Six symptoms of science denialism

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Over the past four years it has become increasingly clear that many Americans are suffering from the sickness of science denial. It’s a dangerous infection that profoundly weakens the body politic, is transmitted through the air(waves), and mutates easily, making it difficult to control.

As with any illness it helps to recognize the symptoms so you protect yourself.

When someone displays see one or more of these symptoms, run in the opposite direction.

There are six cardinal symptoms of science denialism:

1. The secret knowledge symptom: When someone implies they are sharing secret science knowledge with you, ignore them. There is no such thing as secret science knowledge. In an age where there are literally thousands of competing scientific journals, tremendous pressure on researchers to publish papers, and instantaneous dissemination of results on the Internet, nothing about science could possibly be secret.

2. The giant conspiracy symptom: In the entire history of modern science, there has NEVER been a conspiracy to hide lifesaving information among professionals. Sure, an individual company may hide information in order to get a jump on competitors, or to deny harmful effects of their products, but there can never be a large conspiracy because every aspect of science is filled with competitors. Vast conspiracies, encompassing doctors, scientists and public health officials exist only in the minds of denialists.

3. The flattery symptom: Purveyors of science denialism invariably try to flatter those they seek to infect by implying that the potential victims are uncommonly smart, insightful and wary. They portray non-believers as “sheeple” who are content to accept authority figures rather than think for themselves. But a real scientists does not need to flatter you and would not waste the time to do so. He or she knows what is true and what isn’t and shares that information whether it makes you happy or is the last thing you want to hear.

4. The toxin symptom: I’ve written before that toxins are the new evil humors. Toxins serve the same explanatory purpose as evil humours did in the Middle Ages. They are invisible, but all around us. They constantly threaten people, often people who unaware of their very existence. They are no longer viewed as evil in themselves, but it is axiomatic that they are released into our environment by “evil” corporations. There’s just one problem. “Toxins” are a figment of the imagination, in the exact same way that evil humours and miasmas were figments of the imagination.

5. The “brilliant heretic” symptom: The typical science denialist often has no training in the relevant branch of science. No problem. A pervasive theme in science denialism is the notion of the brilliant heretic. Believers argue that science is transformed by brilliant heretics whose fabulous theories are initially rejected, but ultimately accepted as the new orthodoxy.

The conceit rests on the notion that revolutionary scientific ideas are dreamed up by mavericks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Revolutionary scientific ideas are not dreamed up; they are the inevitable result of massive data collection. Galileo did not dream up the idea of a sun-centered solar system. He collected data with his new telescope, data never before available, and the sun-centered solar system was the only theory consistent with the data he had collected.

6. The “quantum” symptom: Science denialists love to baffle followers with bullshit, hence the invocation of esoteric scientific theories that they don’t understand. Quantum mechanics and chaos theory are two incredibly abstruse scientific disciplines, heavy on advanced math. If you don’t have a degree in either one, you aren’t qualified to pontificate on them.

There is a saying in science that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Denialists’ claims are typically extraordinary, but denialists don’t offer evidence. Instead they display some or all of the six symptoms in an attempt to trick you into buying what they are selling, and they are invariably selling something. When someone displays one or more of these symptoms, you can be virtually certain that you are in the presence of full blown science denial. To avoid being infected don’t walk — run — in the opposite direction.

  • Yet, you’re a transphobe…

  • Thanks for this great article, I really enjoyed it from beginning to ending because this is very interesting.

  • George

    I think there is much to be learned about quantum healing and the power of it. It can defy science although not every time. It’s like casting a magic spell, you never know if its going to work.