Great thoughts on dealing with science denialism from this article in Newsweek about flat earthers. I’ve discussed similar ideas in my recent Bullshit Filter series dealing with antivaxers.
A better way to respond is to stop talking about proof, certainty, and logic, and start talking more about scientific “values.” In my book The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science From Denial, Fraud, And Pseudosience, I defend the idea that what is most distinctive about science is not its method but its “attitude”: the idea that scientists care about evidence and are willing to change their views based on new evidence. This is what truly separates scientists from their deniers and imitators.
The problem with conspiracy theorists is that they hold themselves up as skeptics, but they are actually quite gullible. There is a rampant double standard for evidence: no evidence is good enough to convince them of something they do NOT want to believe, yet only the flimsiest evidence is required to get them to accept something they DO want to believe. Contrast this to the “scientific attitude,” which is a mindset of flexibility toward changing one’s beliefs based on new evidence.
Instead of saying “show me your evidence” (which they were only too happy to do) or “here’s my evidence” (which they wouldn’t believe anyway,) I asked “what would it take to convince you that you were wrong?” They seemed unprepared for this question.
For years I’ve used a similar approach with Christians. “What would it take you to stop believing?” They often say “nothing could stop me”. No amount of evidence? “Nothing.” Which demonstrates that they don’t care about facts, evidence or logic. They believe because they want to believe. But I haven’t tried the same approach with other forms of science denialism yet.