Dangerous science denial

By Ken Perrott 15/04/2010

Science denial seems to be rampant at the moment. The climate change denial promoted by “climategate” is just an extreme current example. We still face other forms of science denial with respect to evolutionary science, alternative medicines, spiritualism, etc. Even bloody  alternative fertilisers, for god’s sake!

So this TED talk by Michael Spector is timely. He has new book out, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. I have yet to read it but it also sounds timely from the reviews.

Michael Specter: The danger of science denial.

I am currently reading another book relevant to this area. It’s Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk by Massimo Pigliucci. Mine is a review copy (the book is published next month) but so far I can highly recommend it. It’s very well written, quite exciting to read and covers many modern examples of anti-science nonsense. Massimo discusses science denialism and its possible causes. Anti-intellectualism seems to be one of the causes in the US.

This whole subject is important. And as Spector says: “Denialism is a virus and viruses are contagious.”

See also: Looking for the sources of the ’denial’


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0 Responses to “Dangerous science denial”

  • I wonder how much of the growth in ‘science denialism’ can be sheeted home to post-modernism? After all, the po-mo approach that all ‘ways of knowing’ about the world are equally valid supports anyone who has an opinion about how the world works – that opinion may be way off-base in terms of its scientific accuracy (the current anti-vax comments on Nikki Turner’s guest post would be a case in point), but hey! it’s just as good as yours or mine.

  • Massimo does discuss post-modernism as one of the causes. But he does seem to conclude that for various historical reasons anti-intellectualism is a strong cause in the US. But not necessarily other countries.

  • I read a review somewhere that said that Specter’s book was a little disjointed in its presentation, so I would be interested in what anyone who has read it thinks. The Massimo book also sounds interesting.
    I have chatted with a colleague who is a propoent of postmodernist thought and I think po-mo has some interesting ideas. Sometimes I think scientists overstate the objectivity of science. While established science is based on core of objective “facts” at many stages it is influenced by more subjective thinking. For example in new areas of research some of what we do is quite subjective (i.e. subject to more study). It is only once many experiments and observations support an idea that it becomes more objective (i.e. a theory or even a law)
    The problem is that many post modernists treat everything as subjective. I’ve seen a good comeback to this in that one suggests to a postmodernist that perhaps if gravity is subjective they might like to leave for work by the second story window 🙂

  • Yes, drmike, I must have read a similar review. probably why I haven’t chased the book up myself. However, I have heard him interviewed a few times and liked them.