Denialism vs. skepticism
Being a science writer is harder than being a sports writer because sports writers don’t have to deal with people who think that basketball doesn’t even exist.
Excerpted from Denialism – RationalWiki
It is possible to conflate skepticism and denialism, as proponents of both seem to “deny” that something exists until they’re convinced otherwise. Denialists themselves often claim to be skeptics, and very rarely self-identify as denialists. But to say that a skeptic is a homeopathy denier and that a Holocaust denier is skeptical would be wrong.
While both have a negative or critical tone, the positions are different in how they view and acquire and interpret data:
Skepticism is a method – while denialism is a position.
The opposite of “skeptic” is not “believer,” and it is possible to embrace something while remaining skeptical. This is an essential part of the ethos of science as it suggests new experiments to strengthen or falsify a proposition.
Skeptics look at experiments to ensure that they were performed properly with the appropriate controls, proper data analysis and so on. The skeptical method involves examining all data and coming to a conclusion that it produces.
Denialists, on the other hand, view data slightly differently, as a means to a predetermined end – minimizing its importance if it goes against their opinion, highlighting it if it supports them, or just plain misrepresenting it for their own purposes.
Skeptics keep an open mind until data shows that a hypothesis is invalid, while denialists start with the conclusion and look for support.
To put it another way, denialism embraces confirmation bias while skepticism seeks to avoid it.
One blogger put it this way:
“”Skeptics also ask questions, but a big difference between skeptics and denialists is that skeptics listen to answers and regard evidence as paramount. Denialists tend to see the piles of evidence against their claim, and see a conspiracy theory to perpetuate a hoax. But skeptics accept good evidence. Skeptics have a lot of respect for science, and denialists are usually out to undermine scientists working in the field where they have an agenda. “
“Denialists will wear the costume of scientific thinking, but they usually show a piss-poor understanding how … the accumulation of studies and data work. (For instance, they promote the idea that if one study can be found to be flawed, this brings down the whole theory, as if the other hundreds of studies don’t count.)
This distinction is really important, because the role of skeptics is to dispute and even disprove outrageous conspiracy theory claims. Skeptics fight against denialists. That’s why I’m interested in skepticism — I fear that there’s a surge of denialist thinking in our culture fueled by new media (which is great at a lot of good things, but also good at spreading misinformation) and the explosion in both complications in world politics and the everyday person’s awareness of them. As science begins to dictate more and more of what we know, there’s also a cultural backlash that’s related to the overall backlash against modernism. Skepticism is becoming more and more important as the political troops to defend science. So when people who are part of the anti-science backlash call themselves “skeptics,” this confuses the issue.
Excerpted from Denialism – RationalWiki
From the Wikipedia article on Denialism:
In human behavior, denialism is exhibited by individuals choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth. Author Paul O’Shea remarks, “[It] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event”.
In science, denialism has been defined as the rejection of basic concepts that are undisputed and well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a topic in favor of ideas that are both radical and controversial.
Several motivations and causes for denialism have been proposed, including religious beliefs and self-interest, or as a psychological defense mechanism against disturbing ideas.
In a 2003 newspaper article, Edwin Cameron—a senior South African judge who has AIDS—described the tactics used by those who deny the Holocaust and by those who deny that the AIDS pandemic is due to infection with HIV. He states that “For denialists, the facts are unacceptable. They engage in radical controversion, for ideological purposes, of facts that, by and large, are accepted by almost all experts and lay persons as having been established on the basis of overwhelming evidence”. To do this they employ “distortions, half-truths, misrepresentation of their opponents’ positions and expedient shifts of premises and logic.”
Edwin Cameron notes that a common tactic used by denialists is to “make great play of the inescapable indeterminacy of figures and statistics”, as scientific studies of many areas rely on probability analysis of sets of data, and in historical studies the precise numbers of victims and other facts may not be available in the primary sources.
Such “recourse to data debates and pseudo-scientific ‘evidence'” has also been noted as a common feature of several types of denialism in a 2009 article published in the journal Globalization and Health.
This is an area which British historian Richard J. Evans mentioned as part of his analysis of the David Irving’s work which he presented for the defence when Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel:
Reputable and professional historians do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account, and, if necessary, amend their own case, accordingly. They do not present, as genuine, documents which they know to be forged just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying. They do not invent ingenious, but implausible, and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents, because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments, if this is the case, or, indeed, abandon them altogether. They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources, which, in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite. They do not eagerly seek out the highest possible figures in a series of statistics, independently of their reliability, or otherwise, simply because they want, for whatever reason, to maximize the figure in question, but rather, they assess all the available figures, as impartially as possible, in order to arrive at a number that will withstand the critical scrutiny of others. They do not knowingly mistranslate sources in foreign languages in order to make them more serviceable to themselves. They do not willfully invent words, phrases, quotations, incidents and events, for which there is no historical evidence, in order to make their arguments more plausible.
Mark Hoofnagle (brother of Chris Hoofnagle) has described denialism as “the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none”. It is a process that operates by employing one or more of the following five tactics in order to maintain the appearance of legitimate controversy:
Conspiracy theories — Dismissing the data or observation by suggesting opponents are involved in “a conspiracy to suppress the truth”.
Cherry picking — Selecting an anomalous critical paper supporting their idea, or using outdated, flawed, and discredited papers in order to make their opponents look as though they base their ideas on weak research.
False experts — Paying an expert in the field, or another field, to lend supporting evidence or credibility.
Moving the goalpost — Dismissing evidence presented in response to a specific claim by continually demanding some other (often unfulfillable) piece of evidence.
Other logical fallacies — Usually one or more of false analogy, appeal to consequences, straw man, or red herring.