The Associated Press style guide is followed by major news organizations around the world and helps shape the contours of political debate in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, the AP Stylebook is the subject of fierce of lobbying by partisans of every imaginable issue. On Tuesday, it succumbed to pressure from the climate change denial movement and announced it will no longer refer to deniers as “deniers” or “skeptics.”
“Scientists who consider themselves real skeptics — who debunk mysticism, ESP and other pseudoscience, such as those who are part of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry — complain that non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science have usurped the phrase skeptic. They say they aren’t skeptics because ‘proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims,'” Stylebook editors Sally Jacobsen, Dave Minthorn and Paula Froke explained. “But those who reject climate science say the phrase denier has the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier so The Associated Press prefers climate change doubter or someone who rejects mainstream science.”
Skeptic, indeed, has never been a good term. It was always an attempt to be polite to people outright denying the science by giving them some patina of thoughtfulness. But it was never really true; skeptics, overall, were simply denying that climate change was happening or, more recently, since it’s now obvious to anybody alive, denying that people are causing it. So kudos to AP for discarding skeptics.
But the motivation behind shedding the term denier is a deeply strange one: Because it hurts their feelings?
To call them “doubters,” though, is almost always simply false. It presumes knowledge of somebody’s state of mind, but more often is just inaccurate. Take Exxon: We learned just recently that Exxon has known for a scientific fact since 1982 that fossil fuels were driving catastrophic climate change. Exxon’s scientists did not “doubt” this fact. Nor did its executives who were read in on the science. Rather, they spent a fortune to — I’m trying to find the right word here — say that what was true was not actually true.
AP’s deference to the deniers is all the more strange for how it would sound in a different context. Would we talk about gravity doubters? What about people who doubt the link between smoking and lung cancer? In no other circumstance would the complete rejection of science be treated so gently. And it is only being done because, over the past decade, under intense pressure, an entire political party has embraced denialism. (Even a decade ago, climate change was broadly accepted within the GOP. Remember Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi on the couch?)
So if doubters is wrong, what can we offer AP instead?
Folks on Twitter variously suggested Armageddon advocates, drought enthusiasts, Canadian land speculators, climate itsallrightists, death cult members, grandchildren haters, slowcooking specialists, reality challenged and a variety of other phrases that would probably be seen as pejorative.
At HuffPost, we’ll continue to call people who deny science “deniers” (when we’re being charitable). But if you have other ideas, feel free to share them with The Associated Press. They have a Twitter handle that’s pretty easy to remember: @AP.
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