Sep 28 2015

Denier vs Skeptic

The AP has recently published an updated version of its Stylebook, which contains the following entry:

To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.

This debate has been going on as long as the debate about the nature of recent climate change. This is more than a nitpick, as words have real meanings and they often reflect our understanding of an issue. Those who do not accept the current consensus of climate science would prefer they be referred to as “skeptics.” This has caused a problem for the skeptical community, because the majority of scientific skeptics accept the consensus of scientific opinion on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). They feel that AGW deniers are deniers and they taint the brand of “skeptic” by adopting that term.

There is, of course, a continuum of scientific acceptance without a sharp demarcation. Following Aristotle’s golden mean, I would place proper scientific skepticism as a virtue positioned between two extremes, with denial at one end and true-belief or gullibility at the other. This scientific continuum also does not capture the entire picture, as there are those who are anti-science or who follow non-scientific philosophies.

One problem for those who lie somewhere on the scientific spectrum is that everyone tends to use themselves for calibration. In other words, most people think that their specific position on any scientific issue is at the golden mean, and anyone who believes more than they do is a true believer and anyone who doubts more than they do is a denier.

This sliding scale definition, however, misses the real point – skepticism is not about what you believe, but the process you follow in forming your beliefs (and here I use “belief” as shorthand for degree of acceptance of specific claims).

Here is my concise definition of scientific skepticism:

A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion and takes a position of humility toward complex areas of knowledge requiring extensive expertise.

In order, in my opinion, to qualify as a skeptic one has to rigorously following a method of inquiry that approaches what I just described. This means carefully examining your own ideology and biases, and fully accounting for the consensus of scientific opinion, without overstepping your own expertise in the relevant area.

True deniers follow a different approach, whether they explicitly know it or not. Denialism is a form of pseudoscience. Deniers tend to start with their conclusion, because they are ideologically opposed to the current consensus of scientific opinion, whether it be on climate change, evolution, the safety of vaccines, the legitimacy of mental illness, or the historical accuracy of the holocaust. They then follow a process which is fundamentally different from scientific skepticism, even though they try to portray it as skepticism.

– Deniers do not fairly assess the scientific evidence, but will cherry pick the evidence that seems to support their position.

– They will make unreasonable or impossible demands for evidence, move the goalpost when evidence is presented, and refuse entire categories of legitimate scientific evidence.

– They will attempt to magnify scientific disagreements over lower level details as if they call into question higher level conclusions. (For example, biologists might disagree over the details of evolutionary history, without calling into question evolution itself.)

– They primarily focus on sowing doubt and confusion over the science they deny, rather than offering a coherent alternate theory or explanation.

– They will exploit ambiguity (and even create ambiguity) in terminology or employ shifting definitions in order to create confusion or apparent contradiction.

– They will attack scientists personally, and engage in a witch hunt in order to impugn their reputations and apparent motives.

– They will cast doubt on whether or not a scientific consensus exists, attempt to claim that the tide is turning in their favor, or claim that a secret consensus of denial exists but is suppressed. They may also cite outlier opinions as if they were mainstream.

– When all else fails they will invoke a conspiracy theory to explain why mainstream views differ from their own.

Too often, I think, the debate focuses on whether or not a view is “mainstream.” I have been frequently accused of accepting whatever the mainstream view is, whether that be acceptance of AGW or rejection of ESP or similar claims. My views tend to be similar to mainstream scientific views for good reason – if different people follow the same rigorous methodology, they should reach similar conclusions.

I also think it is completely legitimate to respect the views of those who have greater expertise than you in a specific area. Respect does not mean blind acceptance. You also have to understand that the views of any one individual may not be representative. I always attempt to understand, as best as possible, what the consensus of scientific opinion is on any question, how robust the consensus is, are there any minority opinions, and how robust or legitimate are they? In some areas there isn’t even a consensus, just active controversy.

When there is a robust consensus of scientific opinion without serious opposition, in a field that itself is scientifically legitimate (I don’t put any value on a consensus of opinion of homeopaths), you would do well to take that consensus seriously. I would not casually dismiss a consensus of scientific opinion or indulge in unsupported conspiracy theories to reject the consensus.

Regarding AGW specifically, part of the difficulty with using a binary term like “denier” is that, as always, there is a spectrum. There are those who deny that the planet is warming, or accept that it is warming but deny that humans have any significant role, or accept AGW but reject current proposals for how to fix it, or even that it is possible to fix it.  How do we fairly deal with this situation?

That is the question faced by the AP and why they updated their Stylebook. Their solution is not unreasonable, but it has problems still.

The fact is, there are global warming deniers – those that tick every box in the denialism checklist. When writing about such deniers, those pretty far toward the denialism end of the spectrum, then “denier” is a reasonable shorthand that fairly captures the reality.

The problem is, however, that those who are not that far toward the denial end of the spectrum, but still harbor doubts or may think that political ideologues are exploiting the fact of AGW to further their own political agenda, may feel they are being painted with the same broad brush. I understand this, but I don’t think there is a clear solution. They are, essentially, falling through the cracks of the simplified naming system.

Journalists cannot spend time on a nuanced discussion of the spectrum of opinions on AGW every time they write about it, or correct misinformation being put out by a true denier. A shorthand is often necessary for efficiency. I also think that calling the entire spectrum AGW “skeptics” is far worse, because it confuses the public over what skepticism is and give far too much credit to the far denier end of the spectrum.

I think the AP solution is a reasonable compromise. When referring to the broad group, use a term like “doubters” that is a bit mushy but then, so is the group. A soft term might be best when referring to a continuum. I have done this myself in the past. However, I still reserve the right to use “denier” when I think it is appropriate – when discussing a particular individual or position that is far enough toward the denier end of the spectrum.

I also think that readers need to keep aware that not all articles are about them. Everyone wants their personal position to be presented positively, or at least fairly. Sometimes, however, an article is simply not about you. I say this because I get e-mails almost daily complaining that an article I wrote was not fair to the e-mailer’s position.

What typically happens is that I focus an article on a particular claim or set of claims. For example, I might say – this person rejects GMOs for these stated reasons, and this is why their reasons are not valid. I may then get an e-mail complaining that those are not “the” reasons why people reject GMOs and I was unfair to focus on them and ignore the “real” reasons.

First, do not confuse your position with the range of positions that are out there. Your reasons are not “the” reasons – they are your reasons. Further, I am often responding to a specific person, so clearly there is at least one person making the claims I am analyzing.  Finally, one article is never going to address every nuance, every tangent, or every issue regarding any topic. I have to find some way to focus an article. I may have even already written about the other issues, or will get to them eventually.

The bottom line is that people often take these issues very personally. Just yesterday I received an e-mail saying that the writer was “offended” by my opinions. How can you be offended by a scientific opinion?

This, I think, is a core bias, and one that needs to be specifically worked against. Don’t take scientific claims or opinions personally. Try to emotionally divorce yourself from any particular conclusions. The process is what matters, not acceptance or rejection. Conclusions should flow from the process, and you should not be invested in the conclusions because they should be provisional. If new facts come to light, you should be able to chuck out an obsolete conclusion as if it were sour milk.

41 responses so far

41 Responses to “Denier vs Skeptic”

  1. arnieon 28 Sep 2015 at 9:02 am

    ” Deniers do not fairly assess the scientific evidence, but will cherry pick the evidence that seems to support their position.

    – They will make unreasonable or impossible demands for evidence, move the goalpost when evidence is presented, and refuse entire categories of legitimate scientific evidence.

    – They will attempt to magnify scientific disagreements over lower level details as if they call into question higher level conclusions. (For example, biologists might disagree over the details of evolutionary history, without calling into question evolution itself.)

    – They primarily focus on sowing doubt and confusion over the science they deny, rather than offering a coherent alternate theory or explanation.

    – They will exploit ambiguity (and even create ambiguity) in terminology or employ shifting definitions in order to create confusion or apparent contradiction.”

    Great sorting out of the terminology issues,Steve. Unfortunately, we seem to have a couple of current frequent “contributors” to the comments section of your blogs that are particularly relentless in using the specific denier techniques above to attempt to hijack and divert (essentially sabotage) the fruitful and otherwise valuable discussions generated by your blogs.

    Maybe we need an additional word beyond either just doubters and deniers to categorize such individuals. They are effective in drawing others into almost endlessly repetitive arguments and mutual “ad hominemizing” which quickly becomes very unproductive. Some good information comes out of it but the overall effect is negative, I’m afraid.

  2. michaelegnoron 28 Sep 2015 at 10:35 am


    Were the people who doubted the anti-DDT hysteria of the 1960’s deniers or skeptics?

    How about the people who challenged Malthusian apocalyptic scenarios in the Paul Ehrlich’s ‘Population Bomb’?

    How about the people who doubted the premises of eugenics?

    No matter whether you call them skpetics or deniers, the people who doubted the scientific consensus that ‘the world is ending if you don’t immediately do as we say and ban pesticides/sterilize everyone/sterilize the unfit etc. seem to have been right.

    Why is the AGW debate conducted in an historical vacuum?

  3. Steven Novellaon 28 Sep 2015 at 10:42 am

    Michael – I know those are talking points of yours as you have raised them several times in the comments here. I honestly suggest you read my article again and really take in what I am saying.

    First – there is a continuum, not a dichotomy.

    I also gave an outline of how to evaluate a consensus. Not all scientific consensuses are equivalent. Sometimes the media creates the impression of a consensus where there isn’t one. Sometimes a small group of scientists are unopposed because no one else has yet paid much attention. Sometimes people adhere too strongly to the precautionary principle – which is not really a difference of opinion about the science but how to react to the science. You are also confusing politics with science in some of your examples.

    In none of your examples do you have a robust scientific consensus anything like what we have today for AGW. The problem is not a historical vacuum. Your examples are all just terrible.

  4. Willyon 28 Sep 2015 at 11:16 am

    Dr. Egnor–maintaining his narrative.

  5. michaelegnoron 28 Sep 2015 at 11:18 am


    The consensus for eugenics was quite robust–there were very few deniers, and deniers in the scientific community were even less common.

    The Malthusian consensus was quite robust as well, and generally remains so. Paul Ehrlich is a highly respected member of the NAS, and John Holdren has been Obama’s science advisor for 7 years. They are both Malthusians, and Malthusianism has a very strong presence in the warmist scientific community today.

    Ironically, there is probably no publicly debated theory in the biological sciences in modern times that has been more completely refuted than Malthusianism.

    DDT and pesticide hysteria was not the scientific consensus until the early 70’s– the EPA originally overrode the NAS’ denialism when it banned DDT in 1972.

    Every 50 years or so the scientific community creates an apocalyptic scenario–overpopulation, eugenics, pesticides, global warming– and the refrain is always the same–‘Do as we scientists say and save the world’.

    Scientific apocalpyses are more than academic squabbles. They are very deadly, and have cost tems of millions of lives since Malthus.

    Scientists never seem to accept responsiblity for the junk science and catastrophes they cause. There has never been any sort of genuine accounting for Malthusiansim or eugenics or pesticide hysteria. History just goes down the memory hole, and it’s on to the next scientific apocalypse.

    Ocean acidification is going to be next crisis, when AGW runs its course.

    A real skeptic would be pointing out the historical parallels and taking the current iteration of scientific apocalyptism to task.

  6. BBBlueon 28 Sep 2015 at 12:47 pm

    There’s that troublemaking “scientific community” again. It’s rather disingenuous to lump all scientists together using a term like that when what is actually happening in cases like pesticides, for instance, is that the views of a particular subset of scientists catch fire and becomes fashionable with a segment of society and government–often abetted by poor science reporting–regardless of whether or not compelling evidence exists to support those views.

    Skepticism and the scientific method is our defense against the purveyors of junk science and misinformation, and as Steven has often pointed out, science is a self-correcting system based on best evidence. Better to get something wrong and correct it or correct science abuse by people in power who misinterpret scientific claims than it is to get something wrong and be married to it for life, as many religious philosophers are wont to do.

  7. Steven Novellaon 28 Sep 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Michael – I don’t see the historical parallels. Your examples are terrible. I don’t agree that there was a robust consensus for eugenics, which wasn’t really ever a scientific ideas as much as a social/political idea. The same for Malthusian philosophy – which remains genuinely controversial. There are multiple schools of thought about the relationship between population and resources.

    Same with pesticides. Show me the robust scientific consensus regarding the dangers of pesticides. Generally the scientific community is the one saying to remain calm in the face of reassuring evidence. It is the anti-science lot who are screaming about toxins.

    Further, every warning that there may be hidden dangers to a new technology is not “apocalyptic.” There is a legitimate degree of concern that is often appropriate.

    I think that skeptics collectively do a good job of following the best evidence and coming to a reasonable conclusion that is often somewhere between hysteria and denial. Technological advance often does prove the dire Malthusians wrong, but that does not mean that resources are infinite or that we don’t have to think about sustainability going forward.

  8. Willyon 28 Sep 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Eugenics? Like what Joshua did? Yeah, I know, that was really more like genocide.

  9. pdeboeron 28 Sep 2015 at 2:18 pm


    Seems like you are throwing out so many examples so that there is no way anyone can respond to all those claims. Each of your examples require doing a historical evaluation of the scientific papers about each.

  10. michaelegnoron 28 Sep 2015 at 2:27 pm


    [Seems like you are throwing out so many examples so that there is no way anyone can respond…]

    An interesting way to acknowledge that there is a mountain of evidence to support my view.

    Scientific apocalypses have been around for 200 years. Policies based on them have killed tens of millions of people, and none of the science has proven to be credible.

    AGW is just the latest scam. It’s interesting to predict what will come next–ocean acidification is my favorite.

  11. Ivan Groznyon 28 Sep 2015 at 3:00 pm

    It does not seem to be a clear way to preserve the “sceptical” position while using 70 or 80% time the argument from authority, “most scientists believe” and so on. Many of the people Dr Novella usually (with good reasons) describes as science deniers are simply people ignorant of basic science or misinformed about the basic data (anti-GMO or anti-vaccine jihadists, or creationists having very little actual knowledge about biology while pontificating against it, and so on).

    However, in some cases, the label “denialism” and “deniers” is used as a political slur against the people who have opposing political and ideological views, irrespective of what quality are their scientific views or credentials (some of the best climate scientists in the world, such as Roy Spencer, Bill Gray, Richard Lindzen, John Christy are routinely portrayed as “science deniers”, only because their scientific results contradict the political agenda of energy rationing so dear to the left) . In “climate change science” very few people, if anyone, denies the basic science or basic data (CO2 is a greenhouse gas causing warming and the Earth has warmed over the 20th century). The problem is that most campaigners for energy rationing (who just happened to be in 90% of the cases the same people who doubt GMO and vaccine safety) derive from these trivially true facts the far-reaching political conclusions about humans being responsible for climate catastrophe and so on, or even that climate sensitivity is high (which is the proposition abandoned in cutting-edge climate studies of the last 5 or 6 years which all show low sensitivity consistent with the views of “deniers”). In this case, political campaigners, ideologized scientists or relatively uniformed laymen such as dr Novella are real science “deniers”, substituting their politically correct views for actual scientific results.

    In a word, the term “deniers” is superfluous if deniers are wrong, and it is manipulative and harmful for public debate if they are right. It is bad in both cases: if deniers are just crackpots as antiGMo and anti-vaccine crusaders are, it is enough (and rather easy) to refute them; if they are right, or have at least a plausible argument, you should not try to slur them, because, as we know from history, “scientific consensus” may be wrong. See under stable continents, caloric fluid, eugenics and so on.

    In that sense, desperate attempts to suppress the opposing views testify rather to the weakness of the argument, and raise eyebrows even when the suppressor of “deniers” is right. If the theory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption was really solid, there would be very little need for trumpeting so widely the bogus claim that “97% of scientists agree” and so on.

  12. bendon 28 Sep 2015 at 3:20 pm

    “Doubt,” “denial” and “skeptic” are words that have long been defined principally by non-scientists (unlike the word “chemical” which is a technical term usurped by clueless marketers). Webster’s defines a “skeptic” simply as someone who doubts something. The requirement that the doubt in question be justifiable, let alone rigorously scientifically justifiable, is an invention by those who would like to use the word to label their cause (an extremely important cause, I should note). I’m sorry. Someone who erroneously doubts the efficacy and safety of vaccines is, at once, a vaccine doubter, a vaccine denier and a vaccine skeptic. Someone who doubts the spherical shape of our planet is a (ridiculously mistaken) skeptic too. You can’t package your philosophy (as superior as it is) into a word that already has a near-unanimously accepted definition. I know that you, Dr. Novella, are invested in this vocabulary with your involvement in various “skeptical” societies (organizations that are worthy of our support, btw). But my suggestion would be to not omit the qualifier in “scientific skepticism.” Can’t we all agree that this is far less ambiguous?

  13. steve12on 28 Sep 2015 at 3:22 pm


    The only think you love more than Teddy Beale…

    …is this sort of smug sense that population size is not a problem because Malthus and Holdren had the mechanism/ timing wrong.

    You do understand that their errors don’t mean that overpopulation is not a problem, right? The idea that resources are inexhaustible because previous projections were off is absurd, obviously.

    Set aside AGW – what happens when we run out of cheap fossil fuels? They’re not infinite you know.

    Geometric population growth = concomitant loss of this resource, et al. by definition. What Malthus and Holdren estimated has no effect on that reality.

  14. daedalus2uon 28 Sep 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Actually science has now demonstrated that the major premises of eugenics are wrong. Large GWAS have been unable to find differential genetics of intelligence, of chronic diseases, or of behaviors (other than essentially Mendelian disorders). There remain holdouts that are trying to cling to genetic causation models, but they are increasingly untenable. Evidence is accumulating that differential cognitive and differential health of different ethnic groups is due to the effects of differential discrimination based on skin color and socioeconomic status.

    The slow decay of wrong ideas in science is well known. Relativity did not replace Newtonian physics until a new generation of scientists grew up learning both and appreciating that Relativity fit the data better.

    DDT was banned because of its effects on birds. DDT is pretty benign to mammals. Endocrine disruption due to xenobiotic chemicals is real, the difficulty in dealing with it is like the difficulty in dealing with the health effects of tobacco. The Tobacco Industry made a lot of money getting people addicted to nicotine and then selling them tobacco products over their remaining lifetime. A lot of the rise in the use of flame-retardant chemicals in household products (all of those chlorinated and brominated flame-retardants) were promoted by consultants hired by the tobacco industry to divert attention away from fires caused by smoking.

    Models of endocrine disruption are poor because of a lack of understanding of the underlying physiology. Organisms are most sensitive to endocrine disruption during development and during puberty. Adults are fairly resistant to endocrine disruption. Most testing is done on adult animals.

    The AGW denial industry is funded by the fossil fuel industry and is modeled after the “successful” denial campaign run by the Tobacco Industry.

    No one is calling for “energy rationing”. People are calling for switching to energy sources that do not emit CO2 into the atmosphere. The only reason that fossil fuels are cheap sources of energy is because the cost of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere is artificially fixed at zero. If fossil fuels had to bear the true cost of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere (as in the cost of mitigating the climate change that CO2 will cause), it would be cheaper to switch to solar and wind today. There is more carbon in fossil fuels than the atmosphere has capacity to hold while maintaining current viability zones. If all fossil fuels are burned, sea level will go up ~200 feet. The average temperature of the Earth will go up ~10 C. That will drive the wet bulb temperature above 35 C where about half of humans currently live. Humans cannot survive a wet bulb of 35 C.

    CO2 levels in the atmosphere are unprecedented. Humans today are breathing higher CO2 than have occurred in human history and prehistory. At present CO2 levels the Greenland Ice Sheet is unstable and will melt. The only issue is the timing. That will increase sea level by about 20 feet.

  15. daedalus2uon 28 Sep 2015 at 5:13 pm

    For those who are interested, here is the consensus statement of a number of endocrine disruption researchers.

    They cite research showing endocrine disruption effects over multiple generations (even after the exposure has been eliminated).

    This happens to be a field I am actively working in, so I keep up on it and I agree with the consensus above. Multi-generational effects are not unexpected if the endocrine disruption affects epigenetic programming of cells (which it pretty much must do to have these effects). If it affects epigenetic programming, it can do just about “anything”. We know so little about epigenetics, and epigenetics is so complicated (in principle, every cell could have different epigenetic programming) that making extrapolations is extremely difficult.

    My opinion is that environmental exposures to many chemicals are too high.

  16. michaelegnoron 28 Sep 2015 at 5:20 pm

    [the consensus statement of a number of endocrine disruption researchers.]

    Getting malaria really wreaks havoc with your hormones.

    Why do you folks not seem to care about the tens of millions of people who you let die because of your anti-DDT junk science?

  17. michaelegnoron 28 Sep 2015 at 5:35 pm


    [My opinion is that environmental exposures to many chemicals are too high.]

    Exposure to DHMO is orders of magnitude deadlier than DDT. If you want to ban a deadly chemical, that’s the place to start.

  18. RickKon 28 Sep 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Ivan Grozny said: “In “climate change science” very few people, if anyone, denies the basic science or basic data (CO2 is a greenhouse gas causing warming and the Earth has warmed over the 20th century).”

    That’s a stunning statement, as that’s exactly what large portions of the anti-AGW group are saying. Can we then agree that those who deny that basic science (that human-caused CO2 is increasing the greenhouse warming) can be classified as “deniers”?

    Also, I notice you list Ray Spencer as a leading climate scientist. why should Roy Spencer’s work in climate science carry any more weight than Kurt Wise’s work in geology? Both are driven by religious ideology enough to inject divine intervention into their science. I’m sorry, but I simply can’t take seriously a scientist who openly claims that we can’t be adversely altering the climate because God wouldn’t allow it.

  19. Pete Aon 28 Sep 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Homeopathy (DHMO) is slowly being banned across the globe. As is the ideology of creationists/IDiots.

  20. RickKon 28 Sep 2015 at 6:53 pm

    I find the parallel between this discussion and an earlier Michael Egnor discussion interesting.

    Someone once pointed out to Michael that perhaps the Inquisition wasn’t the Catholic Church’s finest hour. He responded that it wasn’t the priests that tortured and killed people, it was the local leaders and government authorities. His argument was that the Church wasn’t responsible for how the authorities interpreted its doctrines and turned them into policy.

    But of course it is the fault of those darned scientists when their nuanced findings are bluntly interpreted by authorities.

    It’s also interesting how Michael doesn’t say a word about the millions of people dying because companies, governments and individuals are NOT doing what the scientists say they should do, like reducing airborne pollution, not smoking, getting regular exercise, etc.

    But, as always – Michael isn’t here for rational discussion or debate. He is a highly partisan advocate for his personal religious worldview and he’s here to drop one-liners, pat himself on the back and disparage the very same materialist science that made it possible for him to do what he does.

  21. Pete Aon 28 Sep 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Arnie wrote: “Maybe we need an additional word beyond either just doubters and deniers to categorize such individuals.”

    I totally agree. The term “nym-shifting sock puppet across multiple websites” is accurate, but unduly cumbersome.

  22. Pete Aon 28 Sep 2015 at 7:31 pm

    RickK wrote: “But, as always – Michael isn’t here for rational discussion or debate. He is a highly partisan advocate for his personal religious worldview and he’s here to drop one-liners, pat himself on the back and disparage the very same materialist science that made it possible for him to do what he does.”

    I disagree on only one, but very important, point: He is not here (commenting inconsistently as “michealegnor” and “hardnose”) to promote *his personal religious worldview*, he is here to promote the Discovery Institute and its affiliates, most especially the agenda of “The Wedge Document”.

  23. arnieon 28 Sep 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Once again Michael is attempting to divert and confuse by presenting non-equivalent issues and historical items as equivalent. Why? In order to detract from the sound scientific points Steve and others are making? While to the critical thinker he looks naive and silly in his terrible choice of examples and arguments, to the naive he may appear to be a sophisticated and convincing debater. Could that be his motivation and goal in hopes of reaching susceptible converts to the agenda of The Wedge Document? Just a rhetorical question. Maybe the word I was looking for is “Ideological Diverter” (from evidence- based truth). Gives new meaning to”ID”.

  24. Pete Aon 28 Sep 2015 at 8:07 pm

    What about “Ideological Divot”?
    Divot: piece of turf cut out of the ground by a golf club in making a stroke or by a sports player’s boot. E.g. He hit a *wedge shot* and carved a hefty divot out of the *fairway* — as in “fair way” 🙂

  25. RickKon 28 Sep 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Hey Pete – based on his blog, I think Egnor thinks this way even when not promoting the DI. I think the super conservative Catholicism came before the DI. A universe without God is unthinkable to him because he can’t conceive of any morality other than divine fiat. Unguided evolution of complexity from simplicity makes a universe without God possible, therefore (in Egnor’s writings) evolution must be wrong. How can he best fight evolution? Follow the Catholic Church playbook – go for the kids. Teach kids that God actively tinkers with the universe, erode science standards enough to allow magical explanations, and maybe he can hold off that unthinkable universe a few more years.

    He’s a denier. He denies that devoutly religious scientists for centuries have followed the evidence to piece by piece remove divine hands from the workings of the universe. He works for an organization whose sole mission is to publicly deny any advancement in our understanding of our evolutionary origins. And he denies any conclusions that science may draw from our changing environment if those conclusions conflict with his religious belief in unlimited growth and maximum human procreation forever.

    It’s all about finding the data that fits the ideology, no different than the Sandy Hook conspiracy nuts that ignore 500 different witnesses, townspeople and family members and declare that the whole event was a hoax because one parent smiled on camera.

  26. Willyon 28 Sep 2015 at 10:35 pm

    Dr. Novella writes a sensible, calm, apolitical, non-religious piece about the value of skeptical thinking and the importance of science in advancing the human condition, and Dr. Egnor steps forward and blasts science as a whole based on selective and biased examples. He can’t resist attacking science as some monolithic, evil belief system. He belongs in the time of animal sacrifices as demanded by Yahweh.

    Dr. Egnor has the gall and the blindness of a true believer. He castigates “SJWs”, yet he can’t see that he too is just as biased and prejudiced as any “SJW” ( He is always defending his narrative. I’m thinking he’s a CRAP (Christian Right-wing Apologetic Promoter). He is hopeless. Dr. Egnor, if there is indeed a Hell, I hope you get to spend eternity in it with Vox Day.

  27. Pete Aon 28 Sep 2015 at 10:55 pm

    RickK, Egnor is an exemplar of pseudoscientists and the pseudoscientific method.

    “If you are in possession of this revolutionary secret of science, why not prove it and be hailed as the new Newton? Of course, we know the answer. You can’t do it. You are a fake.” — Richard Dawkins.

  28. steve12on 29 Sep 2015 at 1:09 am


    “He castigates “SJWs”, yet he can’t see that he too is just as biased and prejudiced as any “SJW” (”

    It’s actually much, much worse than that. The person whose book he’s promoting is a white nationalist. I linked above, but here it is again:

    Unfortunately, even RW has not captured the true horror of this individual. It’s truly shocking.

    Belae refers to blacks as savages with lower intelligence (he’s even invented his own racial slur), and he has expressed support for the Taliban’s attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai if it means keeping women from getting educated, and therefor staying in the home.

    I’ve brought this up to Egnor, and he acknowledged Beale’s “views” yet has continued to express his support for Beale – even helping to push his book.

    Obviously, this sort of extreme racism and sexism need to be countered whenever and wherever they arise.

    Considering that Egnor’s schtick is lecturing everyone on morality, his willful endorsement of these views is important context in these discussions.

  29. Mr Qwertyon 29 Sep 2015 at 4:44 am

    Here’s an idea: a comment markup system that allows you to mark a part of the post in-place with a specific description of a logical fallacy on the right margin (and a comment, maybe). Kind of like Word markup feature, just for logical fallacies.

    It could even be crowdsourced, like, for example, assign “Gish Gallop” to one of the posts above – when the number of votes goes above a certain threshold, a markup starts showing with a tiny link to the margin that explains what it is.

    This could maybe transform some of the useless posts here into a great skeptical learning tool!

  30. daedalus2uon 29 Sep 2015 at 10:53 am

    He is a denier. I link to a consensus statement of experts in the field and he spouts nonsense.

  31. Willyon 29 Sep 2015 at 11:02 am

    Steve12: I had followed the links you posted and also read a couple of others. It is indeed appalling that ME finds Beale a reliable source, even as he claims that he can ignore some parts of Beale’s rants.

    ME may believe he is moral and objective; I find him to be a blinded crusader, every bit as committed to promoting his narrative as any other true believer of any stripe.

    Have you ever noted the odd, jarring eruptions from ME when he uses deeply racist comments as a way of caricaturing his opponents. For me, those rants seem to spring from pretty deeply hidden beliefs in ME himself.

  32. Pete Aon 29 Sep 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Willy, I think it prudent to establish laws that prohibit Egnor and his ilk from indoctrinating children during their primary and secondary formal education.

  33. Willyon 29 Sep 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Pete A: “I think it prudent to establish laws that prohibit Egnor and his ilk from indoctrinating children during their primary and secondary formal education.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. We CANNOT legislate to control thoughts and ideas.

  34. RCon 29 Sep 2015 at 11:35 pm

    We legislate the teaching of thoughts and ideas regularly – and that’s a good thing. Legislation is the only thing keeping the majority from indoctrinating our children with religious nonsense.

  35. AmateurSkepticon 30 Sep 2015 at 6:47 am

    Willy, perhaps you misunderstood Pete A’s comment. He wasn’t referring to thought crimes and book burnings. His point (I believe) is that it is appropriate to have societally enforced (eg. laws) educational standards. Otherwise any teacher (or local school board) could teach anything he / they wanted (eg. homeopathy, astrology, Egnorism, etc.)

  36. Pete Aon 30 Sep 2015 at 7:03 am

    AmateurSkeptic, Thanks, that is what I meant.

  37. BillyJoe7on 30 Sep 2015 at 7:21 am

    What about parents indoctrinating their own children?
    (catholics: homophobia, muslims: burkqa, jews: circumcision)

    Should there be a law against that?

  38. Willyon 30 Sep 2015 at 10:27 am

    I did indeed misread (er, carelessly read) Pete A’s post. I missed the “formal education” part and interpreted his post to mean that somehow we should prohibit parents teaching religion to their children. My bad. Sorry, Pete A.

    OTOH, it would be great to see religion die out.

  39. Nitpickingon 01 Oct 2015 at 8:18 am

    Dr. Egnor is promoting Ted “Women shouldn’t have the vote and black people are universally savages” Beale?

    Without blushing?

    (Not a direct quote above but a fair summary of things he has said.)


  40. Pete Aon 01 Oct 2015 at 10:08 am

    Willy, No need to apologise. Having a discussion via the medium of comments, such as these, is very difficult compared to the ease of natural face-to-face dialogue, which gives the speaker instant visual feedback if what they are saying is being misinterpreted by the listener(s).

    Questioning the actual meaning of a speaker/writer is an essential aspect of not just scientific enquiry and the scientific method; it is also fundamentally important to all meaningful human communications. Everyone makes errors while speaking, listening, writing, and reading: most of us do it inadvertently; some people specialize in these errors to promote an agenda that they try very hard to keep hidden, even long after their agenda has become blindingly obvious to their audience!

  41. steve12on 01 Oct 2015 at 12:58 pm


    “Dr. Egnor is promoting Ted “Women shouldn’t have the vote and black people are universally savages” Beale?”

    I feel like I’m the only one who finds this truly shocking. I thought this was the equivalent of your webcam malfunctioning and broadcasting you masturbating dressed as Hitler. Apparently following OPEN racists who celebrate acid attacks on women isn’t as verboten as I had thought.

    If you read this thread (I know it’s a lot – but search by Beale) you can see that he doesn’t flinch about Beale’s views:

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