JoNova

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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48 science minds misuse the term “scientist” – namecalling is not science

A group of people calling themselves “leading scientists” think that what the climate really needs is some A-grade namecalling. Specifically, they want the word skeptic for themselves, and want everyone who is unconvinced by their argument to be called a “denier”. I guess they’ve finally realized how uncool it sounds to be an unskeptical scientist. Their reasoning is that they have 48 sciencey type celebrities and they can quote Carl Sagan.  Their scientific greats include guys like Bill Nye the Science Guy, James Randi, and Dick Smith.

The headline reads:

End misuse of ‘sceptic’, urge 48 science minds

Me, I think –  let’s aim higher, and end the misuse of of the term “scientist”. Real scientists debate the evidence and don’t use namecalling as scientific argument. Denier” is not a scientific term, it’s a form of character assassination from lazy minds who want to avoid discussing the data.

Make no mistake, “denier” is not a descriptive term in a science debate, it’s equal to saying “you have the brain of a rock”. Being in denial of observations to the point where a person in toto becomes labeled a denier, is shorthand for saying that they are so mentally deficient that [...]

Nick Cohen “deniers have won” — gets startlingly close to the truth

What insight. ‘Tis prosaic — Nick Cohen in The Guardian packs more truth — runs tantalizingly close to a major insight, yet skates off, one single word short.

It’s projection on a rampage, and Cohen almost seems to realize it.  Perhaps we can help him?

“The climate change deniers have won”

Where else, but The Guardian?

Yes, Mr Cohen, those whom you deliberately and with malice call “deniers” are winning. Incredibly, even though they have only 0.03% of the funds, none of the machinery or the institutions, the enmity of western governments, existential opposition from the $350 billion renewables industry, no support from the large global carbon trading market, and only scorn and derision from the entire UN, and yet they are winning with nothing but wits and facts.

“Scientists continue to warn us about global warming, but most of us have a vested interest in not wanting to think about it” Exactly!  If you care about the environment you need to think. How serious is the problem of CO2? Here’s a handy list of topics that won’t tell us that answer: Any list of organizations, associations, committees. Any survey of keywords used in publications. Psychoanalysis, pop psychology, anonymous internet [...]

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 [...]

Dear John, you want “deniers” to help you do a fallacious survey eh?

John,

Thanks for the invite to assist with the crowd sourced online survey.

Unfortunately I just can’t see this working.

1. The survey is profoundly anti-science, it’s exactly the kind of thing I debunk on my blog. Consensus is the stuff of politics, not science. Science is not a democracy, and we don’t vote for the laws of physics, which are either right or wrong and not “97% popular”. Hence, any answer you get in this survey (and it appears you already have the answers) has got nothing to do with understanding the climate of Earth. It may possibly be helpful in psychosocial analysis of groupthink in modern science, or the effect of monopsonistic funding on scientific progress, but that brings me to problem 2, even if it were useful for that, you are not the researcher to study that. See point 2.

2. You still refer to us as “deniers” in much of your work. You admitted there was no such thing as a “climate denier” a few months ago (albeit after five years of using the term), but you have not adopted a more useful name, or apologized for abusing the English language. Clearly you think skeptics are [...]

John Cook of (un) SkepticalScience, admits “climate change denier” is inaccurate. Will he stop name-calling?

I don’t think John Cook realizes how his latest article affects virtually everything else he’s written.

(Repeated on the SMH too.)

How accurate is a book when even the title describes a group of people who don’t exist? Will Cook stop abusing English?

So he finally admits the banal, that there is no rational explanation for calling skeptical scientists “climate deniers” or “climate change deniers”. Bravo. (No one denies that climate changes, or thinks the Earth has no climate.). But this is terminology he uses everywhere, and it describes a group of people that don’t exist. Has he only just noticed?

We think through our language, and when we use sloppy, inaccurate words, we get sloppy inaccurate results. Abusing our language is what people do when they don’t have a rational argument.

Misleading language is de rigueur for Cook. Even the name of his “SkepticalScience” website is the anti-thesis of accurate English. He’s not skeptical of “official science” in the slightest, and with a gaping hole in his logic (see below), not too scientific either.

Look out for the “fake” tag, too. Since when did a representative of a university call another university academic a fake? Since Cook did. He [...]

Dr Paul Bain and Nature issue partial correction

It’s a start. Paul Bain regrets the offense caused by the term denier.

But there’s no mention of the term failing basic English or it’s unscientific nature. The term has been used by professors, M.P.’s, Prime Ministers and national broadcasters, and none of them have expressed even a hint of regret, but we can nonetheless call this a small win. Notch up one for skeptics, but ten for the fog.

Credit to Paul Bain for being one of the only people drawn into that unscientific milieu who has the strength of character to back out, ever so slightly.  He has promised to reply to my last email. I look forward to it. Few who claim to be concerned about the planet have the intellectual honesty to even try to defend their work.

The small win here is not so much the correction attached below (though that is useful), but it’s that the internet fray and the questions will have been noticed by other editors and researchers. In the future, a few of those people will be more careful with their terms.

Promoting pro-environmental action in climate change deniers

Paul G. Bain | Matthew J. Hornsey, | Renata Bongiorno  [...]

Victory of the Denialists! says Robert Manne in The Monthly as his Gods of Science fail

Firstly — No one wins anything while the people who slag off at scientists get their denigrating name-calling on the front cover of magazines. That said, I’m smiling. Beaming. The man who doesn’t know what science is, admits his team is failing. That has to be good. Real scientists everywhere, smile!

Manne’s argument appears to rest entirely on his mistaken belief that “science” is What The Gods Declare it To Be. For Manne, the Gods are “official climate scientists”. Apparently, only those who are anointed by Government funding have access to The Truth — and their declarations must be obeyed. Manne is so completely under their spell,  he is incapable of figuring out how anyone could think anything else.

“For reasonable citizens there ought to be no question easier to answer than whether or not human-caused global warming is real and is threatening the future of the Earth.”

For Manne, planetary atmospheric dynamics are so blindingly clear that only unreasonable citizens could question it. And if there is “no easier question”, then it follows that those who get this question wrong are not just unreasonable but quite possibly, brain dead. Manne’s writing is thick with insults, but [...]

My reply to Dr Paul Bain — on rational deniers and gullible believers

UPDATE: Dr Paul Bain has replied to say that pressing work commitments mean he cannot respond to this until next week.  We look forward to that, and I will make sure it is available for readers here (should Dr Bain permit). – Jo

———————————————————————————-

Dear Dr Paul Bain,

Thank you for replying (and so promptly). I do sincerely appreciate it. Apologies for my tardiness.

I do still think I can help you with your research. Indeed, in more ways than you realize.

You describe in your  Bain et al letter in Nature, that the number of deniers is growing despite “enormous effort”. There is a policy problem. I absolutely agree. No one is having any success getting deniers to believe in anthropogenic climate change. Could it be that they don’t understand deniers at all?

Let’s go through the points in your email reply to me, then the bigger implications.

First and foremost – obviously you did not provide evidence to back up your assumption that the “existence” of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change  is real. That doesn’t mean it does not exist, but I’ll get back to this. It is the key and only real point.

Secondly, you may regret the [...]

Chiefio (E.M.Smith) responds to Bain et al

In the comments here: E.M.Smith (Chiefio) responded to Paul Bain and then posted it on his own site. It’s very popular (thank you Michael!)

Response to Paul Bain

Dear Paul Bain:

First off, thank you for responding.

FWIW, I am a hard core skeptic. I’m the “target” of your analysis. As such, what folks like me think ought to be particularly important to you. So a bit of history on me and climate change.

I first came to the AGW issue thinking “Gee, this looks important, I ought to learn more about it.” At the Skeptic sites (like WUWT) I had generally kind acceptance and explanation of where I had parts missing from my understanding of the “issues” about AGW and where it was “gone wrong”. At “Believer” sites (an curiously appropriate term as it has all the hallmarks of a religious belief) I would ask simple and innocent questions and largely get derision in return. Simply asking “But doesn’t CO2 have a log limit on absorption effects that we have passed?” or worse, saying “But this article (on skeptic site) seems to have a valid issue.” would bring “Attack the messenger” responses. That, for me, was the first and largest [...]

Defining “denier”. Is it English or Newspeak?

This week Nature Climate Change published the Bain et al letter about “climate change deniers”.  How does Nature define this group? They imply that deniers deny science, but can the researchers, editors or reviewers name any peer reviewed paper with empirical evidence that the deniers deny? Surely this whole paper is not based on a name-calling assumption, a confusion about an illusory sub-species, Homo sapiens denier? Could Nature now be the Journal of UnScience? We shall see…

I have written to ask the lead researcher Dr Paul Bain:

 

Dear Dr Paul Bain,

Right now, it’s almost my life’s work to communicate the empirical evidence on anthropogenic climate change.

I can help you with your research on deniers. I have studied the mental condition of denial most carefully. There is a simple key to converting the convictions of people in this debate, and I have seen it work hundreds of times. Indeed, my own convictions that lasted 17 years were turned around in a few days. I can help you. It would be much simpler than you think.

Firstly, to save time and money we must analyze the leaders of the denial [...]