Science Denial is a growing problem in our world today, with many individuals and groups using tactics to deny scientific facts and research. In this article, we’ll explore the 5 techniques of science denial by Skeptical Science from our last workshop, FLICC: Mastering the Art of Critical Thinking and Identifying Fallacies. To help you test your knowledge, we’ve also included a quiz.
Skeptical Science has identified five key techniques that science deniers employ to question scientific facts. It is crucial to be aware of these techniques to recognize them when they are being used and to avoid the trap of denying scientific truths. These techniques are strategically used to erode scientific consensus and create an illusion of a legitimate scientific debate, even when there is none.
The first technique is the appeal to Fake Experts, which involves presenting an unqualified person or institution as a source of credible information. This is done to discredit the expertise of actual scientific authorities and create doubt in the minds of the public. For example, a retired physicist argues against the climate consensus claiming the current weather change is just a natural occurrence. This includes the Bulk Fake Experts, where large numbers of seeming experts are cited to argue that there is no scientific consensus on a topic.
This is done to give the impression that there is a debate within the scientific community when, in fact, there is not. An example of this is citing the 31,487 Americans with a science degree who signed a petition saying humans aren’t disrupting climate to create the impression that there is no scientific consensus on climate change.
The second technique is logical fallacies, which are arguments where the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. These are also known as non-sequiturs. There are many different types of logical fallacies, including the straw man, misrepresenting or exaggerating an opponent’s position to make it easier to attack, and the ad hominem, attacking a person or group instead of addressing their arguments.
The third technique is Impossible Expectation which means asking for something unrealistic or impossible to achieve. This technique plays on people’s desire for a perfect outcome and their willingness to suspend their disbelief. There are many different types of this technique such as lowered expectations, moving goalposts, and anchoring, they can all be categorized under the broader technique of creating impossible expectations. This technique involves setting expectations so high that they are impossible to meet, or constantly changing the expectations to make them unattainable. This can lead to feelings of failure or inadequacy in the individual or group trying to meet the expectations, while the person setting the expectations can maintain control and manipulate the situation to their advantage.
The fourth technique is known as “Cherry-picking,” which involves selectively presenting information or evidence to support a particular viewpoint while ignoring or downplaying evidence that contradicts it. This technique is often used to create a false impression or to manipulate people’s perceptions. It can take various forms, such as relying on anecdotal evidence, using slothful induction to draw conclusions based on limited evidence, quote mining to present information out of context, or engaging in wishful thinking by focusing on information that confirms preconceived beliefs.
For example when someone uses anecdotal evidence, such as pointing to a cold day or a snowstorm, to argue against the reality of global warming. This ignores the overwhelming scientific consensus that the Earth’s climate is warming due to human activity and is based on selecting only the data that supports a particular viewpoint while ignoring the broader scientific evidence.
The fifth technique is the Conspiracy Theory, which is characterized by various sub-techniques such as overriding suspicion, nefarious intent, contradiction, something must be wrong, persecuted victim, immune to evidence, and re-interpreting randomness. This technique is often used to explain events and phenomena by attributing them to the actions of a secretive and powerful group. It involves dismissing evidence that contradicts the theory and reinterpreting any seemingly random events to fit the narrative.
For example, some people may believe that climate change is a hoax created by a secret organization of politicians and scientists who are working together to achieve a hidden agenda. This theory may involve dismissing scientific evidence that supports the existence of climate change and reinterpreting any events that support the theory as part of a larger conspiracy. Those who believe in the conspiracy theory may see themselves as persecuted victims who are being silenced by mainstream society and immune to evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
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