented with evidence they are wrong. They are intolerant of worldviews that conflict with their own.

I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist.
posted by zarq at 3:29 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that skepticism is no longer a good thing or anything. I'm just saying that it's weird denialists have started adopting that, even when they're into woo out the wazoo. If it keeps up, it'll be embarrassing to call yourself a skeptic in a few more years.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:38 PM on May 28, 2010


For the most part, science journalists have only themselves to blame.

Well that, and an entire culture and cluster of industries dedicated to profiting from selective ignorance. But yeah, fuck those guys at Discover magazine for not doing more megachurch outreach.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:07 PM on May 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Each of these articles discusses the difference between denialism and skepticism, and they explain pretty thoroughly that a skeptic is someone who questions accepted beliefs and looks for evidence to determine truth. At the same time they should remain tolerant, because they understand that science is not a guide to absolute truth. On the other hand, a denialist is someone who irrationally refuses to change their mind from a tightly held belief when presented with evidence they are wrong. They are intolerant of worldviews that conflict with their own.

This is a good summary. A pet peeve, though, is the tactic of putting people into the denialist camp simply because they interpret the data differently against the majority vote, or of insisting that their interpretation is so problematic that there must be an epistemic vice somewhere that discredits their participation in the discussion. This is generally a universal problem that transcends ideology, motivated by emotional investment, and is usually the easiest way to get the other side to go away by defining their position as being preposterous, or denying the "real" evidence, in the public discussion.

The difficulty is that some positions are preposterous, by reasonable standards, and those things should be called out. But I'm not sure a definitive criteria has been established that allows one to appropriately draw the line, such that people don't use this tactic illigitimately.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:38 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Scepticism is integral to the scientific process, because most claims turn out to be false.
That’s not true.
Denial is different. It is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it - sometimes even in the teeth of evidence.
No, it isn’t.
Sceptics change their minds. Deniers just keep on denying.
No they …. Uh

Hovind is my favorite skeptic.

Wasn’t it Hovind who said that because Richard Nixon looks like an eggplant the Cydonia face on Mars is a Viking?
maybe I don't remember every detail, but I think that's the gist
posted by Smedleyman at 4:53 PM on May 28, 2010


I was using "Skeptic" in the ironic sense of the word. He'd call himself an "evolution skeptic," or sometimes a "cryptozoologist" (yes, he thinks that actually carries some cachet), even though he's a flat out denialist.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2010


I've been reasoned out of several irrational beliefs that I wasn't reasoned into, and I would bet most people can think of examples where they formed beliefs without reasoning and were convinced away from them by the application of reason.

This works on reasonable people. I have seen it happen. But, a lot of people have really irrational beliefs and will not let go. For example, my mother-in-law read Trick or Treatment, thought it was really interesting, and even recommended it to me. But it didn't convince her that homeopathy doesn't work. Some people form the belief before examining the evidence, so no amount of reason will change their minds.
posted by lexicakes at 6:41 PM on May 28, 2010


Baloney Detection Kit
posted by homunculus at 7:41 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this series. I read through it earlier this week, and there are some good articles in there. I am not a fan of Michael Fitzpatrick's article (the Questioning Science is not Blasphemy link), though. I thought Orac had a pretty good response to it the other day. I don't think that calling a movement or idea "denialism" is really hindering scientific debate. Denialists aren't trying to engage in scientific debate. What they're really doing is using fallacious arguments to try to gain legitimacy for their ideology, under the guise of scientific debate. It isn't useful to debate denialists. Given a forum to express their views, they will use every trick they have to make their side appear just as legitimate as the actual science-based side, even when it isn't.
posted by lexicakes at 7:47 PM on May 28, 2010


Let's not get too excited about Mr. Shermer. After reading this piece of garbage, I've confirmed what I suspected to be true all along: he's an idiot.

Like other libertarians, he's formulated a political/economic worldview based on novels and movies, a worldview articulate by fiction and supported entirely by faith. That he can't see the irony in that is baffling.
posted by klanawa at 8:21 PM on May 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


You have to be willing to lose the views to be able to rationally evaluate them. If a view is as essential to you as "water is wet," it's not going anywhere. In addition, once you convince someone that there's a conspiracy, they'll hold all evidence to more scrutiny than a normal person would. Most papers say that global warming is real? Well, that's because most scientists are being paid for by the government! Most doctors say vaccines are perfectly safe? Well, they get an awful lot of visits from drug reps who work for big pharma!
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:37 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Intellectual denial is a denial of reason, often mistaken as a denial of fact. A denial of fact is the protection from sudden emotional pain, as when informed of a loved one dying unexpectedly. Intellectual denial is a protection from logical attack when reasons threaten our self-made plans for success. Environmentalism is an obvious example because so many people make their living opposed to it. Other instances are more obscure, but similar.

For example, some people vote religiously conservative against health care when they are in dire need, and religiously believe in helping the sick. They are protecting a reasoned conclusion (not from experience) that hard-work and capitalism always results in prosperity, threatened by socialism. They are wed to the premise of the free market solving rather than exploiting their problems, and are not necessarily in denial about their own poverty.

Denial also applies to the issues of abortion and evolution, where self-made plans are confronted with the notion that the earth is running out of resources, where we must adapt. This registers as doom in some brains, where assumptions concerning their own prospects are suddenly implausible. They aren't just clinging to a belief, which are far more fluid than anyone admits. Rather, they expressing their self-made plans for survival as though they are protected emotional beliefs, which are then called their reasons for living.
posted by Brian B. at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Calling it denialism at all gives many people credit for beliefs they don't necessarily hold.

A car manufacturer who truly believes that global warming isn't happening is a denialist and might be excused for at least acting on those beliefs.

A car manufacturer who knows the truth but tries to convince others that global warming isn't happening because environmental protection efforts could reduce sales of big cars is just a greedy fucker willing to fuck up the planet for the sake of this year's bonus.

The former are bad, but the latter need to be bundled into sacks, taken out into the woods, and beaten with sticks. Figuratively.
posted by pracowity at 10:23 PM on May 28, 2010


The former are bad, but the latter need to be bundled into sacks, taken out into the woods, and beaten with sticks. Figuratively.

Perhaps we can read inconclusive studies to them and ask them questions like, "Are you really sure you're being beaten by sticks? I don't think the results are all in yet. We should get someone objective to confirm it. With real tests, you know? How do we know it's not all in your head? Are you sure you're not just being swayed by a special interest group? I'm just asking questions!"
posted by yeloson at 10:42 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


But what do we really know about these so called 'science' 'journalists' ?
They're obviously compromised by being part of the pro-science lobby.
posted by Damienmce at 11:23 PM on May 28, 2010


Wasn’t it Hovind who said that because Richard Nixon looks like an eggplant the Cydonia face on Mars is a Viking?
Yeah, but as usual with Hovind, he totally lifted that quote from another source. In this case, St Augustine's City of God.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:10 AM on May 29, 2010


The delusion that getting your outrage spoon fed to you by FOX News is the product of rational doubt is only sceptic in the sense that it is an infection in the life's blood of America.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:28 AM on May 29, 2010


The shift in meaning of the word sceptic pre-dates global warming. It was used consistently by critics of the Warren Commission in the mid 1960s and entered popular usage on the back of conspiracy theory advocacy (JFK, UFOs, etc.)
posted by A189Nut at 7:18 AM on May 29, 2010


What do you do, however, with people who, after their claim has been fully discussed and thoroughly debunked, continue to make the claim anyway? This, of course, is where scepticism morphs into denialism. Does there come a point when it is time to move on to other challenges? Sometimes there does.

Good question though. If they continue to make the claim, then they are probably holding onto a separate idea that also utilizes the claim. It would be easy to deny global warming if one had a lot of beach front property, or if one made their way through life shrugging off science for other personal reasons. What is the best way to proceed in that case? Address the real or true-to-life implications.

When people deny evolution they are really denying the shame of once being poor and living in trees, while simultaneously denying their lack of economic success at the game of evolution. Origins are a big issue for most people and it is not religious or mystical, because they chose their beliefs to fit their insecurities. The daily idol they choose only demands real time and real money for worldly rewards, because this makes sense to them. Creationism denies the constant struggle. This "realism" can be observed in anti-abortion as well, where outlawing it is far more important than paying higher taxes for unwanted babies. This is because outlawing abortion allows the average person to loudly deny their apparent worthlessness to nature at large, while the more sincere tax and spend method actually affirms it.

Debunkers must realize that personal beliefs are not divorced from real circumstances. We therefore must address the implied insecurities of local positions held before expecting anyone else to make the broader connections we objectively take for granted. In other words, we must get off the high horse of rejecting or side-stepping beliefs at face value and instead see them as real psychological expressions of real demands being made by real people in defensive mode.
posted by Brian B. at 9:07 AM on May 29, 2010


Let's not get too excited about Mr. Shermer. After reading this piece of garbage, I've confirmed what I suspected to be true all along: he's an idiot.

If Shermer's who I think he is, he's a big believer in all kinds of Buddhist mysticism- the really far out stuff about telepathy and shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2010


If Shermer's who I think he is, he's a big believer in all kinds of Buddhist mysticism- the really far out stuff about telepathy and shit.

I don't think he is who you think he is. This Michael Shermer is an atheist.

Like other libertarians, he's formulated a political/economic worldview based on novels and movies, a worldview articulate by fiction and supported entirely by faith.

Shermer has also been very criticall of Ayn Rand and objectivism. So, I wouldn't say he's formulated his worldview on novels, at least, not that particular novel.
posted by lexicakes at 11:34 AM on May 29, 2010


No matter what, it's better than calling it "Mount McKinley", though of course the Aleut Traleika is a euphonious alternative.
posted by everichon at 12:01 PM on May 29, 2010


lexicakes: "So, I wouldn't say he's formulated his worldview on novels, at least, not that particular novel."

Possibly, but this movie is evidence enough for him to endorse vigilantism as a legitimate form of social justice. I'm sorry, but that's raving lunacy.
posted by klanawa at 2:48 PM on May 29, 2010


I once knew a (non-schizophrenic, otherwise normal) guy who believed in supernatural things. He once told me that he had read somewhere that inside one of the pyramids in Giza there was this certain secret room. In it, he said, was concentrated all of the magical energy that the pyramid gathered to such an extent that everyone who had ever been exposed to it had instantly died.

I asked him "If everyone who is exposed to this room instantly dies, then how did anyone live to tell the person who wrote what you read?"

He didn't find that convincing. Perhaps it was my grammar.
posted by moonbiter at 3:12 PM on June 2, 2010


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