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7th March 2021

From election results to mask and lockdown mandates, and from vaccines to the very virus itself, denialism has seemingly made the move from the fringe of public discourse to its very centre. And yet many questions about denialism remain unanswered: what actually is it, what is underlying it and where will it lead? And that’s where sociologist Dr Keith Kahn-Harris comes in

Denial, according to Dr Kahn-Harris, is a hard-wired psychological tool we’ve all used to avoid difficulties, threats and embarrassments, whereas denialism is an expansion of denial to encompass an entire worldview. Denialism, Kahn-Harris continues, fosters hate and suspicion, is doubtlessly dangerous and is driven by a desperate desire for something not to be true

The end of denialism, is not, however, Kahn-Harris hastens to point out, necessarily a good thing. Without denialism the denialists would have to admit some terrible truths, such as not caring if the vulnerable die as long as they don’t have to wear a mask. However, Kahn-Harris warns, this epochal shift to post-denialism seems to be almost upon us and we need to be ready to react to it.

In less apocalyptic news, tomorrow at 7pm you can pull back the curtain and meet the shiny new organising committee, as we discuss scepticism, what it means to us and where we go from here, in the pilot for Cambridge Skeptics Live

Cambridge Skeptics

The End of Denialism?
with Dr Keith Kahn-Harris
Thursday, 11th March 2021 at 7:00pm
Covid denialism is currently a global threat, but denialism has been around for years: Holocaust denial, global warming denial, anti-vaxxers, 911 conspiracism, creationism and more. Recently though Covid denialism and denial of Trumps election loss have become mainstream Debunking denialist claims is essential – yet also rarely effective. In this talk, Dr Keith Kahn-Harris will argue that we are now seeing both the triumph of denialism and its end. He argues that denialism emerges when one’s deepest desires are ‘unspeakable’. Increasingly though, we are seeing denialism superseded by the open acknowledgement of desire. So in thinking about denialism, we also have to consider whether a world without it might not be a truth-filled utopia, but something even worse. 

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer. Denial: The Unspeakable Truth was his fifth book. His badly-designed website can be found at and he tweets irregularly as @KeithKahnHarris. 

Useful Links:

The Holocaust never happened. The planet isn't warming. Vaccines harm children. There is no such thing as AIDS. The Earth is flat. Denialism comes in many forms, often dressed in the garb of scholarship or research. It's certainly insidious and pernicious. Climate change denialists have built well-funded institutions and lobbying groups to counter action against global warming. Holocaust deniers have harried historians and abused survivors. AIDS denialists have prevented treatment programmes in Africa. All this is bad enough, but what if, as Keith Kahn-Harris asks, it actually cloaks much darker, unspeakable, desires? If denialists could speak from the heart, what would we hear? Kahn-Harris sets out not to unpick denialists' arguments, but to investigate what lies behind them. The conclusions he reaches are shocking and uncomfortable. In a world of `fake news' and `post-truth', are the denialists about to secure victory?
Why do some people deny things - from Flat Earthers to climate change denialists? Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris gives BBC Ideas his take.
From vaccines to climate change to genocide, a new age of denialism is upon us. Why have we failed to understand it? Asks Keith Kahn-Harris for The Guardian
So, I've Been Thinking...
Fata Morgana, Fait Accompli?
Well, the thing about the sky - its main distinguishing feature - is it's blue. And the thing about the sea, the colour of sea, your basic sea colour, is blue. So... 

Unfortunately, this seemingly simple observation was apparently lost as David Morris’s photo of a large vessel seemingly floating in the sky off of the Cornish coast found itself the subject of both churnalism and misguided scepticism worthy of the worst of the flat-Earth community.


A perfectly reasonable explanation for the appearance of the vessel in the image above had been posited in the original reporting of it by Chris Matthews of Cornwall Live:

“It is likely the remarkable optical illusion was caused by a cloud formation closer to the shore, which changed the colour of the water closer to the land. The boat, being further away, was in a cloudless area and therefore the sky reflected the sea - making it look like the boat was floating.”

And early churning from ITV and the Daily Express retained this explanation. 

However, when the BBC then churned the image they attempted to justify their action by adding the standard explanation for such photos of superior mirage courtesy of meteorologist David Braine, and this was the explanation that was attached to subsequent re-churnings by the likes of The Guardian. 

While, a little late to the party, the Daily Mail further compounded the confusion by churning the image alongside an entirely predictable quote from an unnamed spokesman for the Met Office conjuring up the more complex but far cooler sounding fata morgana mirage as an explanation.

Mick West of Metabunk has done a convincing job of explaining why a false horizon caused by weather conditions, as the witnesses themselves, who have a clearer and more complete view of the situation, often state, is a more likely explanation than the mirage of these experts' summary dismissals. 
Nonetheless, with this possibly erroneous explanation attached, some in the skeptic community seized upon the image as our own apparent black swan, challenging flat-Earthers to explain it or abandon their patently false beliefs, apparently oblivious to how badly this has turned out when the roles were reversed.

Even worse were those so-called skeptics who just completely ignored all these explanations and decried the whole thing as CGI Photoshop in a conclusive leap which even for flat-Earthers has become something of a tired trope. 

The image is, however, apparently real and can be just as easily explained using phenomena that would probably work as well on a flat-Earth as they actually do on an irregularly shaped ellipsoid, and all that is required to discover this is to go back to the original source. 

Chris Gyford, Cambridge Skeptics

After Disney dropped one of their stars over antisemitic social media posts, we look at common problematic tropes in 'anti-globalist' imagery, writes Aaron Rabinowitz for The Skeptic.
When the attempted coup of January 6th failed, supporters of Qanon picked up the Sovereign Citizen belief that the revolution will take place on March 4th, writes Thiago Vahia Malliagros for
The Skeptic.
The alternative medicine community is very fond of their charcoal toothpastes, but the vast majority offer zero protection to teeth, writes Shaun Sellars for The Skeptic.
Join neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett as he answers questions and challengs misconceptions about mental health flagged up by the SITP community. This event, which was streamed live on 18th February 2021, is now available for catch up on the SitP Online YouTube channel.
Join neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett as he answers questions and challengs misconceptions about mental health flagged up by the SITP community. This event, which was streamed live on 18th February 2021, is now available for catch up on the SitP Online YouTube channel.
Join neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett as he answers questions and challengs misconceptions about mental health flagged up by the SITP community. This event, which was streamed live on 18th February 2021, is now available for catch up on the SitP Online YouTube channel.
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