Book of the Week: Denialism

By Chris Mooney | November 4, 2009 8:46 am

I’ve been reading thidenialisms one pretty intently this week,  in order to prepare for various upcoming dialogues with its author (about which more soon). I will have much more to say about the book soon enough, but to begin let me just say that  Denialism rewards reading by anybody concerned with the issues this blog centrally addresses–and this I say even though I don’t fully agree with every one of the book’s claims or emphases.

Still, the big picture is right–we really do have a major problem with how we handle matters of science in this country, and Specter paints that canvass vividly. You should check it out…and more soon.


Comments (14)

  1. Guy

    Anyone with a left-leaning political view who writes these “denial-ism” books isn’t going to reach the people that most need to hear it the deniers themselves. They are instantly turned-off by people they view as having a leftist political agenda (Al Gore, Michael Moore, etc.) Who they need to hear it from are people with similar ideology but truly understands the topic they are addressing and is able to analyze it objectively. One example of this is the book “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq” by Thomas E. Ricks. Look at the reviews on Amazon. Most of the five star reviews are from right-wingers who supported Bush/Cheney in 2004. They mostly agree with author. If we had a Thomas E. Ricks for issues like Global Warming then we might actually get through to this group of people.

  2. Jon

    “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq” by Thomas E. Ricks.

    Great book. If you read that and George Packer’s *Assassin’s Gate*, you have just about the whole picture of the Iraq War.

  3. Marion Delgado

    I’ve already noted why I boycott him and urge everyone to do so. He’s in the school that says you should support completely bogus industry-created research on exactly the same footing as independent research.

    He wants us to join him in demonizing anyone not a corporatist as being a science denialist. He’s a promoter of the key superstition destroying the Earth right at this exact moment – the market fundamentalism that says corporations are always right, and if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?


    Perhaps this is, indeed, good fodder for people already committed to the ideology to accept a few things they didn’t accept out of ignorance. But it comes at the cost of reinforcing arguably far worse superstitions and tropes.

    And his analysis of Monsanto and GMOs, for instance, is in no way, shape or form “objective” unless your definition is Objectivism.

  4. Guy


    All I’m saying is that for them to even begin considering the possibility of AGW they need to hear it from someone they respect and admire. The author needs to make persuasive arguments in a clear, non-biased way. They need to avoid sounding condescending by using words like ignorance or denial. Soon as you start talking down to them they will tune out.

  5. Marion Delgado

    Guy, that’s true.

    I will spot that the incremental worsening of their condition is vastly exceeded by the chance for them to let go of political stubbornness and accept the growing climate consensus.

  6. Mary

    @Guy: a lot of the people in denial on these topics _are_ on the left. The anti-vax team has 2 branches, one is libertarian-right. The other is decidedly left.

    GMOs are quite the same. The biggest deniers I see on that issue are on the left.

  7. Marion Delgado

    Mary, the denialism on GMOs is all on the “pro” side, actually.

    It’s completely forbidden in the air-tight libertarian bubble to actually address any of the concerns over GMOs from an accurate historical perspective, and as I said, corporate “research” where rewards only accrue when the research pays off in terms of the bottom line are accepted and promulgated as if they were independent research. Glad-handing cornucopian Heinlein engineers-know-best put-downs of environmentalists and even non-corporate biologists constantly substitute for accurate research and reporting.

    Ethical objections to things like self-extinguishing seeds and even the theft of other people’s crops and land by bullying corporations who contaminate everything in their environment are dismissed as if they were false scientific claims.

    For one thing, Mary, there is no one GMO issue. Take the rBGH issue – who were the denialists on that one, again? The producers and reporters who accurately reported the results of real research? or the corporations, agricultural and media, who suppressed research? How about Fox News when they won the right to not only lie about rGBH, but fire people for not lying about it?

    The economic royalists who run the US and strong-arm most of the G20 take great offense at anyone who questions their superiority. We’re seeing it most strongly in the climate arena, but they’ll switch at the drop of a hat – who’s the denialists on DDT and malaria, again? And that one even involves evolution denialism. But all along the same exact form of the arguments made about how GMOs should be produced without any regulation or oversight, and adopted for any purpose that makes a profit, have been used for the Big Lie that restriction on agricultural DDT caused people to die of malaria.

    And what about the libertarian Right position that people who say the meat industry is unhealthy are following the naturalistic fallacy? How many “studies” did they come up with saying animal cannibalism was healthy? or that it was healthy and wholesome to feed animals antibiotics to avoid basic sanitation AND make them gain water weight? Why haven’t studies that showed clearly that that was rapidly breeding antibiotic resistant bacteria and endangering the human population see the light of day in media science reporting? Again, evolution denialism.

    I could go on all day. Consistently, history is rewritten – by corporate propagandists. Good research is drowned out by a storm of slightly tweaked research and data – by corporater researchers. And on and on it goes. And that tactic of confusing political, ethical and economic objections with scientific ignorance is one of the two staples of market fundamentalism-derived denialism.

    The other is the fallacy of balance. If the environmentalists are right about 99% of what they warn about, it’s obviously balanced to pretend that the environmentalists must be – by some magic, unstated law – just as bad as the corporate or military or other interests they’ve come up against in their campaigns. Only, not.

  8. Dark tent

    Book of the Week: Denialism

    But I thought that was last week’s book

  9. TTT

    Guy: it’s been done. GWBush speechwriter / National Review contributor Matt Scully wrote a shattering book, “Dominion,” mostly about animal rights but also covering wildlife conservation and climate change. I’ve been studying and working in ecology for 20 years and his was one of the most uniquely persuasive books I’ve ever read–because he reached all the right conclusions through language I’d never seen used to those ends before, the language of conservative politics and religion. And he actually meant it too, unlike E.O.Wilson in “The Creation” who was gently trying to fake an approximation of what a believer would want to hear. Scully’s book got highly positive blurbs from other NR contributors and also Gordon Liddy. It came out about 6 years ago. It changed nothing.

    Newt Gingrich has come out and acknowledged climate change–come to think of it, he co-wrote his own book, “Contract with the Earth,” along with a prominent environmentalist from, I think, the Sierra Club. Again, it garnered some unusually pro-environment backcover blurbs from conservatives, and changed nothing.

    There were also “The Greening of Conservative America” and “The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist,” other attempted game-changing books that came out in the last decade and changed nothing.

    The right-wing today is little but a tribe, and there are some core dogmas that members either have to believe or have to accept will not change. One of them is utter disregard and dismissal of the value of the environment, the reality of environmental threats, and the accuracy of any of the experts and technologies used to monitor the environment. I hate to sound so cynical, but far too many have tried and failed for the vague new promise of this idea to really be credible anymore.

    I’ve given up hope that the right will meaningfully change on the environment. I think it makes more sense to hope for it to shrink down to the point where it won’t get in the way anymore.

  10. Tuatara

    This book sounds awesome. Heard Specter’s interview On The Media. Finally a sensible discussion of these vital issues in book form.

  11. Guy


    I disagree with the idea that Scully’s book “changed nothing.” I haven’t read it myself, but judging from the reviews it did have a considerable impact on people that you wouldn’t normally think of as being open-minded. It was about mainly about animal rights, a subject that is was easier for the average reader to comprehend than something as like AGW. It is a good example of the type of thing that I was referring too. You have to appeal to them in persuasive way that they can understand without being condescending. I have trouble with that myself on forums sometimes. Some people are just thick headed and set in their ways. That’s why we need great writers to produce these kinds of books. Not just anyone can be convincing enough to get through to everyone.

  12. Marion Delgado

    TTT I agree with both you and Guy, and while I agree more with him because I think that you’ve exaggerated the situation, I think the main difference is what segment of the public you’re looking at. I think we can “wedge” most people to sanity the way we can “wedge” the ecology, world economies, and prevailing technology to a less-rapidly-destructive condition closer to equilibrium.

    After we’ve wedged 80%, though, it’ll be the 80/20 rule. And I do support caring more for the ninety-and-nine than the lost sheep.

  13. Marion Delgado


    The books TTT brought up are pretty good, and deserve more publicity.

  14. Eddie Brown

    The organic veggie gulping left wing liberals are going to be screaming like banshees in heat in the aisles of WholeFoods across the country. Now, who says this book only beats down the bone headed right??


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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