Thursday, 4 March 2010

US creationists adopt climate change denial

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There's a piece in the New York Times describing how some US creationists have widened their campaign to have "criticism" of evolution taught in schools to asking for dissenting views on man-made global warming to also be taught. Last year the Texas Board of Education, in the words of the NYT, "adopted language requiring that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming", and now a bill is passing through the Kentucky legislature that would "encourage teachers to discuss 'the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,' including 'evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning'."

It's an interesting development for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, it suggests creationists are trying to strengthen their chances of success by marrying their cause to one less explicitly associated with religion. They've run into trouble in the past, most famously in the 2005 Dover Case, in which a federal judge ruled that a Pennsylvania school district was violating the separation of church and state by requiring teachers to read out a disclaimer before teaching about evolution. By joining evolution denial with climate change denial, it seems creationists hope to avoid this accusation – it's not about religion, they can say, but about scientific "controversy" in general.

It's also interesting for the fact that proponents of one kind of scientific denialism seem to also be the proponents of another. It's not as though one necessarily follows on from the other – just because you think CO2 emissions aren't causing a greenhouse effect (or any other aspect of climate denial) doesn't mean you would think life on earth didn't evolve through natural selection. Which might suggest that someone who thinks both of these things has a mindset disposed towards distrusting what is presented to them as scientific fact, however strong the evidence – a denialist mindset, if you will. I wouldn't be surprised to find the same people claiming that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, or any other common kind of denialism.

On which note, whenever I find myself writing about denialism, of any kind, I always make sure I link to Seth Kalichman's piece on AIDS denialism, written for our November issue last year. Of course many aspects of it are specific to AIDS denial, but I think you can read it as a beginner's insight into all kinds of scientific denialism. As he says towards the end, "all denialism is entrenched in conspiracy thinking".


Mike said...

For some time I've noted the tactics of the denialists mirror the ID/Creationist movement. It's not surprising that they would begin to link the two. At the heart of both is a rejection of the scientific method and evidence. In their attempts to discredit one discipline of science, they in effect tear down the credibility of the entire scientific enterprise.

Eiskrystal said...

It's a type of "crank magnetism" I guess.

Tom Rees said...

I think there are two, less conspiratorial explanations from a psycho-social perspective.

Firstly, fundamentalists distrust science in general because they see it as a threat. They also distrust nanotechnology, stem cell research, etc.

With respect to climate change in particular, fundamentalists are particularly motivated by threat aversion and world-view defence. Threats increase their in-group mentality. The problem with climate change is that it's a threat that can only be solved by reaching out and co-operating with other groups - something they are aversive to. This cognitive dissonance can only be resolved by denialism.

Barney John, Sheffield said...

Caspar Melville writes, “. . . I think you can read [Kalichman’s piece] as a beginner’s insight into all kinds of scientific denialism. As he says towards the end, ‘all denialism is entrenched in conspiracy thinking’.”

All the evidence is in, then. Mr Melville, the editor of a freethinking magazine, is happy, the HIV–AIDS people are happy, the “don’t knock science because it’s got the answers to everything in life, the universe and everything” brigade are happy, every man in a white coat is happy, God’s not in his heaven and all’s well with the world. That’s sorted that, then. One article, and all our minds are fixed.

End of debate, then.

Anonymous said...

Well, isn't that convenient: just throw every dissenter in there with the lunatics and you never have to deal with scientific criticism of your pet theory ever again.

I'll have you know there are people who trust science as a whole and accept every major well-established theory out there except the "man-made warming" joke (which is not sufficiently scientific OR well-established).