The War on Scientific Denialism Begins to Move Beyond Scientists

One of the more promising trends I’ve seen is that the various forms of denialism that scientists regularly decry (including those of us here at ScienceBlogs) are starting to be recognized by non-scientists. I don’t know if there’s a direct cause-and-effect here, or if like-minded people are coming up with the same idea (the most depressing cause would be if this got started with a stupid blog comment…). Anyway, I bring you public policy professor Mark Kleiman (italics mine):

One largely unremarked aspect of global-warming denialism (as exemplified by George Will and demolished by Mike …and Zachary Roth at TPM) is that it amounts to a conspiracy theory. All of the world’s actual climate scientists, and everyone in an a allied field capable of understanding their models, would have to be co-conspirators in the plot, with only a rag-tag group of economists, meteorologists, petroleum geologists, astrologers, and political pundits capable of seeing, and willing to say, that the emperor has no clothes.
Most of the glibertarians, cultural conservatives, and gadget-heads who constitute the useful idiots around the core oil-and-coal-company global-warming denialist constituency would be horrified to imagine themselves playing the role of 9/11 Truthers, or RFK Jr. pumping the thimerosal/autism link, or Thabo Mbeki claiming that AIDS isn’t caused by HIV. But all four “movements” are alike in depending on compete mistrust of actual scientific experts….
One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn’t firm.] I haven’t seen any data on the overlap between global-warming denialism and creationism, but thinking about Sarah Palin and her fans you’d have to guess at a strong correlation between the two beliefs.
Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it’s fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.
…there’s uncertainty in the models. (Though that uncertainty, the deniers seem to forget, means that the models might be too modest, as well as too alarmist, in their warnings.) But denialism doesn’t promote that serious debate: it merely introduces fake uncertainty, which makes it harder to see all the real uncertainty.

I think this is a good development. I realize some around these parts (ok, one guy on ScienceBlogs) thinks that when people engage in communal psychotic breaks from reality, we should be nice to them. But we have to stop being nice to these guys because this isn’t a serious argument but a cracked worldview. And Kleiman makes a very key point, one that I don’t think is emphasized enough regarding denialism: it requires conspiracy theories that make the X-Files look tame.
The only difference between most denialists (excepting, perhaps, the useful idiots) and the crazy guy on the corner is that the denialists bathe more often.

This entry was posted in Creationism, Environment, Evolution, Fucking Morons, Global Warming, The War on Science. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to The War on Scientific Denialism Begins to Move Beyond Scientists

  1. Sarah_Bellem says:

    I agree with the likely connection between fundamentalism and denialism. Although only anecdotal it does seem that the strangest of the denials (ie vaccines and HIV) are usually held by fundamentalists.
    What I think we are seeing is a merging and a morphing of the goals of the Republican Party and the Religious Right. The Religious Right is now much more a political force than it is spiritual. They have taken on typical Republican issues such as being pro war, guns, capital punishment, and less public asssistance, which in the recent past were not usual religious positions. Less religious Republicans (the few that remain) are more likely to be pro-life than America as a whole.
    Global warming and other denialism fits well into the anti-science ideaology that supports Creationism and Christian Fundamentalism. The common tent theme then becomes all science is bad so the universe was really created 6-10 thousand years ago. Our country is I think dangerously developing two sets of reality, but ultimately it is all part of the culture wars.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says:

    Bear in mind that there is also a wide smorgasbord of pseudoscience promoted by the anti-abortion crowd (ranging from the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education to claims that abortion, being kept legal only for the convenience of child molesters, causes cancer, drug dependency, suicide, etc). These people reach a wider audience than HIV denialists, chemtrailers, 9/11 truthers and anti-vaxers put together.

  3. TLP says:

    It’s not a conspiracy theory when AGW suppoerters just ignore all scientists who think Manmade Global Warming is not a scientific theory.
    Here is a scientist whose blog I regularily follow who’s just one of the many skeptics:

  4. TLP says:

    Oh: I’m a militant atheist, Pharyngula-reader, Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris-fan. And I disagree with the AGW theory.
    It’s easy to create a strawman of your opposition instead of actually looking who thinks differently than you.

  5. winnebago says:

    Linking to someone as completely unhinged as Lubos only proves Mike’s point. Jeesh.

  6. TheEngima32 says:

    [q]Our country is I think dangerously developing two sets of reality[/q]
    Well now, to be fair, Palin *did* tell us that there were two Americas; the real one and the fake one – which leads to interesting questions about how the “real” America even knows it’s “real” if it’s so detached from the *real* world…

  7. john says:

    The person whose blog you cite (motls) is not a climate scientist. He’s as irrelevant to Mike’s point as finding a chemist who doesn’t believe in evolution is to the reality of that.

  8. bi -- IJI says:

    It’s not a conspiracy theory when AGW suppoerters just ignore all scientists who think Manmade Global Warming is not a scientific theory.

    Thank you for your attention.

  9. Luis Dias says:

    The person whose blog you cite (motls) is not a climate scientist. He’s as irrelevant to Mike’s point as finding a chemist who doesn’t believe in evolution is to the reality of that.
    Are you implying that if a scientist is from a different field from the one he’s criticizing he should not be listening? Interesting. Do you believe that the scientific method is alike in every field or is it more true that the reality is uninteligible if seen from specialists of other fields? The opaqueness that you are implying in science doesn’t really exist. Maths, Algebra, Statistics, empirical evidence, deduction and induction are all knowledges that are obviously horizontal throughout the fields of science.
    I’m not saying that Lubos is right, nor that I agree with him.
    And while I agree with the premise that there is a strong correlation between Creationists and GW “deniers” and that a more serious debate is being ignored, we should watch out for witch hunts, which aren’t the answer. Look at Pielke Jr. or Bjorn Lomborg, who accept the IPCC’s conclusions but because they adopt a different political viewpoint on what to do about it from the “consensus” (or should I call it “groupthink”?), they are ignored and burned at the stake. You can’t have it both ways.
    Prominent scientists creep out of their laboratories and shout alarmist predictions that come out of their “gut”. Perhaps they were inspired by George W, but that ain’t no compliment. They fuel fear amongst the unprepared with the sole intent of creating action. The problem is obvious: this is biased political rethorics, and goes against the objective and unbiased posture that every scientist must have in these matters. The following question arrives, has politics entered science as well? Are scientists hedging their models in order to tell a “better story”?
    The correct answer should not be preaching hubris and intellectual pride (or indignation), but transparency, both in providing the methodology of papers and their data. This is seriously lacking in Climatology science, only fueling the concerns (look at the story behind the Hockey Stick, and you’ll know what I mean. Also don’t look at it while reading RealClimate, for that site is run by the authors of that piece of “science”).

  10. MarkH says:

    I love it when you write about denialism and you get a lot of posts from this crowd that says “I’m x, y, and z, but AGW is bunk!”.
    The issue is not the science, as the attacks they level against AGW are on par with the attacks by creationists on evolution. It’s the same illogical, “look we have a list of scientists (not really climate scientists) who oppose x!”, “it’s a religion!”, “it’s not crankery when I do it!” attacks. Dude, the people on that list are the same people tobacco companies hired to deny cigarettes cause cancer (Fred Singer), who promote ridiculous conspiracy theories about climate science (Lindzen), who also believe in intelligent design (Spencer)! It’s a hack list made by denialist-in-chief Mark Morano at the behest of the biggest crank in congress James Inhofe who once said with pride that people called him a holocaust denier.
    The fact is that denialism isn’t just an insult. It’s a pervasive pattern of tactics that represents the pseudoscientific method. It’s a well-described, well-documented, and predictable set of tactics people use when they want to deny something they don’t want to believe in. AGW denialists are engaging these tactics, and yes, are pseudoscientists. Your list of fake experts are not convincing. The arguments you cut and paste from the right-wing anti-regulation ideologic websites are not convincing and refute none of the scientific findings. The cherry picking of the literature, the perpetual inability to satisfy critics and equating climate science with Al Gore is all part of the pattern of pseudoscience you always see with denialists. And yes, at the root is a conspiracy theory on par with 9/11 trooferism.
    You guys need to step back, try gaining a little bit of insight and really ask yourselves if there is a convincing scientific argument being made. Your ears should perk up when you hear the conspiracy theories and say, “uh oh”. When presented with list of experts, remember waving around lists of so-called experts is classic denialism. Learn the difference between real and fake experts. It will help. Also, reflect on why you don’t like this theory. Is it really because you think there is a problem with the science? The science that is regularly published in Science, and Nature, and the best scientific journals, endorsed by the most prestigious scientific bodies of every nation in the world, and consistent with the overwhelming majority of actual climate scientists? Or, is it because you’re maybe a little libertarian, maybe you don’t like regulation or people telling you what to do.
    Search your heart Luke. You know it to be true.

  11. MikeB says:

    ‘Are you implying that if a scientist is from a different field from the one he’s criticizing he should not be listening?’
    If that person is a kook like Lubos, then the answer is yes.
    Over and over again, Lubos has shown us all a ‘unique’ worldview (put ‘Lubos’ into the Scienceblogs search box, and you’ll see what I mean), one unburdened by reality or knowledge of the subject in question. And frankly, given the garbage that Lomborg has talked throughout the years, I think a witch-hunt is the least he should have to put up with – ducking stool and all.
    The IPCC has more transparency than you can shake a stick at, Hansen et al certainly aren’t speaking just from ‘gut’ instinct, and the Hockey Stick isn’t broken.
    Luis – be honest, your a denier pretending to be a ‘skeptic’. In fact, you’ve just posted a perfect example of denalism. Thanks for the illustration.

  12. Troup says:

    Umm! Your blog posting had me totally on your side, right up until the last two paragraphs. While I will readily admit that I agree with your primary thesis, the effectiveness of your position is dramatically deminished by your closing statements.
    Do you truly believe that being “nice” (civil ?) to someone with whom you disagree, someone who has experienced a “psychotic breaks from reality”, is somehow the wrong choice in either a social or professional interaction? (I refer you to the decades of social science research findings regarding effective and ineffective methods of social and professional interactions.)
    Then you use the term “idiots” in order to denigrate the denialists.
    Might I suggest that you read (or reread) Janet Stemwedel’s (Dr. Free-Ride) excellent blog posting entitled: “Unsolicited words of advice for those participating in online discourse” (February 12, 2009; Adventures in Ethics and Science; ScienceBlogs).

  13. Bill Ringo says:

    I’m a chemist and as such I keep up with my bewildering literature. I read about work which is often replicated or debunked by other mandarins of our priesthood. We know stuff and argue incessently. But we all come together around truths (the periodic table as a way to organize knowledge, entropy, etc). Scientific rigor weeds out popular but later disproven notions like ‘super water’ and cold fusion.
    I can’t keep up with climatre science. Too many real things I don’t know about.
    What to do? I choose to look at the preponderence of knowledge and ignore the well meaning or well supported nay sayers. Papaphrasing Decart if we get greenhouse gases under control who’s hurt if we were wrong?

  14. Luis Dias says:

    Your comment and the initial post is a good example of the polarization that I’m talking about. The speed in which one goes to the he’s not thinking exactly like me, so he must be one of “them” cliché, which is tiresome and frankly, quite stupid. I agree with Troup there. This is no way to conduct a discussion, and if you are unable to do so, step aside. If you feel that your blood pressure is better spent making some action against CO2 emmissions, then why spend it denigrating who you think that thinks not like you?
    I hid my feelings about GW precisely to see how much people still fall in this simplistic polarization ad hominems.
    For the record, yes, I also think that Lubos places himself too much in unsustainable positions, both in GW and in politics/economics. He also has a reason to be so biased. The Checz Republic was probably the civilization most opressed inside the USSR, and now they are reaping the benefits of freedom. No wonder they put so much fear on statism and government ownership.
    Psycology aside, it’s besides the point if he’s biased or not. I was responding to John who happens to think that if one is not a climate scientist, then he hasn’t a word to say about GW. Well, guess what, Pauchari is not a climate scientist. And he talks a lot about it.
    There’s also a kind of thinking that goes like this: There’s a Consensus. Therefore all true scientists agree on this matter. Therefore, if one scientist doesn’t agree, he’s not a true scientist (True Scotsman Fallacy). This is patently ridiculous and results in an echo chamber quite easily. The lack of acceptance of criticism and skepticism is hurting this field of science.
    Also patently ridiculous are the counting numbers of scientists who agree with the theory and the ones who do not (and the ones who are angry to be included in one list or in the other). But this is not science. Only in politics decisions are made in such a “democratic” fashion. In science, only evidence counts.
    And evidence is not lacking. But given the inherent stochastic nature of the models, the non-linearity of the climate, and the uncertainty on many premisses, a certain ammount of cautiousness predicting “hellfire” should be more common practice.
    Mike Klein also goes wrong on this line:
    Though that uncertainty, the deniers seem to forget, means that the models might be too modest, as well as too alarmist, in their warnings.
    No, not at all, and this reflects a poor understanding of statistics. More uncertainty, meaning the possibility of modest rise in temps and scary rise in temps, does not rise the importance that we should put in this problem, it decreases it. The main reason is that we are aknowledging that we still don’t know.
    Last, I don’t understand where Lomborg spoke “garbage”. Out of line and of the box thinking, yes. A good devil advocate, yes, but fair and reasonable. He’s willing to debate and discuss. There are others, itoh, that are too willing to predict 10 degree celcius rise and no one accuses them of “garbage” speaking.
    And yes, Hansen has lost his political credibility. He should stick to his science.

  15. MikeB says:

    Lomborg – ‘fair and reasonable’ = oxymoron. Please look at the issue of Nature (or Wilsons article in Skeptic)where he was basically crucified. Hanson crunches the numbers, he might be more vocal then most, but he was right when others were afraid to speak out.
    As for Lubos – you did check out what he’s written?

  16. Luis Dias says:

    Lomborg was practically the only one that made the case that we weren’t so bad as the greens are constantly telling you we are. Yes, he made some mistakes, and probably some glaring ones. And yet, even if you discount the numbers, his conclusions are not so destroyed as Wilson would want them to be. For decades, we’ve been told that we wouldn’t have resources, we wouldn’t have water, the world would be more polluted. Mad Max would meet Blade Runner. These people weren’t crucified by Nature.
    And when the only person tried to say that no, it’s not true, witch hunt on them. There’s a clear bias in this story. The reason is simple, and is what economists call the Moral Hazard. If people believe that these problems aren’t as problematic as once thought, they will stop “caring”, and thus worsening the future prospects of its solution. This is why every talk about GW is so heavily full of Politically Correct Overstatements.
    I worry though that people take this too seriously and too far. It also undermines skepticism and critical thinking, for we are basing our politics on fear, not reason. And science needs skepticism. It feeds on it. At least the intelligent kind.
    As for Lubos, yes I did check. He’s a right winger and dismisses everything about GW. I’ve been censored in his blog. Sometimes, his criticisms are worthless, sometimes they are interesting.

  17. Edward says:

    The thing about George Will’s column is that you can’t just take it in isolation. Will has a long history of distorting the data to suit his opinion – FAIR found an instance going back to 1992 where Will played fast and loose with the facts in attacking Al Gore on global warming. Many people have tried to have civil discussions with Will and point him to the scientific studies that refute his point of view. It is reasonable to be civil and reasonable with people when you have some expectation they will be reasonable. But when someone has a 17+ year history of misrepresenting scientific results and other facts, and people have repeatedly tried to correct him with no apparent affect, they can no longer be presumed to be reasonable.
    George Will has proven himself to be an ideologue, not swayed by facts.

  18. llewelly says:

    While nearly all fundamentalists are also AGW-denialists, it seems to me (though I admit I have no data), that many AGW-denialists are not fundamentalists. Many AGW-denialists, especially those one might ‘gadget-heads’ and also libertarians, believe AGW is false because they are convinced that technology and / or business are always good. Technology – the result of science and engineering – has made our lives immensely safer and far more luxurious than those of our ancestors only century or two ago. Most of the technology products we depend on and enjoy come to us through businesses (albeit with government help). It does not logically follow that neither technology nor businesses have no hidden costs – but it is entirely human to think in that manner. AGW – like pollution in general – demonstrates that technologies often come with hidden costs, and that businesses usually insist on rapaciously exploiting anything resembling a commons (since the business usually bears little or none of the costs of over-exploitation), and that many things we all enjoy doing come with hidden costs. Worst of all, AGW demonstrates that (for example) one person’s freedom to use lots of coal-generated electricity can unexpectedly destroy another person’s freedom to irrigate crops with water backed by glacial storage. Exercising what appear to be reasonable freedoms can come with surprising hidden costs. That’s an extremely uncomfortable thought in a culture that places great value on freedom. Libertarians are an extreme example of placing great value on freedom (well, some freedoms, anyway), and so it’s natural that they’re extremely uncomfortable with the thought that exercising freedoms can have surprising costs.

    It’s human nature to deny the existence of hidden costs to technologies and behaviors we’ve become to accustomed to, some of which we greatly enjoy, and others of which seem to necessary. The sunk cost fallacy encourages us to believe that because we have invested greatly in fossil fuel technologies, we shouldn’t abandon them. Confirmation bias, the natural tendency to value one’s own experience and that of like-minded individuals over abstract science articles, combine to give great strength to anecdotes that appear to contradict global warming. A great deal of AGW denialism is driven by widespread and more-or-less natural errors in human thinking. Religious belief – especially literalistic religious belief – is also driven by widespread natural errors in thinking, but other than sharing some common sources, not all AGW denialism is necessarily related to religion.

  19. What a sad group you alarmists are. You throw around terms like flat-earthers and discount your oppoents as believers in conspiracy theories. It is actually the alarmists who behave as flat-earthers. “The debate is over, we have a consensus.”
    The debate is just now (I truly hate wording it this way) heating up. I loved the attempt to brand global realism a form of psuedo-science… Mark H., I’d like to take this opportunity to formally lable you an idiot.
    Large Energy companies can’t wait for the Kyoto agreement to be signed. It offers them the best price fixing scam ever. Read Red Hot Lies by Chris Horner who once worked as an attorney for Enron. You’ll see how silly your remarks actually are.
    Here are some scientists who do not agree with Al Gore’s B.S.
    Please join us for Global Warming Theater Mark H. You might learn something.

  20. MikeB says:

    Llewelly – it could be argued that the ‘gadget-heads’, libertarians and extreme free-marketers are fundamentalists of sorts, with an almost religious belief that technology, ‘freedom’ or the free market are either a) perfect, or b) will solve any possible problem.
    Will isn’t a fundamentalist – he a pretentious egotist whose been swimming inside the beltway for so long that reality is no longer an issue. If he reinforces the world view of the sort of people who take him seriously, then he’s done his job.
    And Lomborg? Someone who realised that if you basically make up stuff, tell everyone how ‘reasonable’ you are, and let your idealogical soul-mates smother you with love and cash, its a pretty good gig.
    ‘Science needs skepticism’ – true. But what you and others are actually preaching isn’t skepticism, its denial in the face of overwhelming evidence. Just like George Will.

  21. Kipp Alpert says:

    How dane you poor Science uttering verbosity of ignorant rants of Godly deniers.You know that we have been in a cold spell for 33and One third years. My MO is the PDO,and Sarah Palin is my Moosee burger. All the weather stations have been corrupted by communists in America.I saw a weather balloon being shot down in Dakota.Satellites are governed by aliens and Hansen and Gore should get married.
    Al Gore is doing it for money flying around the country everyday, to meet young Hotties.Hansen Like Tyndall and Fourier,do it for big money.Agw equals Americans Going wierd.This proposterous post of pugilistic conformity,anti government Communist bacteria, acid rain hating neekompoops has got to stop now.When I Drive to the antarctic in my SUV you’ll be sorry cause that’s where the snow is.Global cooling is coming next week.It’s freezing in my house.Ban Rubbers!The overpopulated areas should all die, because they eat too much, and cook with curry too.God=Las Vegas=Christian=American=money=GOD, so oscillate on that PINKOOO”SS.NASA=No Antichrist=Socialist=Ahoffs. KIPP

  22. Kipp Alpert says:

    P.S.If Obama was in the Alamo,Texas would be in Mexico.KIPP

  23. Luis Dias says:

    MikeB, nor have I ever preached denial of GW, nor is the evidence for it being catastrophic “overwhelming”. There is Warming, it is Global and GHG’s are very much proven to be a serious cause of it. Science that goes beyond this is based on models, and these models aren’t even predictions, they are “scenarios”. To predict the next 100 years of temperatures in this non-linear climate is a valid exercise, but should be tempered to the obvious limitations that we have upon it.
    Now, when things are so unknown and unpredictable, why all the fuss? My opinion is that due to human nature, there are people that get to be too sure of themselves and think this is too serious to be unaddressed in a political revolution, and there are people that deny any kind of science if they smell an atom of “leftism” on it, independently of its merit. The problem is not in these differences. The problem is in the moralization of this issue, which I think is a mistake, and the huge polarization of both sides. With one crying how stupid and unscientific the other is, with the other crying how statist, intolerant and fraudulent the other is.
    This is mostly an american phenomenon. So I happen to watch it in the sideway.

  24. Kipp Alpert says:

    Howdy:I am new to this site and enjoy your comments.I’m usually over at Accuweather every day for last year and one half.For me deniers are like terrorists. Why, because according to most informed sources,we are close to most tipping points.The Cryosphere is melting from Russia to the Himalayas, from The Arctic to the Antarctic.The PDO is now in a cool phase so you will hear a lot of denialism brought forward.But,weather being local, the temperatures keeps rising. The radiative forcings are measured and they show co2 to be 1.66 gross, and solar irradiance to be 0.12 net.
    Watts per meter squared. Adding greenhouse gases to an atmosphere decreases with height, than it must act to warm the surface by making the net downward emission greater than zero. By exciting GHG’s, they tumble faster exciting other greenhouse gases, and this has a blanketing effect on our planet. The Stephen-Boltzmann law states that the energy radiated by a black body increases according to the fourth power of it’s absolute temperature.
    Denialism is simply an inability to know the science,or an unwillingness to learn it. There are usually agenda’s that people have, that conflict with reality. What we must do most is conserve. Now if you can teach that to all mankind, then there is hope. There is a very slight window open, and I do my best to make people realize that they will have grandchildren. How are we going to make each other or the Chinese behave like adults. So for me denialist’s should not be taught what is right. They are obstructing the natural course of evolution and progress. They should be handled with a carrot or a stick. Whatever you use for your children to behave. KIPP

  25. eddie says:

    Motls is like other denialist pseudoexperts. In the fields they do have knowledge (physics, economics, etc) they are also cranks.
    Superstring is religion and witten is its prophet.

  26. dedektif says:


  27. okey says:

    buradan doom gecti kardes ekleyip gectim

Comments are closed.