It’s hard to believe, but not long ago, people used to write to me to tell me not to use the word “skeptic” telling me it had a bad name. “Use the word realist” they said. But I wasn’t going to let the forces of darkness get away with destroying the English language. I’m proud to be a skeptic. I wasn’t giving that word up. And besides, I had a feeling that if we stuck with the truth, the distortion the-newspeak-team had set up would come back to bite them, and I rather wanted to whip them with that.
After all, what’s not to like about the word skeptic (or sceptic):
1565–75; From the Latin scepticus, meaning thoughtful, inquiring
From the Greek : skeptikós, means to consider or examine (akin to skopeîn, meaning: to look, “scope”)
“Skeptic” is a prize worth having.
And if we are the skeptics, then it followed that they are the Unskeptics and who wants to be an Unskeptical Scientist?
Bitten by their own propaganda campaign, the apologists-of-authority rushed to make out that they are skeptics (who just coincidentally always happen to agree with authority), and say pat-truisms like “all scientists need to be a bit skeptical” and “true skeptics are useful”. Which meant of course they had to call us odd things, like quote-unquote “skeptics”, contrarians, naysayers, or else resort to their favorite ritual insult: “deniers”. (Which is the richest of all, really when you think about which side of this debate is saying that red equals yellow. See the missing hot spot, and Spot the real denier).
The “debate” meme is falling
For twenty years they’ve said “there-is-no-debate”. Al Gore was doing it back in 1990. But things have changed since then and while this is a work in progress, some are backpedalling. Prof Stefan Lewandowsky said “there is no real scientific debate about climate change” in 2010, so we laughed at him for throwing tenets of science out the window. Now, without admitting he ever got it wrong, in 2011 he’s seen the light and says: “Science is Debate“. (And, you cynic, you think they never listen?)
Next step: We ‘re taking the name scientist back
Nature is finally admitting that there is a debate, but haven’t got the nous to figure out what to call each side. In discussing a major international conference of scientists (run by Heartland), they misframed the debate as if it’s between “scientists and skeptics”. Which is too silly for words, the skeptics are the scientists.
The Unskeptical “scientists” are the pretenders.
Perhaps calling this a debate between “scientists and poseurs” is a bit much for Nature-GroupThink to bear, but they could get away saying that the debate is (more or less) between the government funded scientists and the independent scientists.
So how can you tell a scientist from a poseur?
Here are some handy hints:
- A true scientist doesn’t whinge when people ask for their data and methods. They don’t hide results, lose data, and whine that they’re being attacked if someone wants to check their answer.
- A real scientist knows that climate sensitivity is not determined by 20 year old tobacco funding and doesn’t stoop to a barking-mad baseless slur which implies that historic tobacco funding has something to do with this discussion.
- A normal scientist uses logic and reason: when faced with evidence, they can talk politely about it without compulsively issuing a character attack (he’s not a real Lord, you’re not a climate scientist, don’t be racist… and insert other non-sequitur here!)
- A real scientist knows that 28 million weather balloons is empirical evidence that trumps the opinion of 28 million climate simulations.
I wrote about the dilemma of how to tell which scientists are the real ones, versus which ones are not in The Skeptics Handbook II. Help: How Do I know?
So go forth, all your sticklers for accurate language and guardians of science, take no prisoners, let the world know, we are independent scientists, and they are fakes. The name-calling thugs who break tenets of science, hide data and throw logic out the window don’t deserve to use the term “scientist”.