Thursday, December 03, 2009

Global warming deniers, skeptics or contrarians?

I've noticed on some of the podcasts I listen to, blogs I read and twitter streams I follow the use of the word "denier" to refer to self identified anthropogenic global-warming / climate change "skeptics". (I've also noticed politicians using both interchangeably.)
However, I think attempting to re-label such people as "deniers" associates them with the vile deniers of the holocaust. It could just be me - but if I were to do a cloze activity like the following: 
"Well known ___________ denier will be giving a talk at..." 
I'd be more likely to insert "holocaust" than "global-warming". 

Google "denier" (by this I mean search for the term "denier" in google - like this - not someone who denies the existence of google), look through the first 100 or so links and you'll see they are to both climate change deniers and holocaust deniers (with the majority holocaust deniers). Any variant of the word "deny" searched within google's "wonder wheel" provides a link to a holocaust denial related search. Fairly impartial evidence of the association. (I haven't bothered to search using Bing, but what's the point...?)
Splitting hairs? Maybe? But holocaust denial is pretty offensive and often motivated by xenophobia, bigotry and hate. I can't say the same about those on the other side of the majority scientific view about global warming. The use of the word "denial" is a Weasel Word that Poisons the Well. Whether you use it for this effect deliberately or not doesn’t really matter. Associating a view you don't agree with, with the holocaust, is also a tactic used by creationists - something  I wouldn't like to be associated with. (An admittedly explicit association - see the Ben Stein "Expelled" clip as an example - and as such more fallacious. But at least they're relatively upfront about it.) 

Moreover, labelling someone a denier is a conversation ender and it seems to me to be pretty disingenuous to say otherwise. (In the case of some people this might be a good reason to use the word denier – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad springs to mind.) I would also suggest that to claim: "It never occurred to me that using 'denier' in this way is an attempted guilt by association," would also be quite disingenuous - but I can't read your mind (if you rubbed your eye in the last 5 minutes you are one of the people whose mind I control however).

I wholeheartedly agree with the attempt to disassociate "skeptic" from those who doubt the claims of the majority consensus on climate change / global warming. These “skeptics” tend to be - at least in my experience - politically motivated ideologues, not genuine “seekers after truth”. For whatever reason, they are “contrarians”. That is, they hold the “contrary” view. By holding the contrary view it is true that they "deny" anthropogenic global warming. But to "deny" the weaselly guilt by association caused by using the term denier is humbug.

I know I'm fighting a losing battle - wikipedia says so. But I also note that Clive James would probably agree with me... (Also (apart from this apology), sorry for all the asides and off topic tangents in parentheses.)