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Denial

Entry 1125, on 2009-12-03 at 21:44:04 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

I spend quite a lot of time debating science deniers of various types. The two worst offenders by far are global warming deniers and evolution deniers. The sort of people who deny GW tend to be political conservatives and libertarians. Those who deny evolution are generally fundamentalist religious people, and always Christians in the cases I have been involved with.

The reason they arrive in the deluded position they are in is that they want to be ignorant. They really only want to know one thing and that is that their political or religious view is correct, and they will stop at nothing to support that need.

Many global warming deniers say there is a vast scientific conspiracy to hide the facts. Or that its a socialist plot to take over the world. They say that scientists can't be trusted but retired politicians and business leaders (who have no expertise in the area) can. I know this all sounds ridiculous but its what some otherwise intelligent people genuinely believe.

That's actually relatively sensible though compared to the evolution deniers. At least there is still a certain amount of uncertainty regarding global warming and there have been some real efforts to hide data from the public. On balance none of this is significant, especially compared with major reports like the latest findings from SCAR (the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) on melting Antarctic ice, but you can see how some people might get the facts wrong.

But there's really no good excuse for denying evolution (and I include with this the lesser but related topics of the Big Bang, the age of the Earth, etc). There is no debate there: evolution is an accepted fact by every fair and knowledgeable person on the planet. What I mean is there's only two reasons to deny evolution: you're ignorant of the facts, or you are unprepared to give the facts a fair appraisal because of an existing belief.

Getting back to global warming deniers I have noticed a pattern which shows that they really are not looking at the issue sensibly. If they had a real reason to deny GW you would expect them to consistently defend that perspective. But they don't. Some of the time they try to produce data to show warming isn't happening; then they say it is happening but its natural; then they will say its happening, human caused, but its good; and finally they will say its happening, human caused, not good, but there's nothing we can do (or nothing we should do because no one else is doing anything).

So which is it? A soon as you show one form of denial is wrong they switch to another. Its obvious that their one underlying need is to deny the truth and the mechanism they use to do this is unimportant.

Today I showed a denier the latest data showing Antarctic ice melting leading to sea level rises of 1.4 meters by 2100. He said "Obviously it isn't a problem for the rest of the world - why should it be for us?" Isn't that bizarre? For a start, where would he get the idea it isn't a problem, and he seems to have conveniently forgotten that they day before he tried to present data showing that warming wasn't happening. Suddenly it is happening but no one cares.

You can see that debating with someone with as little intellectual honesty as this is a very difficult proposition yet I still feel I have to do it because he regularly sends out denial propaganda to others. Actually I sometimes think he partly does that just to annoy me but that sounds sort of paranoid!

It will probably be only a matter of time before the denial community comes up with some misleading data to try to show the SCAR report is wrong. And people like my friend will see it and instantly believe it without further thought. I guess there's really no hope for them yet I still try because I do value the truth.

The same applies to a creationist I'm debating with at the moment. There are a series of rather lame answers to the major objections to his beliefs and as long as there is something out there which can be used an excuse for the obvious false beliefs of Christianity the believers are happy. They really seem to have no way to sort through the relative merit of different facts and figures. Or, more likely, they do have that ability but refuse to use it.

They need to be careful or they might discover the truth!

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Comment 1 (2565) by GadgetDon on 2009-12-04 at 02:58:44:

You left out one other difference, nobody has found emails from evolutionists saying "OK, we've got some evidence pointing the other way, but I think I figured out how to disguise it. Oh, and those guys who have papers pointing the other way? We'll just shut them up because they're so obviously wrong, we don't have to share our data with them."

And this is why we can't BLINDLY trust scientists. Because, like religious followers or sports fans or people with favorite computing platforms, once they've reached a position, they've got a strong bias to supporting that position. Scientists generally will use more facts to reach that position than a religious follower or a sport fan or a Mac or Windows fanboy, and it may take less to convince them to change. But humans hate to be wrong.

My own beliefs? Is the world warming? Yes, has been for a long long time (in 1776 some colonists dragged a cannon across the frozen Hudson river - that part of the Hudson hasn't frozen in a long time). Has human behavior added to it? To some part, yes, would like to see more evidence about how much as opposed to the natural climate change.

And the important question - What is the impact going to be and what can we do to ameliorate it? And no, destroying the economies of the world is not a good answer - As you can see in the negotiations right now, an improverished people really aren't interested in issues like the ecology.

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Comment 2 (2566) by OJB on 2009-12-05 at 15:43:58:

I agree that we shouldn't blindly trust scientists. The current debacle with the leaked emails shows that they don't always follow the ideal scientific processes. With global warming though, the consensus is strong enough that it would take a huge worldwide conspiracy for it to be wrong. Not saying its impossible, just that its really unlikely.

As far as "destroying economies" is concerned. I don't think that will happen as long as everyone participates fairly in the process. If everyone has to pay for their carbon emissions then no one economy will be affected more than others. Also look at the economic cost of not stopping warming: what will it cost us if sea levels rise by over one meter?

That said though I've got to say I am pessimistic. I don't think anything will be done until it is too late. The global mindset of greed and competition is just too great to overcome in time.

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