The Associated Press’ style guide is a kind of Bible for many in the media, and plenty of journalists will tell you they’ve become so indoctrinated in its rules that they write everything from emails to texts in AP style. So, when the AP makes changes to its recommendations about a highly covered topic like climate change, plenty of people will be talking about it.
Yesterday, the AP made a change to how it recommends its reporters and editors describe the people we’ve been calling “climate change deniers” or “climate change skeptics.” In fact, the AP doesn’t recommend either of those terms, but instead favors either “climate change doubters” or “those who reject mainstream climate science.”
It turns out that the phrase “climate change skeptics” was basically offensive to scientists who consider themselves skeptics. The AP explains:
“Scientists who consider themselves real skeptics – who debunk mysticism, ESP and other pseudoscience, such as those who are part of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry – complain that non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science have usurped the phrase skeptic.”
But those same skeptical scientists, as well as other groups that work on the issue of climate change, aren’t that enthusiastic about the AP’s recommendation to use “climate change doubter” instead. 350.org’s spokesperson Karthik Ganapathy told the Huffington Post that “doubt seems to imply a lack of clarity – and there is a lack of clarity on some things, like what the ideal solution to climate change is, but there's zero lack of clarity on whether or not it's happening."
The Center for Skeptical Inquiry, which lobbied against “climate change skeptic,” likewise doesn’t like the term “doubter” but endorses “those who reject mainstream climate science.” The later phrase is clear, but sadly not concise.
Meanwhile, the AP also doesn’t recommend “climate change denier” because it has “the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier.” This recommended change has been met with more resistance.
One can make the case that “denier” has the right corrective sting to deal with people confronted with an overwhelming body of evidence that they are wrong. So often, we associate “denying” with opposing the truth, as someone who is in denial is someone who fails to see reality.
So, how are other publications handling the AP announcement? Grist says they’ll stick with the term “deniers.” Erik Wemple at the Washington Post finds the “argument that the term ‘denier’ can’t be paired with another term without tinging it with Holocaust implications” to be “specious” and seems like a “a dicey precedent.”
Of course, the debate also offers a delicious opportunity to propose other alternatives. Personally, I could go for “unhelpful climate womp womps” or “lying hypocrites who make money from the fossil fuel industry.” Feel free to add yours in the comments!