Library Catalogs Deny Science Denial

Many libraries stock works such as Donald Prothero’s Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (2013), Stephen Epstein’s Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (1996), Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science (2005), Nicoli Nattrass’s Mortal Combat: AIDS Denialism and the Struggle for Antiretrovirals in South Africa (2007), Seth Kalichman’s Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy (2009), Pieter Fouri and Melissa Meyer’s Politics of AIDS Denialism: South Africa’s Failure to Respond (2010), Nicoli Nattrass’s The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back (2012), John Cook’s Climate Change Denial (2011), Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Merchants of Doubt (2011), Robert Kenner’s 2015 documentary film Merchants of Doubt, Michael Specter’s Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives (2009), Hannah Allen’s Don’t Get Stuck! The Case Against Vaccinations and Injections (1985), Paul A. Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All (2010), Mark A. Largent’s Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America (2012), Paul A. Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure (2008), PBS’s Frontline documentary Vaccine War (2010), Viera Scheibner’s Vaccination: 100 Years of Orthodox Research Shows That Vaccines Represent an Assault on the Immune System (1993), and Eleanor McBeans’s Poisoned Needle (1957).

But if you don’t already know the author or title and so make a subject search in the online catalog under “Science Denialism,” “AIDS Denialism,” “Climate Change Denialism,” or “Antivaccine Movement,” you will likely find . . . nothing. It will seem that the library doesn’t really have such materials, although they do.

Why? Because the Library of Congress has not recognized these topics as subject headings. Since most American libraries (and many others) will not assign headings (i.e., access points) to relevant resources in their collections unless the Library of Congress has done so first, the practical effect is that the subject searches in nearly all catalogs will not reveal items on AIDS, science, and climate change denial, as well as the antivaccine movement, despite their having resources on these themes.

In order to improve access for interested citizens and scholars to such “denialism” books, films, and documents, the Library of Congress must create and then currently and retrospectively assign appropriate descriptors to cataloged materials. I (and perhaps others) have formally asked them to do so. Thus far, they haven’t.

What might help in persuading the Library of Congress to establish and use these needed rubrics is a statement from the Center for Inquiry urging such action. Support letters from individual CSI members, plus Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry readers, would also be helpful. Correspondence should be directed to:

Cataloging Policy & Support Office

Library of Congress

Washington, DC 20540-4305

For background on the “currency” and other problems in Library of Congress subject and descriptive cataloging, see my Joy of Cataloging (1981); “Jackdaws Strut in Peacock’s Feathers: The Shame of ‘Standard’ Cataloging,” Librarians at Liberty, June 1998, p. 1, 4–21; and quarterly “Berman’s Bag” columns in the Unabashed Librarian. Also, Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People (1993 edition).


Many libraries stock works such as Donald Prothero’s Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (2013), Stephen Epstein’s Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (1996), Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science (2005), Nicoli Nattrass’s Mortal Combat: AIDS Denialism and the Struggle for Antiretrovirals in South Africa (2007), Seth Kalichman’s Denying …

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