Respectful Insolence

Apparently the guys over at Denialism.com have irritated Bill Dembski and his band of merry sycophants over at Uncommon Descent. All I can say is: Uncommon Descent, meet the Galileo Gambit. Oh, you’ve already met the Galileo Gambit, I see.

That must be the explanation for why you do the Galileo Gambit whine so well…

Comments

  1. #1 Colugo
    March 29, 2007

    I have serious reservations about Denialism.com and the concept of generic “denialism” itself.

    Problems:

    1. Using the potency of the term “denialism” to stigmatize legitimate disagreement on a whole host of issues.

    Denialism is a very potent term with strong associations. Denialism on the Holocaust is beyond the pale. Denialism on HIV/AIDS is destructive and vacuous. Opposing these denialisms, especially the former, is a moral imperative.

    But to call anti-regulatory advocates in general denialists – no matter how wrongheaded they sometimes are – waters down the term. And in the case of global warming, there is a wide range of views about causes, future trends, and recommended policies. Sure, some of these are marginal, unsupportable, or tainted by cynical interests, and on the extreme end may well deserve the epithet “denialism.” But at what point along the spectrum of belief? In scientific, social and economic models and policy, there are often complex arrays of positions that aren’t easily broken into down into legitimate vs. “denialists.”

    Calling all of these things “denialism” uses the moral capital of anti-denialism in the case of the Holocaust and other noxious movements, such as the excesses of the animal rights movement, into ammunition against a host of disagreeable political and social views.

    A set of broad-issue conservative think tanks are listed alongside creationists and anti-science / anti-biomedicine cranks. I don’t disagree that these groups have, at times, promoted problematic policies using questionable data and experts. But how well do the track records of various liberal, feminist, and associated think tanks and policy groups withstand scrutiny in terms of domestic policy advocacy? No wrongheaded or inadequately grounded economic and social policy positions in the last quarter century or so? No health scares that turned out to be false? To brand all of these conservative think tanks and policy groups as somehow fundamentally illegitimate is an exploitation of anti-denialism for partisan purposes. (Is everyone who is wary of subjecting the fast food and “junk food” industry to the same regulation and lawsuits as cigarettes a “denialist”?) There is such a thing as too broad a brush.

    And politics aside, what is science and society journal The New Atlantis doing in the “denialism” wastebasket?

    The term “junk science” has been tainted by anti-regulatory advocates, and the term “skeptic” has been soiled by so-called HIV “skeptics” and global warming “skeptics.” If the trend represented by Denialism.com keeps up, then soon “denialism” won’t mean all that much either – little more than “I disagree with your views.”

    2) Conflating the issue of bad positions with the issue of bad qualifications and bad analysis.

    Some views are inherently noxious, malign, or baseless. And some qualifications and analyses are questionable at best – mercenary dubious “experts,” astroturfing (fake grassroots), conflicting interests, skewed studies, or specialists opining on matters outside of their expertise. But while these issues are related, they are also separable. Certainly, bad views are often promoted by citing bad expertise. But sometimes legitimate, even admirable, views can be promoted by those with dubious qualifications (e.g. Hollywood actors testifying before Congress), paid lobbyists, or psychiatrists and economists for hire. Dubious qualifications, bad studies, and tainting of expertise by self-interested parties are problems in themselves – very widespread problems at that – but they are not identical to the problem of inherently noxious positions like Holocaust denial, HIV/AIDS denial, and anti-biomedicine.

  2. #2 Colugo
    March 29, 2007

    And another thing: One of the categories of denialists on Denialism.com is “Stem Cell Denialism/Adult Stem Cell Hype.” As someone who has long been interested in stem cell research, I agree that this is a real problem.

    However, the other side has too often been guilty of “Adult Stem Cell Denialism/Embryonic Stem Cell Hype.” That is, pooh-poohing adult stem cell research and overhyping the promise of embryonic stem cell research in the short term for politicized reasons. Do I really need to cite some notorious examples of hype? And why should promoting embryonic stem cell research entail haughtily waving away the potential of somatic stem cells? It shouldn’t.

  3. #3 S. Rivlin
    March 29, 2007

    The only thing I could do when I read BarryA’s post on Uncommon Descent site was to laugh; these IDists include themselves among some of the greatest scientists in history. Talking about being pompous, Wow!

  4. #4 ompus
    March 29, 2007

    At times, Denialism.com glosses over the difference between denial and doubt. The first response to the global warming hypothesis was rightfully doubt. With time, argument and facts, what was once reasonable doubt became unreasonable. And unreasonable doubt becomes denial. To doubt global warming in 1985 was reasonable. Such doubt today is denialism.

    But simply because unreasonable doubt perists and frustrates us should not lead us to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Even when we are proved wrong, open-minded doubt should remain our polestar.

  5. #5 Coin
    March 29, 2007

    Oh holy God, my eyes! When did Dembski do THAT to his layout?

  6. #6 mark
    March 29, 2007

    Colugo,
    I get what you’re saying. Let me clarify a few things about what we’re trying to do.

    One, denialism is not simply about disagreement. Lots of people seem to be getting confused about this point, but it’s really important to emphasize, denialists don’t just represent who I think is wrong, or even just people who go against scientific consensus.

    Two, some of the astroturfing groups included are part of a kind of future project my brother plans on using the blog for, which is that various industries use the tactics of denialism in order to get their way. His deck of cards hopefully makes this point. I’m including astroturfers and some of the anti-regulatories as “false experts” in preparation for his take on the problem. I’m covering science, he’s covering industry.

    Finally this leads to the central problem with what you’re saying and why I hope your mistaken. We aren’t just selecting organizations we don’t like. We are specifically identifying organizations and groups that use the five tactics we’ve identified denialists using. Those are conspiracy, cherry-picking/selectivity, fake experts, moving goalposts/impossible expectations, and logical fallacies. It’s not about being against consensus, I can’t stress that enough. It’s also not about being in the minority, because if that were the case we’d have a tyranny of the majority effect on truth (and evolution is a minority opinion).

    It is about tactics not beliefs. It is about how people disrupt debate, not whether or not there is legitimate debate.

  7. #7 mark
    March 29, 2007

    Ompus that goes for you too. I’m (trying) not to just pick on doubters. I’m trying to pick on the people who are using rhetoric, rather than data, to sow doubt on science.

    For instance, when you see the anti-ES cell people argue, they deny the existence of whole swaths of research, and cherry pick out a set of adult stem cell papers (many which have since been discredited) for evidence of the ridiculous claim that adult stem cells can do everything an ES cell can do. Further, they have the AEI, Cato, and several front journals that exist purely to create “noise” in the debate. That’s three of my criteria right there.

    The pro-ES cell people exaggerate things all the time, true. It’s irritating and I wish they wouldn’t do it. But they don’t really engage in the full set of tactics of the other denialists. They’re definitely advocates, and they often lose perspective, but they haven’t gotten to the point of hiring people to lie for them, or making up BS conspiracy theories and fallacious arguments. If they do, I’ll call them denialists too, but I think for the most part they have the science on their side and don’t need to lie and obfuscate the science.

    Tactics, it’s all about the tactics.

  8. #8 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 29, 2007

    Prayer cures Parkinson’s disease. It’s a miracle!

    The diocese in southeast France finished its yearlong investigation into the nun’s claims last week and will present its conclusions in Rome.
    .
    Its investigation was based on medical records, blood-test results, X-rays and doctors’ reports, ”so that the bishop can present a solid dossier in Rome,” Aliger said.

    Perhaps you could give us a run-down on how blood tests and X-rays are used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.

    Only one document about the long-mysterious nun’s experience has been made public: an article she wrote for ”Totus Tuus,” the official magazine of John Paul’s beatification case.
    .
    She wrote of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in June 2001, having a strong spiritual affinity for John Paul because he too suffered from the disease and suffering worsened symptoms in the weeks after the pope died on April 2, 2005.

    Pity he couldn’t cure himself.

  9. #9 Justin Moretti
    March 29, 2007

    To doubt global warming in 1985 was reasonable. Such doubt today is denialism.

    I think most serious ‘conservative’ scientists don’t so much deny that it is occurring as question the rate of progression and the likely effects.

    I recall that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote a nasty SF novel around this premise: that the ‘global warming’ effect of industry was in fact countering the effect of an impending ice age, and that when the anti-scientific New-Agers won and returned Earth to an agrarian economy, countless millions froze to death. Rebound phenomenon? Not sure; I was in no position to buy the book.

  10. #10 Colugo
    March 29, 2007

    The IDists, wrong as they are in their desperate use of the Galileo Gambit, do have a valid point in their list of “denialist” scientists. Namely, the issue is not “denialism” per se, it is – as Mark says – about tactics. A lot of these are well known; they’re called logical fallacies.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_fallacy

    The “deck of cards” is about logical fallacies and age-old propaganda techniques, some of them tailored for the electronic mass media era.

    The more crankish the position, the more their advocates are forced to rely on logical fallacies and other techniques designed to mystify and divert. But it’s not just “denialists” and other kinds of cranks who use these techniques. Sometimes, unfortunately, they are used in the service of legitimate positions, even ones that we agree with.

    To point out when these techniques are being used and to call those using them on it is providing a commendable public service. However, the overly broad application of the term “denialist” – once reserved for beyond-the-pale views on issues like the Holocaust and AIDS/HIV – adds little to understanding. In the case of net neutrality, it cheapens the implicit condemnation of the word denialism. Words, which can convey deep psychological and social resonance, are important.

    Isn’t obfuscation, rather than denialism, the real issue?

  11. #11 quitter
    March 29, 2007

    Colugo,
    Absolutely right, but denialism and obfuscation are holding hands and kissing on the bench.

    Denialism exists to retard scientific understanding. The tactics are designed for the specific purpose of obfuscation.

    Similarly with how industry uses these tactics to confuse debate over policy. This is where my brother plans to take over because he’s intimately familiar with this. I’d been talking about denialism and the tactics for a while with him and he felt it was the exact same problem he was having in the public policy sphere. Hence his desire to use denialism.com to attack the fake experts and BS arguments that industry uses in his field. He’s a busy guy though, so I’m giving him time to get that aspect of the site up and running. If it was up to me I’d focus solely on the more sciencey-type stuff, it’s what I’m better at.

    The reason I feel applying the label of denialism to this is more than just about pointing out the age-old canards used to retard reasonable debate. It’s about the systematic use of these tactics to retard debate. It’s about the coordinated, well-financed and persistent use of these tactics. The fact that some ideas are more widely believed, such as global warming “skepticism” is besides the point. They are using the same tactics, as anyone who visits Steve Malloy’s junkscience will see.

    Finally, go through New Atlantis and First Things carefully before you say I’ve been uncautious in their inclusion. You will find that not only do they publish articles by evolution deniers, but they also are a front for a number of specious attacks on science from the guise of being “bio-ethicists”. They are not bio-ethicists. They are not interested in a debate on bioethics. They’re pushing unvarnished religion as public policy on science, and being deceptive about science to do it. I’m tracking them and waiting for another good article that’s BS before I jump on them. Trust me, anything run by Leon Kass is not intellectually honest, the guy is a dinosaur, and is providing a venue for the PCBE to crap on science.

  12. #12 MattXIV
    March 30, 2007

    “Denialism” for quitter and mark is just a label useful for poisoning the well with regard to their political opponents. Most of the steps in the deck of cards are legitimate phases of a policy debate.

    Let’s apply the “no problem” hand to the heavy metal music panics of the ’80s.

    Someone who wants to ban the sale of heavy metal records says that they’re encouraging kids to become Satanists.

    You say (quite correctly in this case) the problem doesn’t actually exist.

    They give you an ancedotal examples of a couple cases where kids who listened to heavy metal “sacrificed” their neighbor’s cat.

    You respond that they’re just a few bad apples and most people who listen to heavy metal don’t do stuff like that.

    They reply that since there are as you admit some fans that do those things, heavy metal music must be harmful.

    You respond that there is no evidence that that it is.

    They say that the number of heavy metal-inspired Satanic crimes will continue to go up if something isn’t done.

    You say wait and see because even those who express an interest these things will probably grow out of it.

    Hence, it is possible to hew completely to the “denialist” script and still be not only right about an issue but making logically sound arguments.

  13. #13 Colugo
    March 30, 2007

    MattXIV is right about “poisoning the well with regard to their political opponents.” That’s precisely my objection to generic label of “denialism.” What’s next, “denialism” about the Fairness Doctrine?

    I’m all for pointing out the shared obfuscatory techniques used by various cranks and, unfortunately, sometimes by the “good guys” as well. But not the politicized use of the concept of denialism.

    And MattXIV is also right, and I was wrong, about the “deck of cards.” Some of the deck of card responses are only fallacious if they are, in fact, not backed up by the facts. Several of the items in the “deck of cards” are logical fallacies and age-old propaganda techniques but others are legitimate if they are supportable.

    To expand on MattXIV’s point, let’s apply the “deck of cards” responses he used in his example to other moral panics:

    - Dungeons and Dragons, video games, comic books
    - illegal immigration from Mexico
    - day care child molestation hysteria
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_care_sexual_abuse_hysteria

    Or, some examples the right might favor:

    - 90s fears of “shortchanging girls” in education (while girls overtake boys in standardized tests and college enrollment)
    - push for wholesale DDT ban
    - 80s nuclear power fears (now nuclear power is being embraced by some on the left of center as eco-friendly)