Pluralistic: 10 Jun 2021

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Icons representing different denial techniques.

A denialism taxonomy (permalink)

The science denial industry has deep roots – tobacco-cancer denial, lead paint/gas denial and other ancestral forms of commercial denial gave birth to modern forms of denial: anti-vax, anti-mask, "stop the steal" and, of course, climate denial.

The denial industry has a well-developed and constantly evolving playbook. Wealthy interest seeking to sow doubt about reality – about whether reality can even be known – can pay for skilled denialists to plan and execute denial on their behalf.

Icons representing each of the FLICC points, under the title 'Techniques of Science Denial.'

Inspired by a call for a fleshed-out denial taxonomy, GMU Climate Change Communications prof John Cook expanded on Hoofnagle's work, creating the FLICC model: Fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry-picking & conspiracies.

A tree showing the relationships between each of the techniques in the expanded FLICC universe.

In a fascinating blog post, Cook enumerates all of the FLICC subtechniques, describing their relationship to the Big Five FLICC tactics, along with great, vector-based icons licensed CC BY-SA.

Here's the full taxonomy:

The ad-hominem icon, a human head in crosshairs.

  • Ad Hominem: Attacking a person/group instead of addressing their arguments.

“Climate science can’t be trusted because climate scientists are biased.”

The ambiguity icon, a line with arrow heads at each end pointing in opposite directions.
* Ambiguity: Using ambiguous language in order to lead to a misleading conclusion.

“Thermometer readings have uncertainty which means we don’t know whether global warming is happening.”

  • Anchoring: Depending too heavily on an initial piece of information when making subsequent judgments.

“2.2 million people might have died from COVID-19 so keeping it down to only 130,000 deaths is a good job.”

The anecdote icon, a speech-bubble containing a double-quote mark.

  • Anecdote: Using personal experience or isolated examples instead of sound arguments or compelling evidence.

“The weather is cold today—whatever happened to global warming?”

The blowfish icon, a blowfish.

  • Blowfish: Focusing on an inconsequential aspect of scientific research, blowing it out of proportion in order to distract from or cast doubt on the main conclusions of the research.

“The hockey stick graph is invalid because it contains statistical errors.”

The bulk fake experts icon: a group of three human figures.

  • Bulk Fake Experts: Citing large numbers of seeming experts to argue that there is no scientific consensus on a topic.

“There is no expert consensus because 31,487 Americans with a science degree signed a petition saying humans aren’t disrupting climate.”

The cherry picking icon: two cherries joined by a stem.

  • Cherry Picking: Carefully selecting data that appear to confirm one position while ignoring other data that contradicts that position.

“Global warming stopped in 1998.”

The contradictory icon, two arrows pointing at each other.

  • Contradictory: Simultaneously believing in ideas that are mutually contradictory.

“The temperature record is fabricated by scientists… the temperature record shows cooling.”

The conspiracy theories icon: a human head topped with a tinfoil hat that is deflecting lightning bolts.

  • Conspiracy Theory: Proposing that a secret plan exists to implement a nefarious scheme such as hiding a truth.

“The climategate emails prove that climate scientists have engaged in a conspiracy to deceive the public.”

The fake debate icon, a set of balance-scales.

  • Fake Debate (false balance): Presenting science and pseudoscience in an adversarial format to give the false impression of an ongoing scientific debate.

“Climate deniers should get equal coverage with climate scientists, providing a more balanced presentation of views.”

The fake experts icon: a pair of faces in profile, facing one another, one is represented by a dotted line.

  • Fake Experts (appeal to false authority): Presenting an unqualified person or institution as a source of credible information.

“A retired physicist argues against the climate consensus, claiming the current weather change is just a natural occurrence.”

The false analogy icon, an apple and an orange.

  • False Analogy: Assuming that because two things are alike in some ways, they are alike in some other respect.

“Climate skeptics are like Galileo who overturned the scientific consensus about geocentrism.”

The false choice icon: a yin-yang symbol.

  • False Choice: Presenting two options as the only possibilities, when other possibilities exist.

“CO2 lags temperature in the ice core record, proving that temperature drives CO2, not the other way around.”

  • False Equivalence (apples vs. oranges): Incorrectly claiming that two things are equivalent, despite the fact that there are notable differences between them.

“Why all the fuss about COVID when thousands die from the flu every year.”

The immune to evidence icon, a shield.

  • Immune to evidence: Re-interpreting any evidence that counters a conspiracy theory as originating from the conspiracy.

“Those investigations finding climate scientists aren’t conspiring were part of the conspiracy.”

The impossible evidence icon, an arrow pointing up, blocked by a dotted line.

  • Impossible Expectations: Demanding unrealistic standards of certainty before acting on the science.

“Scientists can’t even predict the weather next week. How can they predict the climate in 100 years?”

The logical fallacies icon, a speech bubble with an X in it.

  • Logical Fallacies: Arguments where the conclusion doesn’t logically follow from the premises. Also known as a non sequitur.

“Climate has changed naturally in the past so what’s happening now must be natural.”

  • Lowered Expectations: Lowering the standard by which you grade a performance or assess evidence.

“Two snapshots of Mars show shrinking ice, so Mars is global warming.”

The magnified minority icon: a pair of faces facing one another in profile, one much smaller than the other.

  • Magnified Minority: Magnifying the significance of a handful of dissenting scientists to cast doubt on an overwhelming scientific consensus.

“Sure, there’s 97% consensus but Professor Smith disagrees with the consensus position.”

The misrepresentation icon: a Greek comedy mask.

  • Misrepresentation: Misrepresenting a situation or an opponent’s position in such a way as to distort understanding.

“They changed the name from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ because global warming stopped happening.”

The moving goalposts icon, an American football goalpost.

  • Moving Goalposts: Demanding higher levels of evidence after receiving requested evidence.

“Sea levels may be rising but they’re not accelerating.”

The nefarious intent icon, a horned devil.

  • Nefarious intent: Assuming that the motivations behind any presumed conspiracy are nefarious.

“Climate scientists promote the climate hoax because they’re in it for the money.”

The overriding suspicion icon: a magnifying glass whose lens frames an exclamation point.

  • Overriding suspicion : Having a nihilistic degree of skepticism towards the official account, preventing belief in anything that doesn’t fit into the conspiracy theory.

“Show me one line of evidence for climate change… oh, that evidence is faked!”

The oversimplification icon, a funnel.

  • Oversimplification: Simplifying a situation in such a way as to distort understanding, leading to erroneous conclusions.

“CO2 is plant food so burning fossil fuels will be good for plants.”

The persecuted victim icon: a human figure on its knees, begging for mercy.

  • Persecuted victim: Perceiving and presenting themselves as the victim of organized persecution

“Climate scientists are trying to take away our freedom.”

The quote mining icon: a double quotation-mark.

  • Quote Mining: Taking a person’s words out-of-context in order to misrepresent their position.

“Mike’s trick… to hide the decline.”

An irregular quadrangle whose vertices are joined by different-sized circles.

  • Re-interpreting randomness: Believing that nothing occurs by accident, so that random events are re-interpreted as being caused by the conspiracy.

“NASA’s satellite exploded? They must be trying to hide inconvenient data!”

The red herring icon: a fish.

  • Red Herring: Deliberately diverting attention to an irrelevant point to distract from a more important point.

“CO2 is a trace gas so it’s warming effect is minimal.”

The single cause icon: a triangle whose vertices are labeled A, B and C. A and B are joined to C by arrow-tipped dotted lines.

  • Single Cause: Assuming a single cause or reason when there might be multiple causes or reasons.

“Climate has changed naturally in the past so what’s happening now must be natural.”

The slippery slope icon: a human figure slipping down tilted ground.

  • Slippery Slope: Suggesting that taking a minor action will inevitably lead to major consequences.

“If we implement even a modest climate policy, it will start us down the slippery slope to socialism and taking away our freedom.”

The slothful induction icon: a sloth hanging from a branch.

  • Slothful Induction: Ignoring relevant evidence when coming to a conclusion.

“There is no empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming.”

The something must be wrong icon: a document icon slashed by a diagonal line.

  • Something must be wrong: Maintaining that the official account is based on deception, even when parts of a conspiracy theory become untenable.

“Ok, fine, 97% of climate scientists agree humans are causing global warming, but that’s because they’re toeing the party line.”

The Straw Man icon: a scarecrow.

  • Straw Man: Misrepresenting or exaggerating an opponent’s position to make it easier to attack.

“In the 1970s, climate scientists were predicting an ice age.”

  • Wishful Thinking: Choosing to believe something is true because we really want it to be true, instead of relying on scientific evidence.

“Forget climate model predictions of warming, I think we’re about to experience global cooling.”

All of these are explained in depth in "The Conspiracy Theory Handbook," by Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky, available free in English, Czech, French, German, Green, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish and Turkish.

(Image: John Cook, CC BY-SA)

Detroit broadband map.

Urban broadband deserts (permalink)

The Biden broadband plan set aside $100B to build out universal fiber; that number was way too low (it was derived from the fraudulent broadband maps the monopoly telcos produce).

The true figure is much higher ($240B!), and ::sad trombone:: the GOP whittled Biden down to $65B. It's easy to see this as the GOP stabbing its rural base in the back (and yup, that's what they're doing), but there's a LOT of urban broadband deserts.

Apologists for shitty broadband – and Musk cultists who insist that we can provide high speed broadband with satellites that all share the same, contested spectrum, physics be damned – say the US's terrible internet is due to its vast open spaces, too spread out to wire up.

City dwellers are three times more likely to lack broadband access than their rural counterparts. This isn't due to the bad economics of rural broadbandification, it's due to structural racism and monopoly.

Writing in Wired, Bhaskar Chakravorti calls our attention to Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, racially segregated cities where redlining – the US government's racist policy of excluding Black people from home ownership – casts a long shadow.

These cities have 14-point gaps between Black and white broadband access, part of a wider digital divide that includes gaps in participation in high-paid tech jobs and in the impact of the pandemic recession.

In Detroit, residents are "building their own internet…block by block" – trying to fix a city where 40% of the residents have no broadband options and the rest are on aging AT&T copper clunker infrastructure, sold at monopoly Cadillac prices.

It's great to see communities seizing the means of computation, but as Karl Bode writes for Techdirt, The Hill's coverage has a glaring omission: any mention of the abusive AT&T monopoly and its role in starving Black communities of digital access.

Let's be clear: everyone's internet sucks because of America's greedy, complacent telecoms monopolies, but minority communities suffer disproportionately under this system. Digital Redlining is the successor to real-estate redlining.

Digital Redlining is when your monopoly carrier won't upgrade your service – or offer it at all – because you're too poor to complain effectively. That's what's up when your internet costs more and is slower than the service across the street:

As Bode writes: our broadband deserts and digital divide are an active policy choice: "the direct result of 25 straight years of prioritizing the interests of regional monopolies, and coddling giants like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. It's the direct result of signing off on mindless consolidation and harmful megamergers. It's the direct result of choosing not to embrace pro-competition policies. It's the direct result of repeatedly neutering telecom regulatory oversight under the (false) promise this somehow results in telecom Utopia (despite 25 years of evidence this isn't true)."

America is a rich nation, but not a great one. A great nation would secure for every resident the shelter, food, education, healthcare and broadband that are needed to be a full participant in society.

America once found political will for universal electrification and universal telephone service. Those were great moments in the nation's history. Biden's timidity – a $100b commitment for a $240b hole – and the GOP's miserliness stand in the way of finding that greatness again.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Lobbynomics: Canadian Chamber of Commerce manufactures fake $30 billion counterfeiting loss

#5yrsago USA Swimming bans rapist Brock Turner for life

#5yrsago Reminder: Neal Stephenson predicted Donald Trump in 1994

#5yrsago UK startup offers landlords continuous, deep surveillance of tenants’ social media

#5yrsago Donald Trump, deadbeat

#1yrago MMT in the NYT

#1yrago Appeals court rejects judge who wanted $65m for lost pants

#1yrago Time to retheme Splash Mountain

Colophon (permalink)

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