Framing Science

PRI The World ran a 10 minute feature today on the wisdom of using the term “denier” in the debate over climate change and other science policy controversies.

Correspondent Jason Margolis does a terrific job in synthesizing research and comments from various experts on why the use of the label by science advocates is likely to be a major blunder. My comments come at about 7 minutes and 15 seconds into the archived audio.

What do readers think? Convinced yet that “denier” should be dropped from our lexicon?

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Powell
    November 21, 2008

    I chanced to hear this segment, and I was (perhaps stupidly) unaware of the holocaust connotation of the term “denier.” The segment was persuasive that the term is counter-productive.

    In my experience, it’s never a good idea to criticize the opposition on an issue using loaded terms like denier. Doing so tends to harden opposition and make it into a personal crusade.

  2. #2 Orac
    November 21, 2008

    No.

  3. #3 Kevin
    November 21, 2008

    No.

  4. #4 george.wiman
    November 22, 2008

    It was a very good report, except for that interview with the guy who wanted to soft-pedal the truth. Yes, let’s by all means tiptoe around the facts, the consequences, and the role of those who refuse to connect the dots. We’ll be gentler and more sensitive and they’ll come over to our side.

    How about refuseniks? Or “Nattering Nabobs Of Naysaying”? Or just “Denier”, which is what they are, whether they like it or not. There are Holocaust deniers, tire-pressure deniers, and global warming deniers. In terms of eventual total loss of life and property, the latter may end up doing more damage than the former.

  5. #5 Patrick
    November 22, 2008

    No.

  6. #6 CLM
    November 22, 2008

    What term should we use instead? They certainly aren’t legitimately skeptics. The only term that I would use that is less loaded would be contrarian. Obviously these people who don’t believe global warming is real or a problem wouldn’t like any label we put on them.

  7. #7 Sigmund
    November 22, 2008

    No.
    Why not suggest an alternative term, Matthew, if you think denier is loaded?
    I am open to the idea of improving our descriptive language but I am also of the opinion that we are dealing with a specific tactic here – the rejection of the scientific method as a way of answering questions about the natural world. Its the one thread that links anti-vaccinationers, anti-global warmers, anti-evolutionists, conspiracy theorists etc.
    You seem to be suggesting that you disagree with the idea that the denialist mindset actually exists at all.
    If that is the case you might try putting forward a better case than simply telling us to shut up.

  8. #8 CRM-114
    November 22, 2008

    Calling them deniers does not push them into a corner. They cornered themselves first: calling them on it is correct.

    If somebody is cheating, calling them on it is correct.

    If someone is arguing in bad faith, calling them on it is correct.

    Those who choose to hide from the truth are wrong, period. They are no different than little kids who do wrong and are troubled by cognitive dissonance: they don’t want to feel like they are associated with mistakes. Well, boo-hoo for their feelings, which are of no consequence to the rest of us. It is their actions that matter. If what you do makes you feel bad, then stop doing it.

    And, yes, we all do deny to one extent or another. For example, look at how we try to pretend away the fact that the Earth cannot support an ever-increasing human population. Our number has more than doubled in my lifetime, and it shows no sign of slowing. Nobody wants to be associated with that problem, but anyone with kids is part of the problem. That’s a fact, a sad fact, but undeniable. (Myself? I have no kids to speak of, and none to keep quiet about.)

  9. #9 Dano
    November 22, 2008

    The connection to the holocaust was debated and put to bed long ago. Not convinced. Good piece, though.

    Best,

    D

  10. #10 ngong
    November 22, 2008

    I chanced to hear this segment, and I was (perhaps stupidly) unaware of the holocaust connotation of the term “denier.”

    I wasn’t either. I’m guessing a good percentage of “deniers” aren’t either. If the radio piece could confirm that 1) a large percentage of AGW deniers feel they’re being compared to holocaust deniers and then 2) that causing them to feel that way is truly counterproductive, it might be convincing.

  11. #11 falterer
    November 22, 2008

    George: “refuseniks” has Cold War connotations of people unjustly boxed into their current position. I strongly recommend against its use as an alternative to “deniers”.

    A few other commenters here seemed to have missed the point. Perhaps they’re “point deniers”. There are people who could be convinced out of their denial of climate change, but calling them names they associate with Nazi sympathizers makes them much harder to convince.

  12. #12 stewart
    November 22, 2008

    Denial existed before the holocaust, and marks a set of responses and rhetorical/psychological mechanisms. I’m happy with the term crank, though, if it hurts their feelings less. But it’s all nonsense, they want equal standing on the grounds they want it, without basis. Tough, it won’t happen in science, and if it happens in politics, we should use the label neo-Lysenkoism, or state-sponsored idiocy.

  13. #13 Lora
    November 22, 2008

    Dr Nisbet, I am third-ing Sigmund’s and CLM’s request–please, if you think this is a bad word, suggest a different one. It doesn’t take a whole lot of brainpower or courage to say that someone else is wrong. It is far braver and requires more smarts to propose an alternate that you believe would be more successful.

    I call Godwin on the Holocaust association aspect. Their bottom line is that they aren’t interested in reasoning together or being helpful.

  14. #14 MarkH
    November 22, 2008

    Denialist is an excellent alternative term which I have argued from the beginning. But denial is also appropriate, because it simply is what it is. We were initially criticized when starting denialism blog simply because “denialism” contains “denial” which is the root of “denier” yada yada. But most people recognized that holocaust denial hasn’t ruled out the use of the word denial period or any derivation thereof.

    As far as it redirecting debate – why are you debating denialists in the first place? These people are not worth debating. Who do they quote that is offended by this term? Timothy Ball? They’re crooks! They’re not honest brokers in debate! You’ve fallen for their tactics to distract from the fact they have no facts or science on which to debate, so they try to deflect attacks on their bogus ideology to this false comparison with holocaust deniers. Don’t buy into this nonsense, you’re doing their work for them. It’s remarkable how you have repeatedly made this error.

    Finally, as usual, I have to ask, what proof do you have that the tactics of outing denialism for what it is is ineffective? The only evidence I’ve seen of this so far is that Timothy Ball is upset. To which I say, awesome! We’ve gotten under their skin. Maybe now they’ll have to resort to using honest tactics in debate, and then maybe, shock, they’ll see they don’t have an honest debate with the science in this case.

    You not in the title that after hearing this one should never use denier again. I am, if anything, convinced of the opposite. The only people who seem to be upset are people who are beyond the reaches of reason in the first place. Show us some data that the tactic of confronting denial directly is harmful and I’ll change my mind. So far all we have is your opinion, and that of Timothy Ball. Neither of which I care for.

  15. #15 Dale
    November 22, 2008

    “Denier” and “denialism” are too divisive? I wonder where this idea came from?

    Observe the overheated reaction to the film An Inconvenient Truth — suffice to say the oil companies and the hacks they fund hated it. Read the transcript (http://forumpolitics.com/blogs/2007/03/17/an-inconvient-truth-transcript/) and/or watch it for yourself, and notice that the scare-words “denier” and “denialism” appear a grand total of ZERO times. “Anti-science” is uttered a grand total of ZERO times.

    The word “denier” makes people think they’re being accused of Nazi sympathies? Who says? And you believe them? Why?

    Nonsense.

  16. #16 James F
    November 23, 2008

    Sigmund wrote:

    I am also of the opinion that we are dealing with a specific tactic here – the rejection of the scientific method as a way of answering questions about the natural world.

    I agree that this rejection is the basic problem; I suggest that a suitable term, then, would be “rejector” or “rejectionist.” These terms don’t have the unintended connotations of “denier” or “refusenik.” What do you think? Simply nixing one term isn’t particularly helpful; there ought to be some positive suggestions for alternatives.

  17. #17 Don
    November 23, 2008

    Dear Commenters: I’m on board with Stewart, and have been convinced that professional, institutional denial is a very good description of the expensive propaganda that has been financed by the conservative think tanks for the past 20 years or so. I actually won over a conservative denier by pointing out that the position of “global warming is a hoax” derives pretty much from the province of Exxon, CPhillips, the coal companies, AEI and other groups that have a huge vested interest in influencing public opinion on this issue.

  18. #18 The Science Pundit
    November 23, 2008

    No.

  19. #19 Besley
    November 23, 2008

    I wonder if those of you (which seems to be many you) who insist on terms like “denier” are clear on who you are talking to when you use the term. The person you are calling names certainly doesn’t care; indeed, you’re just as likely to give them material with which to paint science as absolutist and uncaring.

    The real audience we need to think about is those people who are observing the debate from the sideline who may use a range of heuristics or schema (and not necessarily full arguments) to decide whom they support. If your side gets pegged as ideologues, I would expect your odds of support dimninsh substantially.

    The point is to use the opportunities created by public forums to speak PAST the ideologues towards the people with whom you truly want to communicate; the people who have not yet staked a position.

    Ignore the bait. Think about your audience. Craft a message that appeals to the broad middle. Or, of course, you could just yell at each other.

  20. #20 MarkH
    November 24, 2008

    Ignore the bait. Think about your audience. Craft a message that appeals to the broad middle. Or, of course, you could just yell at each other.

    We are fighting for the middle. The point isn’t to call the people who are duped by these tactics names, the point is to point out the falsity of the denialist arguments. Positive arguments only go so far. At some point you have to address the anti-science propagandists who successfully extend debate ad nauseum using the tactics of denialism.

    This is an example of something we’ve been talking about at denialism from the beginning. The debate being had is fake. You have one side that is using science and facts and information, and another side that are simply not honest brokers in the debate. Positive arguments only go so far against such an opponent. At some point you have to address the fact that they are not actually debating but just being obstructionist, obtuse, dishonest and downright crooked. You then have to point out how the tactics of such “debaters” are dishonest. We happen to think that describing the common tactics to all these movements has been helpful (conspiracy, cherry-picking, false experts, impossible expectations, logical fallacy), and that denialism is a good description for using such tactics to falsely extend debate.

  21. #21 winnebago
    November 24, 2008

    Nisbet, are you denying that there are deniers? If so, what does that make you? BTW, stop with the self-references as a form of support for your argument. Perhaps, you can’t see the circularity in your arguments but it makes the rest of us blush.

  22. #22 Physicalist
    November 24, 2008

    No.

    @Besley: I do think about my audience when I call denialists what they are. Most people don’t want to be mocked as ignoramuses. By pointing and laughing (and having the scientific goods to back up our disdain), we convince many (though certainly not all) that they really don’t want to side with denialists (i.e., with the uninformed who can’t reason their way out of a paper bag).

  23. #23 Matti K.
    November 25, 2008

    Besley “Craft a message that appeals to the broad middle.”

    There is no “middle”. There are people who have an opinion on certain matters and there are others who don’t. Some opinions have a rational basis, other don’t.

    Of course in order to be effective, the message must be framed differently to different audiences. On limited occasions, it might even be wise for a scientist to hide his/her contempt for pseudoscience. Personally, however, I prefer people to speak out their mind.

    However, I understand that Nisbet is not asking just to limit the use of a common word. He is asking scientists to scrap its use altogether, in all kind of communication. What’s next? Is the word “pseudoscience” too loaded? After all, nobody likes to be called pseudoscientific.

  24. #24 Kyuss
    November 25, 2008

    For someone who got his phD from a legit institution, you are the dumbest guy in the world Nisbett.

  25. #25 Marc
    November 25, 2008

    No.

  26. #26 TTT
    November 25, 2008

    Matt still thinks any of these people are interested in–or capable of–good-faith debate based on empirical facts. If they were, they wouldn’t say the WTC was brought down by the Mossad or that environmentalists banned DDT to kill brown people. Why NOT call them deniers? How are they affirming any of the principles of scientific investigation and discussion, not to mention peer review? They are not affirming, they are denying.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like calling them “conspiracy kooks” as much as the next guy, and I do so early and often. But you can have my word “denialist” when you take it out of my cold dead mouth.

  27. #27 Janothar
    November 25, 2008

    No.

  28. #28 Eli Rabett
    November 25, 2008

    Michael Berube has the best take on the nonsense being propounded here, which to paraphrase in the climate context is our job in dealing with the Tim Balls (by the way, have you ever played Tim Ball ) of the world is to contest his legitimacy, and to model a way of dealing with Ball that does not give him what he wants: namely, (1) important concessions or (2) outrage. He feeds on (2), of course, and uses it to power the Tim Ball Speakers Fee Collective and Massive Persecution Complex that he runs out of Victoria; and most of the time, we give it to him by the truckload. What we need to try is (3), mockery and dismissal, and thereby demonstrate, as I put it on my blog, that when someone tries to blame falling global temperatures on Al Gore’s speeches, that person needs to be ridiculed and given a double minor for unsportsmanlike bull.

  29. #29 Greenfyre
    November 26, 2008

    Denier is an ugly word, like racist and sexist. These are ugly behaviours, and should be called out for what they are whenever people engage in them.

    Which is why I refer to those who practice climate denial as Deniers http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/evolution-climate-deniers-the-redux-edition/

  30. #30 Don
    November 26, 2008

    Are we even allowed to mention the hugely expensive, 20 odd year campaign of disinformation about the environment in general and global warming in particular that has been conducted by the conservative think tanks and funded by the big oil companies? Or would objective discussion — even mention?– of this be so offensive that it would turn the naive, gentle people whom we are trying to reach?

  31. #31 Don
    November 26, 2008

    Apropos my previous comment. I have discussed this sort of material with people outside of academics and found them receptive to the notion that lots and lots of effort has been made to confuse the public on these issues.

    Jacques, P. J.*, Dunlap, R. E. & Freeman, M.
    The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and
    environmental skepticism. Environmental Politics Vol. 17, No. 3, June 2008, 349�385

  32. #32 Anna Haynes
    November 26, 2008

    I want a more complete set of terms, please.

    one each, for those whose view is that:
    “global warming’s not happening”
    “global warming’s happening, but it’s not us”
    “global warming’s happening, it’s us, but who’s to say it’s all that bad”
    “global warming’s happening, it’s us, but there’s nothing we can do about it”

    Because the distinction matters, if only to preclude unproductive diversions into “are a denialist!” “am not!” territory.

  33. #33 ronbailey
    November 26, 2008

    No.

  34. #34 Jeremy
    November 26, 2008

    This may sound cliched but that detract from its truth in my opinion. Using words that puts each side of a debate into neat little categories might be fun, like in a zoo. “Ooh. Look at that little denialist in his little box.” But it doesn’t help bridge gaps. When I manage to get through to people who believe in pseudoscience or the paranormal, it’s not by emphasizing how we differ but what we have in common. I’ll agree it’s hard with the most far out extremists and maybe nothing can bring those people back, but when you’re talking to your old-fashioned dad who think that climate change isn’t happening, it’s not constructive to call him a denialist. Trust me on that one.

  35. #35 JoshS
    November 26, 2008

    Matt – in the interest of fairness (I don’t believe in criticizing someone publicly without them knowing about it), here’s a post I left on Orac’s blog. I don’t expect you’ll like it, but I’ll be impressed if you post it. A lot of commenters and readers on Scienceblogs would be even more impressed if you addressed it (or any other similar critique of your approach) directly and substantively. It’s not name-calling, it’s candid, direct criticism.

    I find Nisbet to be one of the most frustrating, disingenuous, and (I’m sorry, I can’t frame this “nicely”) intellectually dishonest people I’ve ever met in the blogosphere. I’ve come to the conclusion that he has an instrinsic, probably emotionally-based, constitutional aversion to candor and bluntness. I think it’s so ingrained for him, he literally cannot and does not see that he’s doing it. He has an a priori conclusion in his head; that any instance of calling a spade a spade is inherently and by definition bad. It so blinds him that it short-circuits his ability to think as an academic, or as an objective person susceptible to reason. He’s certainly not stupid, but he is just as intellectually hobbled on this count as any religious person.

    I’ve seen commenters use measured, almost bland tones (in an attempt not to provoke his knee-jerk offendedness) to logically lay out the case that he may be neglecting real benefits of a direct approach. Nothing works. He either simply refuses to answer – yes, I mean blatantly ignoring the question – or he moves the goalposts and answers a question no one posed. He then pretends he’s vindicated his point of view.

    Nisbet will not answer anyone who points out that direct, non-marketing language can serve a good purpose that has nothing to do with convincing creationists or deniers. Many have argued that marginalizing wacko religious or ideological views with blunt criticism and mockery is a good thing in and of itself . It shifts societal acceptance away from fake, undeserved deference to lunatics and ideologues, and encourages otherwise timid but rational people to speak up and say, “Hey, this isn’t right, and it’s not OK to teach it in school.” It’s obvious to reasonable people that getting to that goal is a very good thing, and is one way to increase rationality in public discourse. It’s not the only way, but it’s indispensable. Without it, we’re left with the ineffective, namby-pamby “respect for viewpoints” that has neutered our ability to call bullshit when we really need to.

    Yet Nisbet thinks what matters more is convincing the ideologues that they’re wrong. I don’t know where he gets the idea that’s even possible in all but a few cases. Even worse, he seems to genuinely pity people who affect hurt feelings as a slippery way of deflecting attention from what they’re really doing.

    As Omar Ali pointed out above, he also censors comments from his blog if they’re too critical. Oh yes, he’s realized he needs to let a few of the milder ones in for plausible deniablity, but don’t be fooled. I’ve written several responses to his post that are quite similar to this one – bluntly critical, maybe even harsh. But no worse than anything he would expect in the melee of peer-review. He simply doesn’t post them (many others have found the same thing), then prissily wrings his hands about the “low tone” of commenters.

  36. #36 Katharine
    November 26, 2008

    Absolutely fucking not.

  37. #37 Robert Grumbine
    November 27, 2008

    Jeremy, maybe you, if not Matt, will answer: What is Matt’s framing except a matter of providing a set of neat little boxes to put things in? He argues for the necessity of a simplified structure, a ‘framework’, rather than the fully detailed one he complains of scientists mistakenly trying to provide.

    If you and Matt and others dislike ‘denialist’ as a frame for those who are actively denying the science in an area, fine. But in telling others not to use it, but that we should still be ‘framing’, tell us what term you want to be used instead. Because there really are people who are actively denying the science, senators whose climate ‘experts’ run to science fiction author MDs, micrometeorologists who’ve never published on anything larger than a few square meters of forest, and the like. You don’t like ‘denialist’, fine. What term do you want instead?

    Note that while you and Matt advocate studiously avoiding an appropriate label, the denialists are actively trying to apply a different one to themselves for public consumption — labels like ‘honest’, ‘scientist’. If framing works at all, letting their self-framing go unchallenged is a suicidal tactic. What is your counter?

    In reading the preceding (oops, I buried a helpful part of framing), it’s true that I have, for my own reasons, advised commentators on my blog not to use labels like this or others. And that one of my articles (August) is titled ‘Labelling instead of thinking’.

  38. #38 Jason Failes
    November 27, 2008

    No.

    Denier is accurate, as much as it can be.

    Every word in every language, over the passage of time, will acquire secondary meanings and unwanted associations over time.

    There’s very little use in trying to design or impose linguistic conventions from the top down when languages change in a more organic way, through a multitude of users, from the bottom up.

    Besides, I’ve yet to hear a convincing case why “denier” is inaccurate as used at present.

    You make a very good point that it is not nice, to be certain, but have not made the case that it is inaccurate.

  39. #39 george.wiman
    November 27, 2008

    George: “refuseniks” has Cold War connotations of people unjustly boxed into their current position. I strongly recommend against its use as an alternative to “deniers”.

    Sorry, you’re right and I didn’t make clear that “refusenik” was in a string of terms I don’t think are quite right for “denier”. Should have left that one out to avoid confusion.

    I’m sticking with “denier”. It is descriptive.

  40. #40 oldcola
    November 28, 2008

    No.

  41. #41 felgi
    November 29, 2008

    I think this is the instructive recording for all us.

  42. #42 Anna Haynes
    November 29, 2008

    DMG at Gristmill uses the term “confusionist”, by the way; IMO it beats “denier”, since it describes the speaker’s immediate goal more effectively.

  43. #43 Russell Blackford
    December 1, 2008

    The usual expression where I come from is “denialist”, not “denier”. I have no idea about the connotations of the word “denier”, which I almost never hear, in the American social context.

    That said, I don’t often agree with you, Professor Nisbet, and I do think you put the case too strongly in your post. But I’m also amazed at those who, um, deny that the term “denialist” is usually part of the expression “Holocaust denialist” … or was until recently. That’s where I’ve heard the expression almost one hundred per cent of the time until very recent years. Indeed, I’d say that ninety per cent of those times it would have been applied to one specific man, namely David Irving. The emotive power of the expression does indeed come from its association with Holocaust denial and with Irving, who is a notorious anti-Semite and fan of Hitler, and hence with Nazism.

    Maybe that’s appropriate when you get wingnuts who deny that AIDS is caused by a virus, or who oppose vaccination, or put up specious arguments to try to, well, deny the reality of climate change. That kind of denial may actually be as dangerous in its way as Holocaust denial. Maybe more so. Hence, I’m not objecting to the name of the Denialism blog. But the specific association with David Irving that the word “denialist” has in the minds of many people – perhaps depending on their individual experiences and cultural backgrounds – is at least a reason to stop and think before using it too lightly.

  44. #44 Richard Pauli
    December 1, 2008

    No.

    Six million Jews murdered then, while today 8 Billion humans face extinction because of denial.

    Sorry, denialism is more evil now, than ever before.

  45. #45 George
    December 2, 2008

    It seems clear to me that the term “denialist” must be used judiciously out of sensitivity to the audience. Kent Hovind is a denialist and should be called one; the average Joe down the street who has questions about evolution is not. But to eliminate the use of the term entirely seems foolish.

  46. #46 Jason Failes
    December 2, 2008

    If you’re never going to post my comment, can you send it to my email address?

    Someone else has opened up a thread for all the comments you censor, oh great communications master.

  47. #47 stark
    December 2, 2008

    no.

    As has been said many times before: please bring something to the argument instead of telling people to shush up, or drop your marked words.

    It’s rather rude of you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you took all the arguments against you and said they called you names. That wouldn’t be befitting of an adult.

  48. #48 jrshipley
    December 3, 2008

    After the 100th time explaining that climate change did not stop in 1998 and that no climatologist ever predicted monotone increasing temperatures, pointing to 3 and 5 year averages, pointing out the ocean and solar cycles, etc. . . it becomes perfectly clear that the person you are arguing with is in some stage of denial. A skeptic withholds belief in the absence of compelling evidence and explanation. A denier withholds belief despite compelling evidence and explanation. Now, when we use that term for addicts no one worries that we’re comparing the scope of harm caused by their addiction to the Holocaust. We obviously aren’t. In scale, the harm from climate change is somewhere in between the harm caused by addiction and the harm caused by genocide, with the potential to be greater if we continue to change the climate (two new coal plants coming in IA, I hear).

    People in the comments are saying things like “labels are not constructive”, “don’t put people in boxes”, “we need to bridge gaps”. Nonsense. I’ve been arguing with these people for years on a variety of public forums. They use the same canards over and over and have long since closed their ears to the refutations. They don’t need to be reached out to. They need to be humiliated into shutting up. Call them deniers. Better yet, call them “conspiracy theorist”. Most of the spammers c/p’ing everything the Heartland Institute puts out actually believe that the global community of climate researchers is in on some kind of transnational socialist plot with Al Gore to bring down the US economy. Call them on it. Compare them to 9/11-”truth”. Point out that the Dems would NEVER get away with a Senate chair of Homeland Security that believed that stuff, yet the so-called liberal media gave Inhofe a pass on his bizarre conspiratorial ramblings for several years as the chair of Environment and Public Works.

  49. #49 Sadun Kal
    December 3, 2008

    Now, don’t get me wrong, sure there are people who have a hard time accepting certain things for various reasons, but it’s not a part of the human behavior which can be dealt with so easily, just with a one-word-label.

    For example a mother can deny that her baby died and still hug/kiss/talk to the baby. The reason would be that the cognitive dissonance is just too big. But if you decide to label her a “denier” or a “denialist” because of that and mock her, you obviously won’t be helping her. The best way to help would probably be to ease the pain, help her let go by giving the person something else to hold on to.

    Now if you project the same picture onto oil companies, it’s really not that different. Are the shareholders of the oil corporations just going to shut down the door and lose all the money? What will then become of their lives, how can they give up their old habits?

    So in this case maybe people should start thinking about how to help the corporate masters deal with the situation instead of reproaching them. I’m not saying it’s an easy job, but civilization cannot continue with a flawed system like this for thousands of years. So what can be done? Could their perspectives be changed if we can convert them to Buddhism for example? Anyway, this was a little ridiculous example, but you get the point.

    Normal people are just not that advanced to be able to think for the entire humanity all the time. Many don’t have a problem messing up the lives of others so that their lives will be relatively “better”. Of course there are people capable of overcoming such bias but they’re exceptions at the present.

    (Another thing I noticed was that the guy in the broadcast used the word “evil” when referring to Nazis. Although the general perception in the public might be that way, there is no place for “good” and “evil” in psychology, or science, or Scienceblogs for that matter.)

  50. #50 Sadun Kal
    December 3, 2008

    But what is actually more dear to me right now is that none of you realize the dangers labels like “deniers” pose to not just human progress, but to the scientific progress itself. Let’s take the mother/child example again:

    Once you label a mother hugging her dead child as a “denier”, every time you see another mother hugging her child, before you also label them as deniers you have to pay close attention to whether or not the child she’s holding is really dead. In other words you must check if there is really something that the person is having a hard time accepting. After all there are many mothers who like hugging their children while they’re still alive as you probably know. :)

    Now let’s take that weird -maybe a little silly, but hopefully clear- example and project it also onto a scientific debate. Do those people who label others as “deniers” really check every time if the person they’re referring to has any cognitive dissonance problems with the issue at hand? Do all global warming skeptics have something to lose if they accept the “facts” for example? So are they all really deniers?

    One side of the issue is the people who may be misguided by the deniers; they’re not deniers but misinformed, and still wrong. So in that case you have to check their sources, and see if the sources are denying any obvious facts.

    Even if it seems somewhat justified to label everyone with a certain opinion as a “denier” if there are really too many of them, you mislabel the misinformed-non-denier crowd when you call them “deniers”. So the mislabeled people, knowing that they don’t have any reason to deny anything, get convinced that the people who use loaded terms like “deniers” lack objectivity and thus you drive them further away.

    This is one major consequence of carelessly labeling people as “deniers” or “denialists”.

    ——-

    And finally the most important point I want to make is this:

    “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.”

    The problem I see is once you label one side of the debate in its entirety as “denialistic” you close all the doors for the possibility of the other side -your side- being wrong. In other words the more you mock others for their contrary views the more you lock yourself into a position and make it way too hard to change it even if it one day may become necessary, even if one day somehow the so called “deniers” turn out to be right. You lack doubt, imprison yourself to certainty and risk becoming a denier yourself: Denial of the fact that you were wrong.

    Or are there people out there who believe that they’re DEFINITELY correct about some things?

    Well…I got news for those people…that’s not very scientific! Because, again, it’s all about having doubts. Thinking that you’re infallible like that can also be seen as arrogance, lack of modesty, lack of objectivity… You must always have a level of uncertainty at all costs. But if you believe that you can DEFINITELY accept that the other side was correct after years of calling them “deniers”, then go on, keep using the word…

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!