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.
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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