“The Science”. Suddenly it’s everywhere: all-powerful, all-knowing and must be obeyed without question. God, in other words.

Just as pre-Enlightenment despots justified themselves with the sweeping assertion that “God wills it”, the post-Enlightenment despots justify their own bullying prejudices by loftily declaring that they, and they alone, are “listening to the science”. We’re are being finger-wagged at every turn by an army of mediaeval popes, absolutely certain of their infallibility.

The only difference is that anyone who disagrees is no longer pilloried as a “heretic”: now, they’re burned at the stake of social media as “deniers”.

Their Malleus Mallificarum might well be Lee McIntyre’s How to Talk to A Science Denier.

Unlike the witch-hunters of old, McIntyre doesn’t advocate burning heretics to death. He proposed an even worse punishment: boring them to death.

McIntyre wants to help us change people’s minds. Specifically, to help us change the minds of these strange, incomprehensible people called “science deniers”. He addresses five main groups of “deniers”: flat earthers; climate deniers; anti-vaxxers; GMO sceptics; and Covid deniers.

The only problem is that these supposed “deniers” are almost entirely figments of McIntyre’s imagination, every bit as actual as real witches were: a bit thin on the ground in the 16th century.

Even with climate change scepticism, sure, there are people who literally don’t believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are warming the planet. But those people are relatively rare. People who believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are warming the planet, but that the emissions are going to be hard to stop because of economic growth in the developing world and it would make more sense to concentrate on adaptation rather than mitigation, are much more common. Are they “deniers”? Certainly they’re often called deniers. But McIntyre himself acknowledges that China is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and that the IPCC says the sweeping global changes required to cut emissions sufficiently to avoid a 1.5°C warming are unprecedented.

Burn him! He’s a witch!

In fact, like the homophobic puritan with a stack of beefcake pics on his hard drive, McIntyre is just as guilty of sins against “The Science” as those he accuses. For instance, he accuses “deniers” of believing in “conspiracy theories”.

McIntyre spends a lot of time talking about the tobacco firms who manufactured doubt in the smoking/lung cancer link, and the oil firms who did the same with the fossil fuel/climate change link. He says that the spread of Covid denialism through the US government was driven by Republican desire to keep the economy open and win the election. Aren’t these conspiracy theories?

Ah, but for McIntyre these aren’t conspiracy theories, they’re conspiracies. The distinction is “between actual conspiracies (for which there should be some evidence) and conspiracy theories (which customarily have no credible evidence).”

So, since some anti-vaxx conspiracy theories like the polio vaccine giving children polio, or the CIA using fake vaccination stations to take people’s DNA, are true, does that mean anti-vaxxers don’t believe in “conspiracy theories” but “conspiracies”?

Even supposedly wild-eyed, foil-hat “conspiracy theories” like Alex Jones’ “they’re turning the frogs gay” are founded on very real evidence that endocrine disruptors are affecting sexual development in amphibians.

McIntyre’s other great sin against reason is relentlessly straw-manning his imaginary targets.

Hilariously, both of the coal miners he meets cheerfully accept the reality of climate change, but say that the economic value is worth the potential damage to the climate. His first hippyish friend is entirely pro-vax and only slightly GMO-sceptical; the other one is anti-GMO but on anti-corporate grounds rather than safety ones.

So, it appears that McIntyre’s “deniers” are, in fact, far more open-minded and nuanced thinkers than he assumes he is.

McIntyre’s big question, as mentioned, is asking: What evidence would it take to change your mind? But at no point does McIntyre ever ask himself what it would take to change his mind […] But McIntyre never asks himself the question. He is stuck on transmit, never on receive.


This is the great intellectual failure of the “Listen to The Science” crowd. Like a Puritan witch-hunter, they are utterly convinced that they are right and everyone who disagrees with them is not just wrong, but stupid and evil.

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How to Be a Smug Bigot

Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In last decade or...