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Thread: Denialism, What is it, and how should scientists respond

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    Politics.ie Member Akrasia's Avatar
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    Default Denialism, What is it, and how should scientists respond

    Thanks to Skeptical Science: Examining Global Warming Skepticism for the link to a very good paper recently published in the respected European Journal of Public Health

    It is aimed at the discussing denialism in the public health theatre, things like aids denialism, and the conspiracies around vaccines and flouridation etc but the strategies employed by science deniers in medicine are exactly the same as the strategies used by global warming deniers.
    The following is a shortened extract, there is much more detail if you read the paper yourself (embhasis is my own)
    http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/19/1/2.pdf
    Defining and recognizing
    denialism

    The Hoofnagle brothers, a lawyer and a physiologist from the United States, who have done much to develop the concept of denialism, have defined it as the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none,5 an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists.6 In this viewpoint, we argue that public health scientists should be aware of the features of denialism and be able to recognize and confront it.Denialism is a process that employs some or all of five characteristicelements in a concerted way. The first is the identification of conspiracies.

    When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes that something is true, it is argued that this is not because those scientists have independently studied the evidence and reached the same conclusion. It is because they have engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The peer review process is seen as a tool by which the conspirators suppress dissent, rather than as a means of weeding out papers and grant applications unsupported by evidence or lacking logical thought. The view of General Jack D Ripper that fluoridation was a Soviet plot to poison American drinking water in Dr Strangelove, Kubrick’s black comedy about the Cold War is no less bizarre than those expressed in many of the websites that oppose this measure......

    .......The second is the use of fake experts.
    These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge. They have been used extensively by the tobacco industry since 1974, when a senior executive with R J Reynolds devised a system to score scientists working on tobacco in relation to the extent to which they were supportive of the industry’s position. The industry embraced this concept enthusiastically in the 1980s when a senior executive from Philip Morris developed a strategy to recruit such scientists (referring to them as ‘Whitecoats’) to help counteract the growing evidence
    on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This activity was largely undertaken
    through front organizations whose links with the tobacco industry were concealed, but under the direction of law firms acting on behalf of the tobacco industry.10 In some countries, such as Germany, the industry created complex and influential networks, allowing it to delay the implementation of tobacco control policies for many years.11 In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public
    that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse
    gases’.............

    ......The third characteristic is selectivity, drawing on isolated papers that challenge
    the dominant consensus or highlighting the flaws in the weakest papers among those that support it as a means of discrediting the entire field.


    An example of the former is the much cited Lancet paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which merely suggested a possible link with immunization against
    measles, mumps and rubella.19 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. 20 Fortunately, the work of the Cochrane Collaboration in promoting systematic reviews has made selective citation easier to detect.
    Another is a paper published by the British Medical Journal in 2003,21 later shown to suffer from major flaws, including a failure to report competing interests,22 that concluded that exposure to tobacco smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease.
    This paper has been cited extensively by those who deny that passive smoking has any health effects, with the company Japan Tobacco International still quoting it as justification for rejecting ‘the claim that ETS is a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and chronic pulmonary diseases in non-smokers’ as late as the end of 2008.23 Denialists are usually not deterred by the extreme isolation of their theories, but rather see it as the ndication of their intellectual courage against the dominant orthodoxy and the accompanying political correctness, often comparing themselves to Galileo.

    The fourth is the creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver. For example, those denying the reality of climate change point to the absence of accurate temperature records from before the invention of the thermometer. Others use the intrinsic
    uncertainty of mathematical models to reject them entirely as a means of understanding a phenomenon.

    The fifth is the use of misrepresentation and logical fallacies. For example, pro-smoking groups have often used the fact that Hitler supported some antismoking
    campaigns to represent those advocating tobacco control as Nazis (even coining the term nico-nazis),26 even though other senior Nazis were smokers, blocking attempts to disseminate anti-smoking propaganda and ensuring that troops has sufficient supplies of cigarettes.27 Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, or deliberate attempts to change the argument and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is carcinogenic, a finding confirmed by many other authoritative national and international public health institutions.

    The EPA assessment was described by two commentators as an ‘attempt to institutionalize a particular irrational view of the world as the only legitimate perspective, and to replace rationality with dogma as the legitimate basis of public policy’, which they labelled as
    nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic
    public policy’.28 Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy, exemplified by the argument against evolution that, as the universe and a watch are both extremely complex,
    the universe must have been created by the equivalent of a watchmaker and the excluded middle fallacy (either passive smoking causes a wide range of specified diseases or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one disease, such as breast cancer, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any disease)
    Actual morality is doing what is right regardless of what you're told. Religious morality is doing what you're told, regardless of if it's right.

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    Politics.ie Member owedtojoy's Avatar
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    Default Excellent post!

    I have just got here after reading the Sceptical Science blog.

    There is a fine line between "denialism" and "scepticism". Scepticism always seeks reasons to falsify a scientific proposition, even while it accepts the proposition as a "working hypothesis". Since we will never have complete assurance on ANY scientific theory, then we must use them as working hypotheses as they pass crucial tests. Otherwise, we would refuse to use cars, aeroplanes, i-pods etc.

    Denialists are those who continually reject any proposition unfavourable to a core belief (whether it is anti-semitism or the free market), and cling to beliefs irrationally, in the face of any evidence to the contrary. Holocaust denial is the best example of this, but there are climate change deniers in the same boat.

    Obviously, the line between scepticism and denialism is not always clear. However, I have noticed the "sceptic" sites getting quite croaky and repetitive recently. After all the shouting and crying, climate science is still advancing and the basic science is still not controverted.

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    Politics.ie Member Akrasia's Avatar
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    Here's the conclusion from the paper that I also agree with
    Whatever the motivation, it is important
    to recognize denialism when confronted
    with it. The normal academic
    response to an opposing argument is to
    engage with it, testing the strengths and
    weaknesses of the differing views, in
    the expectations that the truth will
    emerge through a process of debate.
    However, this requires that both parties
    obey certain ground rules, such as a
    willingness to look at the evidence as
    a whole, to reject deliberate distortions
    and to accept principles of logic. A meaningful
    discourse is impossible when
    one party rejects these rules. Yet it
    would be wrong to prevent the denialists
    having a voice. Instead, we argue, it is
    necessary to shift the debate from the
    subject under consideration, instead
    exposing to public scrutiny the tactics
    they employ and identifying them
    publicly for what they are. An understanding
    of the five tactics listed
    above provides a useful framework for
    doing so.
    In other words, we should let the deniers speak and give them a chance to put forward cogent arguments, but we should also be prepared to clearly point out where their arguments are based on denialist tactics rather than an honest attempt to engage in meaningful discourse.

    I know people don't like to be called deniers and doubtless someone will come on here and accuse me of invoking godwin's law, but I leave it open for those being labeled denier, what would they prefer to be seen as?

    If they choose the title sceptic, then they ought to behave in a sceptical manner, not a cynical denialist one.
    Last edited by Akrasia; 17th March 2010 at 12:56 PM.
    Actual morality is doing what is right regardless of what you're told. Religious morality is doing what you're told, regardless of if it's right.

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    Politics.ie Member Cabbage/Turnip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by owedtojoy View Post
    I have just got here after reading the Sceptical Science blog.

    There is a fine line between "denialism" and "scepticism". Scepticism always seeks reasons to falsify a scientific proposition, even while it accepts the proposition as a "working hypothesis". Since we will never have complete assurance on ANY scientific theory, then we must use them as working hypotheses as they pass crucial tests. Otherwise, we would refuse to use cars, aeroplanes, i-pods etc.

    Denialists are those who continually reject any proposition unfavourable to a core belief (whether it is anti-semitism or the free market), and cling to beliefs irrationally, in the face of any evidence to the contrary. Holocaust denial is the best example of this, but there are climate change deniers in the same boat.

    Obviously, the line between scepticism and denialism is not always clear. However, I have noticed the "sceptic" sites getting quite croaky and repetitive recently. After all the shouting and crying, climate science is still advancing and the basic science is still not controverted.
    +1 completely agree, yesterday I was arguing on P.ie with a guy about Gm foods and he just kept throwing papers in my face that were anti GM.. I could hve done them same but i didnt and asked him to give reasons against the actual points i made that Gm food should be considered. basically he just dont not believe it what so ever

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    Politics.ie Member setanta's Avatar
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    Great and timely post. +1 Akrasia.

    I agree, though, that we will see the very same deniers coming onto this thread to try and argue against the article. This will be a good test of the article's description of the tactics used by deniers. It would be worth watching out for those tactics as the denialists employ them. Big prize for the first denialist to use all of the recognised tactics in "denying" the substance of this article ... LOL!

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    V intersting post. Thanks.

    Does anyone else see the irony in the list of things to watch for? In the first characteristic it's "Accusations of complex and secret conspiricies". Then the example given for the second factor is given as erm... a complex and secret conspiracy (False experts in the tobacco industry) .

    Makes me wonder if those arguing against those tobacco "experts" would have been labeled as Denialists, for accusing them of being part of a conspiracy...even though it was true!?
    “A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living” R. Steiner

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    Politics.ie Member Akrasia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cabbage/Turnip View Post
    +1 completely agree, yesterday I was arguing on P.ie with a guy about Gm foods and he just kept throwing papers in my face that were anti GM.. I could hve done them same but i didnt and asked him to give reasons against the actual points i made that Gm food should be considered. basically he just dont not believe it what so ever
    I'm not sure about this one, having a personal belief does not mean that you are a denier. It is only if you cling to that personal belief after all the evidence points in the other way and then start using the tactics mentioned in the article.

    There are very legitimate reasons to be concerned about GM foods. There are a lot of reputable scientific peer reviewed articles that take a anti gm stance based on the evidence, and GM foods are a political and economic issue as well as just an environmental one
    (we have a choice of whether to introduce gm or not and this will have long term political and economic consequences, while global warming is true or false regardless of the politics and economics involved)

    If the person you were speaking to was denying that genetically modifying foods was possible, then he would easily fit into the category of a denier, but if he was just arguing that we should not rush into GM agriculture because of the possible negative consequences, then that is a legitimate political position to take (just like there are legitimate political discussions on how best we ought to tackle climate change)
    Actual morality is doing what is right regardless of what you're told. Religious morality is doing what you're told, regardless of if it's right.

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    Politics.ie Member Akrasia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yehbut_nobut View Post
    V intersting post. Thanks.

    Does anyone else see the irony in the list of things to watch for? In the first characteristic it's "Accusations of complex and secret conspiricies". Then the example given for the second factor is given as erm... a complex and secret conspiracy (False experts in the tobacco industry) .
    There is nothing complex or secret about the PR industry or the fact that individuals or institutions will fight to defend their market position.

    Makes me wonder if those arguing against those tobacco "experts" would have been labeled as Denialists, for accusing them of being part of a conspiracy...even though it was true!?
    There were specific people who were openly working for the tobacco industry or bodies funded by the tobacco industry. Pointing to their conflicts of interest is completely different from an assertion that all scientists are being bought and paid for.

    When the shill scientists produced research questioning tobacco's link to cancer, the independent scientists took those pieces of research and examined them on their merits and usually took them to shreds on the inaccuracies and errors in those papers.

    In science, the research speaks for itself. If it is high quality, it will be cited and built upon by other scientists. If it is corporate propaganda, it will be debunked and the only people who will refer to it, will by those with an obvious agenda
    Actual morality is doing what is right regardless of what you're told. Religious morality is doing what you're told, regardless of if it's right.

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    I'm not too keen on the phrase deniar. It is too vague.
    Is a Christian, who believes that evolution was guided by God, merely a deniar of 'natural selection'?
    Is a fundamentalist christian who believes man was created fully formed by God 10,000 years ago merely an 'evolution deniar'?

    In both cases, the phrase 'deniar' makes them appears to be part of the orthodoxy and the scientist/rationalist as the God deniar.

    Intellectually dishonest is a better description of one who believes something notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary or little or weak evidence to support their beliefs, leading to the wonderful end game
    1. I'm entitled to my opinion and finally 2. We'll have to agree to disagree.
    (or worse, that's why its called the mystery of faith).

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    Politics.ie Member Cabbage/Turnip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akrasia View Post
    I'm not sure about this one, having a personal belief does not mean that you are a denier. It is only if you cling to that personal belief after all the evidence points in the other way and then start using the tactics mentioned in the article.

    There are very legitimate reasons to be concerned about GM foods. There are a lot of reputable scientific peer reviewed articles that take a anti gm stance based on the evidence, and GM foods are a political and economic issue as well as just an environmental one
    (we have a choice of whether to introduce gm or not and this will have long term political and economic consequences, while global warming is true or false regardless of the politics and economics involved)

    If the person you were speaking to was denying that genetically modifying foods was possible, then he would easily fit into the category of a denier, but if he was just arguing that we should not rush into GM agriculture because of the possible negative consequences, then that is a legitimate political position to take (just like there are legitimate political discussions on how best we ought to tackle climate change)
    Fair enough perhaps he was not denier in this case.. Jut felt during the argument that no matter what was said he would never be open to the idea. he did not actualyl deny the idea exists.. I stand corrected.

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