The List Goes On ... and On ... and On

‘Denier,’ ‘Alarmist,’ ‘Warmist,’ ‘Contrarian,’ ‘Confusionist,’ ‘Believer,’

Some things never change. Like the endless search for the perfect term to describe those seeing things differently on climate change issues.

What to call a scientist or policy wonk, whatever, steadfastly insistent on not accepting the general climate science as viewed from the “consensus” perspective, in particular that Earth indeed is warming and primarily because of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide? Are they merely “skeptics,” a term many scientists and journalists prefer to apply, with honor, to themselves? And if so … are all those “skeptics” so homogeneous? If a Pat Michaels or a Richard Lindzen is a “skeptic” … what is Marc Morano?

A few recent examples illustrate the ongoing word-war. At “Climate Progress,” Joseph Romm — no shrinking violet and not one to pull his punches — lamented the term “denier” in the climate context because of its echo of Holocaust denial, and he re-proposed the terms “delayer” and “disinformer.” The journal Nature Climate Change has published a paper titled “Promoting Pro-environmental Action among Climate Change Deniers,” prompting outrage among “skeptical” bloggers, such as “Watts Up With That,” at the apparent legitimacy the journal thereby conferred on the term.

A perennial topic with no end in sight, the debate over such language can quickly turn into name-calling over name-calling — an inward-gazing meta-discourse changing no one’s views or practices, and perhaps only solidifying them. University of Illinois climate scientist Don Wuebbles tries to get around it all by using the term “confusionist,” but there’s little sign of its picking up much traction generally. (Wuebbles, of course, would himself be dismissed as just another “believer” by those same forces he characterizes as “confusionists.” )

“Reaching consensus on the best term here is like trying to reach consensus on a prognosis for action in the face of anthropogenic climate change,” wrote Max Boykoff, a climate communications scholar at the University of Colorado-Boulder, in an e-mail interview. “It can become distracting from the more productive work that can be done.”

In a sound bite-driven, communications-constrained environment — where each extra word and letter counts against your Twitter limit of 140 characters — perhaps such shorthand is evitable. Memes require compression.

But perhaps too an occasional revisiting of the word games can be useful, particularly if it reminds everyone, left and right alike and especially media, of the dangers inherent in loose lips and imprecise categories.

Internet Polarization and ‘In-Group’ Thinking

The problems here indeed are age-old. With labels come power. As debate club strategy goes, define the terms and you’ve already won the argument. Equally valid, however, is the old diplomatic truism that establishing common language is a necessary starting point for any breakthrough.

What to call the opposition on the battlefield? When to call male bovine excrement just “BS,” and when to pull back and leave room for compromise?

From one perspective, watering down “denier” might seem wimpy. Such timidity can be a symptom of being too “academically trained, scrupulous, conscientious” for one’s own good, as Yale University’s David Bromwhich has said. It’s a conundrum with which the political left in America has struggled; one common diagnosis to explain the rightward tilt of the country is that liberals have ceded too much rhetorical ground, lost the fighting spirit, and failed to “call out” nonsense in plain language.

Likewise, anyone engaged in public communications on the political right has his or her own dynamics to contend with: “outrage discourse” is now wired into the conservative media DNA, as a 2011 study in Political Communication suggests. To pull back may be to lose face — or worse, to lose eyeballs or audience share.

The problem may be exacerbated by novel communications trends. Though there are many factors behind the rise of polarization broadly in America, the Internet may play a strong role in enabling it.

Matthew Nisbet, a science communications scholar at American University, notes that with the Internet, “there’s a lot of net positive in terms of social network formation and exchange of ideas.” But it’s also the case that strong words drive Web traffic and clicks, and demonizing the opposition promotes audience loyalty and “in-group” solidarity, Nisbet said in an interview.

Despite ongoing debate over this “cyber-balkanization” issue, the research literature tilts toward supporting the idea that the Internet is facilitating more polarization. That’s the takeaway of papers such as “Political Polarization on Twitter” and “New Media and the Polarization of American Discourse,” though other peer-reviewed research diminishes its significance. In any case, there is very little research literature specifically establishing causation between the Web and greater polarization on climate change. But it’s very plausible that this is a valid phenomenon, and that it is driving the polarization of language, too.

The Language of Righteous Outrage

Consider the history of the some of the primary terms appropriated in the climate debate.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, OED, the term “denier” — starting with its coinage in 1475, during the language’s transition period — has traditionally been used in a theological context, as in “Deniers of Christ Jesus.” But meanings shift; slippage occurs; and new coinages take place.

The use of “climate denier” now has the unique distinction of being both inappropriately specific — tied to the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis — and so mundane as to be a cliché. Hence, deploying “climate denier” is a kind of fulfillment of Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

On the other hand, “alarmist” — used as a pejorative to tar the likes of Al Gore and James Hansen — was originally coined by godfather-of-conservatism Edmund Burke as a kind of virtue. “We must continue to be vigorous alarmists,” he wrote in 1793, ringing the alarm bell against French revolutionaries.

“Warmist,” on the other hand, with its whiff of cultish-ness, shows up first in the mainstream media in a 1989 New York Times “On Language” column. There is something sweetly innocent, and pre-political, about its presentation: “Those who accept the global-warming theory are said to take the warmist position.”

While preferred by some, “contrarian” connotes a kind of clever pose or affect, and suggests flippancy and lack of seriousness. The OED defines it as a “person who (habitually) opposes or rejects prevailing opinion or established practice; someone who behaves in a contrary manner.”

“Skeptic” is a particularly vexing case. It comes originally from ancient philosophical discourse describing one who, “like Pyrrho and his followers in Greek antiquity, doubts the possibility of real knowledge of any kind; one who holds that there are no adequate grounds for certainty as to the truth of any proposition whatever.” So to be a truly original “skeptic” — early modern philosophers such as David Hume would refine this position and make it more sophisticated — was to be a sort of professional “know-nothing,” or paradoxically, to believe in the wisdom of ignorance.

Skepticism Over Skepticism?

The use of the word “skeptic” is illustrative, perhaps representing the richest linguistic turf on which all sides battle. The word is often used as an epithet — as in, “Those scoundrel climate skeptics who sow doubt using money from the oil companies!” But it is also cleverly co-opted by those whose fealty to the “establishment” climate science is unquestioned: Just consider John Cook and his blog, the motto of which is “Getting skeptical over global warming skepticism.”

What to do with outlier definitions, or notions that “skeptic,” in principle, applies to all true scientists? Take for example the position of Berkeley physicist Richard A. Muller. A longtime “skeptic,” he famously co-authored new research that he says validates once more the phenomenon of global warming, a shift of position that earned many headlines. (See related story with this posting.) In October 2011, he published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal headlined “The Case Against Global Warming Skepticism.” It includes sentences such as, “Now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.”

Compare that with what he said subsequently at The Commonwealth Club of California, as part of the Climate One series on June 21, 2012:

There are deniers on both sides. I call the deniers the people who pay no attention to the science. They start with the assumption that there is a great conspiracy, and that whatever is happening in the climate is good …. Then on the other side, there are the exaggerators, who are just as bad as the deniers ….That includes Al Gore. He’s on the other extreme, and he doesn’t pay any attention to the science, on one side. And the deniers don’t pay it — [it's] the same. In the middle, even close to the middle, there are the skeptics, who have done a really wonderful job of pointing out the flaws in the science. There are what I call the warmists … actually many of them have done really good work, but they have convinced themselves that this is now a really dangerous thing and they have become political activists. I see it as symmetric.

There is a kind of admirable originality, and a little mischief, involved in such linguistic pretzels. But this novel form of “false balance” — i.e., deniers on all sides — is less amusing when citizens with low information — the majority — are seen as the primary audience for climate communications. The word “skeptic” becomes, in effect, meaningless. The outcome of this sort of cognitive dissonance can be nothing other than utter confusion in the minds of citizens and a powerlessness to respond.

American University’s Nisbet notes that, at the very least, dumping other “skeptical” figures such as Bjorn Lomborg, Richard Lindzen and Roger Pielke, Jr., into some larger “denier” camp is illogical and inaccurate. Their positions simply do not conform to the same patterns as, for example, Sen. James Inhoufe (R-OK) or his onetime aide-de-camp Morano; therefore, there need to be gradations and careful distinctions.

For his part, MIT’s Lindzen told the BBC in 2010 that he rejects the “skeptic” label because it should be reserved for situations where one is contradicting a “strong presumptive case,” which he insists is not the case with climate change. “I like ‘denier,’ that’s closer than ‘skeptic,’” he said when asked about labels he preferred for himself. “Realist is not bad.”

Reducing Media Coverage to Tit-for-Tat

Less dizzying ranges of labels than Muller’s have been proposed to describe the citizenry and levels of credulity on climate information. For example, the Yale/George Mason “Six Americas” report organizes its survey respondents’ views as follows: Alarmed; Concerned; Cautious; Disengaged; Doubtful; Dismissive.

Two years ago, an intriguing moment in the scholarly world presented itself with the publication of a paper in PNAS, “Expert Credibility in Climate Change.” The study, which explicitly mentions the words “denier,” “skeptic,” and “contrarian,” simply split its sample group of scientists into two camps: “convinced of evidence” (CE) and “unconvinced of evidence” (UE).

The study prompted a tough letter of critique from climate communications scholars Boykoff and Saffron J. O’Neill. They wrote, “The use of the terms skeptic, denier, or contrarian is necessarily subject-, issue-, context-, and intervention-dependent…. Continued indiscriminate use of the terms will further polarize views on climate change, reduce media coverage to tit-for-tat finger-pointing, and do little to advance the unsteady relationship among climate science, society, and policy.”

The PNAS study authors defended their right to use such terms by citing prior uses in the European Journal of Public Health and Environmental Politics, as well as science historian Naomi Oreskes’ 2010 Merchants of Doubt. They contended that “denialism has been well established in the literature as a relevant and appropriate concept and frequently applied to the [anthropogenic climate change] discourse.” They conceded that their “unconvinced” category “may encompass climate change skeptics, deniers, and contrarians” alike but asserted that such a catch-all category is nevertheless “objective and useful.”

In any event, that scholarly exchange highlighted the need for those involved in climate communications to be more “subject-, issue-, context-, and intervention”-specific and precise, adding further explanation whenever possible.

Inevitable Limits of Language and Politics … and ‘Rallying the Bases’

Neither Nisbet nor Boykoff says he finds the term “denier” useful.

For Boykoff, the work of communicating is all about bridging spaces and broadening the “spectrum of possibility for appropriate action.” And he adds this note of worry about how vitriolic language can end up ironically legitimizing positions that are only slightly less marginal: “If one wanted to rally their bases, invoking terms like ‘warmist’ or ‘denier’ can be more useful than ‘contrarian’ or ‘realist.’ These ‘epithets’ can also produce the ‘radical flank effect,’ as has been discussed mainly in sociology, where more extreme/strong language can make the use of ‘contrarian’ seem more reasonable.”

Nisbet says that “denier” serves the function of “morally stigmatizing the opponent.” While that’s one possible strategy, he says, “it potentially loses your audience in the middle,” where the only real compromise can take place. For him, that’s a coalition of environmental advocacy and center-right groups who might find common ground over something like a carbon tax, as part of a larger tax reform package.

But the National Center for Science Education notes that when it uses the terms “climate change deniers” and “climate change denial,” they are “intended descriptively, not in any pejorative sense, and are used for the sake of brevity and consistency with a well-established usage in the scholarly and journalistic literature.”

Spencer Weart: From ‘Skeptics’ to ‘Deniers’

Another way of justifying the term “denier” is to place this point of view in the history of science, and as the scientific evidence gets stronger, to allow for ever stronger language. Spencer Weart’s 2011 article “Global Warming: How Skepticism became Denial,” published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, contends, “At some point they were no longer skeptics — people who would try to see every side of a case — but deniers, that is, people whose only interest was in casting doubt upon what other scientists agreed was true.” That “some point” assertion raises key questions, as Weart locates the beginning of “rough consensus” as far back as 1989. Could one still be a legitimate skeptic prior to 2007 IPCC report? And as evidence mounts further, is there some further linguistic penalty that might be applied, as in “flat earther,” which we might label someone denying a spherical Earth today?

The reality is that improving the precision and accuracy of the terminology may not be sufficient in our information age. The prevailing view of politics in the modern era has been that getting the language right was a decisive step, a view articulated in George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.”

As Columbia Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann eloquently wrote about the relevance of Orwell’s view today:

There are real limits to how what’s wrong with politics can be fixed linguistically. To my mind, an even more frightening political prospect than the corruption of language is the corruption of information. Language, especially in the age of the Internet, is accessible to everybody. Some users of language are more powerful than others, or more honest, or more adept — but the various ways of speaking about politics can at least compete in the public square. Information, on the other hand, is much less generally accessible than words. When the process of determining the facts of a situation has been intentionally corrupted by people in power (whether, let’s say, Saddam Hussein had the ability to produce nuclear weapons, or whether a new drug has harmful side effects), there often is no corrective mechanism at hand. Intellectual honesty about the gathering and use of facts and data is a riskier and more precious part of a free society than is intellectual honesty in language. We ought to guard it with the same zeal that animates Orwell’s work on political speech.

John Wihbey

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections, John Wihbey is an editor and researcher at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. (E-mail:, Twitter: @wihbey)
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36 Responses to ‘Denier,’ ‘Alarmist,’ ‘Warmist,’ ‘Contrarian,’ ‘Confusionist,’ ‘Believer,’

  1. Due to the level of wilful ignorance required by so many deniers to maintain their untenable position, I quite like the idea of calling them WIGS. The term can be equally applied to creationists, antivaccs, mooners etc.

    • John D. Swallow says:

      Actually, this whole concept of a green house like effect surrounding the earth like a pane of glass is a ludicrous attempt to present a vision in children’s heads and I well imagine many adults also believe this. The question is, when was the last time anyone was able to “capture” anything with a gas? That this ubiquitous, odorless, colorless, and benign trace gas essential for life on earth, CO2, that is one and one-half times heavier than the rest of the atmosphere (maybe there is intelligent design after all because everything that utilizes CO2 is on the surface of the earth) and be reminded that it constitutes only .037% of the total atmosphere of our planet can have basically anything to do with the earth’s climate. It can not and never will be shown by ANY experiment to do so. Anyway, Mike, I have a term to describe those that believe CO2 posses all of the qualities that you want to believe that I has: S.T.U.P.I.D. and even you should be able to decipher that on your own.

      If you want to go to a site where people are allowed to have discussions, unlike your irrelevant blog site, on this topic you can look at this one:

      • John says:

        Mr. Swallow, please go read some basic atmospheric chemistry! John Tyndall and Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect (without which the earth would be frozen) in the early 1800s . And yes, these greenhouse gases (CO2, H2O, etc) exist in trace amounts in the atmosphere. If you believe that trace quantities of anything cannot have an effect disproportional to their concentration, try going without vitamin B12, or folate in your diet.

        • John D. Swallow says:

          John: Tyndall’s 1859 lab experiments do not prove that humanity’s CO2 emissions are warming the planet. In the real world, other factors can influence and outweigh those lab findings and that is why these experiment must deal with the real world and not computer models that do not have the ability to factor in all of the variables that effect the earth’s climate. And please explain how there is any connection with the earth’s atmosphere and vitamin B12, or folate in one’s diet.

          More sunspots, less cosmic rays, warmer earth. During the last 50 years or so, there have been record numbers of sunspots, low cosmic ray fluxes and somewhat higher temperatures.

          At least Jasper Kirkby has put together experiments and is trying to prove how much aerosols have to do with cloud formation.
          “There are a lot of observations suggesting that particles hitting the atmosphere might affect the production of clouds and, in turn, the planet’s climate”, continues Kirkby. “However, given the complexity of the climate and the many parameters involved, a clear answer doesn’t exist yet”.

          “For the first time, we want to do definitive, quantitative measurements of the underlying microphysics”, states Kirkby. “CLOUD has been designed to follow all the processes involved from the birth of the embryonic aerosols, which then grow to a big enough size to become the seeds for cloud droplets. CLOUD will also study the effect of cosmic rays on the cloud droplets and ice particles themselves”.

          Svewnsmark is another scientist that constructs experiments to prove his point and does not just mouth an unproven hypothesis.
          “Svensmark: Evidence continues to build that the Sun drives climate, not CO2″
          Prof. Dr. Henrik Svensmark, Center for Sun-Climate Research des Danish National Space Institute

          Keep in mind this: the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is 4/100th of 1%. Manmade carbon (5%) is therefore 2/1000th of 1%. H2O is responsible for 95% of the green house effect.

          You can look at this link and imagine at what clouds might have to do with the climate.

          • John says:

            John Tyndall discovered the greenhouse effect, caused by trace gases in the atmosphere, without which the planet would be frozen. The comparison with the outsized effects of trace substances in the body is apt. Welcome to non-linear relationships.
            As for your link to the argument about cosmic rays, there is nothing definitive, and the authors admit that they only find that cosmic rays may contribute to cloud formation. From there it is a very long stretch to say anything one way or another about cosmic rays contributing to global warming. The link to the New York Times article refers only to the importance of clouds to climate; no argument there, but I don’t see what that contributes to your argument. Clouds have always been in the atmosphere, ranging from 0-4%. What has changed (increased) is the amount of CO2.

  2. RickA says:

    Nice piece.

    It is to bad that we have to label at all.

    What do you call a person who accepts that doubling CO2 from 280 ppm to 560 ppm will increase the temperature (by physics alone), around 1.2C – but questions the amount of feedback amplified temperature increase (indirect effects) we will observe.

    Instead of 3C total CS, 1.2C from direct effects of CO2 and 1.8C from indirect effects, what if you believe the indirect effects are more like .6C, for a total climate sensitivity (CS) of 1.8C.

    I have been called a denier for that view, when I merely disagree with the amount of the speculative theoretical indirect feedback increase (which has been changing monthly as more and more papers take a look at this, and has been steadily dropping).

    I certainly find denier a very objectionable term – especially applied to a person who agrees that it has warmed, and will warm more – but not as much as some think it will warm.

    If the weather forecast calls for a high of 88F tomorrow, but I opine that I think it will only reach 86F, am I a denier. I think not.

    Perhaps I could be called a disagreeer.

    But in any debate, do not both sides disagree with the other?

    What then is the point of any label, other than to make it easier to name call.

    • gws says:

      RickA, I see you are still not “convinced”. I tried to convey to you some climate science (re CS) here a while ago, but you seem to have ignored that. Your statement is very close to older ones, which does make you appear like a troll. Curious.

      I cannot find any evidence to support your statement:

      “… the amount of the speculative theoretical indirect feedback increase (which has been changing monthly as more and more papers take a look at this, and has been steadily dropping)”.

      I suggest going to You can look at the Scientific Guide to Skepticism for a selection of graphs on CS, or type “climate sensitivity” in the search function to get a whole lot more information.
      We all would all love to have a low CS (<2 deg C), but the evidence for that is marginal. So trumpeting that view as you do makes you a denier in many people's view. Simple

      • RickA says:

        So by your logic, if you thought CS was going to be 3C, and it turned out to be 4C, you to would be a denier.

        I am 1.8C, and we have yet to see what it will turn out to be – so I will wait and see whether I am a “denier” per your definition, or not.

        • gws says:

          “So by your logic, if you thought CS was going to be 3C, and it turned out to be 4C, you to would be a denier.” No, that is not logical. First, the later does not follow from the former. Second, as you can see from the graphs in the links I gave you, 4 deg C is still much more likely than 2 (or 1.8) deg C. Assuming you wanted to assign a similar “denier”-label to people who argue for a CS on the high end, say 6-8 deg C, no need to look further: they have been called “alarmists”.

          “I am 1.8C, and we have yet to see what it will turn out to be – so I will wait and see whether I am a “denier” per your definition, or not.”
          I did not invent the terminology, I just interpreted why one would call you a denier. With respect to CS, again, I answered your “wait-and-see” notion here months ago: There is strong evidence from observations, not just models, that low CS is very unlikely. In the absence of evidence for low CS, hope is all you have. Question is: can you build or maintain a society on hope (that nothing bad happens)?

    • Paul Quigg says:

      I have found that when anyone publicly questions any aspect of the climate change debate they are immediately relegated to at least the skeptic catagory if not the denier. If climate scientists were treated this way for any of their private discussions of our incredibly complex climate systems, they would all be declared skeptics. Without skepticism their can be no growth or progress. A complete “scientific consensus” would infer that we know everything their is to know on a subject, which is nonsense.

  3. Paul Quigg says:

    What has this climate debate come too? Some days I’m a “skeptic”, the next day I’m “alarmed”, then “concerned”, who cares! This is a very serious subject and 99% of the stuff I read is baloney. The science is completely lost in all the noise and chatter. The IPCC is as “official” as it gets and until a new assessment comes out it is the best we have. Billions are spent on “words” and more “words” and GHG concentrations just keep growing and growing. Now I’m an “alarmist”. What will I be tomorrow?

  4. Very nice, academic discussion.

    Why can’t we call them climate criminals?

    I think many who are skilled PR manipulators are climate sociopaths.

    The term for our behavior is “overly tolerant” and “hyper-permissive”

    • Robert Marston says:

      Enabler. That’s a good psychological word. You can’t treat people with bad intentions with kid gloves. Soft pedaling this will just lead to more problems. The wonks and intellectuals need to learn how to fight to win. These guys aren’t playing fair and they never will.

  5. Hugh Kelly says:

    The cart before the horse? A great deal of this debate can perhaps be better understood by exploring why the term ‘global warming’ was necessarily changed to ‘climate change’ in the first place.

    • Toby says:

      The alleged “change” is one of the most stupid tropes around. Both terms have been in use for many years. “Climatic change” was first used by Gilbert Plass in the 1950s, and the “International Panel for Climate Change” since 1989.

      Hugh, if you want to contribute, at least check your facts.

    • David Appell says:

      Hugh: Because, as the science became clearer that more than just warming was involved, the term “climate change” seemed more accurate.

      By the way, the IPCC has used “climate change” since its inception, in its very name. And Republican pollster Frank Luntz recommended his party use the phrase “climate change” because he thought it less threatening.

      • Yes. I prefer the term “climate change” because “global warming” only describes the change in the average global temperature, and there are numerous other ways that climate change is going to affect us, the most important likely being increased wider and more severe drought, at least in this century. But then there is more widespread intense rains and consequent flooding. But flooding is temporary, whereas drought, while much less dramatic, can last years. Then there are the swings between these two extremes.

        Moreover , even in terms of temperature, “global warming” almost makes it sound like the globe is warming uniformly. But it isn’t. Land warms more quickly than water (and thus the northern hemisphere more quickly than the southern), the higher latitudes more quickly than the lower latitudes. Winters warm more quickly than summers and nights more quickly than days, both of which point to the source of the warming being a decrease in the rate at which energy leaves the climate system rather than an increase in the rate at which energy enters the system.

        The differential warming where continents warm more quickly than ocean will be responsible for a gradual drying out of the continental interiors, as air that picks of moisture over the oceans may have the same absolute humidity over warmer land but will have decreasing relative humidity. Likewise, the differential warming of the atmosphere results in the expansion of the Hadley cells, a feature of atmospheric circulation. Moist air loses its moisture as it rises in the tropics, then subsides, falling as much drier air over the subtropics — which are now gradually pushing the dry Mexican climate north into the United States.

        Anyway, for most things related to climate change I would strongly recommend But if someone is interested in the greenhouse effect, how the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder aboard the Aqua satellite is able to image carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to its absorption of thermal radiation in the 15 μm band, how it shows that the atmosphere is becoming increasingly opaque to this radiation, the basis for absorption in the bending mode of molecular excitation, a video that demonstrates carbon dioxide absorbing thermal radiation in a lab, or how John Tindall demonstrated the absorption of thermal radiation by carbon dioxide and water vapor in 1859 (including a pdf of a paper of his from 1861), they might want to click the link in my name. Part of a website I put together.

    • John D. Swallow says:

      I have come to realize that John Wihbey does not agree with this quote:
      “The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement” — Karl Popper

      It would seem that if he doesn’t agree with what some one else maintains, then he does not want to be subjected to the truth, and that is sad.

  6. Richard Milne says:

    One area not covered here is motive. For those who deliberately deceive the public into doubting climate science, for their own profit, the term “denier” is arguably far too mild, even Richard Pauli’s “climate criminal” might be too mild. At the other end of the scale, ordinary folk who are taken in by this disinformation, and/or motivated to disbelieve the science because it scares them, more sympathetic terminology (e.g. “disbeliever”) might be appropriate. Whether someone is a “denier” or a “disbeliever” depends on the evidence and resources available to them, and what they seek to achieve.

  7. David Appell says:

    I like “scoffer” – not insulting, but indicative of a lack of proper science:

  8. p manning says:

    How about asking them?
    Sometimes this is not possible I know, but to commence what, presumably, is intended to develop into a debate or discussion, by applying a deliberately pejorative and insulting label, is self-defeating.
    Or maybe no debate or discussion is required.
    And “commence”, is, in my experience, usually, and unfortunately, fairly accurate.
    There can be no debate or discussion without some mutual respect.

  9. joe bastardi says:

    Meanwhile back at reality ranch, co2 continues up while global temps level off

    in line with climate cycle theory that once the warming oceans have added their heat, there is no more warming. The second part of that theory, which can be tested objectively with the use of satellite data, which we did not have before 1978, is that temps will fall in response to the flip in the pdo to cold and the amo by 2020. An appetizer is the 2meter NCEP ( national center for environmental prediction not a right wing think tank) CFSR temps which have started their downward jagged trend as the cold pdo takes hold GLOBALLY. Propaganda about the US is more than countered by the cold showing up elsewhere, otherwise why would we see this:

    Now if you have charts and graphs that show a forecast for temps is busting, that the cause for the warming is rising but the warming is no longer occurring, and your entrance into a college is dependent on the answer you give to that question, to you simply answer the charts prove co2 is causing warming. That makes no sense. We have the test case in front of us and the fall back to levels in 1978 as measured objectively by satellite should be what everyone in this debate wishes to see for it will just as easily invalidate my argument if I am wrong. What I want to know is how does one demonize a group that points this out, when the arguments presented that say it is warming are plainly not occurring now. Should we bring up how cold its been in the southern hemisphere while its warm here and say that is a sign of cooling, or the EXPANSION of their ice cap. Should we use the record lows the past 10 days in the very places where July was hottest as a sign the debate is over on the other side. What has happened to sustained observation and adjustment to facts, rather than having the facts being adjusted to the theory

    If these people are so darn sure that my side is wrong, they should welcome the test, not make up every excuse they can find for why its not, or claim every event that happens verifies what they say.

    to be fair, for the year, we are .001C above normal globally

    • David Appell says:

      Why does the first graph end in 2009? Data exists after that….

    • Robert Marston says:

      Bastardi comes from the denier blog WUWT. Heartland funded no less.

      • John D. Swallow says:

        I assume that Robert would be more comfortable with information that comes from the World Wildlife Fund regarding the glaciers in the Himalayans.
        “Dr Pachauri, head of the Nobel prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has remained silent on the matter since he was forced to admit his report’s claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 was an error and had not been sourced from a peer-reviewed scientific journal. It came from a World Wildlife Fund report.”

        I have more faith in the credibility of Joe Bastardi than I do either the IPCC or the WWF.

        • gws says:

          Why do you “have more faith in the credibility of Joe Bastardi …” ?
          He is one weather forecaster with a zero record of scientific publications.
          Comparing the IPCC 2007 errors to the total length of the report(s), taking your statement to a logical conclusion, you would have to dismiss Bastardi’s entire weather knowledge and forecasting experience if you found that he got one forecast wrong within the last ten years, even if only his apprentice produced it originally.

          I wish we all had your standards …

    • gws says:

      There is a useful description of Joe Bastardi here:
      The fact he posts here suggests he sees fertile ground on this forum to sow some doubt. The (purposefully misleading) cherry pick in his graph is a common denialist technique to start all lines at the same y-axis location of a cherry picked year.
      A not cherry-picked depiction including a historical perspective can be found here:

  10. AlecM says:

    I’m a scientist plus an engineer so I apply rather more expertise than most. Every process trained engineer I have met looks at the elementary heat transfer mistakes in the Trenberth Energy Budget and says ‘How could they be so dumb?’ There are 5 other serious mistakes including a failure originally from Sagan to realise there’s a second optical effect in clouds.

    The bottom line; positive feedback is an artefact; there can be no CO2-AGW; the GHE is fixed by the first ~900 ppmV water vapour; there has been AGW but it has been via clouds; this also explains the amplification of tsi increase at the end of ice ages. In short, they got just about everything wrong and I’m writing the proof.

    What does that make me in your classification?

  11. Robert Marston says:

    Even Joe Romm knows the denier train has already left the station. The word fits. So it stuck. Wonkifying and attempting to create more definitions than those actually in use will just make people think you’re silly.

    The simple fact is that deniers deny global warming or one of its key precepts.
    And it’s also a pretty simple fact that deniers tend to believe that those who adhere to global warming science are making a big deal out of nothing. Hence ‘alarmist.’

    This is a valid debate between two thesis. And one or the other will be proven wrong.

    What intellectuals fail to realize is that facts do matter. Eventually, misinformation will fail when confronted with enough reality (the reason polls have already shifted back to climate change).

    • RickA says:

      Unfortunately, I am not so sure that one or the other will be proven wrong.

      Lets say that the temperature goes up less than the consensus estimate by 2100.

      I predict that rather than admit that perhaps not all the factors were known and maybe CS was less than estimated, that instead many many people will instead take credit for changes in (insert list).

      Perhaps switching over to natural gas instead of coal; increased nuclear; more hybrid vehicles; economic downturn decreasing CO2 emissions, etc.

      So there will probably never be a clear right or wrong, even if CS turns out to be 1.8C, reasons will be found to explain that it was supressed by some other human made thing.

      • gws says:

        Such is the nature of science!
        We do not blame Newton for not knowing about relativity. When new evidence surfaces, it is incorporated into our knowledge, and sometimes, rarely, it overturns existing knowledge. The way maps developed throughout history is a good example.

        Using the argument “not all the factors” are “known” is neither supported by history, nor is it used in every day decision making. Instead, in life and (in an organized fashion) in science we tend to rely on the knowledge available to us at the time and evaluate new knowledge as it becomes available. Things can go wrong, but blaming the messenger (here: the one who produces the knowledge) should not be the modus operandi in response.

        Again, RickA, good points. Except your insinuation of malintention on the scientist side.

  12. I prefer the old fashioned dissentient, “Dissenting, especially from the sentiment or policies of a majority.” especially as it splits so elegantly into two appropriate words.

  13. Graham says:

    In practice, “denier” is used for anyone who questions even the slightest that the only suitable response to climate change is Kyoto-style emissions reductions treaties, combined usually (not always- nuclear is acceptable by a minority) of a rapid substituion of fossil energy by renewables mainly wind and solar. It is this policy response, which is not (only) a scientific issue which is where the real fault lines are drawn. I have been called a “denialist” simply for pointing out some of the scientific errors made by Al Gore, who also “denied” the actual science. The use of the term “denier” is all about politics, not science.

  14. Mark Chopping says:

    re: Reducing Media Coverage to !@#$%^&*-for-Tat, I have just witnessed possibly the most disturbing piece of non-journalism by a Thirteen/PBS reporter that I can remember: Spencer Michel’s report on climate change, broadcast a few minutes ago on The Newshour. The program is linked here:

    * Why in earth was the language “climate change believers” used (thereby insulting mainstream scientists en masse, as well as those who agree with them).

    * The report was just another “he said, she said”-style hack piece of the sort that has become endemic in the MSM, making it appear as if there is a debate going on with 50-50 support for each side: nothing could be further from the truth. I have to ask myself: is The Newshour still concerned with the truth, or at least a close approximation?

    * Why was Anthony Watts provided with so much space and time to air his views?

    * In attempting to cover all the bases, the report largely failed to address any part adequately.

    *the URL contains “why-the-global-warming-crowd-oversells-its-message.html” — WHY?

    * I would like to know who the editor of the climate change science section is, and whether The Rockefeller Foundation has any editorial input at all (since it apparently funds this section)

    I cannot tell you just how truly disappointed I was to watch this report this evening.

    How about one of YCMF’s contributors takes PBS Newshour/Mr Michel to task over this?