Skepticism vs. Denialism: We are using the wrong word!

We are forever hounded and dismissed as witch doctors by “skeptics”. I am not sure whether we gave them that name, or they adopted it for themselves, but it is a name that gives them more power and credibility than they deserve. This is an appeal to stop calling those who oppose homeopathy “skeptics”, and to start calling them denialists, because that is what they are. The overwhelming evidence that is put before those who oppose homeopathy that is ignored, by definition, makes them the opposite of skeptics, and this is why.

First we are going to define the terms. What are Skepticism and Denialism?

 

Skepticism:

Merriam-Webster Skepticism as:

1.  an attitude of doubting the truth of something (such as a claim or statement)

2.  an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object

3.   a.    the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain

      b.    the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics

      c.     doubt concerning basic religious principles (as immortality, providence, and revelation)

 

Other definitions I found (yourdictionary.com and Wikipedia) included:

  • Skepticism is a general attitude of distrusting or doubting.
  • The doctrines of the ancient Greek Skeptics.
  • Any questioning attitude towards unempirical knowledge or opinions/beliefs stated as facts,or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.
  • Philosophical skepticism is a general philosophy that requires all information to be well supported by evidence.


Skeptoid.com asserts that “The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It's the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.”

Encyclopædia Britannica says that “In everyday life, practically everyone is skeptical about some knowledge claims; but philosophical skeptics have doubted the possibility of any knowledge beyond that of the contents of directly felt experience. The original Greek meaning of skeptikos was “an inquirer,” someone who was unsatisfied and still looking for truth.”

Philosophically speaking, the ancient school of Pyrrho of Elis taught that we must oppose dogmatism by stressing the uncertainty of our beliefs. Pyrrhonism (partially synonymous with Fallibilism) was a school that suspended judgments in investigations, and even doubt that their senses are reliable enough to draw conclusions from data collected with them. The word skepticism comes from the ‘Skeptikoi’ a school of philosophy that “asserted nothing” because absolute knowledge is impossible. Philosophical skepticism teaches that certain knowledge and truth are not humanly attainable things, whether through reason, the senses or any other means. This can be applied to a particular subject or to our reality in general.

The use of the word `Skepticism’ in books, according to Google Books, has increased 400% from the year 1800-2000, and by 200% between 1940 and 2000. Perhaps because we came into the age of science and technology, and randomized control trials. Breaking away from traditional knowledge and moving into the industrial and scientific ages, often the old ways were mocked in light of the new, `better`, more modern ways. Being skeptical was a way of preventing being duped by silly old superstition and traveling “snake oil salesmen”. Education systems improved and scientific knowledge was disseminated more widely; rather than just being for those with access to higher education, knowledge of basic science was available for everyone. These are all good things. Questioning is a good thing. It is, after all, what lead Hahnemann to delve into the world of like cures like and gentle homeopathic cures using the minimum dose over bloodletting and high doses of mercury. It is the claim that our current scientific model is the be all, end all in how the world works (aka scientism) that is the problem….enter denialism.

 

Denialism:

Merriam-Webster defines denial as:

1.   refusal to satisfy a request or desire

2.   a.    refusal to admit the truth or reality (as of a statement or charge)

      b.    assertion that an allegation is false.

 

Oxford says a denialist is: “A person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence: ‘the small minority of very vocal climate change denialists’”

Our `friends’ at Wikipedia say that “denialism is exhibited by individuals choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth. Author Paul O'Shea remarks, `[It] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event’” and uses examples like Holocaust denialists and climate change denialists to illustrate.

So now that we have looked at the definitions and meanings of these words, let’s discuss their implications, and how we are giving away our power and giving credibility to homeopathy denialists by calling them skeptics.

Skepticism is a good thing, and part of the true scientific method. It means having a critical eye, questioning what information is put before you and holding back judgment when personal bias might be a factor. Greek philosophers held that knowledge was limited by the fact that the thing we are trying to learn about is not accessible and/or the limitations of our minds. In other words, the limitations of measurement and personal bias and/or the lack of mental or scientific development to be able to understand the nature of things prevents us from having true knowledge of the universe/reality.

There is even a pathological medical/psychological definition for denial, which is of interest here because the dogma created around homeopathy denialism comes from a place of fear and irrationality: “a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality”.

“in psychiatry, denial is a defense mechanism in which the existence of unpleasant internal or external realities is denied and kept out of conscious awareness. By keeping the stressors out of consciousness, they are prevented from causing anxiety.” Denialists are so uncomfortable with the fact that homeopathy challenges their known “scientific” view of the world, that they make it into something that has to be nonsense or a lie.

By using the term skeptic to describe someone who is a denialist, it gives them the credibility of a scientist. You are describing someone who has their head in the sand as someone who is ever seeking new knowledge, which just simply isn’t the case.  I’ve already started to work the word ‘skeptic’ out of my vocabulary when it comes to homeopathy denialists. Perception is everything, let’s shift the perception of denialists from scientist to ostrich.

And I will leave you with a quote from the freedictionary.com’s encyclopedia on Skepticism which encompasses the homeopathy debate so beautifully: “But the positivism of many scientists, whether latent or open, is incompatible with skepticism, for it accepts without question the assumption that material effect is impossible without material cause.”

 

Dillena Dillen DHMHS, Reiki Master

http://www.riverdalehomeopathy.com/dillena-dillen/

 

References and further reading:

http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Skeptikoi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_skepticism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skepticism

www.yourdictionary.com/skepticism

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skepticism

https://skeptoid.com/skeptic.php

http://www.britannica.com/topic/skepticism

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&case_insensitive=on&content=skepticism&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cskepticism%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bskepticism%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BSkepticism%3B%2Cc0

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denial

http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/denial

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/denialist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism 

http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Denial+(psychology)

 

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