Denialist Mentality / Cognitive Bias
Generally, we humans resist growth or change in our belief systems, it is a survival mechanism and a method of maintaining sanity. We use a lot of cognitive energy to reinforce and maintain what we already believe and what we want to believe. Thus, Motivated Denial can save us from unpleasant or painful cognitive dissonance stemming from those ideas or facts that directly challenge or disprove our beliefs.
Denialism begins with a desired position, conclusion or outcome and seeks to reinforce that conclusion, rationalizing why the claim is untrue or at least unproven, working backwards filling in desired points to their position, rather than starting with a question and engaging in an impartial investigation wherever the facts or evidence may lead.
Denialism is not the same as supporting a unproven, controversial or rejected claim, such as “aliens visit or have visited the earth”. Instead, Denialists maintain that a generally accepted scientific or historical claim is false, usually for ideological reasons (political leanings, religious affiliations, or other fear-based ideologies).
The actual motivation for any given Denialist position is ultimately dependent on the topic and the person.
Denialists often combine their program of doubt with a false dichotomy. For example, one argument might be; if the accepted version or facts are not true, then their alternate version *must* be true, which is often the motivation behind denying a specific science or evidence, because the Denialist has an alternative idea they are really promoting.
What they rarely do is provide positive evidence to support their claim, if they could do that, they would because it is the strongest indisputable evidence. When all else fails, simply claim a conspiracy or something impossible to prove or disprove. In this way Denialism and conspiracy thinking are similar. When the evidence does not support their position, they will call the evidence into question and claim it’s a conspiracy or fraud or misleading. Allowing them to ‘a priori’ or wholesale dismiss all remaining evidence.
Strategies and Tactics of Denialist Mentality / Cognitive Bias
- Moving the goalpost – Always demanding more evidence, keeping just out of range by claiming not enough evidence has been provided.
- Unreasonable demands for evidence – Demanding evidence that can never be provided such as a single fossil that “proves” evolution.
- Dismissing entire categories of accepted scientific evidence – Using philosophical ideas or beliefs rather than facts or evidence to attempt to prove or disprove arguments.
- Using facts out of context – This gives someone the ability to call a lot of facts into the argument that make it seem like there’s reasonable evidence to call into question the accepted evidence, facts, claims or scientific theory. But each fact is not being put into its proper context, instead being used as a smokescreen to divert attention, concentration and reasonable presentation of actual facts or evidence.
- Cherry picking – Taking a single piece of evidence or information that seems to uphold or support their theory (especially those that cannot be reliably reproduced) and using that as the basis of their argument, when there are multiple examples, facts or other evidence to the contrary. Like asking several people where the nearest store is and the vast majority point to the left, while only 1 person points to the right and ignoring all the people that pointed left because right is the direction we wanted to go.
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