Sunday, March 6, 2011

Skepticism vs. Denialism

From my experience, quite a few people confuse skepticism with what I (and others) call denialism. Denialism is, quite simply, selective incredulity. For one reason or another, a denialist will, either consciously or subconsciously, choose to dismiss the evidence for a well supported proposition. We see this with fundamentalist Christians with evolution, Moon landing conspiracy theorists with the moon landing (obviously), Global warming "skeptics" with anthropogenic global warming, and "antivaxxers" with innoculation, among many others. These groups are not skeptics. They are arbitrarily incredulous to a specific theory, most of the time due to preconceptions and beliefs that they hold to be true and have an invested interest in maintaining. Skepticism is quite the opposite.

Carl Sagan described skepticism as "the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and—especially important—to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument" (The Demon-Haunted World). Unlike the denialists, skeptics tentatively accept conclusions because there is verifiable evidence to support it and the logic of the claim follows; and they do not accept those arguments that are not supported by the evidence and/or the logic is fallacious. Skeptics do not believe in things because they want them to be true, or because they fit within a preconceived notion of reality. They do not pick and choose from the evidence to fit with their beliefs, but instead acquire their beliefs from the entire body of evidence. Skeptics always prefer to believe in an inconvenient truth than a comforting falsehood. This is quite a contrast compared to denialists.

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