2012-02-09 11:22:01Criticism of the term "fake skeptics"
John Cook


Got this email:

I am engaging in a conversation in the "Medieval period was warmer" section of your site.  I noticed that some posters use the term "fake-skeptic." Is that in line with your comment policy?  It seems that calling someone "fake" is an accusation of deception.

I hadn't thought about it that way as I consider fake in the sense of not real, not in the sense of pretending to be skeptic. I think self-described climate skeptics by and large think they are being skeptical when they are actually denying science. So it's not an accusation of deception.

Still, it is a bit of a polarising term. I tend to use "contrarian" for run-of-the-mill climate deniers and "misinformer" for the more proactive outspoken deniers.

2012-02-09 12:22:42
Dana Nuccitelli

Ah geez, there's got to be a limit to what terms we're not allowed to use to describe these guys.  I use fake skeptic in place of denier a lot.  Frankly if it were me, I'd take more of an issue with misinformer than fake skeptic.

2012-02-09 12:27:04
Rob Painting

Fake skeptic:

So what if plants and animals are going extinct at a phenomenal rate? So what if humans in the near-future might find survival difficult. Someone at your blog called me a fake-skeptic! Somebody call the cops!!!!!!  

2012-02-09 13:06:09
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Guess we pissed-off the fake-skeptic-deniers.

What's next?  "Those-who-object-to-any-labels-whatsoever"?

2012-02-09 13:51:08
Tom Curtis


If they don't like "fake skeptic", they can wear the label "denier" pure and simple. 

The entire issue here is that deniers insist that they be described in the terms that they have chosen, and chosen for rhetorical reasons.  There is no reason to surrender that advantage, and considering what they habitually call us, they do not have a leg to stand on.  The same people who object to the term "denier" as a suposed comparison with holocaust deniers will flat out compare us with nazis. 

As to the meaning of the term "fake skeptic", it implies only that they call themselves "skeptics", but they are not entitled to that designation by their actions.  That is simple truth and there is no reason to pussy foot around about it for fear of hurting their feelings.

2012-02-09 14:10:52BTW, my reply to this email...
John Cook


...was to defend the use of the term, refering not to someone 'pretending' to be a skeptic but someone who took the title 'skeptic' while not displaying genuine scientific skepticism.

2012-02-09 15:57:59


I would think that reasonable language, while polite, can carry the message. "Fake skeptic" is a bit inflammatory, perhaps just 'skeptic' (with quotes, implying not really a skeptic, while avoiding "fake") would be more appropriate.

Something I try to keep in mind when discussing (religion/politics/sports teams) is that while I may disagree with someone's opinion (quite strongly), it's important to respect someone's reasons for holding that opinion. This comes from a college incident for me (sorry, personal interlude) - someone I knew back then related a religious revelation, where they had been seriously considering suicide. A student from the same floor knocked on the door, stating that "God told me I needed to talk to you." They ended up on their knees, praying for guidance. And the crisis was averted.

Now, perhaps the other student had simply noticed a building depression. Perhaps she was divinely inspired. I don't know - as someone who's not religious, I certainly have my opinions. But as a result, my friend sincerely believed in divine intervention. And I have to respect her reasons for that belief, based upon her experience, her evidence. That's the evidence she had, the results she saw, and I (while disagreeing with the interpretation) cannot really diss her over her interpretation of that evidence.

Again - we need to respect reasons, 'tho not opinions. I find "false skeptics" inappropriate for all but the Pat Michaels (paid, $$$ driven deniers) because it is not respectful of why folks hold those opinions.

Just a personal veiw. 'Tho very strongly held.

2012-02-09 20:28:27
Tom Curtis


KR, I disagree with you.

Not so much about the respecting the reasons for actions, although clearly there are limits even there.  We cannot in good concsience respect the reasons for action of Martin Bryant at Port Arthur.  Or of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Williamson">Craig Williamson</a>.  Their reasons are clearly either insane or devoid of ethics, so that we cannot recognize in them a reasonable basis of action.

Further, we cannot respect the reasons of action of people who are not up front about them.  My two sisters are both Young Earth Creationists, and I can respect them because they state clearly that the basis of their beleif is religious.  But we cannot respect those who, though motivated religiously, claim to defend YECism because they are interested in defending science.  If they are ashamed of their true reasons, then why should we not hold them in slight regard also?  And we pretend their stated reasons are real, why then they do not justify the actions.

But more importantly, we do our impartial readers a great disservice if we pretend the actions or opinions of deniers are respectable.  We worry about the supposed credibility we give to Monckton if we appear to debate him, but worry about (correctly) calling him a conspiracy theorist because we are supposed to respect the reasons of people for their actions?  I don't think so.  The simple fact is that the great majority of our opponents have decided to take a stand for untruth.  They do not apply minimal levels of critical thinking to their own positions, for if they did so they could not hold those opinions.  We gain nothing by pretending otherwise in the name of politeness. 

2012-02-09 21:50:24
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley

I am somewhat with KR on this one, however it isn't straightforward.  I think it is better to just point out the errors in the argument and avoid characterising the source as far as possible, becuase it only deepens the tribalism that already exists and is likely to alienate those who are currently aligned with the skeptics, but who may be brought round, and make them less susceptible to the truth. 

The problem is that there is no term that will not cause offense simply becuase the behaviour of that particular group is rather unedifying.  From my discussions with some of the skeptic scientists (Essenhigh, Pielke, McKitterick) they seem genuine in their position, but are grossly self-deluded to the point where they simply can't mentally accomodate any evidence that runs counter to their existing views.  However calling them "self-delusional skeptics" isn't much better, even though it clearly doesn't imply deliberate dishonesty, it is still going to cause offense.

The use of some term is pretty much inevitable, but I think we should keep it to the minimum as far as possible.

Sadly I am coming to the conclusion that the WWW is a very bad thing from a mental health point of view, as it simply gives a platform for people to feed and reinforce their delusions (e.g. I suspect that Watts probably feels that the popularity of WUWT is an indication that his view of the science is correct).  In the old days, people could "go emeriritus" quitely and only make a fool of themselves in front of their friends and colleagues, rather than the whole world. 

I think pity is the right reaction, an argument can be made that adressing their faulty arguments is a kindness, but it is more difficult to say the same for labelling.  We should be guided by the "golden rule" - how would we want to be treated should we "go emieritus"?


2012-02-09 22:19:19
Ari Jokimäki


Perhaps use pseudoskeptic instead?