Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

Denying evolution, denying climate change: how does ‘belief’ fit in with science?

Posted by stevepog on 28 January, 2010

Denialism by Michael Specter

One of the more interesting speakers at the recent Science Online conference in North Carolina was the author of Denialism and lover of controversy, Michael Specter.

The New Yorker staff writer gave an impassioned speech at the conference’s opening gala on the current blight of denialism, which he defines as what happens, “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

Specter’s  targets included US-centric personalities and companies such as anti-MMR activist Jenny McCarthy, vitamin supplement king Dr Andrew Weil and basically the whole organic food community, which no doubt alienated some Wholefoods-loving audience members.

He also spoke about the media’s culpability in prominently running stories  that influence the demise of useful drugs and often lead people to lose trust in science. If Specter was aware of the UK’s Daily Mail, he could have added that paper to the blacklist (an excellent Facebook group has been set up listing the Mail’s scare stories about cancer, here).

At conferences and presentations I’ve attended, it’s a constant gripe that the public often associates belief with science and that people will choose to trust a homeopathic remedy or not believe in climate change despite all the unequivocal scientific evidence to hand proving the opposite. This is already an old theme among the science community but the rise in popularity of pro-science media advocates such as Specter and the UK’s Ben Goldacre and George Monbiot are hopefully a sign that people are tired of believing wonderdrug claims or gloomy scare stories and want to know the facts behind the hype.

Here is a short clip of Specter’s talk (apologies for the low sound and shaky recording):


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