Respect: concerning our treatment of flat earthers, climate- and science deniers

First of all, allow me to preface this peace work by the following statement:

I am not a climate- or science denier, nor a flat earther and I do not conform to a single religion. I love mathematics, physics, empirical sciences and psychology.

This is the honest truth, and I hope that the people who fit the same description will continue to read this work, as well as any people who think differently, and respect the opinions I explain.


In our modern society, denying appears to be a often occurring happening; people deny the idea of global warming, the earth has being spherical and even science as a whole. People who take these opinions think differently to the general consensus and they are part of the same debate on whether science is fact or not, but they are not met with equal treatment. People who believe these things, who take the less taken side of the debates, are often declared as far below intelligent, or ignorant, yet this labelling has a negative effect on people, on the sport of debating and on science as a whole. By writing this article, I hope to make you aware of society’s treatment, the same treatment I have been guilty of, and make you stand above the mob-mentality, yet keep your arguments and opinions. I do not want to change your opinions as I will not talk about any substantive arguments concerning the debates stated before, as this is of no importance to this work. All I want to do is to raise awareness of our treatment and change the way some people are treated. I will explain problems with our treatment, and some general argument-related issues shared by all sides of the debates. I will do this with the following methods: First I will discuss shortly what led me to write this work. Secondly I will discuss my perception of the main goal of science, followed by the argument that a change in treatment could be positive for science and issues concerning closed-mindedness complemented with an example. Thirdly I will share a short paragraph on an ethical issue. Finally I will close this work with a short summary, and some recommendations.

I hope you, regardless of opinion, will read the whole piece, for your- and everyone else’s best interests.

Why I wrote this

What drove me to write this piece was an article by the Scientific American, called How to talk to a science denier without arguing. In the article, the author Gleb Tsipursky explains how to efficiently deal with a science denier, a person who does not believe in modern science, in a way which will not end in aggressive arguing. The article is, concisely, a guide on how to effectively ignore someone else’s arguments and efficiently influence them. To me, this treatment shows exactly the problems in the perception of people who think differently, and society’s treatment of these people. Reading it frustrated me, and led me to write this essay.

The core of science, and the disregard thereof

Firstly, allow me to explain my perception of the goal of science. In short: Science is to be critical. In science, scientists doubt the facts or theories that are known, and think about the other explanations for the same effects. To be scientific is to be critical of the things that are well known. Take Einstein’s relativity theory: The previous Newtonian explanations of the universe were, according to Einstein, inaccurate and not good enough; he was critical and doubted these. It was this doubt which led him to create the theory of special- followed by general relativity; a theory which was, and still is, one of the greatest theories in history. Criticism and doubt is very important in science, and exactly what leads to great scientific discoveries, and I believe that many will agree with me.

Yet, isn’t this exactly what science deniers, climate deniers and flat earthers are doing? The are critical not on specific subjects, nor on certain fields, but on science as a whole. They take the statement that ‘because something is widely believed, it is not the absolute truth’. They criticise the entirety of science, and truly think about every piece of information they see. Does this not make them the greater scientist? Not taking things at face-value and looking deeply into the assumptions a statement is based on is exactly what science aims to do. Not taking these people seriously, disregarding their opinions and arguments is not only disrespectful to them; it is disrespectful to the idea of science as a whole.

Changing our acceptance of their opinions can have great effects on the more popular opinion on science. Science is fed by discussions; great discoveries are the arguments with which one of the points of view in a debate is supported. Regurgitating the same, known arguments in an attempt to shove the opposite point of view under the label of ‘ignorance’ is not helpful to science. Taking the other opinion seriously works the same as in a debate; it allows the more accepted party (say- the people with the opinion of a spherical earth) to hone their opinions and statements by the need to create new arguments. If, in a debate, the proposition’s first argument would be in the vein of “you’re stupid” followed by the repetition of the same second argument a few times, each time completed with the statement “why won’t you believe me? Why are you so ignorant?” would lead nowhere, and would not be very fair nor would it be interesting to watch.

Yet this is exactly what is happening in the science, climate or flat earth debate. Countering these with the same arguments, complemented with name calling does not help science. Interestingly, in the factitious debate, the opposite party would have given three or more arguments, thus gaining the factual upper hand. In short: Taking the other party seriously could be a great boon to the pro-science opinions.

Issues concerning closed-mindedness

A problem which follows from this change is one seated in the psychological occurrence of ‘cognitive dissonance’, the refusing of information which could be more accurate than our known information because we do not believe it to be true. People refuse to believe opposite opinions, because they have known their own opinions their whole lives. Take the Newton vs. Einstein example given before: Everyone could have refused Einstein’s new theory because Newton’s has been known for so long. This actually happened in England, and if Eddington would not have been so steadfast in providing evidence for Einstein’s theory, relativity might not have ever been accepted. Yet Eddington had too been shouted at with accusations of ignorance, and has been called the equivalent of a science denier in modern terms.

Being proven wrong by an opinion countering the general knowledge is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. Accepting defeat is one of the greatest victories. Refusing a well grounded argument, and the person providing the argument, based on the lesser information that you know is closed minded, and bad for science. But do keep in mind that if your opinion is better, after being critically looked at, you have all the right to stand by your argument. But be critical concerning your known information.

A flat-earth example

Flat earthers show a good example of this mindset: The theory claims that the earth is not spherical. Problematically people have made fools of themselves by taking the opinion too literally, as there is an underlying message according to me. The original core of the opinion is one of criticism and doubt. A flat earth rather than a spherical planet is a chosen example to illustrate the idea of doubting the information granted by large, profitable companies. It was used to show that you can doubt anything, and show that these large companies do dominate the world of science. Most of the pro-sphere arguments come from researchers and astronauts who work for the same company, focussed on proving the same thing. Yet the flat earth idea has gone off the rails by people who do not understand the concept of this message, people who have taken it too literally, people who do not understand the greater image.

An ethical problem

Labelling a person by an opinion has been accepted as a well known no-no. Take a religious person, purely disregarding a person of Jewish faith, saying you don’t take Jews seriously would not be accepted. But if this happens in connection to a scientific opinion, it appears to be acceptable, and often happens. And to me, just realising this contrast in opinions is enough to change the treatment of individuals with other opinions- just like you would not disregard a person purely based on faith.

Conclusion

In conclusion, denying a person’s beliefs or opinions purely because superficially disagree is bad practice concerning science, is bad for the progression of science and the acceptance and seriously debating their opinions could be a boon for science. Being proven wrong after a correct debate is not a bad thing too- it is quite positive as it can make you have a more correct opinion or give a drive to do more intensive research. Also, our modern treatment is quite disrespectful and unethical, a person is a person; no matter what opinion.

To counter these problems, and take a transcending perception of debates in the process, take the opposition seriously, and debate seriously with them. But do not patronise others, their opinion is just as valid to them as it yours is to you, and disregarding them blatantly is inhumane and supports a general idea of inequality.

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