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A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Climate Change Denial and the Holocaust allusion

Readers here will know that my problem with the term “denial” is with its misuse in English*. But the term “denier” is also used as a character slur to mark those who disagree in a science debate as being as odious as Holocaust deniers. The hope, apparently, is that dissenting views should be shunned and their arguments and evidence ignored. It’s a cheap debating tactic to shut down debate for those without evidence and reason, but it’s incredibly effective if you have the media on your side. What’s amazing is how many otherwise smart people don’t see through this babyish rhetorical stunt.

Last week Roy Spencer had had enough. In response to years of name-calling, he  protested at being called a “denier” and said

“Too many of us for too long have ignored the repulsive, extremist nature of the comparison. It’s time to push back.  I’m now going to start calling these people “global warming Nazis”.

Skeptics have been likened to Holocaust deniers for a decade, and the Anti-Defamation League have been pretty silent. They did once in 2007 tell off James Hansen. But otherwise, it’s been fair game to besmirch the memory of the holocaust in the name of climate alarm. So immediately after Roy blogged the Anti-Defamation League did the obvious thing (for irrational fans of alarming science) and jumped in to denounce Roy Spencer. To put it in perspective, Roy Spencer and John Christy developed the system that measures temperatures from satellites, and won a NASA medal for exceptional scientific achievement. Activists who failed science at high school have been calling both men “deniers”. The hypocrisy knows no bounds.

PopTech decided to list some of the times the ADL thought that Holocaust allusions were quite alright. Evidently, they didn’t mind when politicians or government funded officials like Al Gore, Chris Hulme, Rajendra Pachauri, Caroline Lucas, or Bernie Sanders do it. They also don’t mind when PhD’s do it, like Andrew Glikson, or Clive Hamilton, and they definitely don’t object to journalists like Ellen Goodman, George Monbiot, Richard Glover, Margo Kingston, or Joe Romm doing it.

If there is still a single person out there with Internet access who denies that there has been a wholesale campaign to link skepticism of the climate with “holocaust denial” you can thank Poptech for correcting your delusion.

There are many people who have so little respect for the ghastly suffering of Auschwitz, that they are more than happy to milk it shamelessly to score points in a science debate that they can’t win fairly:

We have Holocaust deniers; we have climate change deniers. And to be honest, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference.

Bill McGuire, University College London (2006)

Would the media insist on having a Holocaust-denier to balance any report about the Second Word War?

Caroline Lucas, U.K. Green Party MP (2007)

The obvious reductio ad absurdum is Holocaust deniers: Should their perspective be provided, for “balance,” any time someone writes about the Holocaust?

Chris Mooney, The Intersection (2006)

Clive Hamilton

Climate deniers are less immoral than Holocaust deniers, although they are undoubtedly more dangerous.

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University (2009)

David Irving is under arrest in Austria for Holocaust denial. Perhaps there is a case for making climate change denial an offence – it is a crime against humanity after all.

Margo Kingston, Webdiary (2006)

Thomas Schelling

I do think it’s often a mistake to call them climate skeptics. I think they’re deniers, just as I think president Ahmadinejad of iran who claims not to believe that the Holocaust occurred.

Thomas Schelling, University of Maryland (2013)

My favorite hypocrite of all, Jim Hoggan, who earns a living from doing PR for renewables firms:

These are not debunkers, testing outrageous claims with scientific rigor. They are deniers – like Holocaust deniers.

Jim Hoggan, DeSmogBlog (2005)

In October 2006 Jim Hoggan realized this was a poor PR move because people were talking about free speech and how skeptics are being demonized. So Hoggan did what he does and simply denied that this was about the holocaust. This is a typical Hoggan rewrite of history:

Finally, there is, once again, the question of whether calling someone a denier necessarily puts them into a category with people who deny the Holocaust.

The point seems to be missed over and over.  If you say “no, that’s wrong” and you have data – you have alternatives that are being tested and not just pulled out of an old textbook or made up – then that can legitimately be regarded as research, which may or may not add  something useful to the conversation.  If, instead, you foresake research in favour of a series of public lectures in which you wave your arms and deny climate change purely on the basis of outdated or irrelevant references, then that is just denial.

See the full list at PopTech: Skeptics Smeared As Holocaust Deniers, ADL Silent. Send in any additions you find to document all the name-callers.

Here’s one to add from physician turned scientist Ajit Varki, coauthor of Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind: “Because of our ability to deny reality, we can do amazing things that no other animal can do. But it’s also very dangerous for us.…When it comes to climate change—you can coin the word climate holocaust—we’re not taking it that seriously.”  – Straight.com July 2013

*I ask commenters who use it in a science debate to justify it scientifically (with observations their target denies), but none have managed too, though two have admitted they can’t and apologized.

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1 comment to Climate Change Denial and the Holocaust allusion

  • #

    There were over 700 comments on this thread. You can see most of them on the Wayback Machine.

    Most people enjoyed the discussion but one otherwise good person used name-calling and irrationally insisting he be allowed to taunt, insult and call people idiots, cranks, neo-nazis, retards, deniers, and argue guilt by “association”. He said this was free speech. At the same time he demanded I remove comments other people made. Moderating that and dealing with the emails associated with it was stopping me writing about science.

    For the first time ever I removed an entire thread and post. That dismayed me. The irony, on a thread about how namecalling is used to shut down debate. Months later, I’ve reinstated the post, but the comments are gone, and no further comments can be accepted.

    Indeed, I can no longer allow any discussion of the atrocity known as the Holocaust on my site, as it is impossible to moderate the discussion. Sadly, for the victims of the Holocaust, they are now just a bit more forgotten and invisible, and for that I am profoundly sad.


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