Sunday, 27 September 2015

AP, how about the term "mitigation sceptic"?

The Associate Press has added an entry into their stylebook on how to address those who reject mainstream climate science. The stylebook provide guidance to the journalists of the news agency, but is also used by many other newspapers. No one has to follow such rules, but journalists and many other writers often follow such style guides for accurate and consistent language. It probably also has an entry on whether you should write stylebook or style book.

The new entry advices to steer clear from the terms "climate sceptic" and "climate change denier", but to use the long form "those who reject mainstream climate science" or if that is too long "climate doubter".

Peter Sinclair just published an interview by the US national public radio (NPR) channel with Associated Press’ Seth Borenstein, who wrote the entry. Peter writes: the sparks are flying. It also sound as if those sparks are read from paper.

How do you call John Christie, a scientists who rejects main stream science? How do you call his colleague Roy Spencer who wrote a book titled: "The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists." How do you call the Republican US Senator with the snowball, [[James Inhofe]], who wrote a book that climate science is a hoax? How do you call Catholic Republican US Senator [[Paul Gosar]] who did not want to listen to Pope talking about climate change? How do you call Anthony Watts, a blogger who is willing to publish everything he can spin into a story against mitigation and science? How do you call Tim Ball, a retired geography professor who likes to call himself climatology professor, who cites from Mein Kampf to explain that climate science is similar to the Big Lie of the Jewish World Conspiracy.

I would suggest: by their name. If you talk about a specific person, it is best to simply use their name. Most labels are inaccurate for a specific person. If positive we may be happy to accept an inaccurate label. A negative label will naturally be disputed and can normally be disputed.

We are thus not looking for a word for a specific person. We are looking for a term for the political movement that rejects mainstream climate science. I feel it was an enormous strawman of AP's Seth Borenstein to talk about John Christy. He is an enormous outlier, he may reject mainstream science, but as far as I know talks like a scientist. He is not representative of the political movement of Inhofe, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Have a look at the main blogs of this political movement: Watts Up With That, Climate Etc., Bishop Hill, Jo Nova. And please do not have a look at the even more disgusting smaller active blogs.

That is the political movement we need a name for. Doubters? That would not be the first term I would think of after some years of participating in this weird climate "debate". If there is one problem with this political movement, it is a lack of doubt. These people are convinced they see obvious mistakes in dozens of scientific problems, which the experts of those fields are unable to see, while they just need to read a few blog posts to get it. If you claim obvious mistakes you have two options: either all scientists are incompetent or they are all in a conspiracy. These are the non-scientists who know better than scientists how science is done. These are the people who understand the teachings of Jesus better than the Pope. Without any doubt.

It would be an enormous step forward in the climate "debate" if these people had some doubts. Then you would be able to talk to them. Then they might also search for information themselves to understand their problems better. Instead they like to call every source of information on mainstream science an activist resource to have an excuse not to try to understand the problem they are not doubting about.

I do think that the guidance of the AP is a big step forwards. It stops the defamation of the term that stands for people who advocate sceptical scientific thinking in every aspect of life. The sceptic organisation the Center for Inquiry has lobbied news organisations for a long time to stop the inappropriate use of the word sceptic. The problems the word doubter has is even more true for the term "sceptic". These people are not sceptical at all, especially they do not question their own ideas.

The style guide of The Guardian and the Observer states:
climate change denier
The [Oxford English Dictionary] defines a sceptic as "a seeker of the truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions".

Most so-called "climate change sceptics", in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny that climate change is happening, or is caused by human activity, so denier is a more accurate term
I fully agree with The Guardian and NPR that "climate change denier" is the most accurate term for this group. They will complain about it because it does not put them in a good light. Which is rather ironic because this is the same demographic that normally complains about Political Correctness when asked to use an accurate term rather than a derogatory term.

The typical complaint is that the term climate change deniers associates them with holocaust deniers. I had that association before they said it. They are the group that promotes this association most actively. A denier is naturally simply someone who denies something, typically something that is generally accepted. The word existed long before the holocaust. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a denier as:
A person who denies something, especially someone who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence:
a prominent denier of global warming
a climate change denier
In one-way communication, I see no problem with simply using the most accurate term. When you are talking with someone about climate science, however, I would say it is best to avoid the term. It will be used to talk about semantics rather than about the science and the science is our strong point in this weird climate "debate".

When you talk about climate change in public, you do so for the people who are listening in. That are many more people and they may have an open mind. The best way to show you have science on your side is to stick to one topic and go in depth, define your terms, ask for evidence and try to understand why you disagree. That is also what scientists would do when they disagree. Staying on topic is the best way to demonstrate their ignorance. You will notice that they will try everything to change the topic. Attend your listeners to this behaviour and keep on asking questions about the initial topic. To use the term "denier" would only make it easier for them to change the topic.

An elegant alternative is the term "climate ostrich". With apologies to this wonderful bird, that does not put his head in sand when trouble is in sight, but everyone immediately gets the connection that a climate ostrich is someone who does not see climate change as a problem. When climate ostriches venture out in the real world, they sometimes wrongly claim that no one has ever denied the greenhouse effect, but they are very sure it is not really a problem.

However, I am no longer convinced that everyone in this political movement does not see the problem. Part of this movement may accept the framing of the environmental movement and of development groups that climate change will hit the poor and vulnerable people most and like that a lot. Not everyone has the same values. Wanting to see people of other groups suffer is not a nice thing to say in public. What is socially acceptable in the US is to claim to reject mainstream science.

To also include this fraction, I have switched to the term "mitigation sceptic". If you listen carefully, you will hear that adaptation is no problem for many. The problem is mitigation. Mitigation is a political response to climate change. This term thus automatically makes clear that we are not talking about scientific scepticism, but about political scepticism. The rejection of mainstream science stems from a rejection of the solutions.

I have used "mitigation sceptic" for some time now and it seems to work. They cannot complain about the "sceptic" part. They will not claim to be a fan of mitigation. Only once someone answered that he was in favour of some mitigation policies for other reasons than climate change. But then these are policies to reduce American dependence on the Saudi Arabian torture dictatorship, or policies to reduce air pollution, or policies to reduce unemployment by shifting the tax burden from labour to energy. These may happen to be the same policies, but then they would not be policies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Post Scriptum. I will not publish any comments claiming that denier is a reference to the holocaust. No, that is not an infringement of your freedom of speech. You can start your own blog for anyone who wants to read that kind of stuff. That does not include me.

[UPDATE. John Mashey suggests the term "dismissives": Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009 carefully characterized the belief patterns of Americans, which they survey regularly. The two groups Doubtful and Dismissive are different enough to have distinct labels.

Ceist, in a comment suggested: "science rejecters".

Many options, no need for the very inaccurate term "doubter" for people who display no doubt. ]

Related reading

Newsweek: The Real Skeptics Behind the AP Decision to Put an End to the Term 'Climate Skeptics'.

Eli has a post on the topic, not for the faint at heart: Eli Explains It All.

Greg Laden defends Seth Borenstein as an excellent journalist, but also sees no "doubt": Analysis of a recent interview with Seth Borenstein about Doubt cf Denial.

My immature and neurotic fixation on WUWT or how to talk to mitigation sceptics in public.

How to talk to uncle Bob, the climate ostrich or how to talk to mitigation sceptics in your social circles.

Do dissenters like climate change?

Planning for the next Sandy: no relative suffering would be socialist.


  1. Climate sceptics uphold the old values of what was once called "science". That is we base our views on the evidence and not what some daft blogger, academic or worse some journalists tells us we should believe.

    So call us what you want - in the end real science always wins out.

    Like 18 years without warming - what matters to any sensible person is what the evidence really is.

  2. Unknown, thank you for this classical example of a mitigation sceptic who knows better how science works than academics, who can judge the evidence better than scientists, but gets a his information from bloggers and journalists. And a mitigation sceptic who is not very sceptical of his own statistics skills when it comes to the "hiatus".

    I did not hear any doubt. Thank you very much for that.

  3. Dear Unknown:

    You have to ignore/deny a whole lot of evidence to come to come to your 'logical' and 'scientific' conclusion. Old style scientists who really were versed in looking at all the evidence would not be impressed with you.

  4. Many years ago, Eli suggested rejectionist. Indeed this is close to the second suggestion of ap, "those who reject climate change". Your mitigation sceptic misses because there are many who think there is no problem at all, thus adaptation or mitigation is not needed.

    Very nice piece tho.

  5. If someone is sceptical about adaptation and mitigation, this person is by definition sceptical about mitigation and thus a mitigation sceptic. If I may make this a semantic discussion.

  6. I've repeated what I've said before. If people don't like a label that they think might apply to them, there are 3 things they can do. They can decide that their views and behaviour is entirely justified and that those doing the labelling are idiots and should be ignored; they can decide that in fact the label is justified and they can then decide to change their views and how they behave; they can simply own it. Whining about labelling just seems to be an attempt to get others to stop using a label that they don't like, without having to consider that they label is in fact a reasonable description of their views and behaviour.

  7. Ceist, thank you for your suggestions, but I would prefer not to publish them; my above post is already at the limit.

  8. I personally like "contrarian". -MMM

  9. I'm mostly glad AP Whacked "skeptic."
    As a reminder, Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics.

    That includes a brief essay by Steve Schneider, always worth revisiting.

  10. First time I've come across 'mitigation sceptic'. I like it. In particular it focusses on the genuine area of disagreement and moves people towards more productive thinking around that. I find that most of the people who repeat things from WUWT etc are generally credulous and closed-minded rather than sceptical, but scepticism is a broader idea when applied to an area of policy.

    I'd agree labels in general are often imprecise or abusive, and can stop us finding common ground for enquiry should that be a genuine possibility. There's a talk by George Marshall on YouTube called 'How to talk to a climate change denier', that nevertheless suggests 'climate dissident', and I use 'climate contrarian'.

    I also like the idea of reminding those people who cling to their invalid arguments that they had lost previous arguments and really should shift position.


Comments are welcome, but comments without arguments may be deleted. Please try to remain on topic. (See also moderation page.)

I read every comment before publishing it. Spam comments are useless.

This comment box can be stretched for more space.