Wednesday, September 23, 2015

No doubt about it: AP's new euphemism for science denying conspiracy theorists is not politically correct

Sou | 11:39 PM Go to the first of 16 comments. Add a comment
Seems that AP has succumbed to the poor sensitive little science deniers who call for jail time for climate scientists. It's more than political correctness - it's political correctness gone haywire. Usually it's the extreme right wing ideologues who moan about people who conform to "political correctness" - except when they want a euphemism for their own behaviour. Instead of calling climate science denial denial of climate science, AP wants to pretend that rampant deniers only doubt climate science. Which is nonsense. Deniers don't doubt. They just "know" that all the science of the past 200 years is wrong. Deniers reject science. They prefer to think that for the past 200 years there has been a giant hoax perpetrated on the illiterati (that is, deniers).

From denial to doubt? No, it's still denial

Paul Colford wrote at AP about a change to the AP Style Guide:
Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.

Joe Romm didn't agree, writing:
The media doesn’t even pay attention to people who deny the health dangers of tobacco smoke anymore. So why treat those who deny the reality — and danger — of human-caused climate change any differently?
As you know, I don't agree either.

"Climate change doubters" is a poor euphemism. It doesn't mean the same as a climate science denier. I sometimes refer to "those who reject mainstream climate science", however it's clunky and doesn't lend itself to repeated usage. Why use five words when there's a perfectly good single word that describes those people "deniers"? Or if there's no other context that makes it clear who you're talking about: "climate science deniers".

It's a poor use of language to use wrong words when the right words are there in the Oxford Dictionary - the ultimate arbiter of the English language:
denier 1
Pronunciation: /dɪˈnʌɪə/
A person who denies something, especially someone who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence:
a prominent denier of global warming
a climate change denier

Puffed up and puffed out

On reading about this, Anthony Watts, owner of the denier blog WUWT, did an imitation of a stuffed shirt (archived here). He put on his very best (if slightly stained) tie and his Sunday suit, rubbed his sleeve over his shoes, wiped a spot of dribble off his chin, then strode to his computer keyboard and wrote:

Statement from Anthony Watts:
Kudos to the Associated Press.
This is a positive and long overdue change. As reported back in 2007, the ugly term “global warming denier” gained traction after a widely syndicated op-ed from Boston Globe Columnist Ellen Goodman, who wrote this:
I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future. – Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe, February 9, 2007 “No change in political climate” (non-paywalled here)

Anthony's wrong about that. I don't know when the word "denier" first started being applied to climate science deniers, but it was well and truly entrenched in 2005, two years before Anthony's quote. And not in the context of the Holocaust. Anyway, Anthony continued in an uncharacteristically pompous manner:
Since it has now become convention in the AP stylebook to drop the term, which is used by both AP and non-AP journalists worldwide, WUWT will also follow the convention for all of it’s stories and will no longer use the term “deniers” in any context, be it in comments, or in a turnabout is fair play situation, such as this article by Dr. Tim Ball a couple of weeks ago.
WUWT will use terms such as climate change doubters or climate change proponents to describe the polarization of opinion in the climate change debate in all stories.
Commenters are advised to adopt terms other than “denier” in any context. Let’s all hope other blogs will follow. Skeptical Science might want to revisit my modest proposal again.

Well, that's hardly big of Anthony. He banned the word "denier" long ago. What you will notice though, is that he hasn't banned any use of terms like "alarmist", "warmunist", "fraudster", "scam artist", "conman" or other terms he and others use at WUWT to describe climate scientists and people who accept science.

b..b..but "climate is always changing" sang the deniers in chorus

Anthony's fans didn't agree with him. They weren't swayed by his uncharacteristic, if bombastic, formality. His giving royal assent to the AP's decision. Nope. They denied they were "climate change doubters", pointing out that one of their denier catch-cries is "climate is always changing".

From the WUWT comments

Kevin Lohse decides that the euphemisms will let ordinary people take the scientific high road. I think he means it will allow people to accept what the experts find, instead of denying facts.
September 23, 2015 at 1:00 am
The terminology is still biased. Practically no-one who posts here doubts that climate change is constantly happening, so the term. “Climate Change doubter”, implies an unscientific rejection of a generally accepted proposition based on faith alone. If we accept this terminology, we are letting those who insist that Man is causing dangerous changes in climate take the high ground of scientific virtue when nothing could be further from the truth. I suggest that the search for neutral terminology to describe either side of the great divide is far from over.

kokoda  is no fool. He sees how cunning the AP has been. They've hatched an evil plot.
September 23, 2015 at 4:24 am
Agree: This is very important and most all don’t get the implication of the change by AP, including Anthony. Remember when they changed from Global Warming to Climate Change – it was done for a reason. Changing to ‘doubter’ = most people will now view people that doubt climate change as looney (as climate always changes). You are falling into their rather insidious and intelligent trap.
I’ve even seen on this blog where some use Climate Change and they have become used in in context of the general definition as separate from the Global Warming CO2 issue.
Suggest: Global Warming Doubter (excise the ‘Climate Change’).
Many of you are extremely proficient or even brilliant in science but rather dull when it comes to understanding words/phrases and how they affect the human population as a whole.

markstoval wants to be called a "skeptic", though he's never to my knowledge demonstrated a sceptical, enquiring mind.
September 23, 2015 at 12:57 am
This is good news, bad news today.
Those of us who know from the scientific evidence that the alarminsts are dead wrong on the CAGW issue are Skeptics. I am a skeptic. I dispute the idea that we should not be called skeptics because we are “anti-science”. This is another form of the ongoing ad-hom.
On the other hand, it is very good that they have ruled against the very ugly term “denier”. 

And most of the others express "thoughts' proclaiming their denial of science.

John in Oz might embrace the term "climate conspiracy nutter", since he wrote:
September 23, 2015 at 1:10 am
I have no doubt that climate changes but am a weather data denier.
The misuse of data by folding, mutilating, in-filling, torture until it confesses statistics is what I cannot believe, amply demonstrated by the rebuttals placed on this site.
Panda  believes that Anthony Watts is being civilised when he posts articles likening climate scientists to Hitler, and accusing them of fraud and fakery day in day out.
September 23, 2015 at 2:00 am
Well done Anthony. I believe you deserve a lot of credit. I think that the demise of name-calling in the AP style book may well have been a consequence of the great influence of wattsupwiththat and your civilised and unvindictive approach to debate throughout the years that you have run this blog.

hunter has no doubts:
September 23, 2015 at 4:19 am
This is just another attempt by the climate kooks to dismiss those who do not agree.

Further reading

An addition to AP Stylebook entry on global warming - article by Paul Colford at AP, September 2015

Pushback from those in the front lines


  1. On the positive side: AP will also stop calling these political activists "sceptics" and will thus stop comparing these activists to the honourable member of sceptical societies who promote scientific thinking.

    1. No longer using the term climate sceptics is good. The term climate doubters is completely inappropriate. Scientists doubt, these people are (or claim to be) very sure that climate science is wrong.

      My suggestion is naturally: mitigation sceptic.
      Or if that is too technical: climate ostrich.

      AP, how about the term "mitigation sceptic"?

  2. People at Volkswagen have been caught doing some doubting recently.

  3. And that's why, folks, I always try to put the very important 'anthropogenic' word in there along with 'denier'. Like: AGW denier or ACC denier. That takes away their ability to follow with the inevitable "Climate is always changing, nyah, nyah" trump card.

    Yes, the climate is always changing, but never before has it changed so rapidly, and primarily due to mankind's influence... nyah, nyah. I see your denial and raise you a healthy chunk of physics.

    1. "Climate has always changed …" is a truism or a certain type of truth that is so self-evident and moribund that it is hardly worth mentioning as it adds nothing to a discussion. It's also a strawman argument as no AGW proponent doubts that the "climate has always changed". Such a climate truism lacks analysis e.g. rate of change comparisons, causes of the change, etc.
      In debates, responding to a truism involves accusing those opposite who use a truism of 'whining' and failing to debate or discuss the merits of their alternative point of view. That response also includes the advice that instead of using truisms, those who debate an issue should at least show some creativity by outlining and defending their position with data and examples.
      Keep fighting the good fight.

  4. If all the climate change deniers can do is come up with semantic arguments, then they are well and truly on the run.

    1. Wait for "What does 'warming' actually mean?"

  5. Well, we still can use ignorati, which according to the urban dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ignorati) is:

    a person or group that is willfully ignorant, or woefully uninformed and forces their ignorant views on others regardless of fact, inspire of evidence.
    The reason why science is being held back is because of the Ignorati.

    Or illiterati, which I believe has already been mentioned a couple of times here (including the definition from said urban dictionary):

    The opposite of the Illuminati, who take pride in their high level of knowledge and learning. An Illiterati takes pride in the fact that they are ignorant and refuse to learn (adjust their paradigm)often to the severe detriment of those around them.

    Straight to the point.


  6. Just look at this from 'their' side. The denialists I mean. I have many other terms for them.

    I think it is a plot from those warmists to change Denier to Doubter! This implies our truly held beliefs without evidence at denial of all things warmista has now got some doubt. The plot is simply to cast doubt on our denial! This is our forte!

    It is just like the change of Global Warming to Climate Change. I for one am on to THEM those crafty scientists.

    I feel sorry for the ignorati that lap up their putrid lies and distortions.

    Poltsi please add ignorati to your list of terms. Bert

  7. Sorry Poltsi I meant that you should add

    traitors to humanity
    generational genocidal psychopaths

    I have far ruder or earthier terms but that will do.


    1. I will have to disagree with you on this point. Your list are based on the effects or result of being a denialist, illiterate or ignorant.

      Just as an example, I don't see any reason why a person who denies the spheroid shape of the world, ie. a 'flat earther', should be called a 'traitor to humanity', unless his actions based on this belief are actually on that scale. Nonetheless he can be rated as a denialist, ignorant or illiterate (of the astronomical fact).

      Do you understand the distinction I'm trying to make here?


  8. There's also "climate truthers", which was suggested four or five years ago. Not sure if that term would have much currency outside the U.S. though.

  9. UPDATE! AP journo: ''I won’t follow new rule banning terms ''climate denialist'' or ''climate denier'' [Rebellion!] http://northwardho.blogspot.tw/2015/09/an-open-letter-to-paul-colford-guiding.html

  10. Sou good post. One thing most media have gotten wrong on this from Romm to Watts, is that this AP thing was just a "guidance" for staffers at AP, it was not a hard and fast "rule set in concrete." So with this confusion, both the left and the right went bonkers over this non news story. It never happened. Nothing has changed. Ask Paul Colford at AP at pcolford@ap.org -- all AP staffers have similar email code, first initial, last name then Ap.org

  11. I was blocked from commenting at poynter and Paul Colford has refused to answer me but here is my POV: An Open Letter to Paul Colford, Guiding Light at the AP’s Ministry of Guidance, on ”climate denialists”

    UPDATE: AP reporter: ”I won’t follow new rule banning terms ”climate denialist” or climate denier” ” [Rebellion in the corps!]

    Dear Paul,

    I sent this note to Kristen Hare at Poynter Org and to other journos and editors around the world, AP people, too: This FAUX AGW denialist brouhaha news story has gotten a lot of ink worldwide but nobody has asked what the heck the AP term “guidance” actually means!

    This climate GUIDANCE thing from the AP was not an iron RULE set down in concrete by the AP, nor even a REGULATION that AP reporters must follow or lose their jobs.

    No it’s just a “guidance.”

    In other words, a considered and much-debated and much-discussed in the editorial offices of the AP “suggestion” for what the AP considers to be better and more accurate and more fair reporting on these contentious issues.

    But no media outlet anywhere has emphasized that this is mere GUIDANCE/suggestion and not a hard and fast rule. The GUARDIAN Graham Redfearn got it wrong from his LEFTWING POV and Anthony Watts at WWUT on the RIGHTWING got it wrong too.

    So the leftwing is crying foul at what they see as an AP RULE that has been set down by AP editors and the rightwing is rejoicing at what they see as an AP RULE that they are happy to finally see in print.

    BUT it is not a rule.

    It is a mere suggestion, and reporters at AP and other outlets are FREE to follow however they wish to write the news. Yes or no?

    I am asking you, dear Paul Colford, to clarify and offer some guidance on exactly what the AP term “guidance” actually means in plain English.

    Your response?

    UPDATE! AP journo: ”I won’t follow new rule banning terms ”climate denialist” or ”climate denier” [Rebellion!]

    UPDATE: VICTORY! AP has corrected its error, and created a new guidance recognizing that it is perfectly fine to call ”climate denialists” and ”climate deniers” by what they really are, which is climate denialists and climate deniers.

    There appears to be open dissension at the Associated Press (AP) over the media entity’s new ”mis-guided” “guidance”, announced last week, not to refer to rightwing climate ostriches (RCO) with their heads in the sand over AGW as climate denialists or climate deniers, no matter what the very excellen climate science reporter Seth Borenstein said in his guidance.

    Here is AP’s new policy:

    Forget the earlier “guidance.”
    In response, a New York-based AP reporter , who writes about climate issues for the media company, just told a fellow journo by email, on the record:

    The AP style guidance will have no effect on how I write about about climte deniers and climate denialists.
    This response means one of two things. Either there is open revolt at the AP over the new policy, or AP management decided to throw irate climate activists a bone by claiming that while the AGW policy will remain, it won’t really be implemented (which is BS). Either way, the policy is still on the books, and this controversy will continue to grow. But if this is truly sign of dissension in the ranks at AP, that’s good news, not just for climate activists, but for journalism overall.

    1. Thanks Dan. The AP guidance to refrain from referring to science deniers as "skeptics" is a good one. I agree with you and don't know that too many people will refer to deniers as mere "doubters". Graham Readfearn wrote about this at the Guardian:

      And this was my response:


      Seth Borenstein said “We’re getting good and bad from both sides, which is just about right,”

      There are no "sides", and just as bigots don't get to be the judge of their overt prejudices, climate science deniers don't get to say how normal people view them.

      Seth Borenstein is a top notch science journalist but in this case he's wrong. He's effectively using the balance argument - which is a false balance.

      That is, one the one hand we have tens of thousands of experts in climate science who say humans are causing global warming, and on the other hand we have two engineers with no knowledge of climate who believe that we're heading for an ice age. (I don't often see Seth writing science articles with false balance.)



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