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Monday, January 25, 2010

Denialism

I like NPR, but this segment bothered me:

http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=122857703


The topic isn't a bad one. Denialism is apparently when popular opinion goes in the opposite direction from scientific evidence due to emotion or who know s what.

I'll start with what I agreed with. I did like the talk about the actual denialism - organic food, some homeopathic medicine (I did think he was too critical, but to put all your eggs in that basket I'll agree is gambling with your life), all herbs are good, vaccines are bad, etc.

I have been shocked by the number of people who have bought into weight loss gimicks, the idea that it's herbal, therefore it is safe and side-effect free, or all dietary supplements do something and things like that. There is so much evidence that says this stuff is garbage and in some cases harmful, but it still sells. If people listened to scientific evidence instead of emotion or whatever drives these trends, GNC (and many an infomercial product) would be out of business!

I can't really blame people for the herbal supplement thing. The research can be confusing or conflicting. More significantly, most people assume they are regulated by the FDA or under an obligation to tell the truth on product labeling. If you think that, you'd be wrong!



I liked where the guy was going with this:

“Mr. SPECTER: I believe this is an issue for moral debate, and I'm truly really trying to focus on clear-cut scientific lines in the sand about studies and why we use things and why we don't and why we trust things and why we don't. And abortion is something I didn't write about because I don't think it's that kind of issue. I wouldn’t actually call it denialism.”


I thought that was a good approach. It makes sense. … but what these two said and did next annoyed me big time. They didn't go off on creationsts, like I thought they were going to do. People that say they value science over religion have to be the denialists, there, though. The public seems to reject that scientific evidence can or might suggest a higher power at work because of a bias or closely held belief that religion/God is not scientific or not logical or that concepts are either faith based (a guess, a shot in the dark) or science based. I think the more we discover about the earth, the more we'll find evidence of Deity. Back to the abortion thing, though...


OK. Keep in mind what he said:

“And abortion is something I didn't write about because I don't think it's that kind of issue.”

But after this, they tried to get the caller to say that she was against abortion (which she obviously was) and wouldn’t change her opinion if the science stated the fetus definitely couldn’t feel or sense anything and that that would be denialism.

I thought she did a good job of avoiding the trap and moving back to her point which was to say how science could help us understand the debate better (not necessarily solve it)- which is a moral one ultimately (and as such as Specter said, doesn’t fall under denialism!).

***
ELIZABETH: I wanted to thank your guest for the issue. I think denialism is an issue that's pretty important in a lot of social issues, too. And I think in some social discussions where there's a lot of disparity of opinion, denialism kind of derails the discussion on things a lot of the time.

One of the specific examples I was thinking of was related to the discussion over abortion. And one of the examples, I guess, I was thinking of is for years and years, it was thought that the unborn fetus was not aware of the abortion procedure when it was happening. And ultrasounds are already debunking that and illustrating that these unborn children are aware of the abortion as it happens. And I think science is actually going to be pretty useful in the discussion as we learn much, much more about unborn life.

FLATOW: Michael?

Mr. SPECTER: I believe this is an issue for moral debate, and I'm truly really trying to focus on clear-cut scientific lines in the sand about studies and why we use things and why we don't and why we trust things and why we don't. And abortion is something I didn't write about because I don't think it's that kind of issue. I wouldnt actually call it denialism.

FLATOW: Elizabeth, if there was a research to show you that the unborn fetus at those age - at that time that you're speaking about it - was not in the state that you think it is, would you accept that?

ELIZABETH: I think that that - I was just bringing that up as one example of a discussion in which science could be helpful. (unintelligible)

FLATOW: Well, that's why I'm asking. If the science showed you that it was not like you thought it was, would you deny that?

ELIZABETH: I think that he is correct that it's a moral issue, also. But I think that if you bring science to the table, it at least helps to open the discussion and hopefully help people on both sides of the issue find some common discussion areas that could then move it beyond, you know...

Mr. SPECTER: Can I just ask one question?

ELIZABETH: ...whether or not, you know, the baby can feel it, too...

FLATOW: Yeah.

ELIZABETH: ...to the moral issue. But I think science could be very helpful in the discussion.

FLATOW: Good point. Go ahead. You wanted to jump in there, Mike?

Mr. SPECTER: I just wanted to ask a question. If science showed conclusively that an unborn fetus at a particular time couldn't feel anything, would you then change your mind? Because if you wouldn't, you are exactly what I'm talking about.

ELIZABETH: Well, I - what my point - that is an interesting point of view, and I do understand that. I think you're probably right that in moral discussions, people on both sides believe that either the viability of the baby or the rights of a woman would make the decision beyond science. But my point was just that you could bring science to the table to help find some common ground and discuss this as best as possible and lead to some progress.

I think that she was a good example, Michael, of bringing science - she made a point about bringing science to the table, and even bringing science to table didn't sway her one way or the other.

Mr. SPECTER: I mean, you know, I don't want to be rude because I do believe that that is a moral issue and it's very complex. But that really makes that's the example of what I'm talking about.

***

He was rude, though, and contradicted himself!

To be fair, (if I understand this made up term) denialism probably doesn't cover moral or social issues, so the caller really didn't have a point. But- I don't like how they went beyond the first statement on how it doesn't apply to have a conversation in which they tried to get her to say something so they could call her a denialist.



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