Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to spot a Denialist

For a good overview of how to spot a global warming denialist, and denialists in general, check out this article by Mark Hoofnagle, which lists five routine tactics denialists use:

1) Invention of a conspiracy to suppress the truth
2) Cherry-picking of data and quotes
3) Fake experts
4) Moving the Goalposts
5) Logical Fallacies

I'd add a 6th tactic as well: avoiding the scientific peer-reviewed literature and publishing popular books instead. It is important to be able to distinguish between someone approaching an issue from a good-faith scientific contrarian position and a denialist. Science thrives on debate and disagreement. However, scientific dissenters don't use the tactics above. Einstein, who denialists like to bring up as an example of someone from outside the scientific mainstream being vindicated, didn't resort to any of that. He published his findings, and was vindicated by experimental data. Denialists don't do this, for the simple reason that they rarely have anything to publish. That should speak louder than it does.

I encourage reading the comments to that thread as well, as the denialists show up in droves to provide real life illustrations.


Tommy said...

I like to think of myself as living proof that a global warming denier can change his mind and accept the truth. Until about 5 years ago, I used to be one of those Cato Institute libertarians. I bought the line that global warming was being overhyped. But as time went by, after reading all those stories about the shrinkage of the ice caps and the mountain glaciers, I realized that if global warming wasn't true, then these things shouldn't be happening.

Of course, for someone to change their mind on this issue like I did, it has to be someone who is willing to follow the evidence, even if contradicts one's basic assumptions.

ScienceAvenger said...


I was the same way. I used to brush off global warming the same way many still do, as just the latest tree-hugger alarmist nonsense. But the weight and consistence of evidence, coupled with the depressingly consistent dishonesty and downright ignorance of the AGW deniers, pushed me to the other side. A recently invigorated interest and respect for the modern scientific system didn't hurt either.

alex said...

And yet you know very well there are some scientists who don't fit any of those five tactics.

ScienceAvenger said...

Alex, you're becoming very tiresome. Look, outside of mathematics, there are pretty much exceptions to everything, particularly traits in groups of people, and most intelligent people know this already. Certainly my target audience does. It is a given that any general statement I make about any group of people is going to have exceptions. It is both obvious and meaningless, so you can stop wasting time posting that it is so. I know it is so, and so does everyone else reading this.

Besides, you miss out on a lot of knowledge of the world if you only acknowledge the certainties in life. There are vanishingly few of those.

It adds nothing to a discussion to claim there exists an exception to a rule unless you are going to 1) explain what that exception is and 2) make an argument as to why its existence is relevant to the argument being made.

Are there global warming denialists that don't use any of those tactics? Maybe. I've never read one that didn't, but they could exist. So what? That doesn't change the fact that there are many denialists that routinely uses these tactics, and that people should be alert to them. Your argument, what there is of one, is akin to criticizing an article about how to avoid being killed in a knifefight because some murderers use guns.

Now if you think that's incorrect, make your argument. Enough with the contentless one-liners.

Peter L. Winkler said...

What about Freeman Dyson? He's hardly a kook or crank or oil company shill.

alex said...

My argument is that you would be so much more impressive if you would take on the *experts* who disagree with your opinions instead of the laymen.

ScienceAvenger said...

And as I've explained before, I'm not a climate scientist, and am therefore unqualified to debate them on the science. Doing so would make me a hypocrite, since one of my big arguments against the denialists is their complete lack of respect for scientific achievement. I'll leave the scientists to debate the deniers on the science. I'll stick to pointing out out the flaws and lies in the laymen's arguments.

ScienceAvenger said...

True Peter, but Dyson is also 85, and speaking outside his field (he's a quantum field guy) neither of which I find coincidental. I place him in the same category as Antoney Flew and James Watson.

Troublesome Frog said...

Where are the publications and what have the reviewers had to say about them?

alex said...

TF, I think you care about that about as much as you care about what the "denialist" reviewers have to say about the mainstream climate scientists.

Troublesome Frog said...


I'm not sure what you just said, but my initial stab at it is something along the lines of, "There are none, but that's because of a conspiracy to squelch the truth." Am I close?

alex said...

"True Peter, but Dyson is also 85, and speaking outside his field (he's a quantum field guy) neither of which I find coincidental."

Peter, remind me to check up on ScienceAvenger when he's 85 to see if he's still clinging to GW despite being outside the field.

ScienceAvenger said...

Nice non sequitor and misrepresentation Alex. I'm not "clinging" to AGW, I'm merely reporting what the worldwide scientific consensus has to say on the matter. I've formed no contrary opinion of my own, so what my field is is completely irrelevant.

The point (which once again you seem determined to miss) is that there is a rich history of scientists in their declining years speaking outside their field and making idiotic statements as a result, and I simply add Dyson to the list.