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Sunday
Jan202013

What inferences can be drawn from *empirical evidence* about the science-communication impact of using the term "climate change denier"?

Andy "dotearth" Revkin, the Hank Aaron of environmental-science journalism, posted this question after a colloquy with other thoughtful science communicators. Andy apparently was moved to ask it after observing a talk on climate change by "science guy" Bill Nye.

Here is my answer. I invite others to supplement!

As is so for climate change, sometimes positions on a risk or other policy-consequential fact become publicly recognizable symbols of membership in opposing cultural groups. When that happens, members of those groups are likely to judge the expertise of any science communicator who is addressing that risk based on whether they see him or her as aligned with or hostile to their own group.  E.g., see  

1. Corner, A., Whitmarsh, L., & Xenias, D. Uncertainty, scepticism and attitudes towards climate change: biased assimilation and attitude polarisation. Climatic Change, 1-16. doi: 10.1007/s10584-012-0424-6

2. Kahan, D., Braman, D., Cohen, G., Gastil, J., & Slovic, P. (2010). Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition. Law and Human Behavior, 34(6), 501-516.

3. Kahan, D. M., Jenkins-Smith, H., & Braman, D. (2011). Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. J. Risk Res., 14, 147-174.

This helps explain why even people who are pro-science & who believe science should inform public policy generally can polarize on a policy-consequential fact that admits of scientific evidence (an effect that persists even among highly science literate members of opposing groups).

Accordingly, whether or not he "alienates" anyone, I think when someone like Bill Nye speaks about "climate change deniers" he creates the foreseeable risk that many ordinary people, including many reflective and open-minded ones, will not view him as credible. "Climate denial," for them,  is likely to be a cue that causes them to perceive Nye (perhaps rightly, but perhaps wrongly) as aligned with a cultural group that harbors animosty toward their own. They will thus not view him as a genuine (or at least not as a trustworthy) "expert" but instead seem him as a partisan.  Consistent with Brendan Nyhan's recent study, exposure to Nye's advocacy might even intensify the strength with which ordinary people are committed to the position he is attacking.

These are conjectures, extrapolations from the results of studies that are in effect models of how people process information in such settings.  One could test my view by taking a recording of Nye's remarks and showing it to a general population sample. If those who observed him became more culturally polarized relative to a control group who didn't see Nye's remarks, that would be evidence supportive of the hypothesis I just offered, whereas if they didn't polarize or even started to converge relative to the control group, that would be evidence the other way.  I'm happy to advise or collobarate w/ anyone who would like to do the study (including Bill Nye, provided he gives me one of his cool ties).

Such a test would still only be a model, btw, from which conclusions about how to talk to whom about what (assuming one actually wants to have a meaningful exchange of ideas with someone) would still depend on inferences reflecting information, evidence, beliefs, etc. independent of the study itself. That's the way things are, always and on everything that one can study with empirical methods (this is obvious but it bears repeating -- over & over & over -- because many people have the unscientific view that scientific studies "prove/disprove" propositions & "demonstrate" the wisdom of courses of action in some way that obviates the need to rely on judgment and reason, not to mention the need ever to consider any more evidence ever again).

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Reader Comments (33)

Lately I've been using the term "misinformer," which I think more accurately describes what's going on. I tend not to use the term "denier," as it seems to put climate-change misinformers in the same class as Holocaust deniers -- doesn't seem like the same thing. Likewise, I don't use the term "anti-science," as I don't think science is really the issue. These rhetorical terms might serve to rally the troops in some way, but I don't see them as useful communication tools if the intent is persuasion.

January 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAl Bredenberg

Seems to me that the counterproductivity of using the term "denier" is fairly obvious. But even if the counterproductivity can't be proven, could there be any possible advantage to using the term? Does it advance understanding in any way? Does it create an environment for productive exchange of views? Does it in any way further the goals of people who are concerned about the potential dangers of climate change?

That said, two related points:

(1) The first is that I find the "outrage" about the use of the term (based on the claim that the term is based on comparing "skeptics" to holocaust deniers) to be faux outrage - that boils down, essentially, to a cynical exploitation of the holocaust for the purpose of Jell-o flinging in the climate debate food fight.

(2) It is completely hypocritical for those "skeptics" who make a big deal out of the use of the term "denier" to then turn around and use a long list of similar pejoratives ("warmist," "CAGWer" "alarmist" etc.).

January 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

You say the use of the word "denier" in this context can create the impression in the minds of "many ordinary people" that such users might be "aligned with a cultural group that harbors animosty toward their own", as you say, perhaps rightly, but perhaps wrongly. But doesn't rightly or wrongly matter here? And Doesn't Mann's response in your update -- "'climatechange' denial accepted terminology in discipline", e.g. -- as well as the Scholars and Rogues article that apparently thinks the alternate word "skeptic" is a euphemism or misnomer, tend to support the idea that it's at least possible these people actually are biased, i.e., not credible? If not, is there anything that could make that point, and if so, what? A screen cap of Bill Nye on Rachel Madddow's MSNBC (the Fox News of the left) show isn't enough to do so, I'll grant, but don't you think it's at least consistent with an assumption of bias?

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Labels as shorthand for beliefs or positions are difficult, especially in the case of controversies where opponents disagree on the facts. They can be simply descriptive, based on some concept or prominent feature of the belief, or pejorative, seeking associations with offensive or disapproved of images. Pejorative labels are used in the demonisation of the outsider, and important element of in-group social dynamics. Using the term serves to identify oneself as a member, signal one's commitment to the group, and enforce the exclusion of the outsider, as well as creating unpleasant mental associations in anyone listening about the outsiders.

The cultural context of the term 'denier' is well-known, and given the discussion it's quite clear those using the term know about it. The claim that it's simply descriptive doesn't wash - anyone who takes a firm position on anything denies the opposite position, so used on it's own it doesn't make sense. And there are plenty of alternative yet still descriptive terms without the offensive associations, so to continue using it after being asked not to is a deliberate choice, one made in full knowledge of how it will be interpreted.

There are certainly pejoratives that go the other way. The most common ones being those comparing belief in AGW catastrophe with a millenarian religious cult. Some go a lot further, the most famous recent one perhaps being the 'Jerry Sandusky' comparison used of one climate scientist. The ones Joshua lists are, I think, mostly attempts to be descriptive, although their use as out-group labels does tend to give them a taint. Warmist is one who believes the world is warming. Alarmist is one who raises alarm. CAGWer is one who believes in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Alarmist does indeed have some baggage - that of a person who raises the alarm falsely or who exaggerates. But the other two are simply words used in the believer's own definition of their position, with suffixes applied to grammatically convert a position into a person. (Like scientist, therapist, leader, follower, etc.)

I don't think you can get away from the use of labels, and I don't think you can avoid them getting associated with the in-group/out-group mentality and hence acquiring a pejorative tang. But it's certainly possible to minimise the effect, if that's what you want to do. People who use 'denier' or 'Jerry Sandusky' evidently don't want to, being happy with the in-group/out-group effect such language inspires, and far from hoping to open dialogue with their opponents are intent on slamming it shut and excluding the outsider.

It's a shame, because it cheapens the impact to so use the victims of those crimes for mere rhetoric, but it's been human nature for millenia, and it's not going to stop now. There's no sense in getting wound up about it.

There have been several attempts to come up with neutral terms that both sides can live with. It would be interesting to know if any progress has been made on that. What would believers in impending AGW catastrophe like to be called? Can you give us a list?

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Larry: Good points. You make me believe I should try to disentangle several complicated (it seems to me, at least) questions.

a. *Should I (or you, or any other citizen of the Liberal Republic of Science) not listen to ‘aligned’ people?* I might infer that someone is "aligned" w/ a cultural group, but *not* believe that I should *for that reason* view the person as “not an expert” or as “untrustworthy” or as “biased” in sense of giving evidence unbalanced weight based on its upshot. In fact, I am sure that would be a foolish thing to do. I want to know things, as many things as I can. Why would I believe that only people of one cultuarl orientation have things to teach me? *You* are “aligned,” or so I suspect, but I am curious to know if you know something I should know. So I want to try to figure that out as best I can using the usual sorts of criteria that people validly use to assess whether you know what you are talking about – and as I said, I don’t view your cultural outlooks as being one of those, since I don’t believe there is any correlation between having particular values & knowing intersting things.

b. *But will I listen?* Nevertheless, if I know you are aligned, and aligned w/ some group other than mine, I might unconsciously discount what yous say – maybe because I am less likely to think you are a cool person, or maybe b/c I have some tendency to avoid the risk that others in my group will see me being too open to yours & not trust me or like me etc. Actually, the possibility that *I'll* be unconsciously biased against an information source w/ values different from mine worries me. I want to do my best to resist such a thing. Accordingly, if you convey, in your language or any other aspect of your style, that you are not in my group, I will actually remind myself that what I really care about is learning something & so I really shouldn’t care what you value. Indeed, I’ll remind myself that, life being the way it is, I tend to get more information from people who share my values, & thus am getting a biased sample, as it were, of views on intersting things, & that I am actually now quite lucky to be in conversation w/ someone who is more likely to have learned something I don’t know already.

c. *Should I listen to biased people? Should I worry about culturally biased people?* If someone tends to misweigh evidence b/c of some commitment to a particular conclusion, we shouldn’t listen or should not w/o making an appropriate adjustment, if we know how, to correct for that bias. But as I said, I don’t think being “aligned” per se makes someone biased in that way. It creates a risk of bias, either by giving him or her a conscious reason to mislead me or by unconsciously distorting that person’s honest assessment of the evidence. Those are things to think about, certainly! But unless these sources of bias are *correlated* w/ particular cultural alignments, then just knowing someone is ‘aligned’ still doesn’t give me *any* reason in itself to discount what *that* person is saying! I better develop criteria for spotting cultural bias that apply independently of people’s cultural outlooks.

d. *When trying to convey information, should one hide one’s alignments, so as not to risk being discounted by someone form another group?* No! Hiding things is disrespectful, manipulative. I should convey respect – b/c somoene who is intersted in exchanging ideas deserves that-- but being who I am is not disrespectful, or in any case there’s no reason to pay that sort of respect to someone who is unreasonable enough to be offended by knowing that he or she is talking to someone who has different opinions about what’s good in life.

e. *When we (you, I, & our fellow citizens) are trying to exchange information w/ another curious person, should we avoid conveying hostility to another person’s cultural identity?* Yeah. It’s not respectful. It will also raise the likelihood that a person w/ that identity will unconsciously block out what I have to say, too, and if my goal really is to engage in an exchange of ideas w/ *everybody* who might know something I don’t, why would I want to do that? Plus, hostility toward other’s idenitities *is* correlated with bias, both conscious and unconscious, so if I evince it, then a reasonable person will be right to discount my views. That person, btw, will be right to discount my views whether the identity toward which I’m expressing hostility is that peron’s or not; I tend to discount the views of people who share my values & evince hostility to other groups, or who do it w/o regretting it or who do it in patterns that suggest an insufficient concern about how being partisan will bias the inforamtion they are exposed to and the information they emit back.

f. *What about ‘denier’?* Well, at this point, like I said, I think those who use the term put their credibility at risk w/ reasonable people, including ones who might actually be interested in hearing what they have to say. But I don’t think people who use the term “denier” should be ignored or presumed biased; I feel I have learned things from some people who use that term (the study Mann cites is very good) – and not learned things from many others who do; likewise, I have learned some things from some people & not learned from many people who don’t (i.e., r = 0.0, or pretty close). But if there are people trying to engage in exchanges of infoarmtion w/ people, then they should consider whether “denier”—for reasons that Mann and everyone else agrees are obvious -- conveys hostility, and if so, why they would want to do that given that such hostility predictably does make people, including many reflective reasonable ones, not listen to what one is saying. As for “accepted terminology” in the “literature” – I don’t think there is such a thing; I’m actually not sure even what the “literature” would be. But things that are “accepted” should remain so only as long as they remain supported by our current best understanding of the evidence & our best intentions.

January 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@NiV, @Larry, @Joshua, @Al & @et al. : what about "skeptic"? I take it that people who are -- well, skeptical -- of climate change (or various claims about its nature & extent; I know that many people now resent being characeterized as denying or being sekptical about the prospition that the climate is changing; they are skeptical only about asserted causes & consequences, etc.) generally refer to themselves that way. I am happy to call people that -- they don't mind; seems to get point across. But some people who are believers/nondeniers or whatever bridle at the term b/c they are "skeptical" too in the way that science says you should be, which is to say, not in the "philosopical" sense but in the Missouri sense, and think that the climate unbelievers are something else -- viz., unreasonable. So what is the "effect" of using term "skpetic"? What is the attitude one should have? Or should we just not care -- certainly it takes up a lot of time that we could be spending figuring out how the world works.

January 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"@NiV, @Larry, @Joshua, @Al & @et al. : what about "skeptic"?"

Sceptic is fine - in fact it's the preferred term. 'Dissenter', 'critic', 'opponent', 'heretic', or 'doubter' are also good.

There's a difference between objecting that a term isn't accurate, and that it's deliberately offensive. For example, with 'global warming sceptic' (or global warming dissenter', etc.) the words global warming are not being used to mean 'warming of the globe', but an entire belief system - that it has warmed, that it will keep warming, that the cause is anthropogenic CO2, and the consequence is and will be catastrophic. But positions are usually more subtle. Some agree that the globe has warmed, but disagree about the cause, or the future, or the consequence. They get vaguely irritated when, having been categorised as a 'global warming denier' they get bombarded with temperature data to try to prove a point they don't actually disagree with.

But disputing the subtle categorisation of somebody's precise position is different from objecting to what are basically Nazi comparisons. While some people might have picked up the terminology without realising how it was being interpreted, it doesn't take long in the debate before they're told. Why do people continue to use it, knowing what it means to people? Unless that effect is the aim.

I understand how believers don't like using the term 'sceptic' for people who are in their view not being properly scientifically sceptical. Fair enough. I don't like using the term 'climate scientists' to describe people who I don't regard as being proper scientists (science as a philosophy/method rather than a mere profession). I wouldn't expect our terms for one another to agree, precisely, and I think most people interested in debate can live with that.

In fact, I can see the point of making a distinction. Some people disbelieve for unscientific as well as scientific reasons, just as some people believe for unscientific as well as scientific reasons. If a person believes because the government experts told them so, is that scientific? If a person disbelieves because they haven't personally seen evidence to convince them, is that unscientific? Believer/unbeliever is a different axis to sceptic/follower. People who blindly trust the experts, simply picking a different set of experts to trust, are no different and are not being sceptical or scientific.

But all of those are arguments that can be argued out without rancor. The meaing that has become attached to 'denier' is a different sort of problem.

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I think you need to differentiate between those like myself who are just sceptical because it is our training, and who like to point out the assumptions and distributions of what is known or measured. But most of the persons I see are not "deniers." They are obstructionists to policy. As such, rhetoric, and mud slinging are allowable because it is politics. They think alarmists, warmists, etc are just the political opposite of themselves and that includes scientists who are activists if they enter the policy arenas. My opinion is that both of these groups love to play the victim, and victimize those of the opposite persuasion. Both use "science" as a political/rhetorical tool not as a coherent construct.

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

I like your questions, Dan, and I agree with most of the answers. But I think there may be a central but underlying issue the questions don't address, and that is, are there unaligned people? This seems obviously to apply to the journalistic mediators of scientific information. But as I've said in other comments, I don't think the people called scientists, and the people who staff their supporting institutions, are immune from such political/group alignments, despite the fact that such allegiances run contrary to the ideals and ethos of science as such. And if the ideal of non-alignment or perfect disinterest is not realistically attainable by beings other than the likes of robots or Star Trek Vulcans, then we none of us have any choice but to listen to aligned people, and try our critical best to sort out what's really evidence- and reason-based from what's politically/ideologically-motivated rhetoric, interpretation, and/or exaggeration. The question then becomes finding heuristics that will aid "reflective and open minded" ordinary people to do so.

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

P.S. I think the word "skeptic" is actually accurate for most of the people not explicitly aligned with climate change "believers" (another supposedly "neutral" term, no?). It's quite distinct from simple denial in that it allows the possibility that the object of skepticism may in fact be right -- but it says there remain real questions about and possible objections to that object. It simply resists, in other words, those who insist that "the debate is over". But surely the question surrounding these terms itself indicates just how reduced the whole food fight, as someone else described it, has become. In fact, the term "skeptic" can cover a wide range of views -- one can:
- be skeptical of the reality of climate change itself
- accept that reality but be skeptical that it's mainly anthropogenic
- accept the likelihood of that, but be skeptical that it's likely catastrophic
- and even accept that but be skeptical about the workability of reduced carbon emissions as a viable solution.
And that's only a small, and itself reductive, sample of the various alternatives to a simple acceptance of whatever is issued by the IPCC, as transmitted by the NYTimes, and then further reduced by network news. But any of those positions would be enough to get one included in the "denier" camp by significant numbers of those who do simply accept the orthodoxy.

January 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Of course "alarmist" "warmist" "'CAGWer" etc., are pejorative. They are used by those who have animosity towards those who think that climate change presents a real danger with a high probability. Many of those same folks (often) also make assertions of an AGW-cabal, socialism, one-world government, a religious cult of believers, widespread scientific fraud, etc., etc. I see it every day in the "skeptical" blogosphere.

People don't refer to themselves using those terms for a reason.

"Skeptics" think that those terms are "descriptive" just as "realists" think that "denier" is descriptive. It's all just one more part of the climate debate junior high school cafeteria food fight.

I use "skeptic" and "realist" (both terms in quotation marks). I used to use much more unwieldy terms that tried to more accurately reflect the full spectrum of beliefs, but gave up because it was so unwieldy.

I use the terms that people accept and use for themselves, but I put them in quotes because I have seen "skeptics" who aren't particularly skeptical and "realists" who aren't particularly realistic. I have also seen many "realists" who display a healthy sense of skepticism and "skeptics" who are quite realistic.

However, many "skeptics" object to my use of quotation marks, because they think it has a pejorative connotation. Sometimes I mean it to have that connotation (when a "skeptic" displays highly un-skeptical thinking), and so their objection is certainly understandable. But I am not going to use the term skeptic to refer to those on one side of the debate exclusively, nor am I going to use it to be inclusive of all those who disagree that climate change presents a real danger with a high probability.

In reality, however, neither term ("realist" or "skeptic) are any good because by their very nature, both terms are attempting to label a person on the basis of one belief about one issue. The entire process of using labels is rooted in a shorthand that often is about defining the "other," and even when it isn't, is a woefully inaccurate shorthand. The lack of specificity of any of these terms is, IMO, unscientific.

This problem with terminology is no different than with any of a long list of issues. People (mostly) use them as short-hand to demonize others and solidify an identification with their own group, and (mostly) as a result, they are woefully inadequate.

Was working in my shop tonight, and had the radio on. Was listening to a show about MLK - with interviews of some co-leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. I couldn't help but think of the climate wars when I heard one civil rights movement veteran talk about how they realized that they wouldn't make any progress unless they created dialog with those they disagreed with, and that they couldn't have that dialog if they continually demonized those who were in disagreement. One woman talked about how in black churches they sang songs about how they "loved everybody," and she modified a stanza to include how they loved Bull Connor.

It got me to thinking about how some people involved in the climate wars on the left have forgotten some pretty important lessons handed down by their ideological ancestors.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

The Guardian explains why 'denier' is problematic in its style guide..

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/01/climate-change-scepticism-style-guide

following this conversation between JAmes RAnderson (Guardian Environment editor - and Anthony Watts)

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/02/sea-change-in-climate-journalism-the-guardian-and-the-d-word/

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Climate scientists (at least the high profile ones) are sometimes, the very reason why many people become sceptical. for example Michael Mann, and Peter Gleick, whose stance and communication skills can just generate scepticism or atagonise. Not just with the public, but with other members of the science community, as the following example shows.

I have personall experience with Peter Gleick style, and a UK scientist Dr Tamsin Edwards - UK climate modellor and PLOS blogger had a very different opinion about how to communicate climate science and a very public disagrement with Dr Peter Gleick (reproduced onher own blog)

Dr Edwards wrote this in reply in response to Dr Peter Gleick (to am exchange of emails I was party to, all published with permission) about how he was trying to discuss science.

“I would personally be infuriated if I was dismissed on account of the behaviour of a group of people I talk with. Every single person I talk with has a different viewpoint, and I learn a lot about how better to communicate climate science by listening to them. If we dismiss swathes of people by association then our attempts at communication become futile: we end up only ‘preaching to the converted from an ‘ivory tower’, as it were”.

Of course, if communication of climate science is not your aim, then it is your choice if you prefer to communicate with nobody! – Tamsin Edwards

I reproduced the whole exchange at my own blog:

http://unsettledclimate.org/2012/02/02/clarifications-and-how-better-to-communicate-science/

This whole converstion arose because Dr Peter Gleick took issue with the name that Dr TAmsin Edwards chose for her new blog, interestingly, she had overwhelming support fromm UK climate scientists for rthe blog name(including Prof Richard Betts, Met Office, Head of Climate Impacts, IPCC Ar4 & AR5 lead author) and a number of those who would be labellled 'sceptics (ie me) which shows a very different attitude between USA and UK scientists

Dr Tamsin Edwards blogged about that experience here:
http://allmodelsarewrong.com/2012/01/29/all-blog-names-are-wrong/

more about communication at Tamsin's latest post here:
http://blogs.plos.org/models/2013/01/14/we-have-nothing-to-fear/

Dr Tamsin Edwards has experience communicating science to the public, and her former PhD supervisor is Prof Brian Cox (who is barely off the TV these days - Wonders of the Solar System, etc)

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

See also this article by Matthew Nisbet on the alienating effect of the d word.

http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/voices/the-public-square/the-wisdom-of-denier-discourse/

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul M

Joshua says:
(1) The first is that I find the "outrage" about the use of the term (based on the claim that the term is based on comparing "skeptics" to holocaust deniers) to be faux outrage - that boils down, essentially, to a cynical exploitation of the holocaust

There are environmental journalists on record explicitly linking "climate denial" (whatever that means - who denies there is a climate?) to "holocaust denial".

The biggest problem for climate alarmists is that they have no scientifically supportable definition for what it is they accuse sceptics of being in denial of.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

Joshua makes good observation at the end of his comment, that using 'denier' to demonise is wholly counter-productive.

Difficult to believe that the users don't/can't realise that.

I'd add that using it says more about the user than the usee. Every time someone says it I think 'You lose'.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoddy Campbell

For Joshua:

Example of explicit link between "Climate Denier" and "holocaust denier" #1
http://www.conservativeblog.org/resource/DeSmogBlogHogganHolocaustClimateDenierHighlite120105.jpg

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

- accept the likelihood of that, but be skeptical that it's likely catastrophic

I am skeptical that it is likely catastrophic, but even a small likelihood of catastrophe requires a comprehensive approach to risk avoidance.

The notion that the "science is settled" is equally as fraught with tribal overtones as is the use of "denier." Hardly any climate scientists have said that the "science is settled" although such statements are attributed to them by "skeptics" constantly. Even the iconic IPPC statement about more than 50% of anomalous warming being likely is not consistent with "the science is settled," and represents skepticism. Calling anyone who doesn't think that "the science is settled" a skeptic would put just about everyone in the skeptical camp.

The direct association of climate change denier with holocaust denier is clearly established in a tiny % of the combatants. The fact that so many "skeptics" react as if that association were uniform is evidence of "skepticism" and not skepticism. That is precisely the type of phenomenon that explains why I put skeptic in quotes.

I'd add that using it says more about the user than the usee.

I agree.

Every time someone says it I think 'You lose'.

Same thing as what I think when I see someone using "warmist" "CAGWer" "alarmist" etc. "Believer" is also problematic as the connotation is that a "believer's" opinion is like that of someone who believes in a religion. Like skeptic, believer is problematic in that it is totally vague: what does a "believer" believe in? That "the science is settled?," that most recent anomalous warming is likely anthropgenically caused? That climate change is a real potential danger even if perhaps the IPCC's estimation of certainty might be understated?

Finally, I find it ironic that some "skeptics" want to throw other "skeptics" under the bus in very much the same way that they object to how "realists" characterize non-"realists." They try to disassociate from those "skeptics" who do not accept the "consensus" viewpoint on the basic physics of the GHE (as opposed to putatively only questioning the magnitude of sensitivity). (IIRC, our friend tallbloke falls into that category.) On such a basis, they try to throw a blanket over "skeptical" belief in such a way as to eliminate those who are typically referenced with "denier." In point of fact, however, if you look through the comments at "skeptical" blogs, and if you look at the comments throughout the non-climate focused blogosphere, you see that those who do not accept the basic physics of the GHE are quite abundant among "skeptics" generally, and certainly far more prevalent than often claimed by those who see themselves as victims of scientific intolerance among "realists."

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

The biggest problem for climate alarmists is that they have no scientifically supportable definition for what it is they accuse sceptics of being in denial of.

Fascinating. What is your "scientifically supportable definition" for what I am "alarmed" about, tallbloke?

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

A couple more comments (sorry about so many in a row) about the reaction of "skeptics" to the term denier.

In a rather infamous incident, a "skeptic" accused Ben Santer - who had relatives that perished in the holocaust - of "scientific cleansing."

I have never seen one "skeptic" object to that reference to Nazism - even when I have asked them to comment (including Judith Curry, btw).

Monckton - who is welcomed into the warm embrace of many "skeptics," is infamous for his analogizing of "realists" to Nazis. I did see some objections from some "skeptics" to his use of such an analogy, but mostly not on some kind of ethical, moral, philosophical, or dialectical perspective - but from a perspective that it was not politically expedient. As such, I can certainly agree with objections to the use of denier because it does not further dialog - but have little sympathy for "skeptics" (on the whole) who object on ethical, moral or philosophical grounds.

This thread is instructive as to what I was referring to:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/22/note-to-lord-monckton-this-isnt-helping/

Please note tallbloke's reaction:

Listen to the Australian. He knows his country and his countrymen.
Monckton is a skilled orator. He knows how to pitch his stuff to the audience.
I’d have to see video of the event before I’d pass judgment.

So in some instances (perhaps depending on viewing the video), Nazi references may be described as "skilled orat[ion]"

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"In a rather infamous incident, a "skeptic" accused Ben Santer - who had relatives that perished in the holocaust - of "scientific cleansing." I have never seen one "skeptic" object to that reference to Nazism"

I'd be happy to oblige, although technically it's a reference to 'ethnic cleansing' which was the Serbs, not the Nazis - who the Serbs fought. In any case, it's an objectionable thing to say.

"So in some instances (perhaps depending on viewing the video), Nazi references may be described as "skilled orat[ion]""

I think what he meant was that people have been quoted out of context so often, that it's a good idea to check what was actually said in context before leaping to condemnation. There are occasional legitimate uses.

Although based on what I know of the context, I don't think it was justified. It was indeed just as bad as using the term 'denier'. And Monckton rightly apologised for it.

However, there's no conflict as such between 'skilled oration' and Nazi comparisons. Hansen's 'death trains' speech was undoubtedly skilled oration - it had the intended effect, I'm sure.
If your intent is in-group reinforcement, hyperbolic comparisons work very well.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Joshua: first, we can all find egregious examples of over-the-top rhetoric among opposing camps -- repeating them here doesn't actually help. And second, using the term "realist" as an opposition to "skeptic" is a classic example of begging the question. If you don't like "believer", then try "accepter".

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

As the author of the Scholars & Rogues post that Mike Mann referenced, I agree with Dan that using the word "denier" may well turn off some people. For the reasons I articulate in my original S&R post, however, I disagree with NiV and others who claim that "denier" is inherently a Nazi/Holocaust reference.

I understand NiV and others prefer the term "skeptic," but as he himself pointed out, it's not always accurate. To be a skeptic, one must be skeptical, and someone who denies that the greenhouse effect exists (as one example) isn't being skeptical at all - he or she is simply in denial. As a blogger and climate journalist, I'm simply unwilling to use a misnomer to describe someone when a simpler, easier to understand, and more accurate word exists.

And that's what I feel many, if not most, of the complaints against "denier" actually are - a reaction to being accurately described by a negative, possibly even pejorative, term. But if it is accurate, then I don't personally see anything wrong with it. After all, someone who denies that HIV is the cause of AIDS might not like being called an "AIDS denier," but the term still accurately describes what that person is doing.

I'm personally more interested in the argument that the label jams too many people with too many disparate opinions into a single pigeonhole. But as with some of the other comments, I'm simply not sure what else there is to do. Even if I used the only other reasonable synonym for denier - "rejector" - this problem is fundamental to any form of categorization. Some people are always borderline cases, and real differences (those who reject the Earth is warming at all vs. those who reject it's due to GHGs, for example) get mashed together. The only thing I can think to do in this case is to be as specific as possible whenever possible and to save using general terms like "AGW denier" only in those situations where the writing is intended to be more general as well. There is no perfect solution.

For me this is an issue much like objectivity/balance in journalism. It is my job as a journalist to describe the facts and the objective reality associated with those facts as accurately as possible. If the facts are biased 90% one way, then I'm obligated to treat the issue accordingly. If I treat a 90% issue as if it's split 50/50, then I'm doing a disservice to my readers, and more importantly, to the facts themselves. In essence, I'm creating false balance where there was none and painting a distorted picture of reality. I find that unacceptable to the point of considering it borderline unethical.

I'm an electrical engineer for my day job, and I've applied a great deal of my mathematical training to understanding climate in my "free time." As a result I've concluded that industrial climate disruption (my preferred term, instead of "anthropogenic climate change," for reasons I describe at the S&R link in a comment) is one of those issues where the facts are 90% one way. When I write posts on climate, I report them accordingly.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Angliss

Anthony Watts on Monckton (linked above)

"While Lord Monckton is free to speak his mind however he wishes, it is my opinion that this has no place in the debate, "

Joshua - I object to these examples (with references) below and Monckton is a vain sideshow, failed (UKIP politician, ego first all other issues second)

particularly Hari, Lynas and Monbiot
who would appear (note the dates) to started the whole 'climate change denial' as bad as 'holocaust denial' (or worse)

Hari 2005:
“The climate-change deniers are rapidly ending up with as much intellectual credibility as creationists and Flat Earthers. Indeed, given that 25,000 people died in Europe in the 2003 heatwave caused by anthropogenic climate change, given that the genocide unfolding in Darfur has been exacerbated by the stresses of climate change, given that Bangladesh may disappear beneath the rising seas in the next century, they are nudging close to having the moral credibility of Holocaust deniers. They are denying the reality of a force that - unless we change the way we live pretty fast - will kill millions.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/the-shame-of-the-climatechange-deniers-6147534.html

2006: monbiot “Almost everywhere, climate change denial now looks as stupid and as unacceptable as Holocaust denial.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/sep/21/comment.georgemonbiot

2006: Lynas “I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it”.
http://web.archive.org/web/20080512154243/http://www.marklynas.org/2006/5/19/climate-denial-ads-to-air-on-us-national-television

2007: fed Ellen Goodman : “Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.”
http://web.archive.org/web/20070214041353/http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/02/09/no_change_in_political_climate/


then there are others saying 'climate treason', and others saying 'Nuremburg trial' for climate - and I'm sure very many other USA, examples could be found (in the main stream media (Hari, Independent, Monbiot - Guardian) very politicized and a huge deterrent to speak up at all.

2008 – Grist Climate Nuremburg (quoting monbiot)
http://grist.org/article/the-denial-industry/

2008: Hansen -Crime Against humanity:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jun/23/fossilfuels.climatechange

2009: Krugman – Guilty of treason
http://www.alternet.org/story/141204/are_climate-change_deniers_guilty_of_treason

20011- Chris Huhne – UK Minsiter Enrrgy & Climate Change– “Defying climate deal like appeasing Hitler-
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/21/enivronment-britain-huhne-idAFL6E7IL0MF20110721?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0

These are all influential people, especially Hari, Lynas, Monbiot in the media and amongst environmentalists.

Looking back at wayback machine Mark Lynas, for example was on the Realclimate (Mann's baby) blog roll, right from the very start, where perhaps an unhealthy combination of activist rhetoric crossed over into the scientist vocabulary

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

But if it is accurate, then I don't personally see anything wrong with it.

If the goal is to promote dialog (specifically with those who disagree with you about industrial climate disruption), it is counterproductive.

I agree that all the terms leave much to be desired - but what possible advantage do you see in using the term "denier?"

IMO, the only way forward through this mess (short of climate patterns being so unambiguous that there can't be any doubt in basically anyone's mind - something that even "realist" scientists say is not likely to happen within our lifetimes) is with stakeholder dialog. You simply cannot build stakeholder dialog on a foundation of animus. Even as someone who finds the concern about the use of the term denier to be exploitative of the suffering of my tribe, I see no benefit to using the term. Certainly, there are ways to be more accurately descriptive. Take, for example, someone who hasn't studied the science but because of cultural/social/political affinity and associated media echo chamber exposure on climate change, doesn't even understand how most climate scientists view the issue. For example:

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q30.jpg


Are such person a "deniers" or people who aren't well-informed (how can you deny something that you aren't informed about)?

Treating the situation as a 90% issue is not mutually exclusive with using other, more accurate and more descriptive terms. Let it go. Move on to more substantive issues.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Brian -- thanks for the bkrd & for the insights!

I'm w/ Joshua on this, but I do think your & his exchange helps to clarify things. As he points out -- "what is the goal?" Yours, you say, is to report facts & you believe that there are terms that convey the facts the most accurately given your audience. The goal is fine & so is the strategy if you believe that you've made the best judgment you can based on the best evidence you can reasonably find. You aren't completely -- or else you wouldn't have written your post -- but we have to act despite uncertainly all the time!

I'm not a journalist. I am a scholar, which means (to me) that I am involved in a kind of barter economy that consists in exchange of knowledge. The same way capitalism taught people that it made sense not to kill people who prayed to a different God -- they might buy something from you, or sell you something you'd like to have! -- so the mkt of scholarly exchange conditions and habituates idea merchants to be tolerant of those who don't share their basic outlook on life, lest they lose out on opporutnities to enrich themselves. So it makes sense for those in that trade to figure out how to talk to others in a way that decouples comprehenension and enagement from any sense that buying what one is selling requires being someone they aren't.

I'm also not a political tactician. Another motivation (conscious, strategic; not unconscious, inadvertent) for “denier” might be a goal to send a message to, and create an inentive for, another audience entirely. Yes, “denier” insults the skeptic (that’s obvious, as keeps being pointed out) & also (I’m point out) many people who really aren’t anything except part of a community whose memebers are identified with a skeptical position, and who sees the intent behind the term as evincind hostility for group identity & who therefore shuts out any communication from the person saying “denier. But calling *them* "denier" also conveys to members of another community that those who take that position are *thems*; it creates stigma & stigma also motivates – unconsciously, even more than consciously – not to listen, not to credit the stigmtatized speaker. One has to "do the math" but I suppose a strategic public rhetorician might figure that the benefit of using stigma to influence or shape the views of one group of people outweighs the cost of having less influence on those resent the stigma.

I might in fact disagree that that such a person does have his or her math right, but even if that that this strategic actors was right, *I* wouldn’t care. My goal is different. I like being in the business of exchanging ideas; I prefer it to the business of political strategizing of a sort that sees the goal as generating states of affairs independently of engaging minds.

I actually think probably my way of proceeding will reliably generate good states of affairs b/c I think the people by & large are reasonble so long as their faculties of perception and reason are not disabled to a toxic communication enviroment. But if I’m wrong, I'm still going to stick w/ my apparoch. B/c is it certainly isn't hurting anybody for *me* to choose engaging reason over inducing/shaping emotional reactions to things. Who the hell is listening to me? Only you! You are one of the real outliers who have come a mkt where ideas are exchanged (& you even brought some cash, so to speak). But what *I say*, and in partiuclar, my *failing* to contribute to contribute to a climate of stigma, will not, I'm confident, influence how the climate change issue or any other comes out.

You might be someone whose choice of whom to talk to and how has such an impact. If so, then I do not envy you.

Of course, if someone is just awful -- morally deprved, vicious -- then I *won't* talk to them, won't do business w/ them. No Holocaust Deniers are welcome at my stall on the bazaar. So I must be saying that I don't view people who are skpetical as being deprvaed & vicious in that way. In fact, I really don't believe that about people who have reached that position or orientation on the bais of their best attempt to make sense of all the evidence & who are sharing what they know w/ others.

If I think someone is being dishonest – that *he or she* is trying to shape/mold/influence by deliberately misleading people, that's quite another thing. Deliberately misleading someone makes one completely unwelcome too at my stall too. People who mislead are counterfeiters; they devalue the currency of reasoned exchange of ideas. They are counterfeiters, too, no matter what side of any issue they are on.

January 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Brian,

Thanks for commenting. It's good of you to make the effort to enter into a dialogue.

"For the reasons I articulate in my original S&R post, however, I disagree with NiV and others who claim that "denier" is inherently a Nazi/Holocaust reference."

It's not always intended that way, and it's not always taken that way. But sometimes even when not intended it gets taken that way anyway, and people who use it even in a different sense know it.

Communication involves both a sender and a receiver. It's about how both sides understand a term. So if you talk in a language that your audience doesn't understand - technical jargon, for example - is that good communication?

"I understand NiV and others prefer the term "skeptic," but as he himself pointed out, it's not always accurate. To be a skeptic, one must be skeptical, and someone who denies that the greenhouse effect exists (as one example) isn't being skeptical at all - he or she is simply in denial."

That depends on why they deny the greenhouse effect exists.

This is a common point of conflict. Some people consider science to be about scientific conclusions. Believing the correct mainstream conclusion, for any reason no matter how illogical, is scientific. Other people consider science to be about scientific method. Believing any conclusion at all whether mainstream or not, for reasons based in evidence and logic, is scientific.

So for example somebody might have been told that the greenhouse effect is based on having a material that is transparent to visible light and opaque to infrared, that sunlight shines through and warms the surface at the bottom, but then infrared radiation is absorbed by the material and re-radiated, trapping it. They note that liquid water is such a material, and conduct an experiment with a black-bottomed bucket of water left out in the sun. Sunlight shines through the water, is absorbed by the bottom, radiates, and is immediately absorbed by the water, which radiates part of it back. So how much greenhouse warming do you observe in a bucket of water?

If a person does the experiment and observes no temperature difference, when the theory they have been taught predicts a large one, they are scientifically justified in asserting that the effect doesn't exist. They made a prediction. They conducted an experiment. They followed where the evidence led. How much more scientific can you get than that?

A second person comes along, looks at the first person's experiment and asserts it must be wrong because thousands of scientists say so, who are you to argue with them? This is a classic argumentum ad verecundiam; an argument from authority. We should all recognise that as a classic logical fallacy.

Now you may of course recognise the subtle flaw in the experimental argument that explains how the conclusion can be incorrect (and to avoid any possible misunderstanding, I can tell you up front that it is), but if we suppose hypothetically that neither of the two people do, which of them do you consider to be the more 'scientific'? Which of them is the 'denier'? The one who trusts the empirical evidence, or the one who denies it? Who is the true 'sceptic'? The one who trusts the experts, or the one who doubts?

Is science about the methods or the conclusions? Both answers are right from their own point of view. So what does the science of science communication tell us about how subscribers to one view can talk to those who hold the other? How can we communicate science?

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan

I agree about deliberately misleading others.. (and that happens on all 'sides')

or more importantly if the public or other opposing groups merely 'percieve' that they are being deliberately misled ..

as an example, at a panel debate recently, an academic presenting theories about why the right (uk audience) were sceptical of climate change, citing motivated reasoning and ideology.

yet, that very same group of people that comprised of conservative MP's, a sceptical MP (on the panel) and even Lord Lawson and Benny Pseiser in the audience, might have percieved that academic as misleading them..

as the academic introduced himself with the phrase "I'm a researcher, not a campaigner"

Anyone in the audience might have looked the academic up, and very quickly formed the conclusions to convince themselves that the academic was very much a campaigner, or even a climate activist (also at a political level)

thus, that statement would perhaps have been 'perceived' as why is he 'lying' to us.... and or perhaps that this academics own motivated reasoning and ideology, is preventing him, from taking our concerns about climate science seriously and is totally unaware about others perceptions.

The academic in question, (as was found out a few weeks later) was a Green party parlimentary candidate (thus trying to be an MP of a very different political persuasion. This alongside a photograph of the academic, carrying a Act Now banner at Copenhagen, in Green party literature (with a write up by the same academic) might also give the audience a perception that they were very much a climate activist..

tweeting about 'deniers' whilst at Copenhagen, might also lead to a certain perception..?

Especially in conjunction, with a Friends of the Earth article (written as a member by the academic )- reporting on the Stop Climate Chaos march in London before Copenhagen - with photos attached, showing the same academic at the head of the march outside of the Houses of Commons, where the academic is painted blue, wearing a blue wig, carrying a Stop Climate Chaos - placard, next to a blue dragon.


How would that square with the 'I'm not a campaigner' introduction- which they took in good faith?

Additionally the acdemic, is also a director of a group - that lobbys for climate energy policies (amongst other things) and is closeles involved with a grass roots climate Activist organisation for a number of years (and had recently became the Policy advisor - for the veteran activist - George Marshall - who launched the Rising Tide organisation, and is responsible for - HAlls of Shame - for climate change deniers?

What would the other groups perception of that academic honestly be?

Would the be concerned about an obvious (to the observing group perceptions) climate activist psychologising their scepticism. When a number of sceptics are sceptical because they percieve that very many scientists have stepped acroosss the line in advocacy and activism, and question whetehr their judgement is objective any more on some of the issues?

Thus a climate Catch 22 results

One group thinking the science is settled (with some uncertainty) and wanted to frame the debate as delng with climate change, thinking motivated reasoning and ideology prevent another group from deling with the issue..

Yet, that other group, perhaps thinking that the first groupps motivated resoning and ideology prevents them from seeing that the science is far from settled?

A dilemma


I have tried to de-personalised this, (proof is available if you need it, but then would identify the person) but it is very much on the topic of the article, especially as the academic in question, is one of the authors of the papers you cite in this article..

And I know the academic thinks I'm trying to smear him, and make him lose credibility, when my intention is to try and make the academic field take a look at their own actions and see how they are percieved.....

If those that are sceptical think actvists scientists are out to psychologises them away, the polarisation can only get worse.

Especailly as the academic in question is policy advisor to the activist that created the very first Hall of Shame for Denier in the UK,(Rising Tide) and is also part of an organisation, that has a Hall of Shame for deniers, and lists of sceptical MP, which includes the very people he is debating with and who are in the audience.

One of the very early founders and the environmentalist who custard pied - Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote that very list of climate change deniers with this founder of Rising Tide, now states that these Halls of Shame are shameful and stepped down from the advisory board, and now accepts that many sceptics are sincere, not the mad bad, evil or stupid climate change denier cliche that is almost a crutch to environmentalists for why they fail to achieve policy objectives, and that is because we have taken the time and effort to get to know each other a little, correspond and have lunch (both of course still think the other wrong - to some degree about AGW)

So,as all that information is just a google away on a tablet or smartphone from anybody in the audienceat that panel, what would a general (non sceptic) audience make of said academic. maybe some pointed questions at the end... "You stated that you were not a campiagne, but what about ?"

Will they wthink that he has any credibility, or will they just laugh..

Or like me be very concerned that a field of psychology cannot look back at itself and see how they would be percieved by the public.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

But sometimes even when not intended it gets taken that way anyway, and people who use it even in a different sense know it.

And sometimes when it isn't intended that way people misleadingly assert that it is generally intended that way, and use that as an excuse to exploit the memory of the holocaust so they can play the victim card in the Great Climate Change War.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

There are occasional newcomers to the climate debate who, for a comment or two until someone tells them, might not know about it. But anyone who knows about it and still uses the phrase is doing it deliberately. To say otherwise is like saying "I was only invoking the 'skilled orator' aspect of Hitler in my comparison, not the 'genocidal dictator' aspect.".

Whether or not they intend it that way themselves, and I agree some people do think you can isolate the literal meaning of words from their cultural baggage that way, they can't help but know how people will hear it.

But if you want to look at it as card-playing, then using the 'denier' card does give sceptics an automatic free shot with the 'victim' card. Those are the rules of the game. And if you keep on taking a hit every time you play the card, maybe you'll all eventually learn not to play it. Certainly, there's not incentive on sceptics to stop responding that way - it's the only way you'll learn, and it's a free win every time until you do.

I'd regard civilised debate, with a modicum of respect for one's opponents, as a good thing in itself - but not everybody does, and I accept that too. Whatever you mean by it, we all agree it's a bad idea if you want to communicate science. But as I said before it's aim and purpose is more often debate polarisation, out-group demonisation, and in-group reinforcement. From that point of view it works fine.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV-

It also works fine for "skeptics" to claim faux outrage about the use of the term.

But anyone who knows about it and still uses the phrase is doing it deliberately.

I don't agree. Anyone use uses it (outside of small minority who live in outer Mongolia) are indifferent to the faux outrage, or actually like the faux outrage. That doesn't mean that their intent is to make an analogy to holocaust deniers.

Look, we agree that there is no positive benefit to using the term. I also believe that their is no positive benefit to getting upset about the use of the term, and that those who do so are engaging in precisely the same kind of petty Jell-o flinging. Saying "They started it" is just another aspect of the food fight. You are certainly entitled to disagree.

nd if you keep on taking a hit every time you play the card, maybe you'll all eventually learn not to play it.

They don't think that they're "taking a hit," and neither do I, really. I mean there is an opportunity lost - an opportunity to potentially promote better dialog - but the reality (IMO) is that the majority of those who claim offense aren't interesting in better dialog either. Nothing lost there. And the majority of those who use the term aren't particularly interested in promoting better dialog.

There might be some, as Dan suggests, who aren't committed combatants, who aren't already essentially aligned by political affinity, who might see some leveling the "denier" charge and as a result be turned off to the "realists" using that term. I would estimate the number of people so affected to be quite small in number. The notion that somehow the "skeptical" side gains some tactical advantage because of the use of the term seems rather silly to me. Sure, it makes "skeptics" feel unified in their sense of victimization - but they will use any and all excuses to pursue that goal. The net impact is marginal, at best.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

I think we are in partial agreement, sort of.

"Anyone use uses it (outside of small minority who live in outer Mongolia) are indifferent to the [...] outrage, or actually like the [...] outrage."

Yes, exactly.

"I also believe that their is no positive benefit to getting upset about the use of the term"

Oh, there is. It presents the person using the term as a grubby exploiter of the holocaust for political advantage, someone who uses disparaging labels and insults to isolate and exclude a minority. It's precisely the same net positive benefit gained by using the term in the first place - which is to present the person so labelled as promoting a politically motivated delusion (or lie) akin to neoNazi Holocaust denial. 'Flinging Jello' is too nice a term for it, but yes, that's the level it works on.

It's not a question of saying 'He started it!' as part of the food fight, it's a matter of pointing out the obvious, that if you don't want a food fight, then you shouldn't start one. Every time you use the term 'denier' that's what will happen. There's no sense in starting a food fight by flinging custard at someone, getting a face-full back, and then complaining that they justified their response by saying 'you started it'. Because you did.

"...but the reality (IMO) is that the majority of those who claim offense aren't interesting in better dialog either. Nothing lost there."

Maybe. But there are a large number who are interested in at least debating the question, and they get met with the epithet too. So there is something lost: all the people who start off wanting a conversation and who are rapidly driven into the opposition camp by the attitude. I would suggest to you that a majority of those offended not wanting a conversation with you may be a consequence of being constantly insulted, denigrated, and rejected everywhere they go. That would be a tragic loss, for everyone.

It's much like asking whether black people are truly offended by the N-word (which after all is simply a modified form of the Latin word for 'black', and thus perfectly descriptive), and questioning whether the people who claim to be offended by it would really want a dialogue with those who use it. Do they gain any advantage from calling people out who use it, or is it only a matter of feeling unified in their victimhood? You can 'intend' it whatever way you want, but you know how it will be understood. Nowadays, using it marks you as part of a group that has itself now acquired a lot of social stigma, and black people do take advantage of that. Using the word in most social circles automatically loses you the debate. But the offence, and the damage done to the prospects for reconciliation, aren't faked. You can believe that or not as you choose.

January 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Let's not forget the minor factual problem that the people Mann, Nye et al. call "climate deniers" and "climate change deniers" have never... actually.... denied... climate change, let alone climate. Therefore the epithets—which are certainly attempts at hate speech—nevertheless serve the valuable function of advertising to the world, loud and clear, whether anything else Mann, Nye et al. say merits the slightest attention. I tend to lose interest in what known liars are saying once I know they're liars. But then, that's probably why I'm a denialist and not a believalist.

December 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

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