1) A act of willful ignorance that is often described, or excused, by the person doing it as an act of skepticism.
2) The act of holding two different standards for an idea; the person holds a very high standard of evidence for the side of the argument they don’t like (and this standard may be even higher than scientific procedure requires) while simultaneously holding a very low standard of evidence and support for ideas and the side of the argument they like.
3) A phenomenon whereby a person 1) fears what a fact or scientific finding would mean to them if it were true and so 2) denies the fact or the validity of the scientific finding.
4) It is being closed off from knowledge.
For example, let’s say a person considers the fact that scientists have found evidence to support the idea that greenhouse gasses will increase the planet’s average temperatures to the point where much current life on the planet will be unsustainable. This person then sees this evidence through the lens of their lives. They think, “If this is true, and I agree that it is true, then I’ll have to burn less gas and less home heating fuel. I’ll have to increase the insulation in my home and reconsider my consumption of meat. But I don’t want to do any of those things. So I’ll deny the validity of the scientific evidence.” By rejecting the person can then continue their current behaviors—and do so without a sense of guilt or shame that would come with accepting the scientific evidence and not changing their behavior.
Denial can serve a number of purposes for those who resort to it. One. It can be a way to avoid responsibility. If a person a polluter, for instance, they may deny the harms caused by that pollution. Two. Denial can be a way to defense in favor of a person’s near-term financial interests. If a person is making money from a company or investment which is polluting or causing harm to ecosystems, denial allows the person to avoid the conflict their financial self-interest and their obligations to others and to the planet. Third. Denial can be a way to please those within your social and ideological tribes. If a person denies the validity of facts and evidence that others within your tribe are ideologically against, then you can increase group cohesion and show your loyalty to that group and foster your identity as a good member of that group.
DENIAL VERSUS SKEPTICISM
Those who opt for denial and willful ignorance may justify their behavior by calling themselves skeptics. But there is a wide gulf between the skeptic and the willfully ignorant. The skeptic studies the evidence but avoids making a conclusion. The willfully ignorant refuse to study the evidence and come to a conclusion. The skeptic is open, awaiting new evidence and new information, and the willfully ignorant is closed, certain of their conclusion even if evidence is found to support a claim or scientific theory. The skeptic accepts uncertainty. The willfully ignorant refuse it.
DENIAL AND INVENTED REALITIES
Denial can occur when our invented realities (religions, ideologies, currencies) come into conflict with the fundamental laws of biology, chemistry and physics or when it comes into conflict with the viability of ecosystems. As a cooperative species human beings invent and then cling to these invented realities (which often have no basis in the physical world) as a way increase the cooperation between large numbers of people. However, because of their social role or their role in establishing a person’s role and membership within a group, these invented realities can seem more urgent and emotionally salient than the laws that govern the planet’s ecosystems.