Selling Confusion

This is a great post by Seth Godin about the campaign of confusion that has caused social upheaval across the world. He addresses three subjects: evolution, vaccines, and climate change.

“Over the last few decades, there’s been a consistent campaign to sow confusion around evolution, vaccines and climate change.

In all three areas, we all have access to far more data, far more certainty and endless amounts of proof that the original theories have held up. The data is more accurate than it’s ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids’ (and parents’) lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.

And yet…

Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn’t need to be right to be confusing.

Worth noting that this response doesn’t happen around things that are far more complicated or scientifically controversial (like gravity and dark matter). It’s the combination of visceral impact and tribal cohesion that drives the desire to deny.”

That last point is salient. While dubious of certain science, deniers readily accept other things, like cellular phones, solar eclipses, nautical navigation, airplanes, radar, sonar, etc. All these things are results of the methods and tools of science–just like evolution, vaccines, and climate change.


“Cigarette companies were among the original denialists (they claimed that cigarettes were unrelated to lung cancer, but that didn’t work out very well for them), and much of their confusion playbook is being used on these new topics.”

The confusion playbook now has a powerful weapon: social media. So effective is the reach of social media that adversarial nations (Russia) are using it to effect disruptions in our social, political, and perhaps even economical systems.

Godin asks the one question that I don’t think gets asked enough:

“To what end? Confusion might help some industries or causes in the short run, but where does it lead? Working to turn facts into political issues doesn’t make them any less true.

If this growing cohort ‘wins’, what do they get? In a post-science world, where physics and testable facts are always open to the layman’s opinion in the moment, how are things better? How does one develop a new antibiotic without an understanding of speciation and disease resistance?”