The thinking error at the root of science denial

‘Science deniers’, who don’t believe in established theories such as climate change, evolution and childhood vaccination, employ false dichotomies to destabilise the public understanding of science. When someone makes a discovery which upends, disagrees with, refutes, rebuts or questions an existing accepted theory, the deniers denounce the theory as ‘false’ whereas we’ve actually just got a more accurate approximation to the objective, unreachable ‘truth’.

I have observed deniers use a three-step strategy to mislead the scientifically unsophisticated. First, they cite areas of uncertainty or controversy, no matter how minor, within the body of research that invalidates their desired course of action. Second, they categorize the overall scientific status of that body of research as uncertain and controversial. Finally, deniers advocate proceeding as if the research did not exist.

For example, climate change skeptics jump from the realization that we do not completely understand all climate-related variables to the inference that we have no reliable knowledge at all. Similarly, they give equal weight to the 97 percent of climate scientists who believe in human-caused global warming and the 3 percent who do not, even though many of the latter receive support from the fossil fuels industry.

This same type of thinking can be seen among creationists. They seem to misinterpret any limitation or flux in evolutionary theory to mean that the validity of this body of research is fundamentally in doubt. For example, the biologist James Shapiro (no relation) discovered a cellular mechanism of genomic change that Darwin did not know about. Shapiro views his research as adding to evolutionary theory, not upending it. Nonetheless, his discovery and others like it, refracted through the lens of dichotomous thinking, result in articles with titles like, “Scientists Confirm: Darwinism Is Broken” by Paul Nelson and David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute, which promotes the theory of “intelligent design.” Shapiro insists that his research provides no support for intelligent design, but proponents of this pseudoscience repeatedly cite his work as if it does.

Source: The thinking error at the root of science denial

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1: Laugh factory

Read this one even if you read none of the rest of the links today.

It’s not just the Fat Jew. A whole online ecosystem exists to cut, paste, and cash in on other people’s jokes.

2: Wired Style: A linguist explains vintage internet slang

Two of my favourite topics collide: linguistic style and internet history. Gretchen McCulloch digs out Wired’s style guide to explore the evolution of internet slang and the importance of having a personal style guide.

3: Philosophy: the subject that improves children’s literacy, numeracy and conduct

We’re only about 2,500 years behind the Greeks but Philosophy is finally making it on to the school curriculum. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is drafting plans for a short course in the subject to be introduced as part of the new Junior Cycle curriculum.

4: Replacing “crazy” for ableism and preciseness of language

If you’ve arrived at the conclusion that the word “crazy” is ableist, or at least makes some people uncomfortable, or is commonly misused and overused to the point of losing its meaning, you may be struggling to find substitute words. This post is for you. I’ve put together a list of many words that convey better what you mean when you say “crazy” and the specific usages and contexts where they make sense. And fear not: many of them are colorful, and all of them pack punch.

5: Imgur Is the last true internet culture remaining — but can it survive?

There is no more popular online destination for the modern male than Imgur. By the numbers, this humble photo-sharing site is in firm command of the millennial dude, blowing BuzzFeed, Reddit and even Tumblr out of the water with over 150 million monthly visitors and the highest concentration of millennial males in the U.S.

But you wouldn’t know it unless you’ve stared Imgur right in its eyes. Or unless you’re part of the club.

6: The hidden bias of science’s universal language

The vast majority of scientific papers today are published in English. What gets lost when other languages get left out?

7: Why the Wingdings font exists

It seems as bizarre as it is ubiquitous. What is Wingdings thinking? Why would someone want to write a comma using a mailbox? Why would anyone think we want to compose in peace signs and crosses and heart shapes?

Recent Links: November 2013

More links from Pinboard:

  • How Wes Anderson made The Royal Tenenbaums. Matt Zoller Seitz has written a book about the films of Wes Anderson. Here’s an interview with Anderson, excerpted from the book, about the making of The Royal Tenenbaums, which some days is my favourite of his films. You can find a bunch of videos about the films on Roger Ebert’s Vimeo channel.
  • Let them eat MOOCs. I think a lot about MOOCs, the current buzzworthy method of presenting online education. MOOCs face all kinds of challenges: retention/completion, lack of accreditation and lack of educator support being just three. Here Gianpiero Petriglieri compares MOOCs to colonialism. It’s not the jump it sounds like.
  • What makes a sentence sad? What’s the saddest sentence you’ve ever read?
  • Annotation Tuesday! Gay Talese and “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”. Talese’s piece on Sinatra is a hugely influential magazine article from 1966, a seminal piece of ‘New Journalism’. This is the director’s commentary.
  • Keep the things you forgot: An Elliot Smith oral history. I read lots of terrific pieces on singer-songwriter Smith over the past couple of months, most published to mark the tenth anniversary of his death. This is easily one of the best. Smith’s music made an indelible mark on me in the late ’90s and early ’00s, and I often wonder what he would have produced if he were still alive.
  • Choose your own philosophy adventure. A plug for something on our site: this is a Twine game, and I think it came out really well.
  • The Great Discontent: Merlin Mann. I find Merlin to be a very interesting guy, although I’m still not entirely sure what it is that he does for a living, other than podcasting. He doesn’t post much about his speaking gigs any more, and the productivity racket is clearly something he’s (rightfully) left behind. This is a nice interview, and that header image is fantastic.
  • Humanity’s deep future. This is where science fiction meets science: predictions of our species many, many years in to the future. What planet will we live on? Will AI have taken over? Is the march of technological progress unstoppable?