Last week I attended a World Affairs Council event “Denialism: Balancing Skepticism and Science to Shape Global Health and Sustainability Policies” with science writer Michael Specter. His talk served as a preview to FOSEP’s next book club selection “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens our Lives” by the same author.
I have not yet read the book, but in his talk Specter outlined several examples of what he terms “denialism” in which scientific consensus is ignored or risk is not properly assessed. Specter explains that a large problem concerning fear of technology is the inability of people to evaluate risks properly. People usually do not think statistically. Specter cited that out of eleven million people vaccinated for the H1N1 flu, only one reported significant adverse reactions, but the H1N1 flu itself has killed thousands of people. Yet there has been an increasing trend to avoid the vaccine out of fear for adverse affects. Specter spent a lot of time discussing vaccines, but other topics were also touched upon, including genetically engineered food, drug regulation, alternative medicine and vitamins, synthetic biology, and more.
Of course there are reasons for denialism, Specter explained, technological promises are not always met, and many things have gone wrong with technology. Fear is the greatest driver for denialism and it is understandable to question. Ultimately, Specter argues that science is a system that can work and in fact it is the best system even considering its mistakes. His proposed solution to countering denialism is to foster better debate and discussion over scientific issues.
We have yet to set a date for the “Denialism” book club, but it is likely to take place in the 2nd week of January. So feel free to join us by replying to the event email for more details. I have no doubt that the topic of denialism will provide plenty of food for thought.