I keep forgetting to come back here and note things I’ve been writing elsewhere! Here’s a piece on conspiracy theories in science that I’ve been wanting to write for awhile. One version was published at Q Ideas, and a longer version was published at Biologos.
The main point is that an identifier of denialism (what I call faux-skepticism in the article) is the complete lack of skepticism about one’s own position.
Related to this is the tendency of denialists (which I should think more about) to discount the sheer weight of a consensus position. They cherry-pick evidence and publications, but also completely underestimate the imbalance of opinion. This is different from maintaining that the majority might be wrong (of course they might–that’s how science moves forward). But real skeptics realize when they’re in the minority, and they take on the task of convincing the majority. Faux skeptics either don’t realize they’re in the minority, or they refuse to believe it. They waver between saying that numbers don’t matter and publishing outrageous claims about the size of the skeptic community.
Of course, in the end, numbers don’t really matter, because the majority might be wrong. The theory of plate tectonics held on as a minority view among geologists for a long time after it was proposed, because there was no way to make the observations that could build credibility. But the early skeptics of the consensus view knew they were a minority, and they knew that only by making credible scientific observations and advancing testable hypotheses could they prevail.