The Equation

The Equation

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Science Denial: The Denialist's Playbook

Sean Carroll, evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin and VP of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, provides this interesting list of tactics used by denialists everywhere. His specific example in his keynote talk at Science Denial conference was with chiropractors and their past and present denial of the efficacy of the polio vaccine, but coming up with examples of the exact same strategies that other causes have used is not difficult. Whether through organization or due to some underlying psychology the playbook gets used over and over. As Carroll said, "we have all been here before."  In general order, the denialist, in the face of evidence to the contrary, will:

  1. Doubt the Science.
  2. Question the Scientists' Motive(s) and Integrity.
  3. Magnify legitimate disagreements among scientists and cite "gadflies" as authorities. 
  4. Exaggerate potential harm.
  5. Appeal to personal freedom.
  6. Repudiate on the basis of a key philosophy or ideology.
What quickly becomes apparent, after reaching the sixth strategy, is that the other five are simply smokescreens. Most true denialists are not interested in the facts (a major theme of the conference). But in all cases of denial, even where people seem to be well-meaning, the scientific evidence is in direct contradiction to an understanding of how the World works. I will get into the cognitive process - motivated reasoning - that leads to using the first five plays in another post.

How does one get around this and change the internal narrative in an individual? This of course is the holy grail of impactful writing and if anybody really knew, the world would look a lot different.

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