Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Skeptics vs Deniers, is there a difference?

One of the usual Discovery Institute (DI) shills posted this little missive: "Seeking to Vilify Doubters, New York Times Now Opts for "Denier" Over "Skeptic", it's by davey klinghoffer and mainly it's a whine against something that hasn't even happened.  I guess it's a slow news day when you have to make up criticisms of your position in order rant against them.  I mean klingy stated:

" I don't have any doubt that the Times would regard it as appropriate to call us "evolution deniers."
Let's be clear the NY Times did not call them 'evolution deniers', but klingy acts as if they did and built a rather whiny post, I had a laugh quite a bit about it.

About the only thing he said that I agree with is "Language matters", but past that not much.  But before we dive into klingy's whine, let's look at the idea of a skeptic vs a denier.  To do that I want to go a bit further back in the past and think about a couple of concepts that once confused me a bit.  'Prejudice' and 'Discrimination' -- trust me it ties in.

A Prejudice is usually defined as "preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience".  People have prejudices, many prejudices.  The origin of the term is to pre-judge something.  When you pre-judge something you are doing so without any actual experience, or having given it any real consideration.  When a child refused to try a food they have never had before, they are in fact demonstrating a prejudice.  Once they try a food and like or dislike it, they are no longer demonstrating a prejudice because their opinion is based on actual experience with it.

Discrimination is more of an action than is Prejudice.  When you discriminate, you make a decision and take action according to your decision.  Regardless if you are acting on a prejudice or experience, it's a decision/action that differentiates between the two.  Going back to the child, once the child decides if they like or dislike something based on actually trying it, then the decision to continue to eat it or not is a form of discrimination.  Simple example, but to me it makes the point between a Skeptic and a Denier.

It might not sound like it to you, but in many cases I see skepticism as a form of prejudice. People are skeptical about things they tend to not have any experience about or really haven't given it much thought.  Prior to Secretariat winning the Triple Crown, people were very skeptical that it would be ever won again.  But the difference comes when faced with the evidence, people have to make a decision.  Was anyone skeptical after the 1973 Belmont Stakes?  Did anyone deny it?  I'm sure there were people who didn't like it, but active denial?

Now on to davey's whine.  Why would a publication like the NY Times change from using the term 'skeptic' to using the term 'denier' much more often than they used to?   Over time, as the evidence for something mounts and mounts, it gets harder and harder to be skeptical.  You have to make a decision.  Like the child, once faced with the evidence, you can no longer consider yourself a skeptic.  Denying the evidence, like discrimination, requires a decision.  When faced with the evidence, you deny it, you try and 'rationalize' it, or you completely redefine it claiming it means something else entirely.  Sound familiar?

According to kilingy, the NY Times now uses the term 'Climate Change Denier' more than 'Climate Change Skeptic'.  I think this is perfectly understandable given the weight of evidence supporting both Climate Change and Mankind's impact on Climate.  Most of the vocal people against Climate Change are denying it.  This isn't evidence buried in scientific reports.  There are regular media information pieces about it.  You are no longer a skeptic when faced with such evidence.

Now to klingy's last little thing, are he and his friends at the Discovery Institute 'Evolution Deniers'?  In my opinion, yes they are.  Just look at the many posts doing exactly what 'deniers' do.  How many times has some scientific evidence been 'rationalized' by the DI?  How often do they 're-interpret' scientific evidence to change the results of the researchers and claim some level of support for their pet philosophy Intelligent Design (ID)?  How about in Ohio a few years back when they presented a list of over 40 scientific publications, claiming they were in some way supporting ID?  Remember our surprise when the majority of the authors of the papers were contacted and they said not only was their paper not in support of ID in any way, but if it mentioned it at all, it was in the negative.

Yes, klingy and his friends are Evolution Deniers because they want there to be a more Theistic-Friendly explanation for life on this planet.  And denying the mountain of evidence is one of the many tactics they will use to try and make us all believe in their version of a deity. 

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