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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
This is a chapter from the book "Building your Skeptical Toolkit" written by Andrew Dart that I thought was really helpful since there seems to be a lot of confusion about what a "skeptic" is.

It talks about vaccines and uses vaccine examples quite a bit throughout, and since we see these sorts of claims and arguments from the non/anti-vaccine community all over the place on the internet and T.V., I thought it could be helpful for lurkers/newbies (and us, too!) :)

http://www.adart.myzen.co.uk/files/goodbad.pdf


Here, he discusses the difference between true skepticism and what he calls "skepticism's evil twin" denialism:

Skepticism is about looking at the evidence for a claim with an open mind, weighing up that evidence as well as the arguments both for and against your positions and being willing to change your mind if the evidence conflicts with your pre-existing beliefs. In fact, a good skeptic wants to be shown that they are wrong, they demand the evidence against what they believe and actively seek out the arguments against their position, and if a belief they have is shown conclusively to be wrong then they will happily abandon it.

Denialism on the other hand is driven by ideology rather than evidence. Now denialists may claim they care about the evidence and will happily display any that supports their point of view, but in most cases they reject far more evidence than they accept. Furthermore, denialists will cling to evidence no matter how many times they have been shown that it is flawed, incorrect or that it does not support their conclusions; the same old arguments just come up again and again. Denialism also tends to focus on trying to generate a controversy surrounding the subject at hand, often in the public rather than scientific arena, and does so more often than not by denying that a scientific consensus on the matter even exists.
I thought the bolded was particularly relevant re: Wakefield et al asking for congressional hearings, raising 400k to produce documentaries, T.V shows, etc instead of just.... you know.... proving it with actual science.

He goes on to use thimerosal in vaccines as an example (one many of us have used as well)

They also claim their concerns about vaccinations are driven by the evidence rather than by ideological issues. And yet when thimerosal, an ethyl mercury-containing organic compound and the ingredient in vaccines that was claimed to cause autism, was removed from vaccines and autism rates did not change they simply refocused the target of their concern from thimerosal to other chemicals used in vaccines. The numerous papers showing no link between thimerosal in particular and vaccines in general and autism and the growing consensus amongst scientists that autism is primarily a genetic condition continue to be simply dismissed or outright ignored by the anti-vaccination movement. This is not how skepticism works.
He then goes in depth into how you can recognize "true" skepticism from denialism by pointing out five things you often see in denialism and gives examples of each, which I encourage people to read (Conspiracy Theories, Fake Experts, Cherry Picking, Impossible Expectations and Moving the Goalposts, and Misrepresentation and Logical Fallacies).

He concludes:

Now as I wrap up this chapter I want to make one thing clear. It is more than possible for someone to be a genuine skeptic and have their doubts about the various subjects mentioned in this chapter. Someone can be legitimately skeptical about, say, how much effect mankind has on climate change or how big a role natural selection really played in producing the vast variety of life we see around us. It is not the topic that makes someone a skeptic or a denier, it is how they handle evidence that contradicts their pre-existing beliefs. Do they resort to claiming there is a conspiracy to supress the truth in order to explain why the evidence is against them? Are the people presenting the argument actually experts in the topic at hand? Do they cherry pick the data and only present those findings that agree with them? And do they constantly move the goalposts and make use of logical fallacies in defence of their claims? If you keep a look out for these five things then you should have a good idea whether you are dealing with a genuine skeptic or a closed minded denier.
 
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