Denialism refers to the tendency for a group of people to deny that there is a problem, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Scepticism is quite different and expected in scientific and other debate. Denialism is more formalised than individual or cultural denial as usually it involves the use of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate and unresolved debate about matters generally considered to be settled. In denial objective reality is simply rejected and does not manifest subjectively to the denier while with denialism the subjective engagement to justify the denied view is done with the object of convincing others.
"Denialism" as a term was first popularised by the American Hoofnagle brothers, one Chris, a lawyer and the other Mark, a physician . It simply formalises by a name, a pattern of behaviour seen in all human societies.
Denialists generally use the following six tactics:
- Allege that there's a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
- Use fake experts to support your story. "Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility," says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
- Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
- Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
- Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
- Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist "both sides" must be heard and cry censorship when "dissenting" arguments or experts are rejected.
An underlying them may be to compare e.g. doctors with antivaccine views with Galileo and to quote Schopenhauer: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident". This is patently untrue; and it is well discussed and rebutted by Shermer.
- ↑ Debora MacKenzie. Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth. New Scientist 2010 (19 May) Issue 2760. Web site last viewed 2010 (5 June).
- ↑ a b McKee M, Diethelm P. How the growth of denialism undermines public health. BMJ (Clinical research ed.). 2010; 341:c6950.(Epub)
- ↑ Pascal Diethelm & Martin McKee. Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? European Journal of Public Health 2009 19(1):2-4; doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckn139
- ↑ Michael Shermer. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. W.H. Freeman & Company 1998 as quoted by Skywise
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