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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’ĂȘtre 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.