Natural Gas Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 26 January 2014
I’m writing a chapter on public acceptance issues surrounding shale gas as my contribution to a UK academic book surrounding shale gas and this is a taster.
There are five characteristics used by shale gas opponents:
Fractivism is a process that employs some or all of five characteristic elements in a concerted way.
The first is the identification of conspiracies. When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes that something is true, it is argued that this is not because those scientists have independently studied the evidence and reached the same conclusion. It is because they have engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The peer review process is seen as a tool by which the conspirators suppress dissent, rather than as a means of weeding out papers and grant applications unsupported by evidence or lacking logical thought. The view of General Jack D Ripper that fluoridation was a Soviet plot to poison American drinking water in Dr Strangelove, Kubrick’s black comedy about the Cold War is no less bizarre than those expressed in many of the websites that oppose this measure.
While conspiracy theories cannot simply be dismissed because conspiracies do occur, it beggars belief that they can encompass entire scientific communities.
The second is the use of fake experts. These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge.
The use of fake experts is often complemented by denigration of established experts and researchers, with accusations and innuendo that seek to discredit their work and cast doubt on their motivations.
The third characteristic is selectivity, drawing on isolated papers that challenge the dominant consensus or high- lighting the flaws in the weakest papers among those that support it as a means of discrediting the entire field.
Fractivists are usually not deterred by the extreme isolation of their theories, but rather see it as the indication of their intellectual courage against the dominant orthodoxy and the accompanying political correctness, often comparing themselves to Galileo.
The fourth is the creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver. (Fractivists) use the intrinsic uncertainty of mathematical models to reject them entirely as a means of understanding a phenomenon.
The fifth is the use of misrepresentation and logical fallacies
Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, or deliberate attempts to change the argument and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute.
Other fallacies used by fractivists are false analogy, exemplified by the argument against evolution that, as the universe and a watch are both extremely complex, the universe must have been created by the equivalent of a watchmaker and the excluded middle fallacy (either passive smoking causes a wide range of specified diseases or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one disease, such as breast cancer, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any disease).
This sounds pretty good doesn’t it? It sounds very convincing, almost as if an academic career awaits.
But, I confess.The above is pure plagiarism, taken from The European Journal of Public Health, published by Oxford University in 2009. Every single word, except to replace denialists with fractivists is from what is both an excellent exposure of the tactics used by climate change deniers, and a template which also appears to have been lifted verbatim by those who oppose natural gas today.
“..the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists”
For the avoidance of doubt, I fully accept the scientific basis for climate change. I’m no climatologist, but if 97% of them say it’s happening, then that’s good enough for me. I only wish my faith in science also extended to the Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the UK Green Party.