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What can I use in this sentence:

People who hold on to a belief despite evidence that disproves the belief are called ______.

For example:

"Freddy and his friends were ______, they were advocates for the Flat Earth Society, preaching that the Earth is flat like a mat in the hope of new proselytes."

Like dogmatists but specifically about a prior belief since disproven. I could use zealots or fanatics, but again they do not seem to cover the exact meaning I'm after, i.e., the active advocation of a disproven idea. I came across the term non-evidentialist but would prefer something without the negative prefix (if possible), and it is probably too wide a term. The word fundamentalists tend to have religious connotations, though it may fit as some beliefs can be advocated in a similar manner to religious fervour (hence the use of proselytes above). I quite like the word sheeple? Though again, not the right context. I'm wondering if the word I am after does not exist.

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    Related questions (not duplicates): english.stackexchange.com/q/297877/80039 english.stackexchange.com/q/124853/80039
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:53
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    Maybe cultists. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:42
  • 'Diehards' is what I'd perhaps use, though it's a hypernym, including those clinging on to old beliefs that are actually true, in the face of opposition. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:43
  • *Conspiracy theorist” used in a derogatory sense is the generic term, but not a single word. See Wikipedia entries. Specific conspiracy theories have specific names, e.g., “truthers” and “birthers”.
    – Xanne
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 9:10
  • Be careful, rarely does the 'evidence' fully eliminate all doubt. Often the evidence may be good enough to eliminate some or reasonable doubt, but never ALL doubt. Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 11:46

3 Answers 3

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People who reject ideas in the face of widely accepted evidence can be called denialists. The term can be tailored to fit specific kinds of denialism depending on what commonly held views are being denied - examples include science denialists, Holocaust denialists, climate change denialists, or in your specific example, round-Earth denialists.

Your proposed term of sheeple doesn't really fit, as the term connotes people who mindlessly go along with commonly held beliefs without scrutinizing them. There is an aspect of being easily misled consistent with denialism, but there is also the connotation of belonging to a majority "flock". In fact, denialists may call other people sheeple for buying into commonly held beliefs. Denialism is often associated with "independent thinking" (regardless of how wrong or misguided those thoughts may be), which doesn't really fit with the mindless, accepting nature of sheeple. Sheeple generally accept the default worldview, but denialists actively reject it.

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  • I wonder why I don't remember seeing denialist in this context before, though it appears to be reasonably recent usage, not surprising given the rise of the Internet in the last twenty years. Thanks Hoagie. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:00
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    Or perhaps simply "denier," looking at the action rather than the philosophy. (Though that can't stand on its own the way "denialist" theoretically can.) Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:43
  • rationalwiki.org/wiki/Denialism
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 0:43
  • Your link @StuartF lead me to woo, maybe those who preach disproven science should be called wooists. Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 11:11
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They are delusionalists.

The adjective delusional is defined by Lexico :

delusional [adjective]

Characterized by or holding false beliefs or judgements about external reality that are held despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary ....

And Merriam-Webster adds the corresponding noun

delusionist [noun]:

one given to deluding or to having delusions

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  • I think this is use of delusional is damaged by its use in psychiatry and the everyday use of the psychiatric term. There’s a vast difference between people who think there may be something to astrology and those who think someone is controlling them through their dental fillings, and yet again those who aren’t sure the climate scientists have it all figured out.
    – Xanne
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 9:38
  • 'Those who aren't sure ...' isn't addressed by the question, so shouldn't be brought into the discussion. But I'd agree that this is a strong and marked word ... but there are those who would not see your first two examples as being too dissimilar, and would want the strong term for emphasis. Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 11:29
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I think you have dismissed "fundamentalist" too quickly. In context (quote 1957) and when combined with an attributive noun (as per the quotes of 1960 and 2007) it is devoid of religious content.

From the OED:

fundamentalist (n.)

3. In non-religious contexts: a person who believes in the primacy of fundamental tenets or principles; a person who adheres strictly or dogmatically to the fundamental tenets or principles of any subject, discipline, or movement.

Sometimes with negative connotations of inflexibility or intolerance.

1957 Denton (Texas) Record-Chron. 15 Sept. iii. 13/3 ‘Our downfield blocking looks bad, and it could hurt us seriously if it doesn't improve,’ said Collins, a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist when it comes to football.

1960 New Left Rev. May 6/2 Communist and Labour fundamentalists of the ‘statist’ variety.

2007 Esquire Sept. 89/2 As Peggy descends into madness, she pushes away her WASP-ish brother and sister-in-law and a fellow animal fundamentalist.

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  • This implies that the beliefs are strongly held, but it does not imply that those beliefs are wrong. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:58
  • I came close to using fundamentalists but wanted the term to cover the incorrect aspect of the belief. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:03
  • @DanielS.Fowler all fundamentalists are mistaken. The essence of fundamentalism is that time and knowledge moves on, but fundamentalists do not - they seek apologists.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:09
  • @Greybeard The examples you posted don't even have a "right" or "wrong". A "fundamentalist when it comes to football" simply has strong feelings about football. I don't see how you could argue that one's feelings about football are mistaken in any way. An animal fundamentalist's views might be extreme, but they are not unequivocally incorrect. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:24
  • May need to add who drank the KoolAid. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:38

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