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Denial is a River in Egypt

A special report from New Scientist: “Living in Denial.

From climate change to vaccines, evolution to flu, denialists are on the march. Why are so many people refusing to accept what the evidence is telling them?

In this special feature we look at the phenomenon in depth. What is denial? What attracts people to it? How does it start, and how does it spread? And finally, how should we respond to it?

An interesting topic no doubt, and one sure to provide combustive material for flame wars across the intarwebs. But I did find it ironic that one of the writers for the special report is science writer and ‘skeptic’ Michael Shermer, who makes clear the difference between a ‘skeptic’ and a ‘denialist’:

Scepticism is integral to the scientific process, because most claims turn out to be false. Weeding out the few kernels of wheat from the large pile of chaff requires extensive observation, careful experimentation and cautious inference. Science is scepticism and good scientists are sceptical.

Denial is different. It is the automatic gainsaying of a claim regardless of the evidence for it – sometimes even in the teeth of evidence. Denialism is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the commitment to the belief takes precedence over the evidence. Belief comes first, reasons for belief follow, and those reasons are winnowed to ensure that the belief survives intact.

Shermer here is no doubt referring to the sort of people that misrepresent scientific papers to suit their own belief, make authoritative statements without examining the evidence, tell far more qualified scientists how to do their job, and mislead the public about scientific evidence which contradicts their own point of view. Just so we can be clear when a self-labeled ‘skeptic’ is really a denialist…

Jokes aside, this topic is one that I wrestle with constantly, given the raison d’être of The Daily Grail is to provide an open forum for heretical, non-mainstream ideas. I personally find alternative theories fascinating (though not so much in wide-eyed ‘OMG, this is the truth behind it all’, as ‘that’s an interesting perspective which I’d like to see debated, and which may – or may not – advance our knowledge somewhat’). As such I have a *desire* to post about these topics and hear what people have to say. Balancing that though, there are certain areas where – if you are in complete agreeance with the orthodox view – my posting of such stories could be seen as not just in poor taste (e.g. 9/11 conspiracy theories), but dangerous on a large scale (e.g. HIV-AIDS link, skepticism of anthropogenic global warming). For a really interesting examination of the latter, see this recent story.

I am though, at my core, someone who believes in free discussion of every topic (and on this point it would seem for once my opinion converges with Michael Shermer’s). So I would simply reiterate the warning given to all readers directly beneath our logo – explore these topics, educate yourself, but by no means accept our view (if we have one) or trust only the sources we provide. And question, question, question your beliefs at all times.

  1. Thanks for this.
    I think

    Thanks for this.

    I think there’s an addition role one should add to the mix: the doubter. Everyone should be a skeptic and no one should be a denialist. Doubt is a different matter, though it’s so commonly associated with skepticism that it’s even in the Wikipedia definition of skepticism. I am a climate change “skeptic” – but I am not a climate change “doubter.” I believe, based on the expert assessments of currently available evidence, that climate change is probably happening. I accept that I could be wrong, that the experts I’m relying on could be wrong, or that new evidence could emerge that proves us wrong. There are climate change denialists who will never believe in climate change no matter how strong the evidence. And then there are those who have examined the evidence but are unconvinced and think that climate change is probably not happening. These people are skeptics but they are also doubters.

    1. reasons for doubt
      There are many reasons for having doubts.

      For the climate change example, a person can be a climate science expert, or be completely ignorant of the subject.

      A person can also be qualified in related fields, but not climate science. As for myself, I am qualified to judge their methods in computer simulation. And observing what they say, and what they refuse to say, about their work gives me doubts about the reliability of their conclusions.

      Not that I have better conclusions, I don’t have any. But I have legitimate doubts about how valid theirs are, for professional reasons.

      When I say that, I am often shouted down by journalist types who are not qualified in any way whatsoever, about anything relating to the matter.

      Many journalist and other serious people also lump together a number of things that don’t belong together.

      To wit, the observation that there is climate change is equated to the multiple conclusions that (1) anthropogenic (2) increase in (3) CO2 levels is the reason for the climate change. And further, that this can be effectively controlled by appropriate public policy.

      Even the last step alone is very doubtful.

      But when I express any doubts about any of these steps, I am judged to be in denial of any change in the climate, when I have said nothing like that.

      This last part shows that people who have formed that judgement of me have not listened to a damn thing I said, or not understood any of it. At best.

  2. being of open mind
    I don’t get paid for wrighting articals, therefore sensationalism is not neccessary for me to attract readers.
    Where money and grants for survival are a part of scientific research, I always look deep into motive and try to follow the money trail. Climate change is a natural process, it has been happening since the creation of this planet. Global warming caused by us in a short period of time is very dudious. The evidence out there, and a lot of it, contradicts what the media pushed reports are telling us. I have done my research on this and am convinced that there is another agenda behind this so called global threat.

    I personally don’t doubt that anything is possible.
    I am a skeptic of many things but I don’t stand behind this label and try to bring down believers. A true skeptic should be impartial and put forth both sides of any argument. A doubter is only that until enough evidence has been shown to convince.

    In regards to paranormal, I keep a complete opened mind, after all, anything is possible and the evidence to the contrary is not solid enough to disregard it.

    But to deny is to close your mind to the possibility and therefore miss out on further understanding.

    No climate change skeptic labels themselves as “denialist”, only the people pushing this agenda are doing that.

    Let the evidence stand on merit and not personally attack people with other views and oppinions.
    Selective data is a deception and should be frowned upon, it is misleading and currupting the truth.

  3. OK to believe stuff
    Yes, folks don’t question their belifs—they think they just ‘know’ stuff.

    Conversely, I’m with Stanton Friedman on the ETs—I believe that at least ‘one’ of the UFO’s must have been ET (and you only need it to be one) True, that hypothesis has not yet been accepted by ‘the committee’ but I find that after looking at some of the jillion cases that it takes too much ‘heavy-lifting’ to be an ET-denier.

    Other stuff folks deny:
    *The transience of life and reality
    *The ‘conscious’ part of evolution
    *Archaeo-evidence which contradicts the ‘official timeline’ of civilizations
    *The role of our own thoughts and expectations in creating our experience.
    *The possibility that our planet could one day be a ‘sphere of light and life’ that resembles the next ‘mansion world’ (between-life realm)

  4. I have been following Shermer
    I have been following Shermer for years and watching him specifically on the topic of the 911 event for which he has been tirelessly running interference. Lumping the “911 truth” movement in with assorted other oddities is classic “association fallacy” which internet trolls often employ in an attempt to discredit the 911 truth movement.

    Here’s my “asociation fallacy” – I think that people like Shermer, Penn and Teller, and The Amazing Randi are actually “employed” whether directly or indirectly by forces inimical to human spiritual evolution and the developing discoveries and rediscoveries of “perennial” knowledge. Attendant upon such awakenings is a greater awareness of manipulation by behind the scenes “interests” intent on keeping as many people as possible “scared,barefoot, and pregnant.” The new modalities are threatening to the existing mercantile structure in many ways not the least of which threats include challenges to the existing allopathic medicine paradigm and the money machine that modern medicine has become as well as the threats to the military/industrial complex money machine. Many of these professional debunkers adhere to a generalized conservative political philosophy and represent the status quo
    in all things as a matter of principle. Personally, I consider this particular bunch of debunkers to be very bad people indeed and in word.

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