Steven Newton, a project director for the wonderful National Center for Science Education – a group that fights creationists who want to shred the Constitution – has written a nice article about science denialism in, of all places, the Huffington Post. Generally, HuffPo is
a wretched hive of scum and villainy a repository of antivax and alt-med nonsense, but it’s nice to see that some of the contributors are pro-science. Full disclosure: I wrote several astronomy articles on HuffPo, but stopped when the antivaxxers became the darlings of the site.
Newton’s article talks about how science learns, but denialists remain firm in their denial. It’s a good read.
Speaking of which, I just finished reading Michael Specter’s book Denialism. It’s an interesting look into the attitudes of people who deny obvious reality – people like antivaxxers, creationists, and so on. The book is mostly specific examples of these folks. Specter does discuss a bit why some people are denialists, and it’s mostly what you’d expect: it’s safe, it’s comforting, we have a tendency to believe pre-conceived notions and look for confirmation. I’ll note the book goes off the rails a bit in the last two chapters where he talks about genomics; it becomes more pro-genomics than a refutation of denialism. He pulls it out in the last few pages though, and all in all I’d recommend the book.
All of us – especially skeptics, but all of us – need to understand why people deny reality. In many cases the only thing these people damage are themselves. But they also vote, and cause health problems, and never forget that not only do they run for political office, they often win. Denialism is safe and comforting, and while science is more important in the long run, the denialists are getting more and sometimes better press.
We can deny that all we want, but what does that make us?