There are many people in parliament and elsewhere who deny various aspects of science: creationists deny evolution; flat-earthers deny most of physics; antivaxxers deny biochemistry and immunology; and AIDS deniers deny microbiology. There are lots of other denialism targets in science and history. For instance: people deny the holocaust, in which up to 6 million Jews and others died; the moon landing in which several spacecraft transported a few blokes to the moon and back; the link between smoking and lung cancer; the age of the earth, as well as numerous other facts1.
While some of these seem simply silly and largely harmless, others have been devastating. South African President, Thabo Mbeki’s denial that HIV caused AIDS prevented many thousands of HIV positive mothers in South Africa receiving anti-retroviral drugs so that they transmitted the disease to their children. His health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, rejected evidence of the efficacy of anti-retrovirals, instead advocating treatment with garlic, beetroot and African potato. This has been estimated to have caused the premature deaths of up to 330,000 people. It was ironic that Mbeki’s departure from office coincided with the award of the Nobel Prize to Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi for their discovery that HIV is indeed the cause of AIDS2.
Those who deny climate science probably have already caused some deaths, and may well be responsible for millions in future. There are many who are paid by fossil fuel corporations and other organisations to deny climate change is happening, and they are guilty of a crime against humanity, and should pay for that crime by facing justice3, but they are not my concern here. However, there are many who have no financial interest in denying climate change but still deny vehemently that it could happen. They are simply exceptionally gullible and will believe anything they want to hear. Some deniers I have bumped into seem to think that it is impossible for so many people to be that gullible (‘we aren’t stupid, you know’[?]). To understand how gullible people are, all you have to do is realise that, across the western world, people in their tens of thousands fell for the Nigerian scam. Just think of what they believed: ‘I am a prince (or politician, wife of dead politician, bank chief), and I have millions of dollars I want to hide; if you let me hide it in your bank account, you can keep a proportion of it; so, give me all you bank account details’. That some people could fall for this, when it was so obviously a scam, demonstrates how supremely gullible they are. When you couple such gullibility with an abstruse field such as climate science and the constant manufacturing of doubt by the fossil fuel industry and their purchased politicians, you have a recipe for large-scale denial.
Most of these gullibles denying science have absolutely no understanding of how science works. They seem to think that a scientific consensus is simply the opinion of a group of scientists, and that a contrary opinion is just as valid. What these people do not understand is the huge amount of evidence that it takes to achieve a scientific consensus. That is the same lack of understanding that allows creationists, flat-earthers and antivaxxers to believe they have something sensible to contribute to humanity. What these gullibles are effectively saying is that their ignorance is as valid as others’ deep knowledge of a subject. The 21st century is an age of information, and to be ignorant is a choice. That is what makes people such as these gullibles beneath contempt.