Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Monthly Archives: September 2011

How 9/11 Gave Rise to a New Generation of Denialists

The horrible events of 9/11 2001 were unique in many ways. In the past, hijacking had most often been a method of trying to acquire political concessions or for monetary extorting, but rarely before had planes been hijacked to be used as weapons in themselves. Despite the incident at Pearl Harbor, the 1993 attack on WTC and the Oklahoma City bombing, the United States had been relatively spared from international terrorism up until then. The attacks against WTC and the Pentagon also lead to never-before-seen security measures on airports, consuming vast sums of money and changing the very core of air travel. It lead to increases in military spending and wars overseas, the Patriot Act and many other major changes on the regional and global scene.

However, there were other consequences of the events that day, namely the rise of a new generation of young and tech-savvy conspiracy theorists and denialists with the world wide web at their fingertips. Read more of this post

Exposing Holocaust Deniers’ Quote Mine of Historian Arno Mayer

It is quite fascinating how different groups of pseudoskeptics from vastly different fields, such as evolutionary biology and 20th century history, tend to apply the same type of deceptive debating tactics. For instance, creationists like to quote the distinguished paleontologist Stephen J. Gould and make it appear as if he is rejecting central concepts in evolutionary biology, when he is fact is merely debating the relative merits of different evolutionary mechanisms. Creationists are thus misrepresenting the internal scientific discussion about how common descent happens, roughly expressed as “punctualists versus gradualists” (although they are not incompatible), as if it was a discussion of whether common descent was true.

As it turns out, Holocaust deniers use the same tactic, although instead of misrepresenting the punctualist Stephen J. Gould, they try to exploit the Holocaust historian Arno Meyer. Similarly to the “punctualism versus gradualism” there is a similar, legitimate discussion within Holocaust history about the exact mechanisms. This debate is usually termed the intentionalist versus functionalist controversy and deals with questions such as “to what degree has the Holocaust planned in advance and to what extent was it a continent historical outcome?”. None of the historians in this discussion denies the Holocaust. They all accept that there was intentionality for genocide, that a highly technical extermination program was implemented using e. g. gas chambers and that roughly 5-6 million Jews where killed. So, in other words, Holocaust deniers misrepresent this legitimate historic discussion as if functionalist historians support Holocaust denial. They do not.

Let us check how Holocaust deniers, such as Germar Rudolf, quote historian Arno Mayer out of context. Read more of this post

Swedish Creationist Thinks Biologists are Elitist Psychopaths

Biologists are not elistist psychopaths

Note: This is a criticism of an article called Fanaticism in the Name of Science written by the Swedish intelligent design creationist Krister Renard. The translations are my best attempts to preserve the meaning of the text. Use the Google Translate service if you want to check my translations.

Krister Renard is a run-of-the-mill creationist, using the same old tired arguments that creationists have been used for many decades in a feeble attempt to undermine the conclusions of evolutionary biology, one of the most well-supported disciplines in modern science. He also gets very upset by progressive politics such as same-sex marriage, opposition to the death penalty, feminism and immigration. He regularly spews his corrosive venom over many professions, such as journalists, psychologists, politicians, lawyers and biological scientists, often proposing grand conspiracy theories where the establishment is trying to brainwash the population and oppress conservative Christians. Even a cursory look at his website reveals a lot of tragic and comical statements. However, there is one crucial exception; Renard is fairly good at refuting Holocaust deniers and have written a couple of articles about it that everyone should read. Giving credit where credit is due.

The article in question, called “Fanaticism in the name in science; or the story of the kind polar bear; or when animals became humans” and has a couple of overarching themes, including the supposed societal romancing of predators, that biologists are not real scientists but elitist and ignorant psychopaths who get aroused by watching nature programs where predators slaughter their prey, and then Renard finishes off with the classic attempt at trying to associate biologists with Nazis. Although Renard has a tendency to ramble on and on for several paragraphs, I will try to quote and discuss the important sections. Let us look at these issues and more Read more of this post

What is Scientific Methodology?

What exactly is science? Thinkers from Aristotle to Larry Laudan have pondered some version of this question and come up with different explanations or criteria. Most of us have seen the linear method containing steps like coming up with an idea, testing it and evaluating the results. This, however, is an oversimplification and the real process of science. This does not mean that rules of thumb like falsifiability is wrong or unhelpful, however, science is much more dynamic, combining interacting features such as exploration, testing, interaction with society and communicating results in the peer-review literature.

There are many factors influencing the start of scientific exploration. It could be a practical problem, like how to reduce smog from a major city or treat malaria, it could be due to the development of new technology, such as biotelemetry equipment that reduces effects of measurements in animal research, or simply unintentional accidents, like Alexander Flemming’s discovery of penicillin. It can also be due to being put into a research group, talking to academic advisers, reading an exciting new article in the peer-review literature and so on.

When designing an experiment in many areas of science, a null hypothesis is often tested. This is usually stated as no statistically significant different between two groups, two treatments or two physical variables. Results can often be confusion, hard to interpret or inconclusive. This spurs further research, trying to fix the problems or approach the issue from a different angle. Often an experiment needs to be useful, coherent and cost-effective.

Research is often published in the peer-review literature, presented at scientific conferences, discussed with colleagues and used to build upon the state of knowledge by improving explanations and models or replicating already existing research in order to critically evaluate it.

Some of this knowledge can be used to improve our life and society, from finding the link between smoking and lung cancer and treating infections to renewable sources of energy and designing smarter computers.

Debating Skeptics: A How-to Guide for the Perplexed

Dear creationist, anti-vaccine crank, astrologer, HIV/AIDS denialist or whoever you are,

Are you tired of never having intellectually productive conversations with scientific skeptics? Do you feel stressed and anxious over always being asked to provide evidence for your claims instead of the cute personal anecdotes you commonly use? Do you ever find yourself thinking “why can’t those hard-nosed and close-minded skeptics stop criticizing me?” If so, your fear is now over. This is a short guide on how to debate, more importantly, how to have intellectually productive conversations with skeptics.

A working definition of a skeptic (in this context) is someone who thinks that the strength of a conviction should be in proportion to the strength of the evidence for it, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that “knowing how” is just as important as “knowing that”.

1. Giving a sermon is not an intellectually productive discussion

A discussion is a form of dialogue between two or more people, where each participant takes turn in making and responding to arguments. If you are primarily interested in giving a long sermon on how your position is true and that all critics are oppressing you, then you are not emotionally or intellectually ready to have a discussion with a skeptic. A sermon is a non-discussion time-waster because parties are already deeply entrenched in their positions.

Go get a blog instead. That way you can ramble on and on without drawing the people around you into your personal vortex of madness against their will. Read more of this post


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