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October 16, 2021

All Science Deniers are the same?

Scott Stockdale

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In the title of his new book How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason, Lee McIntyre, science historian at Boston University, is suggesting that the official narrative on any given topic is the truthful one and anyone doubting it is a denier who needs to be "corrected".

This is the sort of thing one would expect in a totalitarian society or in Orwell's 1984, not in a liberal democracy which is supposed to be a beacon of human rights for the entire world.

Speaking on a recent edition of The Agenda on TV Ontario, Prof. McIntyre explained to moderator Steve Paikin, that he uses a technique called technique rebuttal to try and straighten out these misguided souls.

“I used technique rebuttal. I was recognizing that there was a blueprint ... I was trying to unpack that blueprint to see if I could get them to understand the contradictions.”

Dear Reader, please allow me to use a little technique rebuttal to point out the flaws in Prof. McIntyre's logic.

First of all, in his title he is grouping together a number of points of view that are only related to one another in the sense that they go against the party line or the accepted wisdom of the day: I see no factual or logical relationship between these points of view listed in the title.  For example, I see no factual or logical relationship between Flat Earthers and Climate Deniers. But more important than that – although I believe climate change is a serious problem – when credible people such as Conrad Black present statistics and charts showing that temperatures in various parts of the world and perhaps the world itself have not increased over a significant period of time, I concluded that there may be some validity to this side of the argument and there is at least a possibility I could be wrong. I take it for granted that a person in Mr. Black's position is not just pulling these things out of thin air because he knows he would soon lose his credibility if he did.  I don't have the same perspective at all about Flat Earthers because I've seen no credible evidence for this position.

The subliminal message Prof. McIntyre is conveying to the viewing audience is: if you believe any one of these theories that contradict the accepted wisdom of the day, you probably believe all of them because you can't possibly have any credible facts to support your opposition to any widely accepted point of view, so you must be using faulty logic.  Prof. McIntyre either forgets or doesn't know that a number of respected figures throughout history i.e., Alexander Graham Bell went against the accepted wisdom of the day: when Bell went to the City of Brantford officials to get funding for the telephone they laughed and said it was a toy and the telegraph was better; and I don't know how that could not have been the wisdom of the day.

After a brief introduction, Prof. McIntyre uses a rhetorical trick – change the subject - to sell moderator Paikin on his concept of how to talk to a science denier. Rather than debunk the position these deniers have taken using cold hard facts and cold hard logic, Prof. McIntyre has changed the subject and instead chosen to focus on the psychological makeup these deniers have which leads them to deny science – which itself is not etched in stone and could easily be proven wrong in the future.

Here is Prof. McIntyre a wannabe psychoanalyst although he was trained as a historian.

“As I sat there, I concluded that perhaps Flat Earth wasn't so much a belief that someone would accept or reject based on experimental evidence but instead an identity. It could give purpose to your life. It created instant community bound by common persecution and perhaps it could explain some of the trauma and other difficulties you might have experienced in your life, as the elites in power were all corrupt and plotting against you.”

For sake of argument, lets assume that Prof. McIntyre's position on these deniers is true. Why does that matter? It doesn't matter. All that matters is: is what these people are saying true or false.

This rhetorical trick: when you don't have facts to support your argument, change the subject, is eerily similar to the one Jonathan Kay used in his book Among the Truthers to discredit prominent people who disagreed with the official narrative of 9/11. Mr. Kay spent almost the whole book speculating about the psychological makeup of these people – often University professors – that caused them to use the “faulty” logic they did to speculate “incorrectly” about 9/11. At the same time Mr. Kay was careful not to mention any of the evidence these professors and architects and engineers have been presenting to support their position, which contradicts Mr. Kay's. Is what these professors, architects, engineers saying true or is it false? It's irrelevant what their psychological makeup is or their motivation for taking the position they've taken if what they are saying is true. Moreover, like Prof. McIntyre, Mr. Kay isn't a psychoanalyst: he was trained as a lawyer in the U.S. However, both Prof. McIntyre and Mr. Kay no what they're doing with their dog whistle messaging: they are preying on the fears of the populace, the former about dying of Covid and the later about the terrorists in the world who are coming to get you and your family. Due to existential fear of both covid and terrorism, the message reverberates right down to the soul of the reader and prepares them to go along with any authoritative body that purports to be able to save them, no matter how ridiculous the plan. 

Moreover, because of his position, Prof. McIntyre is able to tell obvious lies while Mr. Paikin is fawning over him because after all he is a university professor so he must know more – certainly more than anyone who's not a university professor.

Prof. McIntyre told Mr. Paikin that no one has died from these (covid) vaccines, when he must know that the CDC website has been reporting deaths due to the vaccines for months under a subheading called VAERS (vaccine adverse effects reporting system). Recent data from the CDC's VAERS system reveals reports of 726,965 adverse events in the U.S. following vaccination, including 15,386 reports of deaths and 99,410 reports of serious injuries between December 14, 2020 and September 17, 2021.

Perhaps Prof. McIntyre should add a chapter to his book and change the title to: How to Talk to a Truth Deniers: And Others Who Defy Reason.

Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason, Lee McIntyre, a Science Historian at Boston University

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