One of the more promising trends I’ve seen is that the various forms of denialism that scientists regularly decry (including those of us here at ScienceBlogs) are starting to be recognized by non-scientists. I don’t know if there’s a direct cause-and-effect here, or if like-minded people are coming up with the same idea (the most depressing cause would be if this got started with a stupid blog comment…). Anyway, I bring you public policy professor Mark Kleiman (italics mine):
One largely unremarked aspect of global-warming denialism (as exemplified by George Will and demolished by Mike …and Zachary Roth at TPM) is that it amounts to a conspiracy theory. All of the world’s actual climate scientists, and everyone in an a allied field capable of understanding their models, would have to be co-conspirators in the plot, with only a rag-tag group of economists, meteorologists, petroleum geologists, astrologers, and political pundits capable of seeing, and willing to say, that the emperor has no clothes.
Most of the glibertarians, cultural conservatives, and gadget-heads who constitute the useful idiots around the core oil-and-coal-company global-warming denialist constituency would be horrified to imagine themselves playing the role of 9/11 Truthers, or RFK Jr. pumping the thimerosal/autism link, or Thabo Mbeki claiming that AIDS isn’t caused by HIV. But all four “movements” are alike in depending on compete mistrust of actual scientific experts….
One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn’t firm.] I haven’t seen any data on the overlap between global-warming denialism and creationism, but thinking about Sarah Palin and her fans you’d have to guess at a strong correlation between the two beliefs.
Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it’s fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.
…there’s uncertainty in the models. (Though that uncertainty, the deniers seem to forget, means that the models might be too modest, as well as too alarmist, in their warnings.) But denialism doesn’t promote that serious debate: it merely introduces fake uncertainty, which makes it harder to see all the real uncertainty.
I think this is a good development. I realize some around these parts (ok, one guy on ScienceBlogs) thinks that when people engage in communal psychotic breaks from reality, we should be nice to them. But we have to stop being nice to these guys because this isn’t a serious argument but a cracked worldview. And Kleiman makes a very key point, one that I don’t think is emphasized enough regarding denialism: it requires conspiracy theories that make the X-Files look tame.
The only difference between most denialists (excepting, perhaps, the useful idiots) and the crazy guy on the corner is that the denialists bathe more often.