by Michael Bastach
Some scientists and activists no longer want their critics to be called “skeptics,” but Princeton University Physicist William Happer said “climate denier” is meant to denigrate those critical of claims of catastrophic man-made global warming.
The term “denier” is “designed to cast me and others like me as a Nazi apologist,” Happer told The Washington Post. Happer believes global warming, on net, will be beneficial to mankind from enhanced plant growth from carbon dioxide emissions.
“Any honest scientist should be a skeptic, most of all, a skeptic of his (or her) own scientific work, and the work of others,” Happer told WaPo via email.
President Donald Trump considered Happer as a candidate to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy or even sit on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
“If you insist on categorizing me as anything other than an honest scientist (and somewhat immodestly, a very good one) … you might call me a scientist who is persuaded that doubling or tripling CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere will be a major benefit to life on Earth,” Happer wrote, according to WaPo’s Friday report.
However, Texas Tech University Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe implored WaPo not to apply the “skeptic” label to those who don’t view man-made global warming as alarming.
“A true skeptic will be convinced by evidence,” Hayhoe tweeted at WaPo. “These are dismissives: they will dismiss every piece of evidence they are given, because their objections are ideological, not scientific. That’s the opposite of a skeptic in my books.”
Hayehoe’s view was endorsed by Susan Joy Hassol, the director of the science outreach at Climate Communication, who said, “It is not, as some say, a reference to Holocaust denial.”
“Real skeptics question things, consider all evidence and have open minds,” Hassol told WaPo. “Those who reject climate science don’t do those things; rather they ignore information that doesn’t support their position.”
Is that how skeptics should be? Googling the definition of “skeptic” returns: “a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.” That doesn’t fit the definition Hayehoe or Hassol put forward.
It’s not a new debate. Democrats, environmentalists and aligned scientists have for years debated what to call their scientific and political opponents. Some have opted for “doubters,” but most use “deniers.”
Activists, like Hassol, argue “denier” is not meant to evoke Holocaust denial, but what about the people who are labeled “deniers”? Many of them certainly don’t see it as a benign label.
Indeed, in what other circumstance do we refer to people as “deniers” outside belief in the Holocaust or global warming?
The Associated Press updated its style guide in 2015 “to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science” because “[those] who reject climate science say the phrase denier has the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier.”
However, The New York Times and many other prominent outlets still use “denier” despite allusions to Holocaust denial.