Denialism (Afterword)

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by Neil Godfrey

From the previous discussion it can be established that denialism does not mean disagreement with the majority or even with the “everyone else” in the field or for having stand-alone “politically incorrect” beliefs: it is possible to disagree with “everyone” yet not be a denialist. How so? Richard Evans explained it by comparison of David Irving with another prominent historian I have also discussed from time to time, Eric Hobsbawm.

Further to the right of O’Brien, the columnist ‘Peter Simple,’ writing in the Daily Telegraph, considered it a “strange sort of country” which could consign Irving to “outer darkness while conferring the Order of Merit on another historian, the Marxist Eric Hobsbawm, an only partly and unwillingly repentant apologist for the Soviet Union, a system of tyranny whose victims far outnumbered those of Nazi Germany.” Leaving aside the numbers of victims, and ignoring the fact that Hobsbawm was not awarded the Order of Merit, which is in the personal gift of the queen, but was appointed a Companion of Honour, which is a government recommendation, the point here was, once more, that Irving did not lose his lawsuit because of his opinions, but because he was found to have deliberately falsified the evidence, something Hobsbawm, who in his day has attracted the most bitter controversy, has never been accused of doing, even by his most savage critics. (Evans , 238f)


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6 thoughts on “Denialism (Afterword)”

  1. “Denialism”, never rigorously defined but whose meaning is intuited on the basis of usage, seems to connote some argued position that (a) flies in the face of well-established facts, according to nearly all accepted authorities, i.e. not a matter in serious dispute within expert discourse; and (b) is impervious to counterargument on the part of those in denial of “a” (i.e. a sense that no counterargument will have the slightest effect, i.e. a cult mentality).

    In other words, (a) prima facie (to those informed on the subject) counter to evidence; and (b) not an actual discussion but a mode of bludgeoning opposing arguments for the purpose of public persuasion of non-experts, impervious to changing of mind or serious effects in response to encounter of different information.

    Failure to engage other authorities I do not think is necessarily the variable, e.g. creationists sometimes engage mainstream biology and geology by means of sound-bite and polemical refutation. Perhaps failure to “seriously” engage might be a defining variable.

    On “b”, for example, although I am not a climate scientist I do not see serious cause to dispute the basic essentials of the IPCC reports (International Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations) in agreement with the conclusions of 100 percent of the world’s national and international scientist-member organizations concerning greenhouse gas theory, with allowance for some room for error at the modeling/forecasting application end of it. But there is a highly politicized industry here in the U.S., heavily financed by oil industry money, which seeks in the public arena to discredit mainstream climate science, analogous to the tobacco industry of a former generation funding public discourse and scientist publications to discredit a smoking/cancer connection. If government policy is enacted on the basis of IPCC climate science findings, a stiff carbon tax, among other things, is likely, which is a visceral threat to fossil fuel industry corporate owners’ financial and market share self-interest. In my own experience in discussions with people and friends who have insisted to me that mainstream climate scientists worldwide have it all wrong, I have asked if there is anything that hypothetically would convince them otherwise, and if so, what–and I have noticed with some interest that in just about every single case I get back no straight answer to that question. (There is always a response, but which does not however answer that question.) With only one exception, I have not found any person in my experience who is convinced that the IPCC mainstream climate scientific analysis is wrong, who has read it.

    (For me in reverse this is my answer: if I saw a significant credible minority of non-oil-industry-funded mainstream climate scientists becoming convinced by the strength of opposing scientific arguments, that would alter my perspective on this issue.)

    I have read–have not verified but it appeared credible–that despite all of the public and political discourse over the climate issue in the U.S., the number of actual climate scientists–that is, with expertise and track record of climate science journal publications–who publicly oppose the notion of human-caused global warming is not larger than about a half dozen names . . . and that in every case those names are either oil industry funded or creationist. The claim is that, in this particular case of what might fairly be called “denialism”, there is not a single identifiable serious climate scientist publicly in the “denialist” camp on this issue who is not also oil industry funded or creationist. On its face, this is therefore less the appearance of a true scientific debate, and more the appearance of a Tobacco Industry phenomenon Revisited.

    The stronger arguments for “Jesus mythicism”, whether or not one agrees with the arguments thereof, cannot be considered a comparable kind of “denialism” since there is a lengthy history of scholarly discussion and competing theories concerning issues of Christian origins which in the end depend on interpretation of snippets of information in early sources which are extraordinarily difficult in any specific case to regard as airtight. A ca. 30 CE Jesus is not in the status of a massively-attested unquestionable fact, but rather an inference from indirect reasoning from ancient testimonies that have been regarded as persuasive in mainstream scholarship with huge amounts of gray areas and uncertainties.

    1. Yes, my original intention was to try to find a way to look at the debates over creationism and the others “denialisms” I listed in the first post to see if and how much they did have in common, but in reality I think I will have to rely on others who know these fields better than I do. I used to be opposed to vaccinations (in my early “cult” believer days) and we scoured sources that quoted medical research, but of course it was always tendentious and not a full to and fro engagement. I suspect in hindsight that we took figures from medical reports and ran with them rather than staying to engage the “establishment” in serious discussion and mutual exchange of views.

      Your point about relying on the IPCC is well taken, too. We cannot possibly investigate every area of knowledge for ourselves and we do rely on public authorities and making judgements through the confusion of political debates. Perhaps this comes down to developing “intelligent bullshit sensors” that detect when one side is misrepresenting either their own or the other side’s case.

  2. I totally agree with you Neil, but I’m still wary of labels because they tend to get used even when not really supportable. I mean just look sat how many people and policies are called “socialists” that aren’t really anything of the sort, etc…

    1. Yes, and I think that it’s helpful to always have as a backup a clear understanding of the difference between what the label represents in reality and what it represents in the mind of the person who applies it.

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