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Neil deGrasse Tyson on science vs. denial

Posted on 21 April 2017 by Guest Author

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Comments 1 to 32:

  1. There is no daylight between my own and Dr. Tyson's positions on the privileged authority of science, or the importance of basic science literacy (or better, meta-literacy) to democracy. 

    That said, I'm pessimistic that his manifest certainty of science's epistemic authority will be persuasive to non-scientists in the PoMo era.  The 2016 elections were a big shock to me, in my 7th decade. Telling people with little early exposure to science how ridiculous it is to deny AGW may be gratifying (personal experience), when you're a random guy on the Internet .  It evidently hasn't done much to enhance science's credibility with the public, though, even coming from the likes of NDT.

    IMHO there clearly is more to be done to prepare the ground before telling them they're fools for denying it.  Damfino what, though.  I'm hoping for a sort of heroic scientist-educator-politician; oxymoronic, I ruefully admit.  Depressive realism, or mood-congruent thinking?  You be the judge.

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  2. Mal Adapted @1, the 2016 US Presidential election has revealed a deep seated irrationality in the US electorate that extends well beyond the rejection of science.  Like you, this has left me profoundly pessimistic about the prospects of our civilization.  Much as we like to say, it could only happen in the USA, this wallowing in irrationality is not unique to the US.  Brexit showed it to be alive and well in the UK.  The popularity of Marine Le Pen shows it to be strong in France.  The election of Clive Palmer four years ago, and Pauline Hanson in 2016 shows it has afflicted a substantial portion of the Australian population.  

    If this commitment to irrationality continues much longer, the Romano-germanic civilization that has dominated Europe since 1100 AD, and the world since about 1600 AD will not last much longer.  That, of itself, will be tragic only to nations and people steped in that culture - but given the present threats of Anthropogenic Global Warming, habitat destruction, over-fishing and, in the background, nuclear war, the fall of the Romano-Germanic civilization may be the prelude to the fall of all civilization on this planet.  These are all threats that can be dealt with, seperately and conjointly, but they require rational policy to do so. 

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  3. Great video. It's so strange that at the height of the age of science and technology, with all the triumphs, some people are losing faith in science. I would have thought the evidence for climate science, vaccines and evolution is overwhelming.

    I think the problems are a combination of the following issues:

    Obviously vested interests can make people dismiss science, an issue with climate change.

    Modern society has started to seriously question elites and conventional wisdom. This is liberal in essence, and can be healthy, but only if it's rationally based and it often isn't rationally based.

    People also aren’t equipped with the mental analytical skills to sort the wheat from the chaff. We still don’t do a great job teaching young people (or old) about logical fallacies, poor quality arguments, and so on.

    The Republican movement seems to have become more and more irrational. Maybe its a fear of science becoming too strong, and conflicting with their world views. But we all have to be prepared to modify our beliefs in light of new information. But there's just no sign of these guys seeing the light, so it's possible things are on a dismal downward spiral in America at least.

    However polls do show the majority of people accept climate science, so it’s a stubborn minority who don’t. Sometimes it just takes time to process information and accept new theories, for example it took society some significant time to accept the tobacco / disease connection.

    Also climate science has big implications, evolution collides with religion, and regarding vaccines people worry about side effects on children. These are therefore challenging debates, probably not indicative of science as a whole.

    And there’s an annoying thing we have to contend with. Many theories require complex explanations, while a short and cleverly distorted sceptical slogan or lie can take off and become embedded. To analyse all this you need time to read both sides of debates, and many people don't have much time, and respond to the simplistic sound bites typical of our times.

    You can’t convert people by totally rubbishing them. Try to reason with them, and most are receptive to this, eventually. But I have noticed it can take some time for them to come around.

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  4. With climate, science collides directly into the power base of the wealthy elite that have been in control of the nation and now science is telling them they can't have all the money and all the power, they have to do something to keep the planet whole.   So they hired the "Merchants of Doubt".   This particular "tragedy" ends as badly as any imaginable, and deletes the "United" part of the national identity.   Jefferson said it would happen.  The experiment is over.  It has failed.  There is no return from where we are because the next steps do not lead to peaceful resolutions but to blood in the streets.  We reached the abyss and proudly took a giant step forward.  :-)   

    No... I do not have any optimism but I have to say that I could not wish for a better communicator or a better message.   It simply will not be seen by the people who need to see it.  

    It won't feature on Breitbart, and it won't make waves at Heartland... but even worse than that, even if they did see it, it is unlikely that they can change their minds.   They would rather die than admit such error.  They would rather die than admit that they have sold a bill of goods by the Merchants of Doubt.     

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  5. So, the March for Science is happening today, and I'ma march.  I don't know what will help to prepare the ground for public recognition of science, but if facts and logic don't, maybe marching will.  I'm ambivalent about the March, for some of the reasons offered here, and some of my own.  Then there's the near-certain futility of it.

    Near-certainty is a big enough loophole for me, though.  Let it be an atheist's act of faith.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The Weekly News Roundup that I just posted includes a number of articles about the March for Science — be sure to check them out.

  6. The problem is "Scientists" have been lying to increase their funding!  This is so obvious it is a wonder anyone accepts their word at face value!  The moment even ONE gets caught lying on data to create a specific narrative, EVERYTHING they then put out is suspect!  The true "Deniers" are the CAGW Alarmists who are now ignoring science to further their funding!

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Blatant sloganeering stricken. 

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  7. And along comes 'nanuk' to illustrate the mind-numbing, brain dead, fact-free wilfull ignorance tha we are up agaainst.

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  8. It really weirds me out when I hear people say that scientists don't know what they are talking about,. Without science we would not have automobiles, airplanes, radios, TV, telephones, cameras, air conditioners, electric service, computers, internet, atomic bombs, etc. All that stuff actually works, right? So, scientists seem to have a lot of stuff pretty well figured out. The scientific method works very well at establishing how things work.

    When people say they doubt scientists, they really mean, "I don't really like what the scientists are saying" which is something else entirely, and they need to be called out on that.

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  9. Jim Eager@7,

    'nanuk' also illustrates mind numbing policy violation (all cap ordinary words), despite that policy being reminded to him/er in the past.

    nanuk@6 is arguably the worst on-topic post on this site, only marginally better than irrational/bot generated spams that are automatically deleted. I don't know the criteria mods are using for comments deleting and user rescinding but user 'nanuk' herein, certainly IMO qualifies for both.

    As the current POTUS is a blatant failure among world leaders, which crated a political situation in science and the obvious comment by Neil deGrasse Tyson in OP, user 'nanuk' is a blatant failure among SkS commenters.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Nanuk has recused himself from further participation in this venue, finding the burden of comporting his comments with the Comments Policy too onerous.

  10. Tom Curtis @2:

    >>...this wallowing in irrationality is not unique to the US. Brexit showed it to be alive and well in the UK. The popularity of Marine Le Pen shows it to be strong in France. The election of Clive Palmer four years ago, and Pauline Hanson in 2016 shows it has afflicted a substantial portion of the Australian population. <<

    Without going off-topic this shows a politicisation more in line with deniers' "arguments".

    At this point in time the science of climate change is to all intents and purposes settled. The way people vote may not be the way that you do, it may be irrational to some but it's not science - it's democracy.

    Don't confuse verifiable science with opinion.

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  11. Wol@10,

    You're trying to explain the irrationality of US voters in Nov 2016 as mere "opinion". Please keep in mind that the premises of such irrationale are pathological lies and/or extremely clever populous mass manipulation. I would not call the poor voters simply the others who express their "opinion", I would rather call them victims of a lie or of a clever deceit.

    Even in our First Amendment sanctioned subjective realities that are becoming fake realities, we have to mainrain a basic ethical standard. If something as bad is happening as the election of a moronic phychopath and clever manipulator to the most important world leader, we must call it what it really is: a bad thing.

    Watch for example Sam Harris interview for a good explanation why e.g. the election of current POTUS cannot be called other than "irrational".

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  12. Wol @10, rationality is not limited to science.  Indeed, it could not be.  Were we not capable of rationality outside of science, we would not be able to recognize the rationality of science.  And while it is the case that we can accept a variety of political aims while being rational, it is also the case that we can recognize the irrational pursuit of those aims, even when we do not share them.  I would go further, and say that some aims can also be recognized as irrational in themselves.  The election of Donald Trump was irrational on both grounds - it demonstrated a commitment to irrational aims, and it showed an irrational pursuit of those aims (except for voters whose sole aim was political disruption at any cost). 

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  13. Two quotes from two great minds that I think are very relevant for this thread. Poor Isaac and Carl, they must be rotating in their graves right now!

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

    Isaac Asimov

    We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster.

    Carl Sagan

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  14. HK @13, the Isaac Asimov quote is very good. Very relevant to these times.

    Regarding Carl Sagan, I do think we teach quite a lot of science in schools. Although of course we should try to do better.

    However the problem for my generation, and I'm late middle aged, is we weren't taught specifically about  rational, logical thinking, and analysis, and about logical fallacies etc. (I taught myself from books, plus I had a good intuitive grasp).  Obviously science partly teaches these skills, but not all specific elements of them.

    This rational and evidence based analysis helps people evaluate science, especially competing ideas on things like climate change, evolution v creationism, and vaccines etc. It also helps them evaluate political and social issues.This is what is missing for older generations, and I don't think young people get enough of this either. A bit more philosophy needs to be taught in schools as well.

    This is the issue with Trump. He is not rational, although he must be at least reasonably intelligent( although at times I do wonder) and probably studied science at school. The Republican congress is not rational and evidence based. We have to call it out for what it is, because there are big implications for climate among other things. Hilary Clinton had her faults, but her policy approach was essentially rational, in the main.

    Trumps irrationality is on full show with all his environmental policies. I mean it's mind boggling.

    It's particularly concerning because Trumps supporters aren't too rational either, and seem intent in going against their own best "enlightened" self interest. But in the main, they have been tricked into thinking Trump's policies are good for them.

    I agree part of this irrationality is an old anti intellectual streak in western countries. I think there are other contributing factors. Americans are a very "belief" orientated culture with things like conservatism, the constitution, and American values. This has both a good side obviously, and a downside if it becomes irrationally based or too emotive.

    The Iraq weapons of mass destruction controversy has possibly lead to a huge fall in public trust of politicians, intelligence agencies, and the elite in general, and science has become tangled up in this.

    Things like free trade seem good to me, but have some negative side effects that have not been well mitigated. All this erodes confidence in the elite, and logical argument, and leads people back twards irrational gut reaction thinking.

    People have given up on rationality totally, and gone with entrenched beliefs or gut instincts. This is most unfortunate.

    Of course humans are not coldly logical, and instincts do have value. Remember Star Trek? Captain Kirk was a good role model for the perfect balance of rationality and instincts, and emotion. Unfortunately it hasn't caught on with everyone.

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  15. nigelj @14, unfortunately for the US, and for people of your age (and probably younger), many peoples science education would have been distorted by either, the teaching of creationism rather than evolution with or without education board approval (I have heard there are many cases of teachers refusing to teach evolution, or insisting on teaching creationism based on their personal religious beliefs and contrary to the syllabus), or the refusal to teach evolution because "it was wrong because it is contradicted by the Bible", or being taught evolution but also being taught at home or from the pulpit that evolution is false, the devil's doctrine, and that scientists only teach evolution because of their atheistic bias and/or because of a conspiracy by Satan.

    If they have encountered any of these situations, they would have "learnt" that whole disciplines of science can be massively wrong due to initial biases by/ and or conspiracies involving the relevant scientists.

    Indeed, given the timing of their deaths, it is quite likely that the Asimov and the Sagan quotes were addressing the inimical effects of creationism on public attitudes, and the likely conesquences when policy must increasingly be guided by science.

    On another issue, while Spock is presented as a paragon of logic without emotion, and Kirk as an emotional and intuitive leader, neither were in fact the case as scripted and acted.  I would certainly not claim Kirk as scripted and acted was a role model of "the perfect balance of rationality, instincts and emotion".

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  16. Tom Curtis @15, I guess it varies country to country. In my country of NZ we didn't get any creationism in schools, just genetics and darwinian evolution (although not in much depth I have to say, which shows an attempt to skirt around it at least a little). I can see America is different from what you say, with a strong anti evoultion bias in schools, and this has wide implications.

    I still think Kirk was a nice balance of logic (or rationality) and instincts. I agree perfect is probably too much to claim, but can you think of a better role model in American pop culture? Spock was presented as the very logical guy, Dr McCoy as the very emotional character.

    I'm suspicious of instincts and gut reactions, as they can lead to the worst sort of things, like racism and bigotry, but I did read an article some time ago as below  showing instincts have more value than thought, in some ways on some issues.

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  17. Chriskoz:

    I would not call the poor voters simply the others who express their "opinion", I would rather call them victims of a lie or of a clever deceit.

    Except that popular sovereignity under a democratic form of government can't be stable even in theory, if the voters don't discern truth from falsehood; otherwise it's not necessary to fool all the people all the time, only a plurality. I pay attention to the man behind the curtain, shouldn't I expect my fellow citizens to do the same?  There's nothing special about me, after all!

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  18. I was in a one-room country schoolhouse in the 1940's; we started in kindergarten and went thru 9th grade; anything beyond that, our families had to get us to other schools. Our teacher "believed" that Mars had an orbit between Venus and Earth. Not because of the Bible; she was an atheist who ridiculed us Christians and Jews. I got a whupping for bringing in a book from the public library in a nearby city which gave the proper planetary sequence, the same as the ancient World Book Encyclopedia in the back of the room; they were both full of lies by evil Capitalists who wanted to keep us ignorant.

    We have made little progress, it sometimes seems. At least back then, during recess and lunch hour we could go into the woods on the hill behind the school and swing on the vines; it was great to be little Tarzans and Janes.

    I complained to my parents, to no avail. Dad was on the school board; teachers were hard to find, and ours was a very poor district. At least we learned our Three R's, so we could learn from libraries and... those perverted high schools (and univertities, for some of us).

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  19. Dcrickett, to the extent your story is true, it is horrifying.  You report a bad experience with a teacher, who was a shallow atheist and a DK-afflicted wannabe astronomer to boot.  I'm certainly glad I never had a teacher like that.

    Whether or not your experience is wholly factual, however, it can't be generalized to either atheists or astronomers.

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  20. DCricket @18, Mal Adapted @19, neither can the attempts by various creationists to prohibit the teaching of evolution, and/or force the teaching of (the self contradicting) "creation science" or its santitized verion (and empirically false) "intelligent design" be generalized to all Christians, or indeed, holders of any other religious belief.

    It remains the fact that in the US there have been repeated, and more or less extensive efforts to prohibit the teaching of evolution, and/or mandate the teaching of creationism.  The first such efforts date from the early 1920s, when three states banned the teaching of evolution at least in part, a situation that continued till 1967 when such bans were declared unconstitutional.  The history of attempts to circumvent such bans have since been written in the courts.  Unlike the case of Dcrickett's lone, scientifically illiterate atheist, the campaigns by creationists have been extensive and well funded.  Despite legal losses, individual teachers have frequently allowed their religion to trump their duties and the law; and religious schools (and of course, the home schooled) have not even had that legal protection.  I find it very unlikely that this concerted progaganda program has not had an effect on the ability to reason among the US public. 

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  21. This post and the comments got me thinking, and revisiting things, a lot more than I initially thought I would.

    One of the most comprehensive and significant Emergent Truths is that the future of humanity requires leadership towards achieving the internationally developed and agreed Sustainable Development Goals (which includes aggressive action to limit climate change impacts form human activity). And it is indeed many Political people (including politically motivated Business-minded people), not Science people, who are failing to do what Ethical Leaders need to do for the future of Humanity.

    John Adams (2nd President of the USA) said “The preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.”

    What is now undeniable is that many current developments have been pushed very far in understandably inappropriate directions. Those understandably unacceptable pursuits Won, and continue to Win, because of the lack of awareness and lack of responsible evaluation of the appropriateness of an activity. Evaluation should be determining that an activity is a development that sustainably improves the future for all of humanity. Popularity and profitability clearly do not produce that evaluation. As a result, there is damaging over-development and powerful support for it. Those who have Won, or want to Win more, through inappropriately directed over-development refuse to admit that their perceptions of prosperity or opportunity are unjustified. They demand 'proof to their satisfaction' of the unacceptability of their desires and beliefs.

    The lack of winning by people with Good Ethical Objective/Purpose is the real problem.

    But the comments lead me to more thoughts.

    My understanding is that Star Trek presented the value of a robust diversity of people working collectively to better understand how to make things better. The United Federation of Planets was a diverse mix. And the Prime Directive in their exploration for New Life and New Civilizations was not to Conquer, Exploit, or Melt Them into Oneness. It was to avoid interfering in the development of alien civilizations (exceptions were made when there was evidence that one group was doing harm to Others or when help could reduce suffering). The Nemesis of the Federation, the Romulans and the Klingons, were presented as Empire Pursuing Mono-Cultures, lacking broad diversity.

    The fundamentals of Start Trek can be understood to be similar to simple key points regarding “what life is all about” that have been developed and presented repeatedly throughout the history of humanity. It is a lesson constantly re-learned as the unethical reality of Winners re-emerge after too many people fail to honour this Good Purpose/Best Objective in all of their thoughts and actions.

    Einstein also said “Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.” and “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

    And Sagan said “Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

    Lord Acton made a related point “Everything secret degenerates, nothing is safe that does not bear discussion and publicity.”

    Human history is full of quotes that reflect those understandings of Good Purpose or Objectives and the importance of honest pursuit of understanding guided by a Good Objective or Purpose. The internationally established Sustainable Development Goals are an integrated set of objectives that have been developed through the pursuit of better understanding that is consistent with those fundamental Good Objectives/Purposes. Yet we see a powerful nation like the USA having its leadership being Won by people whose actions can be seen to be contrary to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (including attempts to discredit or disrespect climate science and reverse actions that would have helped).

    It becomes essential to understand what keeps humanity from developing and sustaining a stronger consensus of better understanding regarding how to improve the future for all of humanity.

    • Unethical Creators of Perceptions have been winning competitions for popularity and profitability.
    • They can get a competitive advantage from not caring about Others (Winning by appealing to the tendency of people to be Selfish, Tribal, Nationalistic, Xenophobic).
    • They have a competitive advantage of not caring about the future (Winning by appealing to the tendency of people to be Greedy).

    To cynically quote the Marquise de Sade “It is infinitely better to take the side of the wicked who prosper than of the righteous who fail”. A related more ancient quote of Anacharsis (c. 600 BC) is “The market-place is a place set aside where men may deceive and overreach each other.” (these are not new realizations).

    Mortimer Adler presented what is required of Leaders from his understanding of Aristotle. “In Aristotelian terms, the good leader must have ethos, pathos, and logos. The ethos is his moral character, the source of his ability to persuade. The pathos is his ability to touch feelings, to move people emotionally. The logos is his ability to give solid reasons for an action, to move people intellectually.”

    Clearly, many smart people have learned how to abuse the power of pathos to influence people who are content to have a lesser degree of logos if it suits their desire to benefit from an understandably unacceptable ethos.

    Unethical smart people continue to be able to Win competitions for popularity and profitability, to the detriment of others, particularly to the detriment of the future of humanity. As one of the many developed better understandings of what is going on, the 1987 UN Report “Our Common Future”, bluntly points out:
    “25. Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting those accounts. They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.”

    Donald Trump has stated he is a fan of “Getting even, Getting revenge”. He has little to fear from his actions that undeniably delay or diminish efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, creating larger negative consequences for future generations, because the future generations Cannot Get Even.

    Leaders must clearly be measured by how responsibly they lead to the improvement of understanding and the required changes to develop a better life for all in the near and distant future (which undeniably requires improving the future for a robust diversity of all life on this amazing planet, pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals, not fighting against them).

    The need for scientists to step up and try to overcome the misleading marketing efforts of Winning unethical leaders, in the most influential nation and many other supposedly “more advanced” nations on this amazing planet, who Fail to provide responsible Good Leadership (preferring to be modern day likes of the thinking of the Marquis de Sade), is tragic proof of the continuation of the long human history of failing to sustainably develop better understanding from previous tragedies of historic proportions.

    Constantly improving the future for a robust diversity of life on this amazing planet has to matter more than many competitors for popularity and profitability would care to have it matter. Developing and sustaining that awareness and understanding is undeniably essential to most rapidly protect and improve the future for humanity. Climate Scientists have a major role in that effort. However, what is missing, a missing link, is overwhelming well-informed support for Winning by Ethical Leaders (and as in Sports: for the Good of the Game, assessing penalties for unethical pursuers of Winning).

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  22. Well said, Nigelj & Tom!
    Science isn't just about preserving and presenting knowledge, but a way of thinking that helps us acquire new knowledge and telling objective facts from wishful thinking. It is of course impossible for most laypeople to acquire an extensive scientific knowledge, but it would be highly beneficial for the society if they at least understood some basic facts and the scientific method a little better. That would be an efficient vaccine against irrational BS from those whose opinion is driven almost exclusively by religion, ideology or feelings.
    Fortunately the irrational, anti-scientific madness that seems to be spreading in the English-speaking part of the world isn't quite as common here in Norway yet, although we have our share of AGW deniers. Most parties in the parliament also accept AGW even though the major parties haven't done much about it other than talking, and the greenest parties are pretty small.
    The only party with a large share of AGW deniers is the right wing progress party (Fremskrittspartiet), which unfortunately is in coalition with the conservative party (Høyre) right now. Even though many of its members aren't quite as bad as Trump & Co, the previous party leader (Carl I. Hagen) is an all-out AGW denier. It's worth noting that the labour party (Arbeiderpartiet) hasn't done a noticeable better job than the present government when they had the chance. Their last prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg (now the secretary general of NATO), is considered an "oil man" by the environmental movement here. If I should rank the Norwegian parties from worst to best when it comes to environmental views it would be something like this:

    The Progress party     The Centre party    (about equally bad)
    The Conservatives      The Labour             (about equally inadequate)
                   The Christian democrats
    The Socialistic Left      The Liberal Left      (about equally good)
                   The Green Party                           (best)

    The Centre party is a special case as it in some ways is better than the Conservatives & Labour, but as a special interest party for farmers it is by far the worst party when it comes to conservation and habitat protection. If it was up to them alone, the last minor populations of Norwegian wolves, brown bears, lynxes and wolverines would surely be exterminated, and possibly the golden eagles, too.

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  23. Tom Curtis @ 20

    I think you are right that just because some christians believe in creationism, or some specific version of it, doesn't mean they all do. I have found a huge gradation of views in christians I know. Even as an athiest I respect certain religious ethical views. There can be common ground.

    It's obviously also wrong to say that because one athiest has unusual astronomical beliefs that all do, or are all irrational.

    I didn't realise creationsim and anti evolutionary thinking has been quite so powerful in the American education system, or at least in some states and historical periods. I think you are right it's certainly possible that children taught creationism, or some combinaton of this and evolution, will be confused, and it could also hard wire their brains towards irrational thinking, making it hard to decipher the climate issue for example. Or if not hardwire their brains, certainly become an embedded mode of operation.

    Children go through well recognised phases of cognitive development, observed in the work of Piaget. This is hardly surprising as the brain is not fully biliogically developed early on so its really a question of understanding these stages, which is still somewhat of a work in progress.

    It's believed these organic / developmental phases are in turn also influenced by feedback from the environnment, so religious teaching early on in life could well have a permanent effect that may be hard to undo later in life, and its possible one effect could be irrational thinking. Given children are getting such confliciting messages about rational processes in the real world, and a hidden supernatural god, some of their brains may develop with a weakened ability to rationally analyse things.

    Also, according to Piaget humans operate by comparining ideas to results in the real world,as a way of evaluating reality, so children, adolescents and adults understand cause and effect to varying degrees. This understanding of cause and effect besomes more sophisticated with age and Piagets developmental periods. Unfortunately this probably explains why belief in an intelligent designer persists, as humans see that things are designed and work well, so assume humans are also designed by some hidden entity. So this is a sort of unfortunate side effect, or irony. However clearly most humans are smart enough to work out that such an assumption as this does not rise to the level of proof, and evolution provides an evidence and logic based explanation of how things came to be. 

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  24. On the whole I agree with the video and the comments here. However, evolution, vaccines and climate change are all very different things when it comes to the intersection of knowledge, beliefs and values and being able to neatly categorise extant positions as pro or anti-science.

    Vaccines: usually the question is whether or not to vaccinate my kids rather than whether vaccines have efficacy. The latter question (efficacy at conferring immunity) is a question that can be answered scientifically. But the question of whether or not to vaccinate is not a scientific question, but a risk question based on individual values and the rights for informed choice when it comes to medical intervention. Of course, scientific evidence ideally should be the basis for informed decision-making. But unless it can be reliably demonstrated that pharmaceutical companies (and their regulators) never have or will allow any vaccines that could possibly have a net disbenefit to any group or individual, according to any set of values or criteria, then it is nonsensical to identify everyone who questions vaccine schedules as science deniers. For example, the government of Japan removed the MMR (combined) vaccine from its schedule due to concerns about the level of risk. Does that make Japan anti-science?

    Evolution: most informed people are aware that there is abundant scientific evidence of natural selection that is essentially incontrovertible. What scientists have failed to ever once demonstrate, however, is that observable natural selection can be a means of producing new genetic information such that biodiversity or biogenesis can be explained in an observable, reproducible way. There is much scientific hypothesis for the explanation of the origin of species, but there is no evidence that would require the abandonment of alternative hypotheses for the origin of species (such as alien seeding, intelligent design, the multiverse, a creator, etc). There is also much scientific evidence for long geologic timescales, although there is still room for alternative explanations. Again, the broad question of origins (sometimes characterized as ‘creation vs evolution’) has possible answers that are considerably more nuanced than can be easily classified as pro or anti-science. I think we could hardly call John Lennox, for example, anti-science.

    Climate change: I would argue that climate change, however, is a bit less nuanced than these other two topics in terms of being able to characterize participant behaviour as pro or anti-science. While the policy options, of course, are many, varied and thus inherently nuanced, the debate in this field is usually over whether anthropogenic global warming is actually happening. The evidence for this is overwhelmingly straightforward that it is. This is a field where anti-science is a real problem in terms of its impact on public discourse and policy.

    Conclusion: I would argue that in the other areas (evolution and vaccines), while there are many anti-science perspectives out there, rejection of mainstream views is not always anti-science. In climate science, however, it’s harder to imagine ways to reject the mainstream understanding without reasonably attracting the label ‘anti-science’.

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  25. David Livingston @24 

    You say "usually the question is whether or not to vaccinate my kids rather than whether vaccines have efficacy."

    Clearly for you, but I have observed plenty people  claim vaccines have nasty side effects and also that they don't work. I suggest they reject the science of whether vaccines work, in a sort of reaction to provide another reason not to use vaccines.  

    And their concerns about side effects seem rather irrational given the same people are often happy to use other medications, which also have equal side effects. 

    However I do understand people do worry about what they are giving their children, and it sometimes worries me, but overall I think vaccines are advisable. The risks are no more than other medications, and serious risks are at very low level. Remember people can have a fatal allergic reaction to almost anything, but it's rare enough.

    That's not to say we should accept everything pharmaceutical companies claim at face value, but let's keep the "scepticism" sensible with some real foundation, not some of the crazy conspiracy claims people make.

    You say "What scientists have failed to ever once demonstrate, however, is that observable natural selection can be a means of producing new genetic information such that biodiversity"

    So you  appear to claim people accept some evidence for evolution, but science has never demonstrated formation of a new species. I'm not up with the latest on this, but the problem is it's virtually impossible to create in a laboratory the geographical conditions that lead to new species in the real world. This doesn't mean it didn't happen.

    You say "but there is no evidence that would require the abandonment of alternative hypotheses for the origin of species (such as alien seeding, intelligent design, the multiverse, a creator, etc)."

    Well theres quite a lot of evidence that suggests it's all rather unlikely. Also, if human or animal evolution was due to alien impregnation, where did aliens come from if not evolution? This is the same sort of problem as "who created the creator". It's all a bit of an intellectual dead end really.

    You make the claim "In climate science, however, it’s harder to imagine ways to reject the mainstream understanding without reasonably attracting the label ‘anti-science’."

    Yes, however I would suggest 95% of those who reject the science of climate change  because they have vested interests in fossil fuels, or are worried about carbon taxes, etc,etc rather than as an academic exercise. Just imagine if we could solve global warming by fitting an inexpensive device to the exhaust pipe of our cars, and ask yourself how much scepticism would be left? Not all much I would suggest.

    So vested interests, and various fears, and entrenched beliefs, might be causes of rejection of science. (You could add in genetic crop engineering). However I doubt these are the only things, recently, if you look at the comments various people make. There's an emergent distrust of elites,  and rational evidence based thinking, that seems to go beyond just vested interests or fears about the effects of new technologies. This distrust has ideological roots, and is sometimes very unjustified.

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  26. A couple of comments from the US:

    Despite religious conservatives, most classrooms in the US do get taught evolution. Counterexamples are usually based on individual teachers who are violating the curriculum. Whether or not evolution or climate change are presenting in anything like a convincing fashion, however, is more variable.

    There is an ongoing failure to teach methods vs. facts. One of my most useful Junior High classes was an English class where we learned Greek and Roman origins of suffixes and prefixes, experimenting with creating our own words using modifiers - and giving the tools to examine new vocabulary from scratch. And spending time for a degree in Philosophy, which provided considerable experience in identifying logical fallacies, in understanding poor argumentation.

    How to think is perhaps the most important subject of all - and sadly, not always taught.

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  27. David Livingston

    Evolution: most informed people are aware that there is abundant scientific evidence of natural selection that is essentially incontrovertible. What scientists have failed to ever once demonstrate, however, is that observable natural selection can be a means of producing new genetic information such that biodiversity or biogenesis can be explained in an observable, reproducible way.

    Mr. Livingston has demonstrated is a fundamental confusion about what science is. He is thus like "most informed people."

    His use of "biogenesis" is ambiguous, but if by "biodiversity" he means speciation, then the "failure" of evolutionary biologists to demonstrate it before Mr. Livingston's very eyes in no way undermines any refereed claims of the neo-Darwinian synthesis.  Nor is "failure" to replicate every step in the process a substantive challenge to current models of abiogenesis, the origin of life from non-living chemical precursors.

    Mr. Livingston goes on to assert that alternative hypotheses to evolution, that assume intelligent and/or supernatural causes, can't be ruled out.  That's not correct either, I'm afraid. 

    Science, as a way of trying not to fool oneself, relies on the a priori assumption of invariant natural law; since no later than the mid-17th century, disciplined scientists have agreed that "then a miracle occurred" is wholly unsatisfactory as an explanation for anything (hence, according to an 1825 biography of Napoleon, Pierre-Simon LaPlace's reply when Napolean asked him "how the name of God, which appeared endlessly in the works of Lagrange, didn't occur even once in his?": "I had no need of that hypothesis"). The only "miracle" that can't be ruled out is the origin of the Universe itself, since our Universe's invariant laws themselves originated with the Big Bang.

    For their part, as nigelj has already pointed out, proposed natural but super-intelligent causes all suffer the "what created them?"  flaw. That is, they contravene the principle of parsimony, also called the least hypothesis rule or "Occam's Razor".

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  28. My apologies to Daniel Livingston, for calling him David after reading nigelj's reply to him.

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  29. Daniel Livingston, apologies for the name mistake. I know a David Livingston, I mixed it all up.

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  30. No worries regarding my name - I get David and Livingstone frequently.

    Thanks for the informative responses. I guess we will probably see things differently regarding some philosophical questions, but I hope that doesn't prevent meaningful dialogue.

    This is a site about the science of climate change, so behind my post was an implicit / veiled plea to keep the issues of evolution and vaccines separate. If we lump them all in together as science vs anti-science issues, I fear we will unnecessarily alienate people (such as many US evangelicals) whose minds are not already made up on the question of climate science, but are made up on, say, the question of origins.

    The risk of lumping them all in together is that a Creationist may find it difficult to evaluate the evidence and arguments around climate change if he thinks that he is already labelled as being in the 'anti-science' crowd because of his beliefs about origins.

    For the sake of having the best chance of mitigating climate change impacts, I think it may be better to keep the arguments separate.

    I'm such an example. I'm a practising Christian who loves God; and I believe that climate change is real and that mitigation is important.

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  31. Daniel Livingston @30, yes it's a tough one because as you say evolution comes up against the creationist thing, and vaccines do reflect at least genuine concerns ( even if  missplaced imho). These two things in particular fire people up and make some people very emotive and defensive. I alluded to this in my first post that these things are not fully indicative of the more general distrust in science we are seeing, and should not become too big a focus in debate. 

    Having said that it's not just climate science under attack, but other environmental science. And evolution and vaccines are related to both science and current irrational attitudes as well, so it's very hard to ignore them entirely. It's hard to walk around everyones sensitivities all the time. I make this effort because I prefer this, but it's hard work.

    I also see from various polls that climate change scepticism seems more prevalent in the Republican congress than the general membership. It's driven in Congress, as much by political factors and lobby group pressure, rather than genuine doubt's although there is this as well.

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  32. Daniel Livingston:

    For the sake of having the best chance of mitigating climate change impacts, I think it may be better to keep the arguments separate.

    Agree completely.

    I'm such an example. I'm a practising Christian who loves God; and I believe that climate change is real and that mitigation is important.

    So is Katharine Hayhoe, yet to me she's a heroine. I'm an atheist, at least in the dictionary sense, but you and I have no dispute.

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