One of the favorite pastimes of denialists of all shapes and sizes is the “I’m just asking questions” gambit. They pose questions about something that has already been scientifically settled and say that they’re just looking for “honest debate” on the subject. But it’s often, again, on things that have been settled. It’s like the holocaust revisionists who say that they just want to “set the record straight” about what happened in German-controlled Europe in the 1930s and 40s. They’ll put a little bit of untruth in the truth and seed doubt in the minds of their readers and followers.
Anti-vaccine activists will say that there have been no double-blind clinical trials on vaccines and then walk away from the conversation, knowing that they have put doubt in the minds of people who don’t know better. While there have been such trials on most vaccines, a lot of what we know about vaccine safety and efficacy comes from observational studies. We know that vaccinated people are less likely to be part of an outbreak as a group and that individuals are less likely to catch a vaccine-preventable disease if they’re immunized. It would be highly unethical for us to take a group of babies at birth and randomize them into a “to be vaccinated” and “to not be vaccinated” group now that we know what we know about vaccines and the diseases they prevent.
Similarly, HIV-AIDS denialists will say that they just want to have a conversation about AIDS because some whacky scientist here and there has a theory that has been disproven. They say that we, the scientists of the world who look at evidence gathered through the scientific process, are “stifling open dialogue” on HIV-AIDS and go as far as to accuse us of not wanting to do anything about the HIV pandemic. Again, I find that they do this in public and in private just to clear themselves of the filth that is their denialism of science and to make it sound like they’re just reasonable people asking honest questions. At least that’s how they come off to me. I could be wrong.
This also happened:
I was having lunch close to the Capitol the other day with a friend and colleague. A woman next to us was talking to her friends about a recent photo essay whereby a photographer took pictures of men who catcalled at her. If you look at the pictures, most of the men are Black. So this woman next to us says to her friend, “It figures. They’re all f*cking Black.”
I had to put down my sandwich and take a deep breath. The woman continued saying that it was her experience that Black men were more likely to catcall her and make her feel unsafe. My friend, being the good friend that she is, told me not to get involved. But I couldn’t help myself. I likes me a good hornet’s nest. I turned around and told the woman that the photo essay was created in Philadelphia, and that she herself was sitting in Washington, DC, one of the cities with the highest concentration of African Americans in the nation. Chances are, in DC alone, that half of the men she encounters on any given day are Black. In Philadelphia, it’s about 45%. And, had she bothered to look at all the pictures in that photo essay, there were White and Latino men in there as well, and in about the same proportion as the demographics of Philadelphia.
That inability to think critically before speaking and/or holding an opinion is what gets denialists and racists in trouble all the time. How can you sit there and tell me that you want to have an “honest discussion about the HIV-AIDS ‘theory'” when it has been established that people with HIV develop AIDS without treatment, that people with AIDS all have HIV infections, and that treatment against HIV relieves and even reverses the syndrome that is AIDS? How? Similarly, how can you sit there and say that Black men are more likely to catcall without any evidence other than a series of pictures of catcalling men not taken at random and in one of the “Blackest” cities in the United States? (Seriously, go to downtown LA and tell me what the demographics of catcalling men there is.)
Every single day I encounter some inane argument from someone who obviously didn’t think things through. Sadly, and probably because of where I work, that person is also someone in a position of power.