What the denial movement has wrought: the collapse of public trust in science

Bad moon rising.


Quite a few blogs – and readers of this blog – have already made mention of the fascinating study “Social influences on paranormal belief: popular versus scientific support“.  

In short, the study looked out how individuals weighted the opinion of the majority versus the scientific consensus (in this case ESP). As suspected, it was found the more popular a view the more readily the individual would accept that consensus of the majority.  

However – shockingly – if the scientific community discounted the pseudo-scientific belief, and it was seen to have broad popular support, then individuals where more likely to reject the view of science. Here’s the abstract:  

“Paranormal claims enjoy relatively widespread popular support despite by definition being rejected by the scientific community. We propose that belief in paranormal claims is influenced by how popular those claims are as well as by dominant scientific views on the claims. We additionally propose that individuals will be most likely to be positively influenced by the views of science when claims are unpopular. An experimental study varied instructions to participants in a 2×2 design which informed participants that a particular paranormal belief/claim (ESP) was very popular or not and was rejected by science or not. Participants then watched a brief video that appeared to present evidence of ESP. As predicted, participants became more likely to believe in ESP when claims were more popular. Contrary to predictions, participants appeared to react against the views of science when evaluating claims, particularly when they believed those claims were unpopular. This finding may reflect decreasing trust in the institution of science…”  

Some of the observations are worth noting:  

“Although trust in science remains generally high, Americans are willing to depart from dominant views of science on particular issues such as evolution and global warming (Lang 2005). The 2009 Pew poll which found that trust in science remains high also found increasing scepticism about science. When asked America’s greatest achievement in the prior 50 years, 47% of Americans in 1999 listed a scientific achievement. In 2009, only 27% of American’s listed a scientific achievement in response to the same question. The growing acceptance of paranormal claims combined with a decreased trust in science and willingness to depart from science on particular issues leads us to predict that individuals will selectively adhere to dominant views of science…”  

It should be noted, that views most frequently rejected but the public those that directly contradict the world view of some religious conservatives (evolution) or represent a threat to specific industries (CO2 emitters).  

That both creationists and the denial movement are now working together and share the same tactics is no coincidence.  

There paper concludes:  

“Overall, our research demonstrated that individuals responded positively to perceptions of the popularity of paranormal claims when making decisions about belief in those claims. Results also suggest that participants reacted against the views of science in making decisions about paranormal claims. These findings may be due to individuals seeing paranormal belief as a matter of faith rather than evidence and therefore reacting against science. Alternatively, perhaps endorsement from peers provides a stronger source of legitimacy for paranormal beliefs than authorization from a higher authority. Or, the findings may result from a decreasing trust in the institution of science…”  

For both myself and other advocates of science and reason it highlights what we have been saying for some time: the collapse in trust of science has been manufactured and orchestrated by the denial movement.  

It is having an adverse effect not just on climate science, but all science.  

Both the denial movement and religious conservatives are waging a bi-partisan war on science. Alternative medicine directly challenges the efficacy of evidence based medicine. Today more people believe in pseudo-science than ever before.  

Individuals would prefer to surrender their reason to the beguiling siren song of astrology, “The Secret” and the “Da Vinci” code. How comforting it is to be told “The universe really does revolve around you!”.  

Thanks to poor media reporting on science we have a perfect storm of misinformation: counter knowledge masquerading as facts.  

Public opinion on climate change is important: without it our political responses are paralysed as individuals either pay no attention to the the reality of global warming, or alternatively become hostile to proposed solutions.  

Thanks to the likes of Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova, The Institute of Public Affairs and Ian Plimer both politicians and the public are being actively mislead.  

Reality is not a democracy – even if 90% of the population chooses to belief climate change is not happening, it does not stop the reality that scientists been observing for decades.  

However, our democracy is being corrupted by these agents of the “anti-enlightenment”. Like all anti-science movements they refuse to engage in the scientific debate because they have no evidence or research that supports their claims.  

Their goal is simple: stall our response to climate change by shaping public opinion.  

I lay this collpase in trust at the feet of the deniers. They are one of the chief members of the chorus that tells us “not to trust” the scientists.  

And what have their actions wrought?  

We have missed the opportunity to prevent climate change. We now have only have two courses of action: mitigation and adaption as the reality of climate change makes itself more manifest over the coming decades.  

Our children will come into a world fundamentally different from the one we grew up in, and that our parents and grand parents took for granted.  

All us – those alive today, and those who have only just entered the world – shall inherit the wind.


10 thoughts on “What the denial movement has wrought: the collapse of public trust in science

  1. rogerthesurf says:

    With all due respect I would submit that the IPCC associated scientists have brought the public distrust upon themselves.




    • Watching the Deniers says:

      I’m curious Roger… how so? They’ve been cleared by two inquiries so far. Conspiracy? Fraud? Mann cleared by Penn state. Head of IPCC cleared by KPMG of any charges of monetary fraud.

      Sadly I think you read the article and missed the point: people discount the science when it clashes with their personal worldviews.

      The creationists claim that evolutionary scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to silence them.


      “What can we do? Criminal prosecution of scientists who manipulate data would be a good start. Scientists who fake data and manipulate peer review to advance their agenda are no different than corporate executives who manipulate stock prices or lawyers who tamper with juries. Ultimately, perhaps massive defunding of organized science, and a new system of support for research that demands utter transparency and maximal accommodation of debate, may be the only way to defend ourselves from an utterly corrupt scientific elite…”

      So speak the creationists. Let’s destroy science because we don’t like it’s results. Which is why the denial movement and creationists are linking hands.

      One can’t pick and choose the results of science. Can I ask:

      1) can you back up your statement with evidence, not blog posts or op-ed peices from WUWT and other sites?
      2) do you accept the evidence for evolution, the big bang and an earth <4bn years old?

      I strive to provide evidence in every statement I make and use reason. Can you?

      Have a nice day!

  2. rogerthesurf says:

    I think everyone has to use their own reasoning for deciding on what they believe in this case.

    I was in this case actually refering to the list of clangers and the evidence of poor sources and peer reviewing emerging from the latest IPCC report.



    PS yes I can justify every statement I make. And I always look beyond the IPCC.
    The big bang theory or evolution theory are not going to hit me in my pocket and possibly starve me and my family so they dont worry me too much.
    Why not visit http://www.globalwarmingsupporter.wordpress.com where my position is more clearly described.

    • Watching the Deniers says:


      Actually evolution hits your pocket and your well being, given how medicine now uses evolutionary theory for designing medicine:



      Indeed your health, and the health of your loved ones is dependent on our basic understanding of evolutionary biology.

      Evolutionary concepts are also now used in engineering:


      I think when the effects of climate change start to happening you will be paying a lot more. Do you really base all your decisions on your hip pocket? Is that not a rather limited view of the world? A little solipsistic perhaps?

      I agree with you to a point, it’s up to the individual to decide their position: however, that is no guarantee they are right. Whether the earth is round or flat is not a matter of public opinion.

      It just is.

      Again, I think you miss the point of the article. It’s about how the public’s trust in science is being deliberately undermined. Indeed, you confirm the studies main finding:

      >> People will reject the scientific consensus if it does not accord with their personal beliefs.

      You think AGW is a scam to rip you off. Erog, it *must* be a scam. Can you not see the cognitive dissonance there?

      P.S. I note you seem to be a believer in UN conspiracy theories. My answer: ho hum.

      Have a nice day!

    • Dave McRae says:

      GDay Roger – the CO2 laser exploits the ability of the CO2 molecule to absorb and re-emit within the Infra-Red just as Tyndall observed – would you mind demonstrating that the CO2 laser is a scam (we could televise this and blow open the AGW fraud completely see
      http://galahs.blogspot.com/2010/04/carbon-dioxide-laser.html )

  3. manuelg says:

    > I lay this collpase in trust at the feet of the deniers.

    I, too, find the deniers loathsome creeps, but this is too pat.

    There simply is no popular motivating morality of caring about being a caretaker to future generations. In this moral climate, the job of the deniers is pathetically easy (that is why no deniers sweat under mental strain – the arguments used are childish and plead to childish emotions. Take “rogerthesurf” as an example: his capacity for rational analysis breaks down as soon as the image is conjured up of climate scientists picking his wallet).

    Without the motivating morality developed, discussed, and consequences demonstrated, to the largest audience possible, the deniers can drag the discussion backwards with no resistance whatsoever.

    “Think about all the caretakers that sustained you when you were vulnerable. Now imagine all those caretakers shrugged their responsibilities. What would be the consequence to your ability to thrive? There is a caretaker responsibility towards future generations – and the media, the politicians, the corporate class, the elite, and the various mouthpieces of denial feel no duty to help you shoulder that responsibility. Embrace them as you embrace your role as a shirker and ne’er-do-well.”

  4. rogerthesurf says:


    I take it that you are ready to lay down your life and the life of your family and loved ones some time in the next few years, on the current evidence given to you that the world may burn up within the next 100 years some time?
    These are the odds we are talking about in case you haven’t figured that out yett.



  5. manuelg says:

    quoting “rogerthesurf”:

    > I take it that you are ready to lay down your life and the life of your family and loved ones some time in the next few years, on the current evidence given to you that the world may burn up within the next 100 years some time?

    …”within the next 100 years some time”? Discontinuities to space time and English grammar notwithstanding…

    Frankly, if societal breakdown happens during my lifetime, it would be best case scenario for my progeny. The constraints of polite peaceful society are the only thing keeping me from taking over whole dozens of neighboring residential blocks, and their resources.

    What I am describing is the best protection for mankind, in my vicinity, against my own animal cunning.

    > “These are the odds we are talking about in case you haven’t figured that out yett [sic].”

    I am reasonably prepared for any average global temperature below the boiling point, and prepared for my family. I am also reasonably impressed with my loins, but I doubt I can *personally* impregnate in amounts sufficient to maintain a post-industrial global population number.

    The welfare of *that* number is what is at stake in the long term.

  6. rogerthesurf says:


    So was that a yes or no?



  7. He presses on for questions, but answers few himself…. tisk tisk Roger!
    I suppose I should also include that he doesn’t often acknowledge or accepts the answers he receives (an excellent example of the type of person described by Michael Shermer in the recent New Scientist: “Living with Denial: When a sceptic isn’t a sceptic”)
    I’d bet my life that focusing on developing a world society less reliant on fossil fuels will last a hell of a lot longer than business-as-usual (which by all accounts is a dead horse).

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