There seem to be a lot of posts recently about various forms of denialism. So I though I would throw in.
Denialism, in my opinion, is when a person ignores the evidence in favor of a personal belief. Creationists believe that God created the heavens and Earth directly. Since science says that there are natural processes that allow for the creation of stars, planets, and life, the creationists think that science is trying to destroy God (of whatever flavor) and instead deny that the science is correct.
In my various travels across the internet, I’ve seen what are basically three reasons for science denial. The first is money. Science denialists often make an income (sometimes a massive income) from their denial. William Dembski has stated he would rather publish books than send his stuff to journals. Wakefield (of the autism/MMR link fame) had developed another measles vaccine and was getting undisclosed money from a law firm. Climate denialists are often related to the big oil companies which has a vested interest in keeping carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere. There’s even some evidence that the anti-GMO groups are supported by organic farm collectives.
The second reason is fear. Fear of the unknown. This is most often used by the leaders of a movement to get at the followers. Many of the anti-GMO crowd have no idea what the science really says about GMOs. In fact, they say things that are completely wrong (like there are no long term studies). They get all their information from the anti-science sources and everything else is a a) conspiracy, b) liberal lies, c) atheism, d) big business. The complete lack of logic behind these claims are stunning, but the anti-science position isn’t really founded on logic.
The third reason is cultural. Religion says one thing. Science says something else. Obviously, hundreds of years of scientific evidence is wrong because a book written by ignorant sheepherders 2000 years ago says so. The organic movement is a culture, they think that everything natural is good and everything that isn’t natural (whatever that means) is bad.
What do all of these various denialist camps have in common? Mostly, I consider the types of poor arguments that they use, which are the same.
Cherry-picking. This is when someone looks for data that supports them and ignores the data that doesn’t support them. All of the various denialist groups are big into this one. The best examples of this come from the creationists and anti-GMO groups. They pick the data that they think supports their claims, while ignoring data (from the same study) that doesn’t support their claims. My favorite example of this is the anti-GMO groups freaking out about the Seralini, while completely ignoring almost 16 years of research that show GMOs are safe.
Quotemining is a favorite in the creationist and climate denialist camps. Of course, the creationists pretty much invented the concept of science denial, so they have all the tricks. My favorite example of the quotemining comes from this very web site where an ID Proponent was using a document penned by 28 Nobel prize winners to support his claim. Of course, the very next paragraph of that letter contains the phrase that “ID is not science.”
Another favorite tactic of the denialists is to spend more time arguing about the meaning of words instead of arguing about the actual science. Words like “information”, “natural”, and “trick” are all concepts that are twisted to mean whatever the denialist wants at the time. Those meanings will never, ever be well defined by the denialist camps. The reason for that is so that those definitions can be changed, often in the middle of a sentence.
There are literally hundreds of logical fallacies and every single one of them has been used at some point to support science denial.
What’s really fascinating about science denial and why it’s obvious that it’s personal/culture thing instead of a science thing is because the science denialists freely use the benefits of science, while denying the part that they don’t like. Creationists used to be big on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and how that showed the evolution was impossible. All the while, they used their cars and had babies and raised plants without understanding that if the 2nd Law didn’t work for evolution, then it wouldn’t work for those things either.
Anti-GMO groups seem to have no problems with insulin generated from bacteria. They don’t have problems with spraying Bt crystals on ‘organic’ crops. But put the Bt gene in the crop and they freak out.
I could go on and on. But I think you get the point. Science denial has suddenly, within the last decade, become the in thing for various groups. In most cases, it’s purely because science is doing something or saying something that they don’t like. Maybe the anti-GMO crowd isn’t studying creationist literature to find the best way of attacking science. But parallel evolution results in very similar tactics from very similar groups.
Scientists and science journalists (and people like us) really have to step up the information campaigns. Like a general who has to appear before congress and in parades instead of leading his troops, scientists have to start speaking up, in lots of different venues. We also have to push to improve the science education of the people of the US and the world. We have kids who use technology everyday and have no idea how that technology works.