There are groups in America and around the world that believe the Holocaust was a hoax, evolution is a fraud, and the Earth is flat. In order to try to prove their flawed views they use a standard recipe of logical fallacies and psychological mores to subtly plant doubt in the mind of society. This recipe is widely used to attempt to refute a variety of scientific, historical, social, and political claims and it consists of the following seven steps:
1) Restate your position - The first step in refuting a valid scientific claim is to restate your position, often times loudly and forcefully to give the impression of authority.
2) Ridicule the other position - Use a Straw Man fallacy to ridicule the claim you are attempting to refute. A Straw Man fallacy is when an individual creates an exaggerated, distorted version of the opposing claim and attacks that skewed version to try to downplay the legitimacy of the original claim. This occurs so frequently in the political realm that we barely even notice it. For example, when two candidates are running for office and one candidate says they would like to reform Medicare and Social Security, their opponent says something like "My opponent wants to take canes out of the hands of disabled citizens and steal money from the elderly." That is clearly a distorted version of reforming Medicare and Social Security.
3) Attack the messenger - The next step is to attack the credibility of the messenger of the opposing view. This is perhaps the most common and most successful method in the process. Let's consider a situation where a Nobel Prize-winning scientist writes a thesis that states global warming is occurring. Those refuting global warming would attack the personal characteristics and qualities of the scientist to belittle their global warming claim. For example, they might attack his age: "He's 77 years old, he's practically senile!" or "He's only 32, he's barely even done any work in his field!". If he went to Harvard, they might say "He went to Harvard, which is an elitist school that churns out Liberal minds". In regards to his Nobel Prize they'd say "He won a Nobel Prize? So what! Barack Obama did too, so we all know how much of a joke the award is". A popular attack is to claim that the messenger has some form of monetary or political stake in their position.
This step is extremely easy to apply, because no matter the individual's age, gender, race, religion, education, or accomplishments one can always find some sort of tangential feature about the individual which can be derided. This practice is used by lawyers defending suspects that are overwhelmingly guilty; the belief is if they can introduce enough doubt, perhaps the jury will believe there is insufficient evidence to convict.
4) Claim the other position is a hoax - When steps 1-3 fail, individuals state their belief that the opposing claim is a complete hoax. As with steps 1-3, they won't provide any legitimate, scientifically-tested evidence that supports their claim.
5) Rally around those who agree with you - Individuals looking to refute a claim find strength in numbers. They seek experts (often times quasi-experts and con men with fraudulent qualifications) and they exalt them as wise authorities. In addition, the individuals refuting the claim also seek to convince as many other people as possible so that they can build the case that their views have some popularity within the general population and therefore must be valid.
6) Claim there is doubt - Once the individuals gather an undercurrent of alleged experts and followers, they state that since there are X number of people who agree with them, there must be doubt in the original claim. They believe that anything less than 100% consensus means the outcome is questionable and therefore the opposing claim is suspect.
7) Claim both views should be taught - After the supposed doubt has been introduced, the individuals explain that, since doubt exists, their viewpoint needs to be taught alongside the original claim. This is commonly referred to as "Teaching the controversy". This step is the reason why some high school science textbooks in America have stickers in the front that tell students evolution is 'just a theory' and Intelligent Design might be the true reason for all of Earth's creatures.
This process is pervasive in all aspects of public life, but is often employed in the political and scientific realms. Notice how, throughout the entire process, the individual attempting to refute the claim has offered no substantive evidence to counter the original claim—they've merely attacked the validity of the claim.
By: Zach Good
In the video below I discuss the recipe that fringe groups use to deny scientific and historical claims, and give reasons for why it is absurd and illogical.
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