Denialism and Orthodoxy.

If you weren’t aware, this month’s week’s  New Scientist’s cover story is on denialism – HIV, anti-vaxxers, global warming, etc. If you remember, I posted on this the other night, so I wanted to highlight one quote from the NS’s coverage and talk about it a little.

THE epithet “denier” is increasingly used to bash anyone who dares to question orthodoxy. Among other things, deniers are accused of subordinating science to ideology. In his book Denialism: How irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lives, for example, Michael Specter argues that denialists “replace the rigorous and open-minded scepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment”.

How ironic. The concept of denialism is itself inflexible, ideological and intrinsically anti-scientific.

Now, I don’t know much about that author, and I don’t want to sling mud, but this is a classic counter-argument to, well, any kind of reality-based argument. I think, and I may be wrong, that it’s known as tu quoque – “you as well.” I think that, in this case, it rather misses the point. Science is a process, not a dogma. For every horror-story denialists and their friends quote about how some brilliant discovery wasn’t recognized in its time and that if we only open our minds we’ll [and so on, whatever] … there are innumerably more about the system working, filtering good data from bad. Denialists – and I’m thinking of climate denialists and anti-vaxxers here mostly – have pushed themselves out of the system; they’ve gone beyond argument about evidence and often right on down into conspiracy theories. What they’re doing is not debate, and it is not a hopeful sign.

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