Framing the debate?

Associated Press, commonly abbreviated to AP, have made a change to their stylebook with regard to the global warming issue. A stylebook is used by large organisations to standardise terms and definitions and is referenced very heavily by external suppliers of content to large news agencies like AP.

The essential two sentence change stripped of some supporting rationale was –

“We are adding a brief description of those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces:

Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.”

At first glance, this looks like long-overdue progress in taking the heat out of the debate, though I think calling someone a climate alarmist is a lot further down the emotive ladder than tarring them as equivalent to holocaust deniers. Maybe all us valiant skeptics scattered through the jungle of the internet and the occasional holdout scientist are finally getting some back-handed respect if not recognition from one of the big organisations of the mainstream media.

Dream on boys and girls, dream on, though that might bruise a few egos. We’re little fishies. Those guys certainly know we exist but do an absolutely spiffing job of completely ignoring us, although I notice it’s not above several of their content providers to help themselves to the ideas in a fair amount of skeptic content.

So why are they doing it? Simple. We’re approaching a decade past the height of the global warming craze with the public which peaked in 2007. Every opinion poll for many years has placed global warming at the bottom of everyone’s concern list and in these more climate jaded days, the extremist term denier sticks out of a piece of copy like the word nigger. At some point, the media had to back off nigger, to black, to coloured (which color?), then integumentarilly challenged to god knows what’s in their stylebook today.

An equivalent process of backing off extremist climate language is all you’re looking at, nothing more, and it’s not very far off it if you examine the supposedly new guidelines in terms of logic but more importantly in terms of subconscious reader perception.

Let’s pull the wings off that first sentence fragment.

“Those who don’t accept climate science …” STOP. Sorry, science is never about accepting it blindly, but rather being prepared to examine any proposition critically where it doesn’t conform to real world data. When you find a flaw that no one wants to talk about honestly, the whole beautiful structure implodes and if they persist you know you’re dealing with nothing more than an outbreak of pathological science.

” … or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces”. This is classic begging the question with a heavy dose of semantic overloading. The raw “unadjusted” data shows no significant increase in global temperatures in approaching two decades, but the statement takes the opposite view on faith as an axiomatic basis for rejection of anyone who actually checks the data. I won’t even go into the “man-made forces” bit, because climate sensitivity and attribution has already been done to death elsewhere. If you think either of those issues are even remotely settled, light a penny candle for me next time you’re grovelling at prayer in the Church of Climatology.

If you ever want to find the fault in a logical paradox, it’s the tee up sentence like the above which will always contain the logical flaw. For instance, what happens when an unstoppable object meets an immovable one? Answer, the paradox postulates two mutually exclusive universes which therefore cannot exist simultaneously. If you posit one containing an unstoppable object, then by definition it can’t contain an immovable object. And of course the reverse is true.

Let’s move on to the next sentence, because despite appearances it’s what I would call very busy.

“Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.”

First off, they’re offering only two choices to describe us; climate change doubters or people who reject mainstream science. Neither of those are flattering, are they? But that’s the way rigging a question works. Personally I’ve never met a climate skeptic who had any doubt that the climate changes. If you should perchance throw your hands up and say I admit it changes but still beg to differ, you fall by default into the category of rejecting mainstream climate science. The conflation trap has been sprung on you ever so subtly.

Neat innit? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t but the rest of it is a doozie.

The best bit from the alarmist viewpoint is that though you’re going to lose the pejorative term denier, you’ll also be losing the term skeptic. That is simply not acceptable to me and I think others.

Was this some fiendishly subtle taxonomic plan to somehow plant their flag deep into semantic skeptic territory? Of course not. It was just that they deal in words and knew they had to retreat from the increasingly embarrassing term denier but the best they could do was stop using the term but subconsciously still had the need to deny any recognition of our viewpoint and indeed, was a demotion of us.

Once you allow anyone to frame the debate and more importantly delineate your role in it, you’re finished. They’re not framing it, they’re fixing it. The only way that dire situation could possibly deteriorate is if you mistake what they’re doing as some sort of rapprochement and decide to get involved in some illusory process yourself. Not pretty, but that’s the way it is.

In response to what I believe was very definitely not some olive branch cast in our direction, the ordinarily estimable Anthony Watts has introduced his own stylebook change at WUWT. To quote the pertinent part –

“WUWT will use terms such as climate change doubters or climate change proponents to describe the polarization of opinion in the climate change debate in all stories.”

Assuming that the former term is a euphemism for skeptic and the latter for alarmist, I simply won’t be able to follow that guideline and I’ll tell you why. I’ve never had a doubt that the climate changes, and indeed wrote a long and unusually scientific article for this blog called the steady state environment delusion to hammer that particular nail home. I actually know quite a bit about all this science stuff.

So it looks like I should fall into the “climate change proponent” category, which I definitely do since it obviously does, and should therefore be counted by definition as what was formerly known as an alarmist.

Say what?

Thank you Anthony, but no thank you. I think I’ll stick with the simple terms skeptic and alarmist and let anyone who feels otherwise twist their own knickers up into their own crack over semantic irrelevancies. But I can’t help but get the feeling that once you let in the gremlin of self-censorship for whatever reason, the self-same knickers will end up being jammed into your mouth to keep you quiet while the rape progresses.

I’m not swapping the old boss for the new boss. Think back, we went to the mattresses of the internet to escape precisely that sort of thing.


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9 Responses to “Framing the debate?”
  1. David Whitehead says:

    I am a paleontologist and thus have always had a deep interest in paleoclimatology and I ahve studied it in some detail over the last 45 years. Consequently I am not a climate change doubter as the fossil and stratigraphic record evidences vast changes in climate over the last one billion years at least. Nor do I reject mainstream science or the fact that the world has warmed somewhat since the nadir of the little ice age 250 years ago ( or so). I also accept that human activities have had some impact on climate, locally and regionally and possibly a minor effect on a global scale, These human activities have resulted in both warming and cooling – depending on the nature of the activity.Summaries for Policy Makers of the various IPCC assessments which claim that human activity is the cause of more than half of the warming recorded in the last 50 years or so , for which they claim “95%”AR5 are not science, mainstream or otherwise,hey are political propaganda and without robust empirical evidential basis. To the extent that I do not accept those propositions, and the need for, and possible effect of, measures proposed to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions, nor accept that such measures, if implemented, would result in any measurable and attributable effect on the changes global climate I am neither a ” climate change doubter” nor do I reject ” mainstream science”. I do reject the Summaries for Policy Makers of the IPCC assessments and I also reject the proposition that General Circulation Ocean /Atmosphere Climate models can provide any useful predictions of the development of the earth’s climate over several decades to a century, which are either reliable or useful for policy guidance. I do not care AP how decides to label people who adhere to positions similar to my own – but I can and do occupy an intellectual and political ground which is not described by any of their language.


  2. karabar says:

    In relation to your statement “Personally I’ve never met a climate skeptic who had any doubt that the climate changes.”

    I usually do, and with good reason. Like Voltaire, I prefer to define the terms before engaging in discussion. It can be pointless if the subject is defined differently by those discussing it.
    I refer to the definitions used by the IPCC. There are two. Let us first consider the first.

    “Climate change in IPCC usage refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.”

    This clearly refers to “the climate” which is nonsense in the same way that “the science” is nonsense. It suggests that “the climate” is in reference to the entire planet. Climate, by definition, is REGIONAL. The climate of a particular geographical location is described in systems including Koppen-Geiger, Holdridge, or Trewartha. In determination of the appropriate classification, many parameters are involved. It is impossible to determine some average of all of the regions of the planet in order to determine “the climate”. Only a classification system can attempt to measure a region’s climate. In order to determine whether or not there is a change, it is necessary to be able to measure it. Since there is no way to determine what “the climate” is, or in fact to measure it, the term “climate change” is meaningless nonsense.

    Now let us look at the definition used by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where “climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”

    While human activity may well alter a regional climate through land use, there is nothing to suggest that human activity has any impact on the climate of a region by altering the composition of the “global atmosphere”. Again, this is not measurable, since the “global atmosphere” is not homogeneous, and the term is nonsense for the same reason that the term “global average temperature” in nonsense. Both terms are mathematically and thermodynamically impossible.

    Certainly, the climate of some regions changes classification completely (but that is pretty rare). The size and shape of a particular classification’s region may change over time. Certainly, the greening of the planet over recent decades creates changes when the discussion alludes to the Trewartha classification.

    Conclusion: The term “climate change’, in the current common vernacular, is nothing but jibber jabber.


    • diogenese2 says:

      Ah Karabar , straight away to the root of the matter and, properly, clause 1 – the table of definitions. And mentioning the embarrassing taboo – climate zones. I remember these from junior school -fascinated by the exotic words like Steppe & Tundra. In those days life (if only vegetable) was PART of the climate not merely a subjunctive, its effects well recognised. Indeed a couple of decades ago I read in the MSM that the climate zones were heading poleward at 1/2 mile a year. So I drove down to Tunbridge Wells to see what the weather would be in 50 years – it was exactly the same!
      There is a third definition of “climate change”. It is a euphemistic identity for “global warming” obfuscating any provocative mention of “warming”. Its ironic that the only manifestation of (definable) climate change to have emerged yet is “the greening”.
      I was made very aware of the use of the language in controlling thought when I read this about the age of 13.
      ” ‘How is the dictionary getting on?’ said Winston
      ‘slowly’, said Syme.’I’m on the adjectives… don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year’
      Winston did know this.
      ‘ Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because their will be no words in which to express it’.
      One of these days, thought Winston, Syme will be vaporised. He is too intelligent.”

      Oh Karabar, “jibber-jabber” is the wrong word.

      ” There is a word in Newspeak’ said Syme, ‘DUCKSPEAK, to quack like a duck. It has two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.’ ”

      “Unquestionably Syne will be vaporised, Winston thought again”


  3. Fen says:

    I don’t understand what Anthony Watts is thinking. He is playing into their deception. Skeptic is a perfectly descriptive term, while “doubters” has an emotional or non-rational tone. From here, it looks like giving away the Sudetenland for nothing and expecting Czechoslovakia to stand firm.


  4. normal new says:

    I think you misunderstand Mr. Watts thinking on an issue we all mostly agree on. The climate debate today is far beyond consideration of words meaning, and have created an etymology of it’s own. I agree with you that words matter, but I also agree with WUWT realizing that civil discource is far gone and any attempt, etomological correct or not, is worth pursuing if only to limit the flame exploding moloktov cocktails thats being thrown back and forth. The goal is ofcource a return to logic, honestly and respectfull civil discourse, but that is way in the future, so lets do the best to turn the tide in the ugly debate we have.

    The thing is I agree with AP original intent, WUWT decition to follow, and you for making it clear that this small step is not the end goal.


  5. durango12 says:

    One can be a student of the AP’s use of its style guide to frame or quash the debates it chooses to weigh in on. “Illegal immigrant” was erased a long time ago as “Islamist” was ruled off limits for the crowd that specializes in beheading and other murder modes to promote its point of view. Dr. Goebbels (yes, he had a PhD) understood the power of words, and the AP clearly does as well (apologies to Godwin). As for me I see no reason or need to be polite in referring to the characters we opposed as “alarmists” or “advocates” For many years I have been consistent in applying the descriptor, “whacko” and intend to continue the practice.


    • Blackswan says:

      Bravo d12 – personally I prefer the highly apt term ‘useful idiots’. Attributed to Lenin, that expression is just one of many that emerged from behind the Iron Curtain to infiltrate our language by stealth, but I like that one …. it’s so descriptive.

      Another is ‘politically correct’ … failure to observe the diktats of such correctness could get you a stint in a Siberian gulag (if you were lucky).

      The USA has colonised global language too as prisons became ‘correctional facilities’; murderers, rapists and thieves became ‘offenders’ and the list goes on. Perhaps we’d best not mention how the homosexual lobby has hijacked words such as ‘gay’ and ‘fairy’, along with rainbows etc.

      Think I’m kidding? Our National Parks Authority spent public funds changing all the signs around our southern Fairy Penguin breeding colonies, as the cute critters can now only be described as Little Penguins. Seriously. Some chap minced into a bureaucrat’s office and lisped that he was highly offended by some smelly little bird being called a Fairy …. so it was immediately top priority to change EVERYthing that mentioned fairy penguins including school text books and library reference material.

      I absolutely refute any news agencies trying to control what language should be used, by anyone. Once they get a handle on impartially telling the Truth I might have more respect for what they have to say.

      As for a blog host jumping on such a bandwagon …. Pfffffttt. A request for comments not to include profanities and abuse is desirable; a directive on the use of ‘acceptable’ descriptives is not.

      Just as I wouldn’t enter a cathedral shouting obscenities, I would not seek to offend a blog host either, but I’ll be damned if I allowed myself to be gagged according to someone else’s opinion and not guided by my own integrity.

      I’m a Realist who DENIES the pseudo science of the Climate Carpetbaggers … and that’s it.


  6. Jaime Jessop says:

    As enthusiastically as the global warming obsessed have bandied around the term denier at anyone who dares to question the central tenets of consensus Climate Change (TM) Science, they have also delighted in the use of its logical corollary – ‘pseudosceptic’ or ‘faux sceptic’. Because you see if you deny scientific knowledge, then you cannot be engaging in a truly legitimate form of scepticism.
    So, the AP have banished the word ‘denier’ from their stylebook, but at the same time they have banned the word ‘sceptic’! So in effect, they continue to unjustly de-legitimise those who question catastrophic man-made climate change using language which is perhaps less insulting but no less demeaning and certainly no less politically motivated. Can’t see why Anthony Watts would want to sign up to this confidence-trick.


  7. Tobias Smit says:

    “If you posit one containing an unstoppable object, then by definition it can’t contain an immovable object. And of course the reverse is true.”
    Thanks for that one great read I haveread it before but it took awhile to read through the semantics,
    The other one is: “Those who don’t accept Climate Change”, is another one that takes awhile to sink in but then it is even a harder hit on any skeptic, it does not allow any room at all.


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