“Deniers”, “sceptics,” or perhaps “climate creationists”?

This week’s New Scientist has a special section on denial, asking the question: From climate change to vaccines, evolution to flu, denialists are on the march.

This week’s New Scientist magazine carries a special section on denial, asking the question:

From climate change to vaccines, evolution to flu, denialists are on the march. Why are so many people refusing to accept what the evidence is telling them?”

The magazine’s debate couldn’t have come at a more apt time as one of the world’s most prominent climate deniers, Richard Lindzen, this week told an audience at America’s Exxon-funded, Conservative think tank, the Heartland Institute:

“One suggestion I’d make is that we stop accepting the term ‘sceptic’. As far as I can tell, scepticism involves doubts about a plausible proposition. I think current global warming alarm does not represent a plausible proposition.”

Like Lindzen, George Monbiot has previously taken issue with the use of the phrase ‘climate sceptic’ but for completely different reasons:

“I use the term deniers not because I am seeking to make a link with the Holocaust, but because I can’t think what else to call them. They describe themselves as sceptics, but this is plainly wrong, as they will believe any old rubbish that suits their cause…

“The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sceptic as: ‘A seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions.’ This is the opposite of what people like Booker, Bellamy and Tomlinson are. They have their definite conclusion and will defend it against all comers, however many inconvenient truths might stand in the way.

Well, writing in New Scientist, Michael Shermer, a Professor at Claremont University in California, and author of ‘Why do people believe weird things?’ helpfully identifies what he sees the differences are between deniers and sceptics:

“A climate sceptic… examines specific claims one by one, carefully considers the evidence for each, and is willing to follow the facts wherever they lead. A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest.”

He continues:

“Denial is typically driven by ideology or religious belief, where the belief takes precedence over evidence.”

The Guardian’s respected science editor, James Randerson, thinks we should refer to the deniers instead as “climate creationists” because of the similarities with those who dispute evolution theory:

“They operate in very similar ways. They have a fixed position and ignore evidence that does not fit their case. And they cherry-pick shreds of data that do appear to back them up.

“They play up the ‘it’s just a theory’ debate just like the creationists and they paint themselves as valiant scientific mavericks who are supposedly ignored and vilified by the establishment. Worst of all they have been pushing their own version of ‘teach the controversy’.”

But even President Obama now talks about climate “denial”:

“Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences too serious.”

If it works for Mr Obama, it works for Left Foot Forward – and we’d like to point you to this helpful guide to rebutting the popular myths of the deniers.

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