“Skeptic” vs “Denier” – I got it wrong … really wrong. 1

I wrote a brief post the other day entitled “The Climate Change Skeptics are still as crazy as ever“.

Yikes … bad move … really bad move on my part ….  and so a few folks quite rightly pointed out that this is a highly inappropriate term to use.

OK, lets clarify why.

There are people, like me, who are “Skeptical” – That means when faced with a claim … ghosts, gods, free-energy, pseudo-science, lake-monsters, etc… I’ll not simply gulp the cool-aid on sale, but will instead look for evidence to see if the claim is credible.

Then there is an entirely different category of folks often called “Climate Change Skeptics”, but are not actually skeptical at all. These are the individuals who reject evidence and instead deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming. In other words, my use of the term “Climate Change Skeptic” to describe those that are really “Climate Change Deniers”, was wrong.

Yep, the word, “Skeptic” has indeed been hijacked and greatly abused.

Having cleared that up, it quickly becomes apparent that the true “Climate Change Skeptics” are the folks who support the current scientific consensus (just to be 100% clear, I mean the folks who support the consensus that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming and that it is more than 90% certain that humans are causing it).

Do I hear you stutter, “But but but … how can you call them skeptics?“.

Because anybody doing real science must be skeptical, not flow with the tide, nor align with opinion, but instead look at the raw data, and both test and verify what is claimed.  In stark contrast, the deniers, the folks who claim the term “skeptic”, are more akin to religious fanatics who start with a conclusion, then proceed to cherry-pick stuff that confirms the belief and discard anything that conflicts with the belief.

OK, I’m generalizing a bit, it is not quite that black and white, but is instead quite like belief. There are all sorts of shades and variations of folks out there that range from the “Climate Change Denial Taliban” all the way through to those who are very familiar with the current scientific conversation, have reviewed the data, accept that the current scientific consensus is indeed correct, and can explain why.

You know what, lets just forget about combining the term “Climate Change” with the word “Skeptic”.

So where are we now with all this?

Here in the UK, the Royal Society, founded in 1660 and populated over the years with a list that is a who’s who of science (Darwin, Banks, Brunel, Attenborough, Babbage, Carter, Cook, Crick, Davy, Dawkins, Faraday, Fleming, Hoyle, Leakey, Newton, Rutherford, Kelvin, Watt, Einstein, Feynman, Pauli, … and many more) has a public facing document on climate change.

As I’m aside, I’ve picked them and not the IPCC report, because the only allegiance these folks have is to science, there is no international politics in the mix here, so there is no room to play the “Politicial Bias” card. I am of course quite happy with the content of the IPCC report, I’m just highlighting this as a pure-science statement on the topic. In fact they do draw upon the IPCC 2007 report.

Issued in September 2010, it summarises the current scientific evidence and highlights the areas where the science is well established, where there is still some debate, and where uncertainties remain.


Their view? Well, it is best if you just read it for yourself and make up your own mind. However, I do find that the following statement from the introduction quite nicely sums it up …

There is strong evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been caused largely by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, including agriculture and deforestation. The size of future temperature increases and other aspects of climate change, especially at the regional scale, are still subject to uncertainty. Nevertheless, the risks associated with some of these changes are substantial. It is important that decision makers have access to climate science of the highest quality, and can take account of its findings in formulating appropriate responses.

In it you will find …

  • A nice introduction to the topic
  • Climate and climate change: some background science
  • Aspects of climate change on which there is wide agreement
  • Aspects of climate change where there is a wide consensus but continuing debate and discussion
  • Aspects that are not well understood
  • Developments in climate science

If you don’t “like” what it says, don’t come and argue with me, go have that debate with the Royal Society.

As for myself, I’ll be using the term “Climate Change Denier” henceforth to describe the anti-science folks disinterested in inconvenient things such as data and reality.

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One thought on ““Skeptic” vs “Denier” – I got it wrong … really wrong.

  • KB

    Case in point: The Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism just released a report titled “Climate change denial in the classroom”.