Posted by: Ticktock | December 4, 2009

Denialism on Daily Show

Check out Michael Specter on the Daily Show discussing his new book, Denialism. He brings up the crusade against vaccines, and offers some counter-argument to the Jenny McCarthy crowd. I would embed the video, but wordpress is five years behind the times.

I haven’t read Denialism, but it’s on my Christmas wish list. Are you listening, Mom?



  1. The linked video is restricted to the US only.

  2. Sounds like Spector might not have science on his side on several of his chosen topics:

    Trendy topic sure to make him lots of money….as for content, sounds sorta flimsy.

    • I’m still willing to give him a chance. The link you provided was an article by an organic farmer. There might be some personal bias in his selection of evidence against Specter. It makes me suspicious.

  3. The reason you dismiss the author’s claims have to do with his vocation rather than disputing the studies backing up his contentions? Read the whole article, including the studies he cites.

    Pro-vaccine superhero, Dr. Offit, has a patent on the rotovirus vaccine, and stands to make loads of money from its use… according to your rhetoric, we can dismiss anything he says based on his conflict of interest?

    Rotovirus is the one vaccine I refused for my kids:

    • I haven’t dismissed the author. I’ve just simply stated that I’m suspicious because of potential bias, and that I won’t judge Specter’s book based on one article. I’m sure you know that even vaccine haters have (12) studies that they toss around, so anyone can mention a study that can be interpreted in their favor. As for Dr. Offit, he is respected by his scientific peers – he would have been criticized by them if he had a history of misquoting the evidence. The author at Grist may be correct about Specter’s book, but I will withhold my judgment until I hear criticism from scientists and not farmers. I’m honestly not qualified to make those assessments without having a consensus of input from various scientific sources.

      Also, I did read the whole article, but I’ll have to wait to dig into his cited sources because it’s my daughter’s birthday party today.

  4. Hope the birthday party went well.

    While I didn’t read the entire book, I did flip through it for forty minutes at a bookstore. This reviewer provides several reasons, beyond the scientific shortcomings pointed out by the grist article, why this book is NOT one worth buying:

    “The book fails on several levels. First, the people most likely to read a book called “Denialism” are the scientific faithful. Being amongst that crowd, I’m as happy as the next guy or gal to be told that I’m right and they (the denialists) are wrong. But I already thought that, and I’m wondering how this book moves even a tiny step closer to those that we would like most to reach. Specter appears to have so much disdain for deluded souls that he might as well have titled his book “Stupidism”. The marked tone of condescension virtually guarantees that the target audience that the author would like to reach will tune out within 20 pages. Secondly, I deal with many otherwise quite intelligent folk that run businesses, or hold other positions of high responsibility, but also ascribe to astrology, homeopathy,or cult religions. If such people were amenable to facts, they would have gotten the point long ago. Specter’s solution to this is to attempt to bludgeon the “denialist” with page after page of facts. Whatever it is that is blocking the understanding of the “denialist”, it is not access to facts or information. The blockage is most likely emotional, possibly based on fear, and one does not most effectively deal with emotional barriers by using facts as instruments of assault and battery.

    In order to make my third and final criticism, I need to relate a short story. As I write this, there is a high level of anxiety about a duel epidemic of flu, traditional and H1N1, in my community. My wife is a teacher at a local middle school. In the teacher’s lounge yesterday the topic was flu vaccines, both the traditional and the H1N1. All the old reasons for not getting the flu vaccinations surfaced: “I’ve never had the flu, why should I worry about it?” or “Last time I got the flu shot, I got the worst case of flu that I’ve ever had” or “This is a new vaccine, what if they got it wrong and it kills more people than it helps?”. One teacher, struggling to make up her mind, turned to my wife and said “Are you going to get the flu shot?”. My wife replied “I’ve never gotten a flu shot before, but this year, Dan (that would be me) is really worried about it, and he thinks I should get it. So yes. I’m going to.” The teacher then announced “I know Dan, he’s a good doc, he would NEVER recommend a flu shot for Cindy unless it was his very best guess that she should do it. That’s enough for me. I’m going for it.”. The point here is that trust is an essential companion to facts. And the truth is that the frequent divorces between science and wisdom, between science and ethics, between science and the environment have done tremendous harm to the trust science feels that it deserves. No knowledge comes without subsequent responsibility, and Denialism addresses this fact only weakly. PhD’s in geology (oil and mineral technology), chemistry (pesticides, household products containing carcinogens, napalm, neurotoxins), pharmacy (don’t get me started), physics (nuclear weapons) are granted with little, or more commonly, NO training in ethics. Science is my religion, but my church has to up its game if it wishes to regain lost trust. Denialism doesn’t even begin to discuss how this might be done.”

  5. James/Dan(?),

    whilst I like your anecdote, I’m reminded of the surveys here (UK) that persistently say people trust their doctors more than other professionals.

    Indeed I’ve seen first hand people “trusting” their doctor, even when he is demonstrably wrong as regards a particular treatment or diagnosis. That one is in Shermer’s list (“over reliance on authority”).

    Most doctors, if they are any good, will tell you the evidence for vaccination is overwhelming, yet vaccines are probably the biggest problem area in terms of woo killing people.

    So whilst there may be an element of trust in how these decisions are made, I don’t think trust is as large an influence as your anecdote suggests. Presumably the others in the conversation also know you are a doctor, and didn’t reach their conclusions that way.

    Worth also remembering that a lot of these issues are minority issues. Certainly the queue at the Swine Flu vaccine clinic yesterday suggests a lot of people are more than happy to queue a considerable time for a vaccine against what for many is a fairly mild illness.

    TV has a lot to answer for, I’ve seen a lot of “doctors” (mostly on US television) who clearly know zip about vaccination spreading disinformation. Is there no procedure for disciplining such doctors in the US? I would expect if a doctor consistently spread disinformation publicly in the UK they would quickly find themselves in front of a panel of their peers defending their license to practise.

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