The AP Bans Use of Climate Change Denier and Skeptic

18717071033_a57155d3a3_zAnyone who has a degree in journalism will remember sitting through classes where the Associated Press’ (AP) Stylebook was regarded as the bible of journalists. And when the AP makes changes to that bible, it’s major. And changes have been made in regards to climate change.

The Stylebook now states that the AP will “avoid the use of ‘skeptics’ or ‘deniers'” in regards to global warming and will instead use the term ‘doubters.’ The Stylebook furthers states: “To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.” 

What is the big deal about using the term ‘skeptic’ in regards to people who deny climate change is occurring? According to the AP, scientists who consider themselves to be true skeptics “complain that non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science have usurped the phrase.” Those true skeptics prefer the term “climate change denier.” So, why is the AP banning the term ‘denier’ as well?

The AP’s stated reason is that “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.” In other words, the AP is concerned about what climate change deniers (yes, I’m using the word) feel.

Consider that the majority of the world’s climate scientists not only say climate change is occurring, but also that it is manmade. A study published in 2013 in Environmental Research Letters reviewed scientific literature on climate change and found that 97.2 percent of all climate scientists concur that climate change is manmade. That is an overwhelming consensus. So, why is the AP so concerned with the feelings of the climate change deniers? I don’t have the answer.

Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, is glad about the AP dropping the use of the word skeptic. He said that the Center for Inquiry is “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.”

However, Lindsay thinks that replacing skeptic with the word doubter is a problem. “The AP’s journalism is read throughout the world, and heavily influences the public’s understanding of crucial issues such as climate change,” he said. “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 Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote in a blog post that the AP “managed to create a contradiction” by dropping the use of the term “denier.” He added that the AP “have succumbed to a specious argument that the term ‘denier’ can’t be paired with another term without tinging it with Holocaust implications.” To Wemple, that “seems like a dicey precedent.” 

Image credit: Flickr/kartfamily

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.