Don’t believe in climate change? You’re not a skeptic anymore

There are skeptics and there are doubters.

The Associated Press today made a significant change in its writing — its “stylebook” is the de facto guide in most every newsroom — which eliminates the description of climate change doubters as “skeptics”.

Here’s the new rule:

We are adding a brief description of those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces:

Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.

Why? Because climate change doubters have given skeptics a bad name. Here’s the AP’s spokesman, Paul Colford:

Scientists who consider themselves real skeptics – who debunk mysticism, ESP and other pseudoscience, such as those who are part of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry – complain that non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science have usurped the phrase skeptic. They say they aren’t skeptics because “proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” That group prefers the phrase “climate change deniers” for those who reject accepted global warming data and theory. But those who reject climate science say the phrase denier has the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier so The Associated Press prefers climate change doubter or someone who rejects mainstream science.

In a statement released this afternoon, The Center for Skeptical Inquiry isn’t all that thrilled with the term “doubters” either.

Last year, over 50 prominent scientists, scholars, and communicators associated with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) wrote a joint letter to the news media urging them to refrain from labeling those who deny the scientific consensus behind climate change as “skeptics.” As they stated in the letter, “Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” Those criteria do not apply to those who reject reality in favor of misinformation or half-baked conspiracies about climate “hoaxes.”

Signatories to the CSI statement included “science guy” Bill Nye, physicist Mark Boslough, Cosmos co-creator Ann Druyan, science advocate Eugenie Scott, Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto, David Morrison of the SETI Institue, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, among many others. CSI is a program of the Center for Inquiry, an organization that promotes science, secularism, and humanist values.

In new guidelines for its journalists announced today, the Associated Press instructed its writers to refrain from referring to those to refuse to accept the reality of climate change as “skeptics” or “deniers,” but rather to use the term “doubter,” or else refer to them as “those who reject mainstream climate science.”
“We’re very glad that the word ‘skeptic’ will no longer be used to describe deniers of climate science, such as Sen. James Inhofe, who claims to believe that global warming is a hoax,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Skeptics use reason and evidence to reach conclusions, and that simply doesn’t apply to those who reject the scientific consensus on our warming planet.”

However, Lindsay cautioned that replacing “skeptic” with the term “doubter” remains problematic. “The AP’s journalism is read throughout the world, and heavily influences the public’s understanding of crucial issues such as climate change. Referring to deniers as ‘doubters’ still imbues those who reject scientific fact with an intellectual legitimacy they have not earned. The general public, we fear, will still not get a clear picture of which public figures are basing their positions on reality, and which are not.”

Despite problems with the term “doubters,” CSI expressed that the longer classification of “those who reject mainstream climate science” was acceptably clarifying.