Skepticism is generally a good thing. We should be skeptical when people believe things that may not be true. But when the science is solid and the evidence points in one direction, raising questions about the efficacy of vaccines or human contribution to climate change only confuses the public. At that point, you’re not just asking questions. You’re denying reality.
Last December, Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry urged journalists to understand the distinction and stop misusing the “S” word. Inhofe and Jenny McCarthy aren’t “skeptics” asking good questions. They’re ideologues who don’t care what science says about their pet issues.
It took a while, but yesterday, the Associated Press — the largest news-gathering organization in the world — announced that it would make an addition to its famous Stylebook. The word “skeptic” will no longer be used to describe people like Sen. Inhofe.
Unfortunately, they won’t use “denier” either. It reminds people of Holocaust deniers and may be too loaded of a term for the AP’s tastes.
Instead, the AP Stylebook will suggest something else:
To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.
I think “denier” is a perfectly acceptable term, but I like “those who reject mainstream climate science.”
The AP is basically telling journalists that climate change is accepted science and there are no two sides to the issue; there’s the side with expert support and evidence… and the side with people who don’t accept that. You can still be objective, the AP is saying, while noting those differences. And you don’t even have to use words that’ll rub one group the wrong way (even though “denier” is perfectly fair, in my opinion).
The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is please that something was changed, but they’re still concerned the word “doubt” doesn’t express the full extent of the problem:
“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.
I agree with that. Let’s hope journalists hear that advice and use the longer but more appropriate description.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were posted earlier)