Age of denial: New Scientists looks at societies growing mistrust of “hard evidence”

Strange days indeed

An alert reader pointed out that the latest edition of New Scientist (May 15 Issue 2670) is dedicated to the phenomena of denial in contemporary society. Not just climate change “scepticism”, but vaccine denial, “AIDs” denialism and 9/11 Truthers and those who deny the link between smoking and cancer.

It’s a great series of articles, in particular the one by Michael Shermer, one of the world’s leading sceptic. Shermer draws the difference between scepticism (a healthy attribute) and denial:

WHAT is the difference between a sceptic and a denier? When I call myself a sceptic, I mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims. A climate sceptic, for example, examines specific claims one by one, carefully considers the evidence for each, and is willing to follow the facts wherever they lead.

A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing “confirmation bias” – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest.

I don’t think anyone could have summarised it better.

3 thoughts on “Age of denial: New Scientists looks at societies growing mistrust of “hard evidence”

  1. manuelg says:

    Wow, a real bombshell of an article, especially calling out “True disbelievers” at the end:

    “Climate denial, evolution denial, Holocaust denial, AIDS denial, 9/11 denial, vaccine denial, tobacco denial”

    I agree with this list, and I think it is a very gutsy stance. But I feel stating a naked equivalence is unfair to a subset of climate skeptics. But I also feel, in the end, “no harm – no foul”.

    The actual climate skeptics are writing constructive comments on the climate scientists blogs. The alleged self-called “climate skeptics” have such a low standard for discourse, they inhabit peanut-galleries that the serious flee from.

    The actual climate skeptics have moved on to discussions of 2nd order climatic effects, and 2nd order economic incentive effects. The 1st order effect of human activity for increasing the risk of climate disruption and making the oceans acidic is already assumed true by thorough demonstration, and the 1st order economic remedy of carbon taxation to correct perverse unsustainable externalities is already assumed correct from standard economic analysis. In the elite business press, like in the Economist, these things are blandly treated as uncontroversial facts.

  2. Girma says:

    It is not hard to see for anyone who has finished elementary school that 0.2 is greater than ZERO.

    IPCC projected for global warming of 0.2 deg C per decade as stated here:
    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

    However, the actual observation is ZERO deg C per decade as shown here:

    The conclusion by any one who has finished elementary school is IPCC is wrong. You don’t need to finish high school. You don’t need to go to university.

    This is not a denial, as 0.2 is not equal to zero. The deniers are those who say IPCC projections are correct.

    • manuelg says:

      Silly comment by Girma.

      Girma’s arithmetic is exactly the same as eating daily 3 fast food meals of 1200 calories each, for an average of 150 calories an hour, then claiming the average must be wrong because you eat exactly zero calories an hour between 10PM and 7AM, while sleeping.

      This silly argument is even covered in the Skeptical Science iPhone app, as #7 out of 10, it is so often repeated.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-stopped-in-1998.htm

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