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Science Denialism

Three examples of Science Denialism are:

  • climate change
  • evolution
  • vaccination


From www.skepticalscience.com/5-characteristics-of-scientific-denialism.html

The authors define denialism as "the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists". They go on to identify 5 characteristics common to most forms of denialism, first suggested by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle:

Conspiracy theories
When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won't admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.

Fake experts
These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research 'junk science'.

Cherry picking
This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.

Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.

Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a 'threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy'.

For more details you might like to check out http://skepticink.com/incredulous/2012/12/01/science-denialism-at-a-skeptic-conference/#s2.



In addition, there is some controversy even within the scientific community. Some scientists and scientific institutions effectively control what can/cannot be done in science and effectively shut down any perceived challenge to mainstream scientific practices and beliefs. For example, in quantum theory, the many worlds interpretation of reality was pushed into the margins for at least two generations when the Copenhagen views prevailed and seemed unassailable. Now, the many worlds view has replaced the Copenhagen interpretation. Its not that one or the other is right; but we should be questioning why one must be seen to be 'correct' and the other 'incorrect'. Quite possibly neither are right.

Also, a lot of scientists are disgruntled because they struggle to be heard because their views aren't the right ones, etc. They lose teaching positions, funding, corporate jobs, and they can be effectively shut out of science altogether. Many dislike the fact that they must have views that accord with political and corporate imperitives. Many dislike the unethical standards they are expected to turn blind eyes to. The point is that some feel that mainstream science is not always 'right', 'objective/rational', 'fighting the good fight against all odds', etc.

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You can find a map of exactly how to get to 95 Summit street by clicking here. Note that much of Summit Street is Resident-Only parking, even on Sunday. The police may ticket your car even if the street is completely empty, with 100 available parking spaces. Silly wabbits.

You may find parking on Maple between Summit and South Union, or on Willard between Main and Cliff. I understand that Champlain College does not enforce their permit-only parking in their parking lots on the weekends.

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  • jon b.

    The issue of scientific research being driven by corporations came up last week. This is an excellent podcast about how pharmaceutical companies try to prevent negative studies from being available: http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2013/02/rationally-speaking-podcast-ben.html

    1 · February 26, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Great blog- sounds similar to the book by Robert Whitaker "Anatomy of an Epidemic"

      February 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry I wasn't there for this one. I think it's a crazy topic. People talking about what is real information and what is spurious information, about what is a false premise and what is a true premise. Finger pointing all the way around. At one moment, the data is seen as bad/wrong/illegitimate. In the next, it's revolutionary. And there's the question of what level of effect you're talking about? What happens on the subatomic level does not apply to the macro level. And vice versa.

    February 25, 2013

  • jon b.

    Towards the end of today's Discussion, Paul commented that the Katrina situation in New Orleans had been predicted. I jumped in, noting that just about every possible prediction is being made every day by the enormous number of pundits who make their living attempting to appear to be able to predict the future. In making this comment, I dismissed Pauls' comment as the result of a logical fallacy. Anne then pointed out that the situation with the Katrina predictions might be different: they may have been based on the specific situation in New Orleans.

    Good points. I now wonder whether my comment had any merit in this situation. It makes me wonder how one can tell whether a particular prediction that turns out to be true should be discarded as just pundit chest pounding who got lucky, or whether it should be considered as a legitimate prediction of the future. Hard to say/know.

    In any event, I think I owe Paul an apology!

    February 24, 2013

    • jon b.

      Another issue here is that a pundit who is good at predicting a market crash may not be good a predicting a market rise. Just because someone predicts something does not necessarily mean that the next thing out of their mouth should be treated as gospel.

      February 25, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Nobody really can predict the market. As they say, past performance in not a guarantee of future events.I think that is different from real data about real circumstances and high probabilities. New Orleans was built on a false premise that it could dodge a bullet that was inevitable, just a matter of when. It is one thing to play the odds, quite another to ignore them.

      February 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Well facilitated and thought provoking. As I reflect, I realize that I believe what I want to believe- not so much based on science as in personal experiences and biases. Thanks for being there, everybody!

    February 25, 2013

    • jon b.

      You're just more honest that most of the rest of us!

      February 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I think the scientific statement of being did not go over to well. Sorry about that.

    February 24, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This was an excellent discussion. Thanks, James, for taking the lead and giving Jon a chance to just be a participant.

    February 24, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I will not be able to make it to today's meeting. I look forward to being at the next one. Have fun.

    February 24, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Well, snowstorm in Boston has cancelled the trip that was taking me away from the group this Sunday. Unless I am otherwise engaged in actions that will restrain me from coming, I will see you there.

    February 23, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Jeffrey, beautifully put.
    I am sooooo jealous of how well put and on the mark.
    I'm going off to pout for a while.

    February 20, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Dear Kraye, New York is much larger than you.

      February 20, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Only in the external sense.

      February 23, 2013

  • Jonathan S.

    Behavior sometimes runs contrary to words. We may all agree, in words, that burning fossil fuel contributes to global warming. Then we collectively burn several gallons of fuel to travel to a meeting to discuss scientific denialism. Perhaps we rationalize that the tiny carbon footprint we leave by traveling to Deep and Meaningful Conversations doesn't matter even though we know, scientifically, that all carbon footprints matter incrementally. The truth of science yields easily to convenience.

    February 20, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    From the Baha'i writings:
    "The Earth Summit process highlighted both the complexity and the interdependence of the problems facing humanity. None of these problems -- the debilitating inequities of development, the apocalyptic threats of atmospheric warming and ozone depletion, the oppression of women, the neglect of children and marginalized peoples, to name but a few -- can be realistically addressed without considering all the others. None can be fully addressed without a magnitude of cooperation and coordination at all levels that far surpasses anything in humanity's collective experience.

    The profound and far-reaching changes, the unity and unprecedented cooperation, required to reorient the world toward an environmentally sustainable and just future, will only be possible by touching the human spirit, by appealing to those universal values which alone can empower individuals and peoples to act in accordance with the long- term interests of the planet and humanity as a whole."

    February 20, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'd substitute "politics of science" for "denialism". The motive behind much "denialism" as outlined by Jon is political - someone's intent to achieve a certain outcome within a cultural context dominated by science. Their burden is to manipulate the "science" to further their ends. I think this is different, but connected, to the fuzziness, the lack of certainty around any particular scientific topic at a particular time. To follow Kraye's example, I think it useful to tease out where Copernicus or Galileo were pushing the realm of scientific knowledge by using what we consider to be "science" and where politics of the Church influenced, distorted that research.
    Also interesting is when some scientists believe something to be "true" but are later found to be mistaken. What levels of evidence are needed to gain consensus? Are scientists who disagree with each other - as up until recently was true about "global warming" all doing "good science" or is one party denying something?

    February 20, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I am not a computer expert, but somebody keeps deleting my posts. I repeatedly announced that I am interested in going out for a meal after the group ends and these announcements have been deleted now four times. I really don't know who is doing this. I even checked with Jon and he replied that this is a friendly thing to do. I am just curious if this post will survive till we meet next Sunday.

    February 18, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    It's kinda strange. Would have Copernicus have been a denialist? Galileao? In "The Structure of Scientific Revolution", isn't the point that the fringe (if it does indeed explain reality better) becomes the center? How well it stands up to denialists may not be the point of science but of character.

    February 18, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry, I was unfortunately called into work! Hopefully next time.

    February 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hopefully I can join another discussion soon! I really enjoyed the "change" topic.

    February 11, 2013

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