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August 14, 2012 / George

The Difference between Denial and Debate

This is pretty great. I hope certain media outlets read this and get the hint.

Distinguishing fact from spin and scientific debate from organized doubt is challenging in a rapidly changing media environment where, essentially, everyone has a printing press. If the public better understood how the media worked, it could help, says Gerald Markowitz, distinguished professor of history at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. “Most journalists and establishment media want to show both sides of an issue,” Markowitz says, “and so the fact that there’s controversy means they feel they’ve got to show what both sides are, whereas in fact, they’ve got to do a better job of investigating whether it’s a legitimate or a created controversy.”

In one of the keynote talks at the April conference, UW–Madison genetics and molecular biology professor Sean Carroll outlined what he calls “a general manual of denialism”—six tactics used time and again in denial campaigns since at least the nineteenth century.

  • First, cast doubt on the science.
  • Second, question the personal motives and integrity of the scientists.
  • Third, magnify genuine disagreements among scientists, and cite nonexperts with minority opinions as authorities.
  • Fourth, exaggerate the potential harm caused by the issue at hand.
  • Fifth, frame issues as a threat to personal freedom.
  • And sixth, claim that acceptance would repudiate a key philosophy, religious belief, or practice of a group.

Carroll says this blueprint can help people distinguish denial from legitimate scientific debate on various issues.

via Environmental Health Perspectives: Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate.

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