Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate

Picture: Wikimedia Commons (CC)

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.

via Environmental Health Perspectives:

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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  • charlieprimero

    Boohoo.  Oligarchs can’t sell their Climate Change wealth transfer scheme no matter how many academic and media frauds they employ.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    I agree in principle…but when it comes to the environment noise machine everyone keeps screaming CO2 CO2 in an effort to deafen the world to any serious discussion about chemical pollution of any serious type. I personally blame Gore and Co. for shifting the entirety of the debate away from iron-clad, unquestioned rock solid science and proven harm that could be prevented with modest legislation and regulation…and dragging the conversation into the realm of argument while almost all gains of the last 40 years have been systematically erased. We can’t even make serious efforts at long term energy independence from fossil fuels because we’re trapped in a cycle of snotty comments instead of the sober reality of inevitable cost/benefit ratios.

    The article is right about the techniques used in media…but they’re used not just by big oil and big pharm and big chem…they’re used by the other sides as well…and to the detriment of the entire debate…since even a large portion of the people whose hearts are in the right place…are showing up with nothing but buzzwords and quotable quotes to contribute.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    the similarity between Denial and Debate
    consists of the impotence of either to do anything about what is or is not happening

  • Haystack

    I disagree. I think that journalists should be utterly credulous, and that the evening news should be a platform for corporate PR pundits. 

    And I demand equal time to express my opinion.