Tag Archives: John Cook

The Appliance of Deniance: A Debunking

John Cook BSc (Hons)
Guest blogger

This week I received an intriguing tweet:

Translating climate science denial CN2

Figure 1 An intriguing tweet I received this week.

The message links to a rather strange video whose discursive function isn’t entirely clear at first. It appears to be an attempt to generalize skeptic thinking to everyday situations, as my friend @A_ suggests.

Science Nazi: Cook makes no secret that he's a fascist for facts.

Science Nazi! It’s no secret our guest author John Cook is a fascist for the facts. “My hobbies include orchestrating the mass murder of millions of myths,” he kids, adding: “I’m not kidding!”

The deniers who made the video are apparently aware that denial is no longer tenable in the climate change context, and are seeking to shift the focus of their denial to real-life topics (firefighting, contraceptives, engine maintenance, relationships, etc.).

Expect this tactic to become increasingly common as the science continues to firm.

On one hand we deserve a pat on the back—the science is evidently working!

On the other hand, we mustn’t rest on our laurels. Just because they’re not denying climate science any more, it doesn’t make their denial any more acceptable. Denial is wrong, by definition—whether it’s applied to the dangers of climate change or to the real world.

So let’s consider some of the video’s myths in their proper, debunked context before hitting the YouTube link.

(You’ll notice, as always, that the correction is stated before the fallacy it corrects. You should never risk exposure to misinformation without first girding your loins with the equal and opposite science.)

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Consensus …what is it good for? Another Science Communication Gem

Quick—what do all these claims have in common?

  • Heat consists of a self-repelling fluid (‘caloric’).
  • Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense; there is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists. [Linus Pauling]
  • Gastropyloric ulcers are non-infectious in aetiology.
  • Proteins are the key to all genetics. (DNA isn’t nearly complex enough to carry hereditary information.)
  • The centre of the universe is not the Earth but the Sun.
  • The centre of the universe is not the Sun but the hub of the Milky Way, around 40,000 light years away.
  • change is real, man-made and dangerous. Read more: [Barack Obama]
  • The worst human beings are outbreeding the best. Only eugenics can stop the rising sea of imbeciles, the dead weight of human waste [Margaret Sanger], ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens [H. G. Wells], Jews, blacks, degenerates [Theodore Roosevelt], the feeble-minded [Francis Galton], criminals and weaklings [Luther Burbank].
  • Saccharin causes cancer.

Get it?

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Science Communication Gems: Science versus religion

Quick: what’s the difference between science and religion as knowledge-systems?

Not so easy, is it?

Let science communication come to the rescue!

Before science, in what Hitchens called “the bawling and fearful infancy of our species,” everything we knew was constructed via social proof. In other words, the truth was what people said.

But this raised an obvious question: how many people?

The answer differed between cultures and faiths. The general consensus seems to be 4. The testimony of 4 people, on average, was the truth.

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