So all you climate change denialists who are clutching your pearls about how being called denialists is somehow saying that you are being equated with Nazis – as if the term was invented just for Holocaust denialism – can stop beating on that strawman now.
Sure, people often have ideological reasons for engaging in denialism, but common tactics do not make a common ideology: denialism is merely the practice of creating the illusion of debate when there is none.
The Denialism Blog lays it out: don’t mistake denialism for debate.
Examples of common topics in which denialists employ their tactics include: Creationism/Intelligent Design, Global Warming denialism, Holocaust denial, HIV/AIDS denialism, 9/11 conspiracies, Tobacco Carcinogenecity denialism (the first organized corporate campaign), anti-vaccination/mercury autism denialism and anti-animal testing/animal rights extremist denialism. Denialism spans the ideological spectrum, and is about tactics rather than politics or partisanship.
[…]Denialism spans the ideological spectrum, and is about tactics rather than politics or partisanship.
5 general tactics are used by denialists to sow confusion. They are conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.
The Denialism Blog has 3 primary ground rules:
- We don’t argue with cranks.
They aren’t interested in truth, data, or informative discussion, they’re interested in their world view being the only one, and they’ll say anything to try to bring this about.
Recognizing denialism also means recognizing that you don’t need to, and probably shouldn’t argue with it. Denialists are not honest brokers in the debate (you’ll hear me harp on this a lot). They aren’t interested in truth, data, or informative discussion, they’re interested in their world view being the only one, and they’ll say anything to try to bring this about. We feel that once you’ve shown that what they say is deceptive, or prima-facie absurd, you don’t have to spend a graduate career dissecting it and taking it apart.
- Denialism isn’t about name-calling or the psychological coping mechanism of denial.
denialism is about tactics that are used to frustrate legitimate discussion, it is not about simply name-calling. It’s about how you engage in a debate when you have no data (the key difference between denialists and the paradigm-shifters of yesteryear).
- Just because some people believe in stupid things, doesn’t make them denialists.
Denialist arguments are emotionally appealing and work on a lot of people.
We aren’t suggesting everybody who has a few wacky ideas is a crank, part of the reason denialists abound and are often successful in bringing the masses over to their side is that their arguments don’t necessarily sound insane to the uninitiated. Denialist arguments are emotionally appealing and work on a lot of people.
I take minor issue with the second rule: while denialism is clearly distinct from the normal psychological coping mechanism of denial, I reckon that if Sigmund Freud were alive today he could make a decent intellectual property rights case against the people who keep on just tying the term to Holocaust denialism. Seriously, looking at the defense mechanism of denial per se as a normal stage in processing unpleasant realities – I see denialism as rhetorically manipulating other people’s anxieties to push them into and maintain them in a form of permanent denial, in order to have supporters for one’s agenda.
It’s also important to note how many standard denialist tactics are in play with various antagonists towards the theories of social privilege and intersectional oppressions. I recommend browsing through the archives of the Denialism Blog to improve your crank-spotting skills and learn methods of simply identifying where their arguments are either deceptive or absurd rather than engaging in them point by point: this is how you prevent them from derailing productive discussions.