ResearchBlogging.orgMuch 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

Comments

  1. #1 Tophe
    June 3, 2010

    I’d like to check it out, but it’s behind a paywall.

    This page has a link that open as PDF free:
    http://www.achangeinthewind.com/2010/05/once-they-denied-relativity-now-they-deny-climate-change.html
    –jh

  2. #2 Spish
    June 3, 2010

    Well written and a very interesting simile! The science direct essay was a very good read.
    Used to get me all worked up when I ran into someone who denied what was happening right in front of their eyes, nowadays I come away with the feeling that human beings have always been plagued by biases without much objectivity.

  3. #3 Harry Eagar
    June 3, 2010

    BS. Most of the claims about the current impacts of alleged warming (such as rising sea levels) are contradicted by observations. Many of the assertions behind them (such as, malaria is a tropical disease) are falsehoods. At least some of the statements (such as that the ocean is acidifying) can only be described as insane.

    There’s plenty to deny about climate alarmism.

  4. #4 Stephen Wells
    June 3, 2010

    Harry, if you think that increasing CO2 doesn’t acidify oceans- it’s called “carbonic acid” for a reason, you know – you’re too ignorant to have opinions. Go away and learn.

  5. #5 Tom Rooney
    June 3, 2010

    Harry’s view is perfectly reasonable, given scientific impotence hypothesis (Munro 2010).

  6. #6 Erasmussimo
    June 3, 2010

    Mr Eagar and Mr. Rooney, do you have something of substance to say? Just popping off with a driveby comment seems a waste of time, doesn’t it? Are you just trying to “show the flag”, as it were?

  7. #7 Chris Noble
    June 3, 2010

    It is also worth pointing out that 100 years later, and despite the principles of relativity being used in everyday technologies such as GPS, you can still find relativity crackpots on the internet.

    You can find some of them in newsgroups like sci.physics.relativity.

    Here is an amusing Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/bgaede

    Not coincidentally you will also find that a significant number of relativity crackpots also doubt that HIV causes AIDS and that AGW is real.

  8. #8 Tophe
    June 4, 2010

    Thanks for the link, James.

  9. #9 J.T. Wenting
    June 4, 2010

    So interesting to see the climate hysterics, who have no science on their side whatsoever, try to pervert science to pilfer their religion to people and launch smearcampaigns against anyone who dares oppose their idea that “man-made carbon dioxide” is the source of all evil, causes “global warming” (oops, “climate change”), that the earth’s climate was stable and unchanging until some point in the 1980s when suddenly there was a massive increase in human produced CO2 released into the atmosphere (there wasn’t…) which will make the planet uninhabitable because of an increase in temperatures of 0.2 degrees or so.

    It’s a total fraud, yet a lot of people (even people calling themselves scientists, even people publishing blogs on a site called “scienceblogs.com”) seem intent to adhere to it.

    btw, the only people denying that climates change are the global warming fanatics, who claim that the climate was unchanging until humans caused it to change.
    Your so-called “deniers” are actually anything but. All we deny is your theory that human interaction with the planet is the sole or even main cause of changes in climatic conditions, claims backed up by centuries of observation and hard science which you have no way to refute or counter so you resolve to religious arguments, trying to get us thrown in prison for daring to oppose your orthodoxy as “crimes against the planet”, some of you even go so far as to claim we should all be killed.

  10. #10 Turboblocke
    June 4, 2010

    Ah J.T. Wenting: I see that you put “climate change” in quotes. It makes me suspect that you probably don’t know what IPCC stands for and when it was set up.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergovernmental_Panel_on_Climate_Change

    I assume you found the global warming/climate change issue significant for some reason. Does learning that the International Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988 make you have second thoughts?

  11. #11 Erasmussimo
    June 4, 2010

    Mr. Wenting, you claim that climate change theory has no scientific backing, but you offer not a shred of scientific support for your claims. Your entire post consists of nothing more than wild accusations. Does this mean that you have no evidence to support your accusations?

  12. #12 pointer
    June 4, 2010

    J.T. Wenting’s comment is the kind I have learned to savour, and I have been reading the denialsphere for a very long time. It packs so much cluelessness into its three short paragraphs and is so clearly unaware of and inoculated against the preponderance of climate research that if I wanted to show someone what denial looks like in its rawest form, I could simply point them to Wenting’s comment.

    Well done, J.T.! If I were to write a climate denial teaching tool, I couldn’t have done it better myself.

  13. #13 MartinM
    June 4, 2010

    Mr. Wenting, you claim that climate change theory has no scientific backing..

    To be fair, what he really claims is that there’s no scientific backing behind a set of claims that he pulled out of his arse and attributed to ‘climate hysterics.’ Which is true, if utterly irrelevant.

  14. #14 Robert
    June 5, 2010

    Chris Noble: “Not coincidentally you will also find that a significant number of relativity crackpots also doubt that HIV causes AIDS and that AGW is real.”

    Indeed, one influential early AGW denier, the late Petr Beckmann, was also one of the most prominent of the latter-day relativity deniers. Beckmann, a retired professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado, used to publish a monthly newsletter called “Access to Energy”, in which he regularly launched diatribes on every environmental issue that he came across. “Greenhoax Effect” was one of his favorite epithets. He also published a book called “Einstein Plus Two” in which he tried to derive the formulas of special relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Bode-Titius law of planetary orbits from classical considerations. He also started a journal called “Galilean Electrodynamics” which published antirelativity papers.

    After his death in 1993, the newsletter was taken over by Arthur Robinson of OISM, best known as the originator of the “Oregon Petition”. The October 1993 issue contains eulogies from S. Fred Singer, Julian Simon, Tom Bethell, and Edward Teller, among others. In fairness to Teller, he spent about half of his tribute gently advising the readers that Einstein was indeed correct about Relativity and suggested that Beckmann’s fans should let go of this particularly hobbyhorse of his, and Robinson appears to have done so. On the other hand, Robinson has shown some interest in AIDS denial; Peter Duesberg spoke at a 1995 conference at OISM.

    Other antirelativists who have been active in the anti-AGW movement include Howard C. Hayden, a retired Physics professor from the University of Connecticut, and Tom Bethell, senior editor of the American Spectator. Bethell is an all-around contrarian: anti-relativity, anti-AGW, anti-CFC/ozone depletion, anti-HIV/AIDS, anti-Darwinian evolution, and anti-Stratford (he believes that Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by the Earl of Oxford.)

  15. #15 Mekhong Kurt
    June 8, 2010

    Mr. Wenting: I am perfectly willing to read the claims of anyone, particularly anyone in climate science, who claims there was no climate change until humans came along.

    I don’t mind making that offer, because I know you won’t find any.

    I’ve followed this subject as a layperson for decades, most closely the past several years. Nowadays, I typically spend at least 2-3 hours daily reading various articles and papers on the subject, including those written by skeptics and deniers. Out of the thousands of such items I’ve read, I’ve seen not a SINGLE claim that people who subscribe to the climate change model say there was no climate change before we happened along the boulevard.

    Such an assertion is simply ludicrous. Of COURSE there have been a number of ice ages, both large (global) and small (regional). And of COURSE there have been warmer periods in between. But when the planet has a rise in the GLOBAL annual temperature average in under 200 years that roughly equals the rise that came with the end of the last Great Ice Age over a 4,000-6,000 year period, there clearly is some other, new, or altered dynamic at work.

    Further, climate scientists speak of “tipping points,” in part precisely because they know good and well that human activity doesn’t occur in isolation from Mother Nature’s. Let me use an analogy.

    Say I’m standing on the very edge of a cliff and a strong gust comes along behind me and pushes right to the limit of my ability to resist being pushed over the edge — but I succeed. But then let’s say that at the exact same moment someone walks up behind me and gives me a tiny nudge — a nudge JUST enough, when combined with the force of the wind, to push me past my literal, in this case, “tipping point” and I tip right on over the edge. Tough stuff for me, huh?

    The arguments astound me. I was debating (I thought) this subject with an acquaintance. He sarcastically asked when climate scientists were going to stop claiming that climate change “will cause the Earth to explode, probably destroying the Moon at the same time.” I thought he was joking; the question was so stupid if posed as a serious one, that I laughed right out loud. He became incensed and repeated the question. Stunned, I looked at him and said, “Are you serious? I meant no disrespect; I thought you were joking — surely you must be.” He angrily insisted he wasn’t joking, and repeated his by-now demand again.

    This man is reasonably literate and well-educated, and reads widely, especially on the Internet. I asked him to e-mail me some links to articles making such claims, explaining I’d send letters to the ditors of such publications demanding to know how in hell such a stupid claim could possibly have been published in the first place.

    To the man’s credit, after several months (during which we pointedly didn’t touch upon the subject again, by silent mutual consent), he told me he and searched everywhere and could find even a SINGLE example. Then he said he started thinking back over how he had reached that conclusion in the first place, and slowly realized he had reached it from hearing *others* making the same claim — and that in fact, search his memory as much as he could, he couldn’t recall ever having actually seen it himself, not even once.

    Let me close with this. I genuinely hope the vast majority of scientists who believe there is some sort of serious climate change going on with negative implications for the biosphere are wrong, each and every one of them, that they’ve misinterpreted the data completely. But I find it virtually unimaginable that such will prove to be the case. The only thing I believe we don’t know — yet — is the extent of the effects, such as will the seas rise an inch? Six inches? A foot? — I don’t know, and most climate scientists will say that while they can predict with reasonable accuracy in a given scenario with defined parameters, for now (at least) they aren’t sure of just what the *precise* rise might be. (BTW, I live in Bangkok, and in a mere 20 years, the sea has moved inland along a stretch of shore near the city by over half a kilometer; one locally famous temple that USED to be about half a kilometer from the high tide line had to install an artificial floor about a meter above the dirt floor because now the high tide washes up to and behind the temple. And they had to raise the monks quarters behind the temple, having a crane life them up and set them on poles. And that’s not hearsay; I’ve been here 16 years — and been to that area many times and *watched* the change with my own eyes. Is it regional? I don’t know, but if it is, it’s a mighty big region, since similar reports have filtered in from the Arabian Sea across the Indian Ocean and clear up to the Sea of Japan. Pretty good-sized chunk of real estate, I’d say.)

  16. #16 Mekhong Kurt
    June 8, 2010

    The man I mentioned could NOT find a single example of an online article claiming the Earth would explode and destroy the Moon; I accidentally left out “not.”

  17. #17 Kermit
    June 8, 2010

    Mr. Wenting:
    Frank Luntz is a pollster and spin doctor for the Republicans. He frequently offers them language advice, and in 2002 wrote to the GOP that :
    “’Climate change’ is less frightening than ‘global warming.’ … While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge”.

  18. #18 Mal Adapted
    June 8, 2010

    JT Wenting left a similar drive-by rant on Coby Beck’s blog yesterday. He appears to be a paradigmatic troll. Shouldn’t we ignore him?

  19. #19 yours
    November 29, 2010

    It’s ironic but the people trying to prove relativity to be correct are about to show it’s wrong. That will happen on a date that will also show more about how the climate actually works too. More on this comment soon, it’s been classified and even more simply, just overlooked, long enough. It’s enough of a hint for now, if it wasn’t, you’ll understand the rest within 30 days (hint#2). No time to explain more now.

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