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A Skeptical Response to Science Denial

Science denial has a corrosive effect on delicately understood scientific concepts, and it is getting worse. But science itself holds an answer.

Science denial has significant consequences. AIDS denial caused over 300,000 deaths in South Africa. Vaccination denial has allowed preventable diseases to make a comeback. Climate science denial helped delay sorely needed mitigation policies, committing us to direr climate impacts for decades to come.

Skepticism (by which I mean an evidence-based approach) is the antidote to denial. But skepticism doesn’t just apply to how we practice our science. It must also apply to how we communicate our science. There is a wealth of psychological research into the phenomena of denial and how to neutralize the influence of misinformation. To ignore this evidence when countering science denial and pseudoscience is, ironically, not a skeptical approach.

So what is an evidence-based response to science denial? To illustrate, allow me to use an example from my own area of research: the scientific consensus on climate change. The psychological principles emerging from this topic have implications that can be applied to many areas of science.

Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

What percentage of publishing climate scientists accepts human-caused global warming? This isn’t just an academic question; the answer has real-world consequences. On complicated scientific matters such as climate change, the average layperson uses expert opinion as a mental shortcut or heuristic. Psychologists have identified perceived consensus as a “gateway belief ” influencing their views on climate change and, most importantly, their level of support for climate action.

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About Skeptical Inquirer

Does Astrology Need to Be True? A Thirty-Year Update Does E = mc2 Imply Mysticism? Does the Universe Revolve around Me? A Skeptical Response to Science Denial Skeptical Inquirer’s 2016 Reader Survey Results