Associated Press Stops Calling Those Who Deny Climate Change 'Deniers'

"Doubt seems to imply a lack of clarity ... but there's zero lack of clarity on whether or not it's happening."
NIKLAS HALLE'N via Getty Images

The Associated Press, which sets editorial guidelines followed by media outlets around the world, ruffled a few feathers on Tuesday when it announced it would no longer call those who reject climate change "deniers" or "skeptics."

New guidance in its official AP Stylebook is to use "climate change doubters" or "those who reject mainstream climate science." The wire service explained on its blog that the change was made to appease both those who question climate change's existence and scientists who identify themselves as skeptical of actual unsupported scientific claims.

Some background on the change: Scientists who consider themselves real skeptics -- who debunk mysticism, ESP and other pseudoscience, such as those who are part of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry -- complain that non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science have usurped the phrase skeptic. They say they aren’t skeptics because “proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” That group prefers the phrase “climate change deniers” for those who reject accepted global warming data and theory. But those who reject climate science say the phrase denier has the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier so The Associated Press prefers climate change doubter or someone who rejects mainstream science.

The Center for Skeptical Inquiry, which lobbied for media outlets to drop "skeptic" in a letter signed by Bill Nye and other prominent scientists because it says the term only applies to those who use "reason and evidence to reach conclusions," applauded AP's change, but didn't support replacing it with "doubter."

"The AP's journalism is read throughout the world, and heavily influences the public's understanding of crucial issues such as climate change," Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry, said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post. "Referring to deniers as 'doubters' still imbues those who reject scientific fact with an intellectual legitimacy they have not earned. The general public, we fear, will still not get a clear picture of which public figures are basing their positions on reality, and which are not."

The center did endorse the use of AP's second, wordier suggestion, "those who reject mainstream climate science."

Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for the environmental group, told HuffPost that the word "doubt" gives climate change deniers too much credit.

"Defying 90+% of scientific consensus on something isn't a well-reasoned act of 'doubt' -- it's an irrational act of 'denial,'" Ganapathy wrote in an email. "Doubt seems to imply a lack of clarity -- and there is a lack of clarity on some things, like what the ideal solution to climate change is, but there's zero lack of clarity on whether or not it's happening."

Greenpeace spokesman Joe Smyth had a similar view.

"The explanation for why the phrase 'climate deniers doesn't fit is unconvincing," he told HuffPost. "It basically seems to boil down to that it hurts some climate science deniers' feelings."

Several journalists, including some who might be expected to abide by the new language in their newsrooms, snarked at the change.

"In this case ... they have succumbed to a specious argument that the term 'denier' can’t be paired with another term without tinging it with Holocaust implications," columnist Erik Wemple wrote in The Washington Post. "Seems like a dicey precedent."


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