Choose Your Denialism

I’m putting together a class that focuses on denialism, science, and rationality. So I’m thinking about what topics to include. I’ll want some cases of legitimate scientific controversy and some cases of denialism, so we can explore how to tell the difference.

I’ll definitely include climate change denialism and creationism, since both are politically important. And I’ll probably include some discussion of the anti-vax movement for the same reason.

I haven’t decided yet what legitimate scientific controversies to cover. Continental drift is a strong contender. Maybe the endosymbiotic account of eukaryotic cells (although the fact that Lynn Margulis continues to be controversial figure might make this a tad tricky). Information loss in black holes is up my alley, but it will probably be too esoteric for most of my students.

I’m posting this because Steven Novella has a post up on facilitated communication, which is another great/sad example of woo. Basically, it’s a case of assistants thinking that they’re playing the role of computer voice to Hawking, but really they’re just using people with neurological disorders as Ouija boards. (It just occurred to me that the name must come from “Yes Yes” board. Heh. Funny that.)

Other items I’m considering chatting about (maybe I’ll just draft up a huge list for my students) include PowerBalance bands; conspiracy theories about the moon landing, 9/11, and reptilians ruling the Earth; phrenology; 19th century science on “race”; homeopathy; UFO sightings and crop circles; and on and on. (Boy there’s a lot of crazy out there.) Oh, and maybe cold fusion . . .

If you’re reading this, feel free to let me know what you think the best examples would be to present to undergraduate students — either as examples of denialism or examples of legitimate scientific controversies — whether it’s because they’re particularly enlightening, or entertaining, or important, or whatever.

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8 responses to “Choose Your Denialism

  1. You should definitely include the smoking-lung cancer link, such as in Allan M. Brandt’s The Cigarette Century. A case of legitimate skepticism would be cold fusion.

  2. Darwinism, (naive, early natural selectionism) vs maybe Lamarkism? although I guess that’s not particularly ‘conspiratorial’ (although some christian defensive mechanism was present ) Much better maybe Lysenkoism vs.. R. A. Fisherism? (Darwin-Mendelism basically) that is a good one, and led pretty directly to many millions of deaths)

    For me, once you get the logic that a UFO is a prospective IFO.. we’re done!

  3. pending is a better word than prospective there.

  4. All UFO’s are pending, even the real spacecrafts!

  5. Actually, UFOs are legitimately spacecrafts aren’t they, so there wasn’t a misspelling.
    ..apart from the stray apostrophe
    and are plural UFO [already pluralised] so there still was a misspelling? gaah dunno

  6. And to try and persuade on the Lysenko as a personal favourite, it is the fact that the conspiracy was commited by the very top.

    Kind of like a story you’d build around a ‘Palin becomes Pres and enacts the fruit fly directive with the help of ..[Her Chaney, Powell, Bolton bloc]… and then add in some resurrecting the neo-Lysenkoism to really go for direct Darwinophobia that was the formerly hidden agenda in the ‘your tax dollars going to ParisFrance’ anti-washington maverick story…
    and from opposite political spectrum’s reversed (and yet similar) goals. (Lysenko fitting anti-capitalist Darwinophobia and then fitting pro-creationist Darwinophobia)

    I’m taking that way too plausible now, maybe my mate’s global illuminati and Protocols of Zion stuff is..

    Another thing with Lysenkoism is there actually is a neo-Lysenkoism even though it was utterly killed with fire. (& Like please don’t let the Republicans hear about that)

    The fruit fly american taxes going to Paris France stuff really was veiled Darwinophobia wasn’t it (and some people do currently use Lysenkoism as a derogatory term).

    • Yeah, Lysenko is a good suggestion. It would take a it of effort to encapsulate it enough to communicate it to the students, but it could be done . . .

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