|Climate Change? - Its all down to sunspots, right|
One thing that should be made very clear: any attempt to try to link the views of those who oppose the conventional climate science to Nazism in any form is misguided and unfair. Goodwin's law of Nazi analogies (sometimes stated as follows: as an online discussion grows longer, the probability involving a comparison with the Nazis or Hitler approaches 1) implies that such comparisons are overused and by trying to create guilt by association with the word "denial" is in my view an example of Goodwin's law and its corollary that we should avoid glib association of a point of view with the Nazis. Holocaust denial is often part of a strategy to disassociate the extreme right with the systematic murder of millions of people in order to make an extreme right wing or anti-Semitic agenda more attractive. Holocaust denial historians ignore evidence or rely on fabricated evidence and they imply the existence of huge conspiracy theory on the part of eye witnesses and conventional historians. Those who voice opposition to the conventional views of climate science do so for many motives, as I discuss elsewhere, but however superficially similar the methods of some opponents of the conventional climate science could ever be to those of holocaust deniers, they could never have the same sneer at suffering that exemplifies the nasty agenda underlying their falsification of history. In short calling the opponents of the conventional view of climate science “deniers” as a smear strategy is wrong.
The reality, though, is that names matter, which is why name calling matters: coining the right name for your opponents, or the object of your opposition is crucial - in the UK the expression "Franken food" still resonates with the general public when considering genetically modified foods, and in the abortion debate, both sides control their image by stating they are pro something - and controlling your own name is an important part of controlling your image, which is why enhanced interrogation techniques are sanctioned, not torture, why politicians only ever misspeak, fudge or are economical with the truth, why the Climate Research Unit email controversy is framed as "Climategate" and why holocaust deniers prefer to be called revisionists. Pejorative names have been coined and applied to those who believe that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, including the climate scientists whose research illustrates a clear link: alarmists, warmists, true believers or team hockystick. The implication is clear: add a context to the opponents' view (alarm, warming rather than climate change, dogmatic, imply the hockystick graph is based on bad science) and extra ( negative) information is coupled to the label. Instead those who hold this view prefer the expressions "the consensus view" or express their beliefs in terms of the scientific consensus in general to indicate that the basic science is settled. The implication of this is also clear - the argument is over, the science says anthropogenic climate change is happening, reduce emissions or face the consequences.
This brings me to the theme of this article, if labels matter, shouldn't we protect labels that have an important value in science and in general. There is a real danger that the word "sceptic" will be appropriated by anyone who has an agenda for disinformation. If you don't think passive smoking is linked to cancer, that is OK, you are a cancer sceptic; don't believe the hype about HIV caused AIDS, that's fine you are an AIDS sceptic, don't believe that millions of people were murdered in concentration camps during the second world war, well that's OK, you don't need to claim you are revising history of the holocaust, you're just a healthy sceptic. The idea is a simple one: discredit the science or history, and conspiracy, propaganda and prejudice will be sucked in to fill the vacuum, and this process of discrediting is done first by claiming to hold no view yourself, but instead, being sceptical of empirical findings.
To protect the word "sceptic" from misappropriation, a correct label must be used for those who are not in any way sceptical - if the word "denier" is the appropriate word, it should be used but it should not be used lightly, nor used as a way of name calling to avoid engagement with those who oppose a particular viewpoint. It should certainly not be used as a way of falsely associating opinions on climate change with that of mass murder. In this way perhaps the words "sceptic" and "denial" can simultaneously be prevented from becoming too closely associated with one type of conspiracy or other. I prefer on first meeting someone to give them the benefit of the doubt, so I will assume at first that someone who says they are a sceptic (in a blog or who writes an article) are indeed sceptical, which will be confirmed or contradicted by their actions. I will, though, use the expression the Denial Industry for the smear campaign of climate science and scientists and those who, through their deeds, contribute to this smear campaign or disinformation. This is because smearing science, spreading disinformation, repeating arguments known to be based on falsehoods or debunked and spurious ideas, is a strategy of denying not engagement – and certainly not scepticism – and those who adopt a strategy are living in denial or worse, are knowingly fabricating evidence. I don’t wish to confirm Goodwin’s law, though: smearing climate scientists and repeating arguments known to be false to serve an ideological interest is a very long way from Joseph Goebbels and anyone who implies it isn’t are, in my view, not being 100% honest.