Deny the Denying Deniers

Words are powerful things.

Take the word “deny.” It means to claim that something is not true when it actually is–like saying I eat like a bird when I actually gorge like a Pterodactyl. The word makes no sense in contexts where the claim being denied is implausible. For example, it would be odd for one to “deny” the existence of extraterrestrials. “Denying” would imply that we are obstinate and refuse to accept established fact when, in fact, there is no established fact.

Were a UFOlogist to say to me, “You are in denial about extraterrestrial visitation,” I would respond with the epistemological equivalent of “Show me the money.” That is, where is the evidence that seals the case for such an incredible claim? There is nothing to “deny” because there is no reason to believe in the first place.

That could always change, of course. Were a four-foot, almond-eyed* visitor from Xenu to show me her spaceship, take me for a ride to see the rings of Saturn up close, and impregnate me** I would take the darling little infant to whom I gave birth sixty days later as compelling evidence. That is, after a psychiatric examination and dozen other ways of confirming that I was not hallucinating.

When we are accused of denying something, the speaker is assuming that the facts are there and we are just too obstinate to admit it. Sociopaths excel at this, often making their partners and friends believe they are the ones with the psychological problem. Politicians are even better at it. And scientists…

Yes, scientists. Sometimes a scientist gets so emotionally involved in a belief that he/she resorts to playing on the gullibility of the listener. Take the alleged impact of human activity on global warming. No scientist would accuse a colleague who was dubious of string theory of “denying” such. “Questioning” maybe. “Doubting” perhaps, but not “denying.” Let someone question the impact of carbon-based energy on climate, though, and the ad hominems start to fly. Questioning quickly becomes denying in the lexicon of the epistemologically righteous, and denying quickly becomes associated with flat-earthers and fake-moon-shot freaks.

Why would a pack of scientists behave in this way? Part of the reason is that they are human. Like the rest of us, they mix objectivity with liberal doses of wishful thinking when it suits their purpose or when they are being lazy. Were warmists true to the scientific ideal of objectivity, they would recognize “deniers” as what they truly are–doubters.

Normally, this kind of controversy would affect only those interested enough to engage in esoteric philosophical debates. UFO believers are a screwy but generally harmless bunch. They get to have a bunch of TV shows and make money entertaining the gullible.

Warmists are a menace. They are hell-bent on foisting radical public policy on this country and the rest of the world on the basis of evidence that remains murky at best. Moving away from carbon-based energy is a huge decision–one that at present bodes ill for billions of people–mostly the poor.

If warmists have a case, let them present it like adults. They can start by saving accusations of denial for subjects of the cable programs Hoarders and Intervention. Scientists and citizens who are truly thoughtful are not doubting anthropogenic warming because they are fanatics or addicts, but because they know that humans often get things wrong and that bad public policy is worse than no public policy. They want to doubt in order to find out–a good policy for all of us.

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*Apologies to extraterrestrials reading this blog who find this stereotype annoying.

**Things work different on Xenu.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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One Response to Deny the Denying Deniers

  1. Pingback: » Humans vs Nature – Common Sense

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