It seems only fair for journalism to examine every side of an issue, but what if a controversy isn’t a legitimate debate, but specifically created for the purposes of confusion and bias? Industry, politicians and religions manufacture misinformation, which is caught in the echo chamber of our lazy, uncritical mainstream media, and filtered to a harried general populace, who are often more concerned with ethical considerations than scientific nuances anyway. Corporate advertisers engage in ‘organized doubt’ campaigns, essentially changing what science and skepticism are all about.
In one of the keynote talks at the Science Writing in the Age of Denial Conference, UW–Madison genetics and molecular biology professor Sean Carroll outlined what he calls “a general manual of denialism”—six tactics used time and again in denial campaigns since at least the nineteenth century. First, cast doubt on the science. Second, question the personal motives and integrity of the scientists. Third, magnify genuine disagreements among scientists, and cite nonexperts with minority opinions as authorities. Fourth, exaggerate the potential harm caused by the issue at hand. Fifth, frame issues as a threat to personal freedom. And sixth, claim that acceptance would repudiate a key philosophy, religious belief, or practice of a group. Carroll says this blueprint can help people distinguish denial from legitimate scientific debate on various issues.
But while it may be relatively easy to spot some of these tactics, others can be more challenging to detect. If, as research suggests, people get their information about science topics largely from television and the Internet, and if media outlets are not clarifying the differences between individual studies and scientific consensus views, then the public may face serious challenges in distinguishing fact from spin.
Wendee Holtcamp’s article goes on to describe how even fervent deniers can examine evidence and employ their reasoning skills to determine the subtle differences between actual discourse and manipulation.
Read More at Environmental Health Perspectives.
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