The Associated Press is very influential and their reportage is re-printed in thousands of newspapers across the country. When they change their style guide, heavily used by journalists as a guide to formatting, it has a ripple effect throughout the media industry. Recently, the AP decided to no longer label those who reject climate change science as “deniers.” According to the AP:
We are adding a brief description of those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces:
Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.
Some background on the change: 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.” That group prefers the phrase “climate change deniers” for those who reject accepted global warming data and theory. 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.
As said, climate change denier’s certainly should not be labeled as “skeptics,” the term they prefer, because true skepticism implies rational analysis, intellectual inquiry and open-mindedness and not just blanket denial. On the other hand, there is some truth to the denier’s claim that the very term “denier” is a pejorative, which is associated in one’s mine with Holocaust denial and, of course, the Holocaust was one of the true evils of modern times or of any time. Therefore, the term puts deniers in a defensive crouch and their collective mindset closes further.
However, what should the naysayers be called when 97% of climate scientists affirm the existence of anthropogenic or man-made climate change? Well, the phrase the AP advocates “those who reject mainstream climate science” is cumbersome, but realistic and I suppose it could be shortened to “rejecters,” if such a term exists in the English language? But then we are back to a term very similar to “denier,’ but perhaps with less baggage.
The issue is much more than mere semantics. It is important for the American public to know of the consensus among the scientific community on the subject of anthropogenic climate change to avoid being led like sheep by demagogic politicians who are trying to curry favor with the polluting industries. Republicans can deny climate change, but carbon molecules still do what they do regardless of conservative orthodoxy and the climate is warming, oceans are rising. When Wile E. Coyote ran off the cliff chasing the Road Runner he still plunged downward, regardless of what he believed would happened.
The terms that the AP decides to use are very powerful in influencing and changing public opinion. Cap and Trade, for example, was originally a conservative idea that Democrats have adopted as a possible way to limit carbon admissions. Republicans introduced cap and trade measures to deal with the problem of acid rain with great success back in the George H. W. Bush administration. In fact, Republican demigod Ronald Reagan supported cap and trade measures.
Now his same political party views cap and trade as akin to socialism. Well, how times have changed! This evolution shows how Democrats have moved to the center on such policies as health care and climate change, while Republicans have moved farther and farther right to arrive at a complete dismissal of science, empiricism, and facts themselves.
Language matters! The AP is trying to straddle the comfortable middle while making no one happy and thinking of themselves as practicing objective journalism. “As it stands, the new style guide is a half-hearted attempt at balance where no balance exists.” Perhaps the AP can just label climate change denies as “conservatives” because that camp is where the rejection of science is held as a basic tenet!
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