Monday, February 15, 2010

Denialism and Global Warming

Denialism: Choosing to deny a reality that has been proven by an overwhelming amount of empirically verifiable data, for political, personal, or religious reasons, or as a defense mechanism against an uncomfortable truth.
- Wikipedia

The topic this week in our Biology Senior Seminar course is Denialism. More specifically, Science Denialism. As the all-knowing Wikipedia stated, this is when the obvious truth, supported by evidence, is ignored or deemed false for a variety of reasons, or as a natural defense mechanism against what makes us uncomfortable.

Many days went by as I tried to think of something to post that would address the topic of Science Denialism. Then Friday night rolled around and I took the night off at my favorite pub. Around four in the afternoon on Saturday, I felt up to the task of doing deep thinking and research again.
Unfortunately, I got sidetracked because my car was barely visible under all the snow from the past two snowstorms. Since I’m not dumb enough to drive to/from the pub (I walk instead), multiple snow plows to clear the parking lot had all but buried my poor car.
As I went to work with nothing but my window scraper to aid me, I realized just how much time and effort it was going to take to free my car. An hour later and deeply annoyed, I wondered aloud, “I thought Al Gore said it was supposed to be getting WARMER!
That was when I realized I had found the topic for my third blog post:
The Denialism of Global Warming.

I admit that, up to about two years ago, I too thought that Global Warming was just a bleeding-heart scare tactic cooked up by the Hippies. And movies I couldn’t stand such as An Inconvenient Truth, when viewed alongside stats about Al Gore’s house, didn’t help their case in my mind. Then about two years ago, I actually started looking at the scientific evidence for Global Warming, and was reeling in shock. I mean, 677079 pieces of evidence? My entire world was shattered – why had I not listened to the wise scientists, when I myself aspired to be one?

One aspect of the Science Denialism problem that I see constantly is that our society is VERY divided on the issue of science. There is a group of people out there who absolutely refuse to listen to scientists or scientific reasoning. One group sees science as a group of people diligently working on ways to help improve and explain parts of everyday life. The other group sees science as an evil group of corporations and government agents working with crazed, labcoat-wearing loonies who delight in abusing animals and stabbing us with sharp syringes.
The first group views scientists and their work as helpful to the general welfare of mankind (see Jonas Salk).
The other group sees scientists as soulless fiends hell-bent on destroying the world along with everything we hold dear, and scientific ideas as immoral doctrines of evil (see the controversy around genetically modified foods).

Needless to say, the first group openly accepts science, while the second group vehemently rejects and opposes it.

The problem of Science Denialism comes in when we refuse to listen to EVERYTHING scientists are saying solely because we disagree with them about ONE thing they say. Take my example: Since I believed Al Gore to be a hypocrite and saw An Inconvenient Truth as his accidental claim to fame, I immediately dismissed everything he was associated with (such as Global Warming) as a crock.

The best way to correct Science Denialism is to explain the benefits of science in a way anyone can understand. That is, after all, one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place: to communicate what science has to offer to the common net-surfer. People won’t freak out as much about science if we communicate its ideas in an effective way. By making it more easily accessible and understandable, it won’t be as scary to people who oppose it as some faceless evil that must be fought and destroyed. And we should also put some effort into having a credible spokesperson, too.

The best way to communicate science effectively would be to follow this handy list:
  1. Use popular media (such as blogs or Wikipedia) to discuss and explain scientific facts, history, and concepts. Ever since we started our blogs, I found that I enjoy reading them more and more. And the more I read, the more I learn. For me, blogs are a treasure-trove of untapped scientific news and information. If we keep science to ourselves, locked away in the Ivory Tower, no wonder people know nothing about it. And what we know little about, we fear and reject. We avoid the dark, scary basement…until we turn on the light and realize it is very beneficial to go down there (especially if we have three weeks of laundry to do that we ignored).
  2. Use recognizable, trustworthy spokesmen to make the personal study of science more acceptable. Who would you believe when told how great the pursuit of scientific knowledge is: Adolf Hitler or LeBron James? Paris Hilton or Steven Hawking? I’m an avid fan of Mythbusters (When in doubt, C-4…because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth OVERdoing). Did you see the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will raps the Table of Elements? I thought it was the coolest thing ever; my mom had to hide my dad’s Periodic Table until I stopped mimicking that scene (she was not amused…and still worries about me to this day). And if Angelina Jolie says to look into Polymerase Chain Reactions, you can bet your house, your dog, and your car that by the end of the month I’ll know more than you would ever want to know about it.

Displaying and explaining scientific information and ideas in a common area where everyone can participate, rather than only amongst ourselves, will make science more understandable and accessible.

Seeing a familiar, trustworthy face promote science will allow us to accept scientific ideas as common and good, rather than out-of-place and suspicious.

Combine the two, and we’ll see more people embracing science instead of trying to throw it away.


  1. Couldn't you find that Fresh Prince episode somewhere so that you could link to it? And how are we going to find the celebrity face of evolution?

  2. I did try to find that rap, but the only videos I found were really lame, just people pointing to out-of-focus periodic tables with the Fresh Prince theme playing (garbled) in the background.
    I'm sure we could find celebrities that would do plugs for science in schools, but I couldn't go into that in my post or it would have been five times longer, haha. ( My posts are already dangerously long already.)

  3. I'm beginning to think that some people aren't willing to accept scientific data so long as it comes from a scientist. I've often found that trying to explain scientific concepts to closed minded individuals is a lost cause. As for the celebrity face of evolution, my vote goes to Chuck Norris.

  4. YES! Chuck Norris says keep evolution in schools...or else.