Announcing My Next Point of Inquiry Guest: Denialism Author Michael Specter

By Chris Mooney | May 18, 2010 3:52 pm

Michael SpecterI’m a bit late in doing this–I have already interviewed the guy, so you can’t pose online questions to him as with previous guests. They’ve already been asked!

Still, I’m psyched that the next guest for the program is New Yorker staff writer, Denialism author, and Daily Show guest Michael Specter.

Specter and I happen to have developed a bit of a dynamic/rapport over the past year, having done a recent panel together at the Cambridge Science Festival, as well as a Bloggingheads.tv episode and a Slate dialogue.

denialismIndeed, and as you’ll see, we’ve been arguing for some time about the meaning of a famous John Milton quotation…er, but to say more about that would be giving too much away.

And we’ve also been arguing, in a pretty friendly way, about whether there is anything we can do about American irrationalism, whether the left is more guilty than the right–and much else.

So listen for the show on Friday–and in the meantime, if you haven’t already, get yourself a copy of Denialism by clicking the book cover….

Comments (6)

  1. Nullius in Verba

    “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

  2. Chris Mooney

    you’re a genius, man…

  3. Guy

    @Nullius #1,

    Milton was speaking against censorship in that speech you’re quoting from. How do you connect the dot between denialism and censorship?

    Denialist aren’t being silenced so much as just proven wrong in a lot of cases. If I tell you that the sky is blue, but you say no it isn’t. Is it censorship to point at the sky and say “see, it’s blue?” or am I just proving you wrong?

  4. Chris Mooney

    # 3–basically, listen to the show….the issue definitely isn’t censorship, but what happens to the battle between truth and falsehood when there is an open environment of ideas.

  5. looking fwd to it.

  6. Nullius in Verba

    Guy,

    Milton was indeed speaking against censorship; in this case speaking against the argument that censorship is justified to stop people spreading opinions the authorities considered to be untrue. He argues that if you allow all opinions to take part in the debate, truth will win, and it will thereby be shown to be truth. Whereas if truth wins because all other views are excluded by force, then unreason can claim that it prevails only through force, and that it would be shown false in a fair fight. Since nobody can debate the question, nobody can tell whether or not they’d turn out to be right.

    The problem, as I suspect Chris Mooney would argue in effect, is that this doesn’t work when you have “the right answer for the wrong reason.” If it’s true, but your arguments and evidence for it are poor, wrong, or just difficult to explain, then a more plausible but false argument can beat it.

    My response to that would be to say that this only means you have to improve the argument, and that if it’s really true, and you really can/do know it’s true, you will always be able to. Open debate is also our only safeguard against the danger of the authorities being wrong. Free and open argument is our only proper means of truly testing our beliefs.

    “Denialist aren’t being silenced so much as just proven wrong in a lot of cases. If I tell you that the sky is blue, but you say no it isn’t. Is it censorship to point at the sky and say “see, it’s blue?” or am I just proving you wrong?”

    Pointing at the sky is fine. That’s using empirical evidence. What is out of order is you preventing me speaking, lest I tell everybody that it is actually black, because it happens to be night here. “The sky is blue” is one of those “everybody knows that…” things that few people stop to consider carefully. It might also be grey, if it’s cloudy, or red/orange if it is also near sunset/sunrise. It depends which planet you’re on, whether you’re colour-blind, all sorts of things. It’s blue less often than it’s not.

    But if I take your statement of belief as it was intended, then Milton’s argument is that people should be allowed to say the sky is purple with green zig-zags because there’s no possibility of the truth losing the argument. The evidence is too good. It would do the truth a disservice not to allow the question to be asked and properly answered.

    You are correct that ‘denialists’ are not being silenced, but some people want them to be.

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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 Salon.com 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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