The American science-denial playbook



I keep trying to convince myself that this climate change denialism in America is just exaggerated. I mean, it can’t be that bad, no one would be so blind to all evidence.

And yet… reality hits me in the face with a baseball bat.

Science-denialism just isn’t even a thing in Finland. What is it about the US that makes people turn a blind eye to the facs and desperately cling onto their beliefs? Can someone explain this to me? Is it the fundamentalist religion?


I was very much sheltered from it for most of my life, but in much of the US there has apparently always been a strong anti-intellectual bias. It favors populism over evidence. Perversely, there seems to be a fear of well-spoken, clear-thinking people who are twisting their “common-sense truth” and using it as a form of oppression against them. My guess is that this probably didn’t start as religious fundamentalism, but has to a large extent been co-opted by it.

This ignorance is then taken advantage of by heads of industry who prefer to capitalize on the increasing scarcity of resources rather then use plentiful ones, and who prefer to save money by not changing the way they do business for as long as possible. This in turn feeds back into a deliberate deterioration of the US educational system to get populations who can “score” but somehow not think through simple problems.


The fundamentalists in the US have created an unholy alliance with the rich. They’ve made a religion out of some imagined past utopia where there was no morality no homosexuals and everyone was white, happy and middle class.
They have in huge numbers taken up the idea that ‘evolution’ proves the non-existence of God, and it essentially does prove the nonexistence of what their idea of God (Pronounced Gawd, or Jeesus with a fake southern accent,)

The new Atheist advocates and intellectuals make this even worse by convincing people who aren’t actually young earth creationists that “evolution”(Meaning anything that means the earth is more than 6K years old) disproves and renders their faith false. The religious who believe as I do, have done an absolutely terrible job of informing that significant middle ground about how silly that idea is.

Also science education in the US is beyond terrible, and even when not interfered with by the fundamentalists it consists of little more than the memorization of pointless facts and dates. A biology test question I saw not long ago was about when Linneaus came up with the concept of Kingdom Phylum Order, etc, all the questions on that test were about who, and when, nothing at all about the concepts or how they might possibly be useful.


Which works out about as well as one might think, knowing how much these tycoons love and respect the “middle class”! But don’t worry, they will shepherd us to prosperity, because tycoons want nothing more than to make the “middle class” as “wealthy” as they are.

This all leads to more bizarre wranglings of common sense such as addressing fears of elitism in US politics. For example, one of the pejoratives I most often heard thrown at Al Gore was that he was a poor choice for president because he was “elitist”. One might take a moment to wonder why/how somebody could occupy the executive office of arguably the most powerful country and not be elite… What does that even mean?


I mean, look at the guy who beat him to see what that means. How do you make the scion of a wealthy family born with a silver spoon in his mount and spoiled into adulthood look less elitist than Al Gore? Dubbya.


Haha! Nice image!


It’s an illusion that was propagated – to a great extent – during the “good old days” of the Reagan administration. You had a dolt of an actor playing a folksy, common-sense everyman while behind the scenes, venal interests were implementing the most massive redistribution of wealth in American history. Despite their victory then, the Koch brothers and their ilk still crave more.

On a tangent, I avoided seeing the film Forrest Gump for many years because it reminded me so much of the Reagan ethos. Though it was released in 1994, the original book was published in 1986 during the darkest days of the Reagan administration, and the movie was such a glorification of anti-intellectualism that we see its echoes in countless anti-science arguments today.

Not that I entirely blame the author; he had envisioned John Candy in the role.


Forest Gump was the perfect example of that ethos. The idea that just going along with the flow not thinking to much was a virtue, that stupidly accepting the universe and making no attempt to understand it was the highest virtue. I hated that movie and all that it represents to me.

I’m sure others might find some other more positive message in the film. But it seems to me be advocacy of idiocy and the acceptance that those who already have the money and power know what’s best. A message of mindless obedience made in such a way that it felt like Mr. Smith goes to Washington, though it had nearly the opposite message.


i’ve just finished a conversation on facebook with a friend who is a retired mechanical engineer who believes that vaccines are responsible for autism, that vaccines are responsible for disease outbreaks, and the germ theory of disease is a fraud perpetrated on us by the pharmaceutical industry. i asked him two questions, if vaccines don’t work how do you account for the eradication of smallpox and if the germ theory of disease is a fraud how do you account for the great reduction in post-operative infections once aseptic procedures were routinely used in operating rooms? in response to the first question he posted a link to this video on yourube-- and he has ignored the second question twice. i responded by saying i would no longer comment on his vaccine posts since we disagreed at the epistemological level.

it is so sad.


If it helps, I know a climate science denier over in Denmark, who has told me that he thinks that the IPCC reports say that climate change isn’t a problem.

Of course, he’s also a multi-millionaire (inherited) anarcho-capitalist True Believer, who preaches to the Masses Of The Unconverted on the benefits of the One True Economic System… so there’s significant ideological incentive on his part to take that attitude.


To many people, science and engineering are merely a vocation or a hobby, overlaid upon a “real world” of primate politics and economics. Science is a technology you can buy in a store, or a special job some other monkey pays you money for.

Generally, I think of faith and belief as mental crutches for people who are too lazy or busy to evaluate evidence or do any serious thinking themselves. My strong political (more like anti-political!) way of life and adherence to evidence and reason have made me come off as an extremely scary person to many who I deal with in “real life”. Most of the social common ground they count on for arguing issues is simply not present in my thinking. But then, when some people find out that I am clergy, they get excited that I must be motivated by some kind of belief after all! But after lots of probing they realize that I resolutely do not believe in deities or anything supernatural and they find this even far more offensive - as it obliterates the convenient categories of faith versus atheism that so many rely upon. So, I tend to draw lots of scorn from religious and rational minded people, neither group which even considers that this apparent contradiction might neatly side-step their categories.


Just skimming the other comments but want to answer from US perspective. Ran into science denialism yesterday from some1 who works in tech.

Would recommend Arnold Kling’s the 3 languages of politics mini-book. Climate denialism has been accepted into the tribe of conservatism’s crede. It’s that simple really, tenets of politics are tribal based, founded on emotion, and not much to do with reason. Mankind is not much to do with reason either. Reason is like a 3x5 index card as far as the brain goes.

So that’s why I think it happens. How I dealt w/ it. Minimized my climate change beliefs. Pushed the claim over to “climate scientists.” Wondered why everyone is for or against it, it is like the god question huh. Oh and I read a webcomic (qwantz) that says a sea monster is to blame since it wants a water world. Got a laugh. More progress than if I’d cheered team science. But very little regardless.

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It’s one redeeming quality was a reference made during a Lord of the Rings movie screening, when at the scene of ents marching at Orthanc somebody in the audience shouted:
“Run, forest, run!”


I read about the origins of American anti-intellectualism in a book called "The Age Of American Unreason" by Susan Jacoby, and yet it still baffles me. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to be act all superior and laught at America, I feel part-American myself for once having an American fiance. It just saddens me to see this state of affairs, where knowledge and scientific fact are given less and less value, and faith and patriotism more.


The Reich’wingers don’t cotton to no fancy book learn’un.


From my observations there are two strands that have developed in American politics regarding climate change. One is ideological. If you’re a die-hard libertarian-type government intervention is always bad. However, the effects of global warming are dire enough that no one can advocate standing by and doing nothing in the face of it. This cognitive dissonance is thus resolved by denying that climate change is a problem.
The other main factor is that opposing climate change has now become a form of tribal identification. Once upon a time you could be a Republican and support action on global warming. Guys like Newt Gingrich and Duncan Hunter actually co-sponsored the Global Warming Prevention Act of 1989, and cap-and-trade was once the preferred Republican response to a carbon tax. Over time though it’s become a partisan issue - you can actually see Republican belief in global warming drop over time in polls. It’s become a tribal issue, another way to punch Dirty Fucking Hippies.

There are other contributing factors of course, but these are the two that I see as dominant.


I don’t think that really helps, though I’m not surprised either, there are individual (nut)cases all around the world.

If you want to hear a funny anecdote: I’ve met a single person who believes in creationism in Finland. Just one. I was 14 and she was my classmate, and we were waiting outside the biology classroom when the subject of dinosaurs came up. And she asked me, bewildered, “You don’t actually believe in dinosaurs, do you?” And I told her that yes I do, and she just couldn’t get it. I, on the other hand, couldn’t comprehend how someone could NOT believe in dinosaurs, with all the evidence out there (beside, I love dinosaurs). Her belief came from religion, though I can’t remember which one (not that it matters).

Later, I made some comments about defending LGBT people that she didn’t agree with and probably started thinking I’m lesbian or something. I think her suspicions became true when we watched this great Swedish movie called Fucking Åmål, which is about lesbians, and I stood tall and proud during the whole movie even though she kept glancing at me constantly. Yes, I’m bisexual - is there a problem? She didn’t shun me after that, but she did treat me quite differently.


The tribal identification theory can’t be overstated. Rationality doesn’t matter; you simply stick with what the tribe believes.

Quoting James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan: “I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It’s liberals and Americans.”


[quote=“randywalters, post:19, topic:49689, full:true”]
The tribal identification theory can’t be overstated. Rationality doesn’t matter; you simply stick with what the tribe believes.[/quote]

Doesn’t matter to whom? You are making a totality out of this. Some people don’t bother with tribes, nor belief.

Even if it were as “universal” as many make it out to be, since it is delusional, I think it’s not much of a stretch to consider it basically a congenital disease. It doesn’t seem to affect autistics so much, for instance.