Calls For Media To Accurately Label Climate Deniers Growing Louder

The public debate over how to address climate change has been hindered in no small part by the media’s refusal to properly identify climate deniers, according to an open letter penned by fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry titled “Deniers are not Skeptics.”

Now, campaign group Forecast the Facts is making an open appeal to the media to accurately label climate deniers, enabling supporters of the CSI effort to co-sign the letter, which so far has garnered over 20,000 signatures.

The open letter, released last month, was signed by nearly 50 scientists and skeptics, including physicist Mark Boslough, science writer Ann Druyan, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, who say that public understanding of global warming science has been “confused” because of the misuse of the term “skeptic.”

“As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong,” they wrote. “The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is ‘denial.’ Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.”


The letter singles out Republican Senator James Inhofe, the new Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee even though he once infamously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” He believes climate change is impossible because “God’s still up there.”

Sen. Inhofe is the type of climate change denier who has repeatedly benefited from being characterized as a “skeptic” in mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and NPR. You can read the full letter below.


Forecast the Facts picked up where the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry left off, inviting its supporters and anyone else concerned about the state of the climate debate to publicly co-sign the letter to the media, “Climate deniers are not skeptics.”

Of course, the fact that climate denial is regularly conflated with skepticism is no accident, as has been documented elsewhere, perhaps most notably in Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes’ must-read book Merchants of Doubt, which examines industry-funded campaigns to mislead the public on issues ranging from tobacco smoke to acid rain and global warming in the service of free market fundamentalism.

By cloaking their anti-scientific arguments in the mantle of skepticism rather than denialism, climate deniers are simply taking a page from the Big Tobacco playbook. Isn't it time the media stop falling for it all over again?

Here’s the full open letter from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry:

Deniers are not Skeptics

December 5, 2014

Public discussion of scientific topics such as global warming is confused by misuse of the term “skeptic.” The Nov 10, 2014, New York Times article “Republicans Vow to Fight EPA and Approve Keystone Pipeline” referred to Sen. James Inhofe as “a prominent skeptic of climate change.” Two days later Scott Horsley of NPR’s Morning Edition called him “one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.” These are not equivalent statements.

As Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we are concerned that the words “skeptic” and “denier” have been conflated by the popular media. Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priorirejection of ideas without objective consideration.

Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.”

As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is “denial.” Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.

We are skeptics who have devoted much of our careers to practicing and promoting scientific skepticism. We ask that journalists use more care when reporting on those who reject climate science, and hold to the principles of truth in labeling. Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.

Mark Boslough, Physicist

David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, at the SETI Institute

Bill Nye, CEO the Planetary Society

Ann Druyan, Writer/producer; CEO, Cosmos Studios

Ken Frazier, Editor, Skeptical Inquirer

Barry Karr, Exec Director, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Amardeo Sarma, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Executive Council, Chairman GWUP (Germany)

Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Ronald A. Lindsay, President & CEO Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Center for Inquiry

Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University

Christopher C. French, Dept of Psychology, Goldsmiths University of London

Daniel C. Dennett, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University

Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College

Douglas Hofstadter, Director, The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, Indiana University

Stephen Barrett, Co-founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), and the webmaster of Quackwatch

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Professor, Department of Psychology, Emory University

Terence Hines, Dept of Psychology, Pace University

James Randi, President James Randi Educational Foundation

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer and Director of the Center for SETI Research

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Henri Broch, Physicist, Emeritus, University Nice Sophia Antipolis, France

Eugenie C. Scott, Chair, Advisory Council, National Center for Science Education

Edzard Ernst, Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, University of Exeter, UK

Indre Viskontas, Cognitive Neuroscientist, Host Inquiring Minds Podcast

David J. Helfand, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University

Mario Mendez-Acosta, Journalist, Science Writer, Mexico City

Cornelis de Jager, Astrophysicist, Past President, International Council for Science

Sanal Edamaruku, President, Rationalist International

Loren Pankratz, Psychologist, Portland VA Medical Center, Retired

Sandra Blakeslee, Science Writer

Benjamin Radford, Deputy Editor of the Skeptical Inquirer Magazine

David Thomas, Physicist and Mathematician

Stuart D. Jordan, NASA Astrophysicist, Emeritus

David H. Gorski, Cancer Surgeon, Wayne State University School of Medicine

Anthony R. Pratkanis, Professor of Psychology, UC @Santa Cruz

Jan Willem Nienhuys, Mathematician, Waalre, The Netherlands

Susan Blackmore, Psychologist, Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth

Ken Feder, Anthropology, Central Connecticut State University

Jill Tarter, Bernard M. Oliver Chair, SETI Institute

Richard Saunders, JREF Million Dollar Challenge Committee, Producer - The Skeptic Zone Podcast

Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, Williams College

Lawrence M. Krauss, Director, The ASU Origins Project, Arizona State University

Barbara Forrest, Philosophy, Southeastern Louisiana University

Kimball Atwood, Physician, Newton, MA

James Alcock, Psychologist, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada

Massimo Polidoro, Science writer, author, Executive Director CICAP, Italy

E.C. Krupp, Director, Griffith Observatory

Dick Smith, Film Producer, Publisher, Australia


CSI Consultants

Luis Alfonso Gámez, journalist, the Magonia blog, Spain

Felix Ares de Blas, Professor of Computer Science, Univ. of Basque, Spain


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