Once again discussion has erupted in the climate blogosphere about the appropriateness of the term ‘denier’ as used by advocates of the Consensus position about their opponents. Science of Doom started the ball rolling, after which it got Keith Kloor to write a post on his Discovery Blog. After which HotWhopper wrote a spirited, if somewhat incoherent defence of using the term and I guess now it’s my turn.
Denier is a political term, not a description. I have seen physicists with 250 published papers to their credit classed as ‘deniers’, as well as luminaries such as Freeman Dyson, Ivar Giaevar, Judith Curry, John Christy, Richard Lindzen and others. It is obvious that they don’t deny climate science, as most of them have helped make it. So why the term?
Here’s what I wrote over at Science of Doom: “Using the ‘d’ word was a political alternative to engaging with the opponents of the consensus.
When veterans of the tobacco wars advised allies that debating climate science was a losing strategy, it left them with few alternatives to one-way messaging.
Broadcasting messages proved difficult, especially as many of the messages were not crafted by scientists. After some errors had to be acknowledged in vehicles such as An Inconvenient Truth, for example, green NGOs began creating and financing campaigns, as if climate science were a consumer product. This led to imagery such as polar bears on ice floes, close-up pictures of mosquitos, Amazon rainforests being cut down, etc. Later these were joined by more bizarre examples such as the No Pressure video.
But because they were one-way messages, those employing this strategy found it difficult to respond to those on the other side of the policy fence. Often(not always) the consensus team was right on the facts of a particular issue, but couldn’t organize a one-way message in real time.
One of the strategems to bulwark their decision not to engage with opponents was deligitimizing them. We see the results today.
It was not just the use of the ‘d’ word, by the way. Another tactic was pointing out the age of the scientists who spoke out against the consensus, using things like ‘gone emeritus’ etc.
Another was the use of carefully crafted literature searches to create the impression of an overwhelming consensus–the 97%, as opposed to merely the 81% that is closer to the truth. Oreskes, Prall, Cook–all of their signature pages were based on research designed to ignore relevant work by their opponents, not measure it.
To be clear–it is not scientists at fault for this strategy. A group of politically concerned activists took the microphones out of the hands of scientists and began insulting their opponents instead of discussing the science.
I would ask scientists (I’ve said all this to Bart Verheggen at his place of business) if it is not time to reclaim the microphone, ‘thank’ the activists for their efforts and ask them to leave the stage.”
The real argument in a nutshell can be summarized quickly at Keith Kloor’s post: