AP Says Climate Change Deniers Not ‘Skeptics,’ Science Advocates Cautiously Applaud

For Immediate Release: September 22, 2015
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Says Label “Doubter” is Problematic

A small but important victory for science was scored in the public debate over climate change Tuesday, as the Associated Press announced that it would no longer refer to those who deny the reality of climate change as “skeptics” — a change that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has been urging the entire journalistic establishment to make. However, the AP will begin to refer to science-deniers as “doubters,” which CSI believes remains problematic and confusing. 

Last year, over 50 prominent scientists, scholars, and communicators associated with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) wrote a joint letter to the news media urging them to refrain from labeling those who deny the scientific consensus behind climate change as “skeptics.” As they stated in the letter, “Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” Those criteria do not apply to those who reject reality in favor of misinformation or half-baked conspiracies about climate “hoaxes.”

Signatories to the CSI statement included “science guy” Bill Nye, physicist Mark Boslough, Cosmos co-creator Ann Druyan, science advocate Eugenie Scott, Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto, David Morrison of the SETI Institue, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, among many others. CSI is a program of the Center for Inquiry, an organization that promotes science, secularism, and humanist values.

In new guidelines for its journalists announced today, the Associated Press instructed its writers to refrain from referring to those to refuse to accept the reality of climate change as “skeptics” or “deniers,” but rather to use the term “doubter,” or else refer to them as “those who reject mainstream climate science.” 

“We’re very glad that the word ‘skeptic’ will no longer be used to describe deniers of climate science, such as Sen. James Inhofe, who claims to believe that global warming is a hoax,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Skeptics use reason and evidence to reach conclusions, and that simply doesn’t apply to those who reject the scientific consensus on our warming planet.”

However, Lindsay cautioned that replacing “skeptic” with the term “doubter” remains problematic. “The AP’s journalism is read throughout the world, and heavily influences the public’s understanding of crucial issues such as climate change. 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.”

Despite problems with the term “doubters,” CSI expressed that the longer classification of “those who reject mainstream climate science” was acceptably clarifying.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more at http://www.csicop.org.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.