Denialism | Michael Specter

Summary of: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives
By: Michael Specter


Welcome to the intriguing world of ‘Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives’ by Michael Specter. In this book summary, we explore denialism – the deliberate ignorance of facts in favor of a self-serving belief. As you delve deeper, you’ll uncover how denialism obstructs progress in various fields like medicine, food, and science, often leading to destructive consequences. Moreover, you’ll learn about the alarming rise of denialist thinking in society today, demonstrated through compelling examples such as Vioxx, the anti-vaccination movement, and organic food myths.

The Trap of Denialism

Denialism is a dangerous psychological state that involves ignoring facts to preserve self-serving beliefs or ideologies. Although denial can be a healthy coping mechanism, living in denial over the long term results in never coming to terms with reality. Denialism is widespread in many fields, such as medicine, food, and science, and obstructs progress. This willful suspension of belief is a pervasive, morally self-satisfied myth that has destructive consequences. Denialism upholds misguided opinions that keep the denier in a state of oblivion, leading to erroneous decision-making processes based on fantasy rather than fact. Accepting scientific facts and new technologies is crucial to avoid falling into an era of magical thinking. Denialism is denial writ large, where an entire segment of society turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie. We must confront the trap of denialism and face reality to progress.

The Corporate Denialism of Merck & Company

In 1999, Merck & Company introduced the painkiller Vioxx, which was highly effective in suppressing arthritic pain without the gastrointestinal side effects of other pain relievers. However, studies revealed a clear link between Vioxx and heart attacks, which Merck denied. The company even went after doctors and scientists who supported the contention that Vioxx use could spur heart attacks. Merck removed Vioxx from the market and created a lawsuit settlement fund of almost $5 billion. This triggered a widespread shift in attitude toward large pharmaceutical companies and the US FDA, leading to new levels of distrust. The irony is that Vioxx killed far fewer people than other pain relievers; acknowledging the risk could have saved lives and maintained trust between patients and drug manufacturers.

The Antivaccination Movement

The rise of the antivaccination movement, fueled by parental suspicion that the MMR vaccination and thimerosal cause autism, led to a drop in vaccination rates and resurgence of preventable diseases. Despite numerous studies, including the US National Academy of Science’s conclusion that there is no link between the MMR shot and autism, antivaccination activists continue to reject the scientific evidence and promote their beliefs, resulting in a dangerous epidemic of denialism.

The Real Food Battle

Americans Should Focus More on Mindless Consumption Than Organic Food

Organic food has gained traction in America with Walmart and Costco being its largest distributors. However, it only constitutes 5% of the nation’s diet and doesn’t solve the bigger dietary issues. Americans should shift their attention to fighting the actual enemies – sugar, calories, and diabetes, along with mindless consumption. The bigger picture is that biotechnology crops are needed to feed the world’s growing population as organic farming would require too much land and water. Livestock also contributes to the problem as they consume 80% of the world’s soybeans and more than half the corn. A change in dietary habits and crop patterns would help fight world hunger more than organic farming alone.

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