Scientific Denial

By Megan Tseng

“The refusal to acknowledge widely supported scientific claims.” In other words, science denial.

Yes, the art of refusing to believe in scientific evidence has become so widespread that they even gave it a fancy name.

You’ve all heard science denial in the past, whether it’s from someone insisting that the earth is flat or the lovely anti-vax protesters we see on the news. Though these science deniers’ arguments may seem ridiculous to most of us, there’s a method to their madness.

Let’s say you tried to get an A+ on a test but ended up with an A. Would that still be a good grade? According to science denial, no.

This type of all-or-nothing thinking is a psychological tendency that many science deniers share. When presented with a disagreeable theory, they categorize evidence into two groups: perfectly supporting the theory, or opposing it. Unfortunately, once a single piece of evidence falls into the latter, they immediately deduce that the theory is fundamentally wrong and none of the accumulated supportive data is applicable. Many anti-vaxxers’ claims tie back to a single fraudulent study that showed vaccination leading to autism. Although the study was taken down and its proceedings publicly known, many people still join the anti-vax movement despite the obvious evidence that vaccination is safe.

Scientists will oftentimes have opposing or slightly differing views on a certain theory. For many scientists, these disagreements are what help them challenge themselves and the scientific community. However, to science deniers, anything less than perfect agreement among scientists signals fundamental errors in the theory, causing them to immediately reject it.

There is no such thing as proof when it comes to science. You can introduce a theory and gather large amounts of strong supporting evidence to back it up, but you can never say that it’s 100% proven.

As you’ve probably guessed, this is what many science deniers use to their advantage. In order to convince others that a widely supported theory is invalid, they use any controversy to generalize the entire theory as controversial, and then decide that supporting evidence for the theory is inconclusive and should be ignored.

A great example of this is climate change; people who do not believe in climate change rely on evidence from the 3% of scientists supporting human-caused global warming just as much as that of the other 97%.

Similarly, an evolutionary mechanism that Darwin did not know of was discovered and published in a scientist’s research. Though the scientist himself sees his research as support for evolutionary theory, proponents against evolution have cited his work, interpreting the fact that Darwin didn’t know everything about evolution as a way to “disprove” it.

Moral of the story? Whether it’s climate change, vaccination, or evolution, it’s important to know both sides of the argument before jumping to science denial.

The Scientific Teen

Since June 2018

Using science writing as a medium, we aim to advance collaboration between young adults worldwide with the belief that through educating people today, we can solve worldwide problems tomorrow. By providing opportunities for youth interested in science, together we can increase the presence of scientific writing in schools, further science education, and encourage future careers in STEM.

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The Scientific Teen 2020.