SCIENCE (from the Latin for 'knowledge') informs wisdom, reason and humanism. This is a 4-legged worldview within reality that maximizes well-being for individuals and society.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Skepticism vs. Denialism

A clear presentation of the differences between skepticism and denialism.

I thought that the following interaction within the comments section was worthy of presentation. The person challenging the author, Steven Novella, is a noted proponent of pseudoscience, Michael Ignor, a neurosurgeon.  Actually, the comments of others as Ingor continued to present invalid argument are worth reading also.

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# michaelegnor on 28 Sep 2015 at 10:35 am


Were the people who doubted the anti-DDT hysteria of the 1960′s deniers or skeptics?

How about the people who challenged Malthusian apocalyptic scenarios in the Paul Ehrlich’s ‘Population Bomb’?

How about the people who doubted the premises of eugenics?

No matter whether you call them skpetics or deniers, the people who doubted the scientific consensus that ‘the world is ending if you don’t immediately do as we say and ban pesticides/sterilize everyone/sterilize the unfit etc. seem to have been right.

Why is the AGW debate conducted in an historical vacuum?

# Steven Novella on 28 Sep 2015 at 10:42 am

Michael – I know those are talking points of yours as you have raised them several times in the comments here. I honestly suggest you read my article again and really take in what I am saying.

First – there is a continuum, not a dichotomy.

I also gave an outline of how to evaluate a consensus. Not all scientific consensuses are equivalent. Sometimes the media creates the impression of a consensus where there isn’t one. Sometimes a small group of scientists are unopposed because no one else has yet paid much attention. Sometimes people adhere too strongly to the precautionary principle – which is not really a difference of opinion about the science but how to react to the science. You are also confusing politics with science in some of your examples.

In none of your examples do you have a robust scientific consensus anything like what we have today for AGW. The problem is not a historical vacuum. Your examples are all just terrible.

# michaelegnor on 28 Sep 2015 at 11:18 am


The consensus for eugenics was quite robust–there were very few deniers, and deniers in the scientific community were even less common.

The Malthusian consensus was quite robust as well, and generally remains so. Paul Ehrlich is a highly respected member of the NAS, and John Holdren has been Obama’s science advisor for 7 years. They are both Malthusians, and Malthusianism has a very strong presence in the warmist scientific community today.

Ironically, there is probably no publicly debated theory in the biological sciences in modern times that has been more completely refuted than Malthusianism.

DDT and pesticide hysteria was not the scientific consensus until the early 70′s– the EPA originally overrode the NAS’ denialism when it banned DDT in 1972.

Every 50 years or so the scientific community creates an apocalyptic scenario–overpopulation, eugenics, pesticides, global warming– and the refrain is always the same–’Do as we scientists say and save the world’.

Scientific apocalpyses are more than academic squabbles. They are very deadly, and have cost tems of millions of lives since Malthus.

Scientists never seem to accept responsiblity for the junk science and catastrophes they cause. There has never been any sort of genuine accounting for Malthusiansim or eugenics or pesticide hysteria. History just goes down the memory hole, and it’s on to the next scientific apocalypse.

Ocean acidification is going to be next crisis, when AGW runs its course.

A real skeptic would be pointing out the historical parallels and taking the current iteration of scientific apocalyptism to task.

# Steven Novella on 28 Sep 2015 at 1:26 pm

Michael – I don’t see the historical parallels. Your examples are terrible. I don’t agree that there was a robust consensus for eugenics, which wasn’t really ever a scientific ideas as much as a social/political idea. The same for Malthusian philosophy – which remains genuinely controversial. There are multiple schools of thought about the relationship between population and resources.

Same with pesticides. Show me the robust scientific consensus regarding the dangers of pesticides. Generally the scientific community is the one saying to remain calm in the face of reassuring evidence. It is the anti-science lot who are screaming about toxins.

Further, every warning that there may be hidden dangers to a new technology is not “apocalyptic.” There is a legitimate degree of concern that is often appropriate.

I think that skeptics collectively do a good job of following the best evidence and coming to a reasonable conclusion that is often somewhere between hysteria and denial. Technological advance often does prove the dire Malthusians wrong, but that does not mean that resources are infinite or that we don’t have to think about sustainability going forward.

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