2011-11-22 06:21:14"skeptic" vs. "denier" revisited -- Peter Gleick in Forbes today
Tom Smerling


I know this is "old business," but I've never seen it satisfactorily resolved.  

Based on objections I've read at SkS,  and my own experience, I have rarely use the term "denier" anymore -- why inflame some people unnecessarily?   Especially any slightly-open-minded skeptics who may be listening.

So I try to talk about the process of denial vs. skepticism, rather than apply labels to people.   Or I refer to "critics of climate science," or "open- vs. closed-minded skeptics" or "those in denial" etc etc.   But these are long awkward phrases.     "Denier" is so concise. 

I hate yielding the term "skeptic" to them (we're the skeptics; they are "true believers") but it is often the easiest term to use.    Even here at SkS, the label"skeptic" keeps rearing its ugly head.   

Re: In today's article in Forbes by Peter Gleick, "The Rise & Fall of Climate Denial," discusses the term "denier" in a way that is making me reconsider:

Some of those who argue against the science of climate change use the term proudly. Here are just four examples:

  • Professor Richard Lindzen from MIT says he prefers the term denier to skeptic. “I actually like ‘denier.’ That’s closer than skeptic.”
  • Lawrence Solomon wrote a book entitled: The Deniers, profiling a number of well-known scientists.
  • At the 2009 Heartland Institute anti-climate science conference, astronaut Harrison Schmitt (described above) called himself a “true quote ‘denier’ unquote of human-caused global warming.” [Here is the actual clip.]
  • The Heartland Institute, which receives financial support to promote climate denial, also promotes a video “I’m a Denier” with the following introduction: 'This song is in honor of all the new Republican Freshman entering Congress and the Senate most of whom are Deniers and proud of it.'

Has a concensus ever been reached among SkSers on terminology when referring to....deniers?

2011-11-22 06:31:53
Paul D


Depends what denial is being applied to. If a skeptic agrees that it is warming but denies that humans are responsible, they are still in denial.

2011-11-22 06:46:29
Dana Nuccitelli

We've basically decided not to call them "deniers" because they're such crybabies about it (which makes it a distraction from the science).  However, saying someone is "in denial" about something specific (like the fact that the planet is warming) is acceptable, if supported.  I think "denialists" is probably fine too.  Personally I only use "skeptic" in quotation marks, but that's my default label.

2011-11-23 06:07:08
Tom Smerling


Dana -- That's about where I've come to, as well, though its not very satisfying because it still yields to them the term "skeptic," even in quotes.

What's your impression:   Is the "crying" about being called deniers a widespread phenom?    i.e. Do a lot of "rank and file" deniers raise this complaint, or just the loudest "professional deniers"?  

2011-11-23 15:04:23
Glenn Tamblyn


I sometime use 'so-called skeptics' or 'professional skeptics'. Or if I have used Denier and they react to it I try to reference the psychological concept of Denial. May not improve things with the D*n*e* but hopefully it gives an insight to the lurkers about where these people may actually be coming from

2011-11-25 17:28:15


I never liked using the term 'denier' in the past either, as I'm generally a pretty anti-confrontational guy. But I find it helpful these days, as many of the people I work with can't see any difference between the work of people like Monckton, making up rubbish papers, and those who advocate legitimate climate science (especially if those people are advocates rather than scientists themselves). Explaining and distinguishing the mental process going on in denialists' heads from the work of genuine scepticism of real scientists is really helpful for these people. Because of this, though, I try to use the term in a generally low-key and calm way, rather than an inflammatory, perjorative way.