I’m very proud to be on Scienceblogs with Mark, and for my first posts, I’m going to be introducing the Denialists’ Deck of Cards, a humorous way to think about rhetorical techniques that are used in public debate. Those who pay attention to consumer protection issues, especially in product safety (especially tobacco, food, drugs), will recognize these techniques. The goal of classifying them in this way is to advance public understanding of how these techniques can be used to stifle reform in consumer protection or on other issues. So, the Denialists’ Deck is extremely cynical. But it is a reflection of and reaction to how poor the public policy debates in Washington have become.
First, the big disclaimer: Arguments in the Denialists’ Deck can be cogent. In many circumstances, they are legitimate arguments in a debate. For instance, many of the cards deal with appeals to competition, and the ability of the market to solve problems. Of course, competition is a very strong force for reform, but appeals to this force are often false because a certain market isn’t actually competitive, or because the problem is too nuanced or important to just be left to the market.
With that, allow me to introduce the 2 of Clubs, “No Problem.”
Public policy debates on consumer protection and the environment almost always start with the “no problem” theme. The argument emphasizes that whatever consumer reform being debated is unnecessary. This is because there is no problem.
“No problem” is the chorus of a denalist argument. The skilled denalist, even after engaging in a debate for an extended period of time, will never concede that a problem exists. One should get used to hearing it if on the consumer protection side, and one should practice saying it if on the industry side. “A solution in search of a problem” is a typical 2 of Clubs saying.
Here’s an example from the network neutrality debate: “‘The proponents of network neutrality regulations have yet to show there’s a problem,’ says Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. ‘It’s truly a solution in search of a problem.’” Grant Gross, Advocates push for network neutrality policy, Network World, Apr. 5, 2004.
Another example from the genetic discrimination debate: “The health insurance group denounces the genetic discrimination bill as ‘a solution in search of a problem.’ According to HIAA President Dr. Donald Young, ‘health insurers do not currently use genetic information in determining coverage or in setting premiums, nor do they plan to do so in the future.’” Ira Carnahan, Gene Policy, Forbes.com, Oct. 22, 2003.