Guest Post : Collin Maessen on why language matters

Collin Maessen, who runs the Real Sceptic site, offered to write a guest post about “words and how we use them”. This is an interesting topic in itself, but particularly relevant for the climate science debate as it does seem that discussions can often be derailed by the use of certain words or end up focusing on details of terminology rather than the science. Anyway, I won’t say more. Collin’s post is below. Just for clarity, it wasn’t solicited, it is unedited (it is as Collin sent it to me), I don’t know Collin and Collin doesn’t know who I am. I think it is an interesting post and, as usual, feel free to comment below.

Language Matters

How we say things, the words we use, how we say it, and even our perceptions on the meaning of words do matter. It at the same time makes languages extremely powerful and the cause of a lot of strife.

Anyone participating in any exchanges around the environment, particularly in the context of global warming, will have noticed how heated these exchanges often are. These exchanges have a tendency to completely derail leaving both parties angry and/or frustrated with each other.

This can of course not always be prevented, but in my experience there are a few things that you can do that help. Considering I’ve participated in online dialogue on global warming, and many other environmental subjects, for about 5 years now I’ve noticed a few things; things that might help with keeping any exchange productive.

Something that tends to instantly derail exchanges is to call anyone who expressed doubt on global warming a “denier”. Part of it is the meaning the so-called sceptics have attributed to this word and how they perceive themselves.

The so-called sceptics have linked the word “denier” with holocaust denier and say that this link is intentional in an attempt to smear them. This is not the intent, but the term is inaccurate enough that this narrative can be established. It also doesn’t help that some have made the comparison that they see “deniers” at the same level as holocaust deniers.

The other terms “climate denier” or “climate change denier” are also inaccurate enough that there’s criticism towards this. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve seen responses like “we don’t deny climate” or “we don’t deny that climate changes”. You’ve probably seen them too. With the odd response expressing the perceived link with holocaust denial.

This is why I don’t use those two terms any more, I use climate science denier. It’s far more specific about what they reject and it makes it very clear what you do mean. But this is still a term that I use sparingly as a climate science denier doesn’t see themselves as a “denier”. They see themselves as a “sceptic”, so it can still derail an exchange.

But they aren’t sceptics. The reason they call themselves sceptics is because, according to them, they are sceptical about the science supporting global warming. But being sceptical about that doesn’t necessarily make you a sceptic. Scepticism is about checking if claims are supported by evidence. This isn’t only about looking at the claims of others, it also includes examining your own viewpoints, the positions you hold, the claims you make, and the quality of the evidence you use for those.

That’s why I often use the word so-called sceptics. It expresses your perception of them in a far more neutral way. At the same time it also doesn’t unfairly paint anyone who might simply be misinformed, misled or is uninformed (I’m looking at you, Fox News). It allows someone who isn’t aware of how well the science is established to ask questions and participate without everyone instantly shouting “denier!” at them.

It’s extremely off-putting and confusing for someone who simply wants to participate and learn. This is the exact kind of behaviour that pushed people away and you might actually be laying the groundwork for them becoming a climate science denier.

You might not believe me when I make this point but research supports this.

One study showed the effects of rudeness on how readers perceived a topic, in this case nanotechnology risks. What they found is that rude comments polarized the audience. Those who already thought the risks of nanotechnology are low had a tendency to become more sure when exposed to rudeness. Those that thought the risks of nanotechnology are high also tended to become more sure that indeed the risks are high.

In other words: pushing someone’s emotional buttons, in this case via rude comments, made them more entrenched in their current position.

This is why I’m such a stickler for being polite towards opponents. Sure, by all means speak your mind, but do not call your opponents names or denigrate them. It’s the most effective way to derail exchanges and scare away those that want a reasoned dialogue. Especially in the context of exchanges that take place publicly as this will have a negative impact on your audience.

When you’re in the business of correcting misconceptions it’s tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot.

One other thing that’s very important in the case of public exchanges, especially on the global internet, is culture. People from all over the world participate in these exchanges bringing with them potential language barriers and cultural baggage.

For example I’m Dutch, English isn’t really an issue for a lot of us, but culture often is. Simply because we Dutch are direct and speak our mind while not mincing words. This can make us come across as rather blunt. I’m aware of this and I instantly intervene if I notice how I said something is derailing an exchange.

This is something you should keep in mind. The person you’re talking to might come from a vastly different culture than yours and might because of that interpret what you say quite differently because of it.

It was a bit of long rant but the above essentially boils down to the following:

  1. Be polite, even if the other person isn’t. And enforce this on your own sites.
  2. Focus on arguments, not the person. Ask for evidence and sources, if this isn’t provided you’re dealing with someone who isn’t interested in an honest exchange.
  3. Be mindful of different terminology, language barriers, and cultural differences.
  4. But above all assume that someone is honestly engaging you, until proven otherwise.

I do try to live by these rules. Sometimes this isn’t easy with how some approach you. And sometimes I make mistakes, after all I’m only human.

But I do try to be polite; I do try to treat everyone fairly and employ my policies consistently; I do make a point of only focussing on arguments. And I keep in mind I’m talking to someone who is also another human being who also wants to do the right thing.

So far this has worked for me as people have said they enjoy the environment I’ve created. They say I’m fair in how I apply my commenting policies and with the appeal procedures that I have.

It’s not an easy thing to do. I often wonder if I wasn’t unfair to someone or didn’t sabotage an exchange by intervening. All what I learned I did learn by muddling through; in a sense I still am.

That’s the part that scares me: that I still might be unaware of behaviour that to this day sabotages rational exchanges.

Collin Maessen is a long time advocate for sound evidence based environmental policies and mostly writes about the subjects of climate change, a range of environmental issues, and the politics surrounding them. He releases his materials via his YouTube channel with supplementary materials, and further original works, on his website

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56 Responses to Guest Post : Collin Maessen on why language matters

  1. Rachel says:

    You must be moving up in the world Wotts to be getting these guest posts.

    Great post, Collin. I agree with all of it. Has anyone ever complained about being called a warmist or alarmist? I have been called these a few times and although I’ve never been offended, I find that they do hinder a good discussion.

  2. Not directly to me, but I’ve seen some people respond to it how it is not exactly a correct representation of their position. Although it’s rare and most people have a shrug response when they’re called that. I just roll my eyes and ignore the comment.

    I only really make a point out of it if it’s part of a more denigrating tone than just simply distinguishing between positions.

  3. Thanks, Rachel. Not sure what to make of these guest posts 🙂

    It is a great post and makes some very good points about the language we use and how it influences our discussions. As with you, I don’t really get offended by being called a warmist, or warmunist, or alarmist but it does influence how I engage with that person. Once someone uses a term like that it implies, to me at least, that further discussion isn’t really worthwhile.

  4. plg says:

    I want to add an important consideration: remember that posting is very public, so even in the case it is hopeless to convince a true denier, you will affect people who read the posts. If they are just misinformed or honestly skeptical, a polite but firm dialogue will perhaps be a “tipping point”.

  5. plg says:

    As we are discussing language terminology and emotional overtones, I do find the term “warmist” or “alarmist” somewhat offensive since it reinforces the idea that climate science is a about beliefs (as in art: modernist, cubist, …). We would not use the term “gravitationist” for someone who believe in gravity? Probably “realist” and for someone who does not believe “deluded” and lock them up before they hurt themselves.

    To summarize: science is about facts, observations and models (theories), not about beliefs.

  6. You make a very good point. It’s not about convincing those who are openly pseudo-sceptics, it’s about providing information for those who are genuinely sceptical so that they can become more informed. It also works the other way around. Those who are choosing to engage unpleasantly and to use language that is not constructive, can also be judged on this basis by those who are reading what they write.

  7. I agree completely with your last sentence and despite the same thing being said by many who are “pseudo-sceptics”, in my experience they don’t often actually focus on the science, but instead focus on terminology or start claiming that AGW is some kind of massive government plot.

    Personally I don’t like being referred to as an alarmist or warmist for the same reasons as you, but I don’t find it offensive – although I suspect that it is often intended to be offensive, so maybe I should put more effort into being offended 🙂

  8. Rachel says:

    Yes, that’s why I’ve decided not to use “denier” anymore. If someone gets offended then it doesn’t matter whether we think they’ve got reason to be offended or not, it still puts a spanner in the debate and there are alternative words we can use.

  9. I agree, we should be polite. If only to show the difference in rationality.

    When referring to an individual there is no need for any label except his/her name.

    When referring to a group you unfortunately need a label and the label well never fit everyone in that group.

    So-called sceptics goes a bit too much into their new-speak world to me. How about self-proclaimed sceptics? Unfortunately a bit less polite.

    Other terms I like are “climate ostrich” and one could distinguish the “scientific mainstream” from the “cold fringe”. The latter may be a bit too positive as it suggests they are still inside the probability distribution, which is not always the case.

  10. Lars Karlsson says:

    Some “sceptics” has a deliberate strategy to to present themselves as victims of repression and persecution. Using angry language plays right into their hands.

  11. I think that’s very true. Additionally, I get the impression that some are intentionally trying to get people to lose their cool and to say something that they hadn’t intended to say. Then others can point this out and comment on how this person is not really engaging in a decent and reasonable way.

  12. As you say, you typically need some word to describe/label a group of people. Finding one that they don’t find offensive is generally a good thing to do. Although, I’m quite happy to not use the term “denier” I suspect that those who we would label as such would object to almost any other term too. I guess showing willing to not use a term that they claim to find offensive is at least an attempt to be reasonable though and, hence, has some merit.

  13. BBD says:

    Qualifiers I use regularly:

    Science denial
    Evidence denial
    Physics denial

  14. Exactly, they will keep on objecting to whatever term we use until the new speak for climate ostriches is: those that proclaim the godly truth about climate.

    The term should be sufficiently neutral in the eyes of a third party. There is no way to make the cold fringe happy.

  15. Tom Curtis says:

    wotts, I once spent a fruitless couple of days on WUWT trying to find a neutral term that all (or most) would find acceptable. The upshot was that the only terms that could find even mostly general agreement were terms such as “skeptic” (the most popular) and “climate rationalist” that lauded their position. For my efforts, I was roundly abused by the majority of denizens including, at one stage being compared to the KKK. (The source of that comparison later claimed it was inadvertent. Watts, however, deleted the offending post, then declared that no mention of the KKK had been made except by me; and promptly declared all further discussion of the incident of limits so that I could not correct the record.)

    The upshot is that I have concluded that the use of the term “skeptic” as a self decription is a deliberate strategy to mark out their position as being rational, and their opponents by contrast as being irrational merely by choice of label. Given that that is the game they are playing, I have no compunction about calling them “AGW deniers”. My view is that any neutral readers who are offended by that, but not offended by their calling us “warmistas” (compare with Sandinista), eviro-nazis and what have you was not in fact a neutral reader.

    The idea that offense should be taken only by our use of the relatively neutral term “denier” and not at the frequent accusations of fraud and conspiracy by AGW change deniers by the unpersuaded has no merit, in my opinion. They simply cannot be genuinely undecided, but so one sided in how they take offense. Nor can they be genuinely undecided and affronted by climate gate, but not offended by the frequent and outragious lies told by AGW deniers. People taking offense at the term “denier” merely mark thereby that they were never going to allow the evidence to persuade them from what they hoped to be true.

    Having said that, I do not use the term “denier” of any person with whom I am discussing the issue who shows signs by their responses that they are honestly engaging with the evidence. Should they merely parrot denier talking points, however, I have no interest in further engagement (which would be fruitless), and feel free to call them for what they are.

  16. BBD says:

    As Tom says, it is pretty obvious who the cap fits and when it is clear that you are dealing with a denier, then you shouldn’t allow them to get away with a dishonest tactical hijack of language itself. Use correct terminology.

  17. That’s exactly why I mentioned the paper where they studied the effects of tone on the audience. You won’t change the mind of a climate science denier (it happens, but it’s really rare) but how you approach a subject will drastically influence anyone who isn’t entrenched in their position.

  18. That’s why some use the word pseudosceptics, it’s a stronger statement towards them not being sceptics. Although it will result in negative comments faster.

    So-called sceptics is in principle a just as strong statement but it comes across as more polite.

    So far I yet haven’t encountered anyone objecting or misinterpreting the term so-called sceptic. Considering the amount of views the content has where I use those words I find that quite an achievement.

  19. This is actually a strategy some use, and it isn’t restricted to climate science deniers.

    Some do it to just get a rise out of you, the regular troll we all love. But some use it as a tactic to sabotage exchanges and then claim victory. I don’t respond in kind which has led to some who use this as a tactic to lash out themselves in frustration.

    Most of them give up and change tactics when they notice it doesn’t work on me. Sometimes it then even switches to a normal polite exchange, although these are rare.

    But if someone doesn’t engage honestly with me I will eventually tell them I’m no longer interested as there is nothing to gain from such exchanges.

  20. Saren says:

    One of my problems with “denier” is that it is often used with reference to policy instead of science. We might agree on the observational data, the theory of GHGs and maybe even the impacts, but not on the solutions. I don’t think people who advocate for adaptation over mitigation can be considered a denier.

    In fact I don’t think anyone who has a good deal of knowledge about climate science can be called a denier. Some just have different interpretations of the data. Is Nicola Scafetta a denier? I don’t think so.

    Technical speaking, in my opinion, there are many climate science deniers. They are the Joe six-packs who reject the science because that’s what you do as a conservative – climate science is just propaganda for the liberal elite, etc. If you are unwilling to learn about climate science and reject it out of hand, then yes, you are a denier. This definition, which I believe to be the most accurate, doesn’t include any significant actors in the climasphere.

    Unfortunately when “denier” is used, it is almost always a form of reification. “Denier”, “Sceptic”, “Warmist”, “Alarmist” are abstract terms that cannot be used to form a statement (i.e.: “alarmists are exaggerating” or “deniers can’t think”) without it being fallacious. Scientists, of all people, should avoid reification in their discourse. It shows a lack of critical thinking.

    I avoid using all these words. I think it is much easier to say “people who advocate for mitigation”, “people who don’t think action on climate change is necessary” or whatever the context requires. It may take more words but it is clear, follows logic and maybe best of all – polite!

    It makes me very happy to see this discussion 🙂

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  22. There’s also Egypt denial.

    What you’re saying, BBD, sounds a lot like what has been changed by CG I (The Miracle Worker), II (Remember Yamal), and III (The Return of the Bitcoins) according to Mike Hulme:

    [B]eyond these reasons for climate change scepticism, in the years following Climategate it has become more important to distinguish between at least four different aspects of the conventional climate change narrative where scepticism may emerge

    This can be expressed in a general form:

    [Hulme’s Lesson] To doubt is to doubt something.

    An alternative reading would be to replace “to doubt” with “to raise concerns about”.


    In that comment thread, one could read interesting moments from Mike Hulme in the CG files. His named is mentioned more than 1000 times, after all.

  23. > I get the impression that some are intentionally trying to get people to lose their cool and to say something that they hadn’t intended to say. Then others can point this out and comment on how this person is not really engaging in a decent and reasonable way.

    You think?

    See the conversation of this tweet:

  24. toby52 says:

    When Hulme’s name came up recently, I had trouble remembering who he was. I had not heard his name or read it in a blog for a few years.

    What changed with Climategate is that people like Hulme had a brief, bright moment in the sun, before sinking back into obscurity. Now apparently he is trying to re-emerge, insisting his moment never ended.

  25. Yes, I largely agree. I think that in any serious discussion, labelling the other person (or group) in some general way is not really helpful. So, certainly, I tend to avoid doing so, especially if I think the person I’m engaging with is decent and discussing things honestly. As others have pointed out, though, there are cases where labelling people seems appropriate if only to let others know something about them. I still avoid it as I don’t personally enjoy using a term that I know will annoy them, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t deserved though.

  26. I don’t know much about him, other than he works at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. What I found interesting is that in the chapter he released, he mentions friends asking him whether his colleagues at the CRU were honest and could be trusted. He doesn’t actually say what answer he gave his friends. Maybe this means nothing, but – then again – maybe not.

  27. Tom Curtis says:

    First, Scaffeta recently claimed that the IPCC position was that nearly 100% of warming over the last century was due to well mixed green house gases. This despite the noted facts that the IPCC states that the evidence up to 1950 does not exclude the possibility that the warming to 1950 was entirely natural; and that the IPCC’s statement is that greater than 50% of warming since 1950 is due to anthropogenic factors. That sort of straightforward misrepresentation by Scaffeta as an aid to making his case means that he is a denier.

    Further, Richard Lindzen dislikes the term “skeptic” and prefers to call himself a denier. He dislikes the term “skeptic” because, in his words,

    “As far as I can tell, scepticism involves doubts about a plausible proposition. I think current global warming alarm does not represent a plausible proposition.”

    Nor can Spencer be denied the label. When you try to argue that humans are not responsible for the recent increase in CO2 concentration without any attempt to examine the analysis done by experts in the field, and deliberately chose a method of presenting the data that conceals the relevant changes by inflating the scale, you are not practicing science anymore.

    The notion that the term does not include any significant actors in the “climasphere”, therefore, does not bear scrutiny.

    Second, the notion that general terms are not useful because it is an abstract term “… that cannot be used to form a statement … without it being fallacious” is simply mistaken. If a valid point, it would argue against the use of any generalized label, eg, “scientist”, “australian”, “human”, etc. In each case, the only thing true of all members of the class are the properties that define the class. That does not thereby make statements using the terms simply fallacious or not useful. On the contrary, without general terms all speach would bog down in pointless detail. Rather, statements like “AGW deniers have a strong ideological or financial commitment to radically free markets” should be viewed like statements such as “the velocity of light in a vacuum has a measured value of 299 million meters per second. The later is ‘false’ in at least two ways, being first an approximation, and second, because not all measurements obtain the same results, and some attempts at measurement produce radically different results. Objecting that we should not make claims about the measured velocity of light on those grounds, however, would be rejected as pure pedantry. In like manner, we can make useful claims about deniers as a class while acknowledging that there will be exceptions.

    Put another way, objecting to the use of the term “denier” as necessarily sloppy thinking is no more coherent than objecting to the claim that dogs are quadrupeds because some dogs are born without four limbs.

  28. Tom, you’ve been at this much longer than I am so you’re almost certainly much more aware of what people have said and done. Roy Spencer seems to have signed the Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming which appear sto explicitly deny that global warming is anthropogenic. Given that, it would seem quite reasonable to call him a denier, since he’s explicitly denied it. At the moment, I think I’m just trying to be cautious with my terminology. I suspect that may change as time goes on 🙂

  29. BBD says:

    Denial is denial. There’s really no upside in allowing it to pass unremarked and nobody should allow deniers to hijack the language of the debate. I know I keep repeating this, but it bears constant repetition. After all, this entire conversation is only happening because the language hijack has been somewhat successful.

  30. BBD says:

    @ willard

    Thanks for the JC link. I shall sit down this evening with a nice glass of bile and review.

    CG I (The Miracle Worker), II (Remember Yamal), and III (The Return of the Bitcoins)

    Might have to Wegman these 😉

  31. In some cases it might be appropriate to call someone who advocates for adaptation a climate science denier. For example Monckton argues for adaptation based on a rejection of valid science. In my experience most people who argue for adaptation do this based on an incorrect position on what the science says.

    Of course it doesn’t mean everyone who argues for adaptation is a climate science denier. But there’s a difference between someone making a reasoned argument and someone who doesn’t. You need to make this distinction when talking about policy options to prevent that badly reasoned policies don’t get an air of legitimacy.

  32. Saren says:

    Tom, as far as Scaffeta goes I think your characterization of him shows that he is wrong, maybe even a liar but not a “denier”. Perhaps he could be considered a sort of denier, but in that paragraph you never explained explicitly what a denier is. It’s that ambiguity that I think is the problem.

    In Lindzen’s case he goes to length explaining what “denier” means to him. There is no ambiguity there.

    Again with Spencer it’s possible he could be considered a specific type of denier but it needs clarification. He is definitely not a “climate science denier”. It’s simply not possible. It would be like me being a “PHP denier” when I use it every day. How can Spencer use climate science and deny it at the same time?

    Again I would say that having a non-mainstream interpretation of climate science doesn’t make one a climate science denier.

    Regarding my comment about the term denier being fallacious because it is an abstraction, you are completely right. That was bad wording on my part. Indeed we would probably still be hunter-gatherers if we didn’t have the ability to use abstraction. I really should have used “ambiguous”.

    If, in our discourse, we explain what we mean by “denier” then this ambiguity is removed. But this is difficult and takes a fair number of words. Even “AGW denier”, I would submit, only applies to those who deny there is any anthropogenic contribution. If not, what level of human contribution moves you into the “denier” group? Is it 10%, 30%, 50%? If one thinks ECS is 1 degree would they be a denier, 2 degrees?

    If we don’t explicitly state what we mean by denier before making statements about it, I still believe this is an example of the reification fallacy and “sloppy thinking”. Terms like “scientist” and “human” have specific definitions that are shared and understood. “Denier”, without clarification (denying what?), is far more ambiguous.

  33. BBD says:


    How can Spencer use climate science and deny it at the same time?How can Spencer use climate science and deny it at the same time?

    By prior commitment to what he believes to be a higher truth.

    He is, after all, a signatory to the Evangelical Declaration On Global Warming, which contains the following statement (emphasis mine):


    We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.



    We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

  34. BBD says:

    In the knockabout farce that is the climate “debate” there are plenty of people who combine evidence denial, physics denial, paleoclimate denial and more into a single generalised denial of the validity of the evidence-based scientific consensus on AGW. Given that these same people have tried very hard and almost succeeded to twist the language such that they can self-describe as “sceptics” and make the use of the term denier problematic, I think we are playing their game here.

    Denial is denial. Let’s not let those who indulge in it prevent us from describing their behaviour accurately.

  35. Saren says:

    Collin, I would agree it is possible (with clarifications) but I’m not sure about appropriate. This is because all arguments have a degree of reasonableness to then – it isn’t just reasonable and non-reasonable, although I suppose a total lack of reason is possible. To me, saying “your argument is invalid therefore you are a denier” is much less logical that saying “your argument denies that …”.

  36. That wasn’t what I was saying. I mentioned Monckton to make it very clear that there are those that you can call a climate science denier based on what they use when arguing for an adaptation policy (I linked to a page that shows why).

    So yes, it can be appropriate.

    You seem to be focussing on what policies people are arguing for, but policies aren’t separate from the science. The scientific evidence will tell us what policy options we have available. Meaning science tells us what is needed, and that will influence the how (policies). If then someone says for example we should only go for adaptation despite scientific evidence showing that it isn’t a viable option it can be valid to label them a climate science denier.

    The detail, and this is the important one, is that calling them that only should happen when it’s shown that they base their preferred policy on a rejection of valid science. This means that they reject evidence despite others showing it is relevant and undermines their preferred policy option.

    If you do that you won’t unfairly say this when someone has a good reason for advocating for a certain policy.

  37. Saren says:

    I know I’m being semantic here but Monckton uses climate science. He may mis-represent parts, exaggerate other parts, and so on, but I think “denying climate science” would be more of a total dismissal.

    Your analysis of his mistakes/lies/mi-interpretations is comprehensive and well-done. I would say each critique you provide may represent a specific denial, but Monckton doesn’t dispute all of climate science.

    There is no scientific consensus on every minute detail of climate science. For you to characterize someone as a climate science denier, what percentage of the science do they need to deny? Are there certain aspects, that when denied, make them a denier? Are there certain aspects of the science one can deny while not falling into the denier group? Are there people who fall somewhere between denier and “realist”?

  38. BBD says:

    but Monckton doesn’t dispute all of climate science.

    He denies the evidence-based scientific consensus that AGW is potentially dangerous. It isn’t necessary to define further. This is the denial which merits description as denial.

  39. I don’t always like what Paul Krugman writes, but when I do, I do not mind posting his tweets:

    There are so many ways to express ourselves.

    Let us tread lightly.

  40. Wott,

    Many emails mentioning Mike Hulme were related to the Tyndall Center. It seems that CRU and Tyndall are two different entities:

    On behalf of UEA I successfully led the multi-university bid to three of the UK’s national research councils to win the initial £10m research contract over five years to established a new inter-disciplinary climate change research centre. The bidding process took place during 1999/2000 and the Centre opened in October 2000. I left CRU and took on the role of Executive Director.

    Click to access Hulme-Research-narrative.pdf

    One might even believe that there should be some competition between the two.

    There’s an interesting twist in the emails. It seems that Schellnhuber helped Hulme find the necessary fundings for Tyndall. Then, a bit later, Schellnhuber was invited to join Tyndall. Just in time to receive a prestigious British award while promoting his Tyndall’s affiliation. Mike Hulme expressed pride in that fact.

    That episode did not seem to have pleased Tom Wigley, who was trying to get the same role. One email shows that Wigley did not take Schellnhuber in high regards. But it seems that all ends well. A few years later, Wigley, Schellnhuber, and others edit a big book on climate stuff.

    Usual academia stuff, I guess.


  41. Interesting, I hadn’t appreciated that. I read some of your comments on JC’s blog and noticed the name Tom Wigley, but didn’t really know the context. Probably is just usual academia stuff, but context does have relevance.

  42. Tom Curtis says:

    Saren, AGW is a theory consequent on some foundational results in climate science that claims that:

    I) The large rise of CO2 concentration post 1850 is primarily caused (>80%) by human caused factors (industrial emissions and land use changes); AND

    II) The statistically significant increase in global temperature in the late twentieth century is primarily caused (>50%) by the enhanced greenhouse effect by the increase in CO2 and other associated anthropogenically produced increases in gas concentrations; AND

    III) Ongoing increases of those greenhouse gas concentrations will result in increases in Global Mean Surface Temperature to levels which result in dangerous climate change in the near future.

    As AGW asserts the conjunction of these three statements, to disagree with AGW it is only necessary to disagree with anyone of these statements. Therefore disagreeing with any one of these statements is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, of being an AGW denier. As AGW denial is primarily political (not scientific) in its origins and intentions, disagreeing with AGW in this context means holding any of the three propositions to be sufficiently uncertain that the acceptance of AGW cannot be used as the basis of policy action.

    The further component of AGW denial is the irrationality of the stance. Thus, a person is an AGW denier IF and ONLY IF they:

    1) Hold AGW, as defined above, sufficiently dubious to be incapable of being the basis of policy action; AND</b)

    2) They support their position on AGW (in their own thinking or public debate) either by:

    a) Flat denial (ie, the simple assertion that one or more of the three parts of AGW is false or dubious without bothering with supporting evidence); OR

    b) Pseudo-science (ie, they treat the evidence in a manner indistinguishable from that of pseudo-science); OR

    c) Out right dishonesty (ie, they’re description of the evidence so departs from what can reasonably be believed on the basis of the evidence presented that their statements are indistinguishable from deliberate untruths).

    As the three terms, (2a), (2b), and (2c) are disjuncts, it is sufficient for any of the three to be true for the person to be an AGW denier, provided (1) is also true of them. In fact, part 2 of the definition is a general feature of denial in general, with suitable alterations of part 1 defining the nature of the denial. Thus, evolution deniers (aka creationists, although the later is really a vaguer term and technically includes some people who are not evolution deniers) reject common ancestory and evolution through random mutation and natural selection by means of flat denial, pseudoscience or apparent dishonesty (or some combination thereof). Holocaust deniers reject the historical account of the holocaust by means of flat denial, pseudoscience (I guess technically pseudo historiography) and apparent dishonesty or some combination. (And please note that I draw only a linguistic comparison, not a moral comparison between AGW and holocaust deniers).

    I do not see how this definition is imprecise, or vague; and certainly it is less vague than the term “scientist”. Consistent with this definition, I was loath to call Spencer a denier until I saw his attempts to draw doubt onto the anthropogenic origin of the recent increase in CO2 (which I believe are demonstrably pseudoscientific). Also consistent with that definition I do not call Leonard Weinstein (a frequent and informed commentor on Science of Doom) a denier even though he rejects both (II) and (III). On the other hand, I have no compunction at all in calling Murry Salby an AGW denier.

  43. Saren says:

    Tom, That is undeniably (couldn’t resist) a well thought out and reasoned definition of “AGW denier”. As such, I have no objection to using the term to form statements. I think it’s when the term is used without such clarification that confusion, emotion, misunderstandings, fallacies, and etc. arise.

    It’s the thought and time that you put in to your definition that is often lacking. In my opinion, if you aren’t willing to provide such an explanation you should simply not use the word.

  44. Using climate science doesn’t mean you’re not a climate science denier. Like I stated previously:

    In some cases it might be appropriate to call someone who advocates for adaptation a climate science denier. For example Monckton argues for adaptation based on a rejection of valid science. In my experience most people who argue for adaptation do this based on an incorrect position on what the science says.


    The detail, and this is the important one, is that calling them that only should happen when it’s shown that they base their preferred policy on a rejection of valid science. This means that they reject evidence despite others showing it is relevant and undermines their preferred policy option.

    This means I’m talking about behaviour, something that I pointed out in this guest post when I talked about them not being sceptics. I also pointed out in this guest post that you basically should give anyone the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. As it takes time to figure out if there’s an inherent problem with how they use and cite research and the arguments they use. It also doesn’t mean they don’t use any valid climate research.

    Let me quote myself from the conclusion of “Climate Changes, But Facts Dont’: Debunking Monckton“:

    Monckton is bold, assertive and well spoken. He’s sure of his argumentation and brings them with a certain flair. During these debates he’s able to cite papers and bring out other supporting materials for his position. In short, he’s a very good debater and is truly in his element in such debates.

    However, a debate does not lend itself well to fact-checking what the participants say. Opponents, or the audience, will not be able to look up your sources and check if they confirm what you say. Even after a debate it’s not easy to verify statements and arguments for audience members. Anyone who wants to attempt that for this debate would be faced with the herculean task of going through about 30 minutes of video for just one of the participants.


    Even when Monckton has a point, or is factually correct, he often gets something wrong. The best example of this is when he made the point that GM crops are safe for human consumption. This statement is correct as it is the consensus in the literature. But then he uses a rice variant that isn’t a GM crop to support his argumentation and gets the date of when GM crops became available wrong by decades.

    This was one of the biggest surprises for me during this analysis as I agreed with Monckton when he made this point. I never expected that I would end up pointing out major flaws in his argumentation.

    Things like this are indicative of the problems he has with having a good and correct understanding of the science on climate change. The same goes for his railing against the scientific consensus on global warming. As a scientific consensus is based on evidence, it reflects our best understanding of the subject at hand. Basically for every question in science and scientific discipline there is a consensus.

    The current consensus for global warming is that it is real, that predictions are coming true, and it’s not uncommon that they are worse than expected by scientists. The vast majority of them say we need to take action to avoid the worst case scenarios so that we do not create a vastly different world. The often flawed arguments and statements made by the so-called sceptics like Monckton do not change this.

    It doesn’t matter if someone uses evidence from a field, what matters is what you say and use is a correct representation of what we know. For example creationists are also a form of science deniers, yet they still use research papers and results from scientific research. But they misrepresent these results completely or flat out reject them for no valid reason.

    Also not knowing everything in a field is also no reason not to use the term climate science denier. Remember, a lot of them they use uncertainty to claim that there’s no need to take action. It’s a known tactic that ignores the vast majority of evidence. Not knowing something doesn’t mean that any opinion goes, as that always need to take into account what we do know (a scientific consensus on a particular subject can be as simple as “we don’t know”). This is something that is well known in any scientific field.

  45. Pingback: Real Sceptic » Language Matters

  46. Saren says:

    “Using climate science doesn’t mean you’re not a climate science denier.”

    I don’t want to argue with you on what a climate science denier is. We clearly both have different definitions in mind and that is fine. As long as we explain what exactly we mean by the term we can still have a discussion while using it.

    The problem is that I’m still not clear on how you use the term. Let me paraphrase to see if I can understand.

    First you give the benefit of the doubt. If you hear someone arguing that climate change isn’t that bad or that adaptation is preferred over mitigation you don’t yet pass judgement. Instead you seek to understand why they feel that way. If, during their explanation, you feel they aren’t using “valid science” you present them with it. If at some point they don’t accept the “valid science” they become deniers.

    I have to ask again, what are the specific parts of the “valid science” they need to disagree with to become deniers? Is it any minute detail or general disagreements? If you explain all the “valid science” to them and they still believe that immediate drastic emission reductions aren’t needed are they a denier? What if they agree with you on every scientific and policy point but their behaviour shows no concern, i.e. lots of flights, a big SUV, water front property, etc?

  47. Let me repeat myself:

    This means I’m talking about behaviour, something that I pointed out in this guest post when I talked about them not being sceptics. I also pointed out in this guest post that you basically should give anyone the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. As it takes time to figure out if there’s an inherent problem with how they use and cite research and the arguments they use. It also doesn’t mean they don’t use any valid climate research.

    That there is the answer to the questions you posed. It isn’t the denial of a single piece of evidence or research, it’s about behaviour (why do you think “climate science denier” is a subset of “so-called sceptic”?).

    This means that someone only becomes a denier if I notice that they constantly reject valid science in preference for anything that supports their own view(s). There’s not one single thing you use to determine this.

    Also this isn’t about lifestyle, I’ve constantly referred to arguments, research and evidence.

  48. Saren says:

    I understand your view Collin. I’m just trying to point out it is subjective. This means whatever context you use it in will be subjective too. It also means using it can lead to confusion, misunderstandings and polarization. This is your prerogative and I’m not claiming it’s wrong, just unhelpful in fostering consensus. The fact that you use it carefully and sparingly is good though 🙂

  49. BBD says:

    Saren old chap, I think you are indulging in a potentially counter-productive over-analysis here. Perhaps a case of wood for the trees.

  50. Saren says:

    Hey I’m only 40! That’s not old right? … right?

  51. BBD says:

    No. Especially since I am 48.


  52. No, it’s not subjective in the sense that you mean it, I do have a very clear set of rules for how I determine this. I’ve given you an explanation of how I use them and what the conditions are.

    What you’re expecting from me is that I have to completely write out the exact rules of how I use certain words. That’s not necessary to get an idea if someone is using a term fairly and the meaning of the term someone is using. It’s also asking a big investment from me to completely write down these rules with all the caveats that apply.

    For example Tom is quite close to what I use. But I currently do not have the time nor inclination to rewrite what he said to bring it fully in line with what I use. As unfortunately the time I have is severely limited and I have a few other things I need to finish.

  53. hengistmcstone says:

    The whole skeptics or deniers tag has flummoxed me for some time. Often they say what am I denying? And I would have to concede there. But the other side to the coin is to look at the words they use to describe us. Im talking about Climate Alarmist. Its an unfair tag in a nuanced debate. The term Climate Alarmist suggest there is a ‘climate alarm’ but looking at how lackadaisical the political sphere treats the climate question Im perplexed where that is.

  54. Tom Curtis says:

    hengistmcstone, regarding the “what are we denying” response, I refer you to my definition of an AGW denier.

    To be quite honest, the term “climate alarmist” does seem appropriate for a small percentage of people on the “pro action to counter AGW” side. I am referring in particular to people who treat global mean sea level rises of greater than 2 meters by 2100 as a significant possibility; or who continue to beat the drum that we are risking a runaway greenhouse effect that will turn Earth into a second Venus; or who push the claim that the Charney climate sensitivity is greater than 4.5 as a significant policy consideration. That is, people who consistently maintain the effects and risks of AGW are above the upper bounds of the IPCC reports (and/or the balance of recent research since 2006) are reasonably called AGW alarmists; just as those who consistently maintain it is below the lower bounds are appropriately called AGW ostriches (h/t to Victor).

    What is objectionable about denier use of the term is their attempt to falsely paint the middle ground (ie, the scientific consensus position) as extremist (and their own extreme positions as the middle ground).

  55. No need for a hat tip; otherwise if will never become a common term. 😉

    I think we should also call out these alarmist, just as we would the climate ostriches. They also do pseudo-science, put science in a bad light and in addition they are partially responsible for the allergic reaction of ostriches against climate science. Most ostriches only read the press and not the scientific literature.

  56. BBD says:

    Tom, Hengist knows his onions and is a good guy and is another person I that I bitterly regret disagreeing with in the past.

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