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Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

Hal Harris's picture
Sun, 11/01/2009 - 01:00 -- Hal Harris

One part (but only one part) of the decline in science in the US is the growing minority of citizens who semiautomatically adopt positions antagonistic to those of the scientific consensus, regardless of the issue. The "scientific community" is not a monolith, and skepticism and dissent are essential to the process of science. But the people about whom Michael Specter writes are not arguing reasoned minority positions on the basis of data. No - their response is visceral, often based on suspicion of government, emotional attachment to a previous position (consider the reaction to the suggestion that mammogram screening should be less aggressive) and sometimes hostility to science in general. Those who continue to claim that cell phones and power lines cause cancer would be in my list of denialists, but Michael Specter goes after groups that refuse vaccination, the "organic food" movement, and the "health food" stores - and especially the belief in the use of echinacea as a cure for a variety of ills. He begins with an essay about the Vioxx lawsuits and has an informative chapter on how genetic knowledge may someday replace the cruder delineations of "race". I found his last chapter, on synthetic biology, to be particularly informative. The creation of life in the laboratory is around the corner and it requires science that many will want to "deny".

Pick Attribution: 

Michael Specter

Publication Date: 
Thursday, January 1, 2009