Media Gaslighting

On media tropes and fallacies: Gaslighting

Ingrid Bergman, 1944 Film 'Gaslight'

Ingrid Bergman, 1944 Film ‘Gaslight’

Gaslighting is a sophisticated form of manipulation, used to create doubt, often on controversial issues touching on public policy, global warming, vaccine safety.  Most often the point of the gaslighting is to quell through manipulation and intimidation, any form of questioning of the controversial topic.

“The slang term “gaslighting”, from the movie “Gaslight”, refers to psychological abuse and emotional manipulation in which a person is driven to irrational positions by denying changes in reality. In the movie, the evil husband tormented his wife by dimming their home’s gaslights a little each night, then insisting he didn’t: “No, dear, if you think the lights are getting dimmer, you must be losing your mind.”

A current example, regarding objections to vaccination McKarthyism.

The prevailing attitude toward parents who even question a link between autism and vaccinations goes something like this:

1.  You know that doctor was a complete fraud, and the whole thing has been completely discredited.

2.  If you really expect me to have an intelligent conversation with you, you had better get straight with the facts.  There’s a really good study refuting that.

3.  You know all those desperate, emotional autism moms are just looking for something to blame for their kids’ autism.

4. OMG, you’re one of those freaking crazy antivaxxers! Stay away from my kids!

5. All of the above.

A somewhat recent example commentary: On TSA Groping/Screening and it’s psychological impact on american society.

“In Politico, Michael Kinsley urged compliance in a long screed which boiled down to “I’ve never had problems with the TSA, so why should anyone else?” William Saletan of Slate called the Opt-Out Day protest “idiocy” and told travelers, “Ignore these imbeciles. Their plan would clog security lines and ruin your holiday for no good reason.”

Yet another contemporary example would be the subject of climate change and public policy.   Anyone who expresses skepticism about conclusions made in climate change discussions is often accused of being unscientific, a pseudoscientist, or a quack. on Global Warming Denialism.

A scientific consensus is reached when the vast majority of the scientists involved in a discipline broadly agree on the interpretation of the evidence pertaining to a specific scientific question. When this occurs the case can be considered to have been demonstrated and the burden of proof then falls on those who would dispute the consensus.

The irony of the subsequent contradiction is amusing, on the Burden of Proof Fallacy (Logical Fallacies)

If the only evidence for something’s existence is a lack of evidence for it not existing, then the default position is one of mild skepticism and not credulity. This type of negative proof is common in proofs of God‘s existence or in pseudosciences where it is used as an attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the skeptic rather than the proponent of the idea.


One Response

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