John Howard, MD, FRCPC Supports a Moratorium on Drive-thrus

Dr. Howard will speak to council of June 15th, 2008 at Centennial Hall.

John Howard, MD, FRCPC

Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics

Room E6220, Westminster Tower

Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario

Paediatric Division of London Health Sciences Centre

London, Ontario, Canada,

N6C 2V5

Phone 519-685-8048 fax 519-685-8156



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Denialism is a term used to describe the position of governments, business groups, interest groups, or individuals who reject propositions on which a scientific or scholarly consensus exists. Such groups and individuals are said to be engaging in denialism when they seek to influence policy processes and outcomes by illegitimate means.[1] The term has been used to describe ‘holocaust denial‘, ‘AIDS denialism‘,[2][3][4][5][6] and ‘climate change denial[7][8][9] and the creation-evolution conflict.[10]

Brothers Mark and Chris Hoofnagle describe the term as “the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one’s viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.”[11]

The terms “denialism” and “denialist” are therefore generally used pejoratively, carrying the implication that the person or group so labeled denies established scientific or historical truths by dishonest means.

Illegitimate Methodology and Tactics

Denialism is a form of propaganda covering a variety of activities. It can be as simple as like-minded individuals signing letters of dissent, or as elaborate as professional grey or black propaganda campaigns by advertising and marketing agencies.

Denialism can arise from personal ideologies, or desire for profit. Industry groups may seek to protect markets from damaging facts and information. Political groups may work to advance their agendas. Combinations of these may work in concert with interest groups on issues of mutual importance. Despite the disparity between these groups and the motives behind them, the tactics used by denialists are largely similar. Common features include:[12]

  • Conspiracism – Suggesting scientists have an ulterior motive for their research, or that they are part of some hidden plan or agenda.[13]
  • Selectivity – Relying upon discredited or flawed work supporting their idea while dismissing more credible work; presenting discredited or superseded papers to make a field look like it is based on weak research. Inflating favorable ‘evidence’ while discounting the contradictory, often while misrepresenting the significance of each. The selective use of evidence by denialists includes quote mining and cherry picking.
  • False experts – Citing paid, partisan scientists or self-appointed ‘experts,’ whose credentials are often in an unrelated field.[14][15][16]
  • Impossible expectations – Seeking to prevent the implementation of sound policies or acceptance of a theory by citing the absence of ‘complete’ or ‘absolute’ knowledge.
  • Misrepresentations and logical fallacies – Denialists sometimes employ logical fallacies: red herring; straw man; appeal to consequences; false analogy. An example of the misuse of analogy in arguments is the watchmaker analogy. A common misrepresentation used in the intelligent design movement is the intentional use of the term Darwinism when what is being objected to is evolution. An example of an appeal to consequences is the common neo-creationist claim that an acceptance of evolution (Darwinism) leads to social ills such as the atrocities committed by Hitler’s Nazi regime.[17] Which is furthermore, an example of cherry-picking, since Hitler also appealed to religion, germ theory, and animal husbandry.

Additional propaganda techniques that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid include: flag-waving, glittering generalities, intentional vagueness, oversimplification, rationalization, slogans, stereotyping, testimonial, unstated assumption.

[edit] Ideological denialism

Ideologies that conflict with commonly accepted scientific theories or facts can drive their holders to engage in personal forms of denial, either to favor their personal beliefs, or to avoid having to reconcile those beliefs with contradictory evidence.[18]

Common forms of denialism arising from ideologies are holocaust denial, AIDS denialism, the vaccine controversy, and the creation-evolution controversy.[19]

[edit] Corporate denialism

International corporations such as ExxonMobil have been heavily criticized for contributing to scientists and scientific experimentation disputing the scientific consensus on global climate change.[7] ExxonMobil has strenuously denied the accusations, stating that “The recycling of this type of discredited conspiracy theory diverts attention from the real challenge at hand: how to provide the energy needed to improve global living standards while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”[20] Newsweek[21] and Mother Jones[22] have published articles stating corporations are funding the climate change denial “denial industry”.