Much has been written of late about the nature of denialism. New Scientist a couple of issues back produced a special report on the subject, for example, and the New Humanist explores the idea of “unreasonable doubt.”
There’s plenty more out there. The most provocative I’ve come across (thanks to Joss Garman via DeSmog Blog’s Brendan DeMelle) is a 2009 paper in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics by Jeroen van Dongen of the Institute for History and Foundations of Science at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. His thesis is ideologically based denialism of science has a long pedigree, and he begins his paper with this quote from Albert Einstein:
This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.
The parallels between the political opposition to relatively in certain early 20th-century circles and today’s pseudoskeptical approach to anthropogenic global warming are striking.
Indeed,the actions of many of Einstein’s opponents resemble those of the thinkers now often referred to as, in perhaps an all too derisive manner, ”crackpots”. It thus appears that this phenomenon is at least as old as the existence of institutionalized science, which arbitrates authoritatively what is, and what is not, sound scientific practice and established truth; crackpots, with their own unshakable beliefs, in the end rather deny that authority than give up their ideas.
It has long been clear that dismissing the anti-relativists’ objections as those of an assortment of dimwits who simply did not get it, as physicists intuitively have tended to do, does not suffice.
“On Einstein’s opponents, and other crackpots ” is not a long paper, nor particularly dense. Check it out:
van Dongen, J. (2010). On Einstein’s opponents, and other crackpots Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies In History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 41 (1), 78-80 DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsb.2009.10.001