It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, September 11, 2009

Speaking of "Skeptic"

We are still searching for an appropriate name for the opposition. We've been painted into a Godwin's law corner about "denier", but we can't tolerate "skeptic", because that is certainly not what they are. They have no skeptical habits of mind, choosing to believe congenial evidence and dismiss evidence they dislike.

It strikes me that they are doing slight of hand by calling themselves "skeptics". The definition of the opposition group is not their beliefs, which indeed are all over the map. The definition is their behavior, which is all about avoiding any policy whatsoever. It's easy to come up with an adjective for this, "reckless". Oddly, I can't come up with a good sticky noun for a absurdly reckless risk-taker. Maybe there's something in another language? Maybe there's a character in literature? I think the point is that their "inaction" is intended to perpetuate extreme and dangerous action. Let's face it, nobody knows for a fact how things will all turn out. But the longer we delay, the more severe the problems of our future selves and our descendants! "Skeptic" is hardly the name for this! "Denier" or "denialist" really isn't bad, but in addition to rubbing some people wrong, it doesn't capture the mindboggling recklessness of their activities.

As for ourselves, those who feel the discussion is usually a bit too leisurely and cool, I prefer "Cassandrites".

37 comments:

Arthur said...

Along the lines of "reckless"... The "foolhardy"? "Negligent"? "Blind"? "Wasters"? "Ignorant"? "Profligate"? "Unthinking"? "Heedless"? "Thoughtless"? "Inconsiderate"? "Selfish"?

Ah, I've got it - "conservative"...

EliRabett said...

Eli fails to see why calling a denialist a denialist is a problem. There is no need to be nice to a bleater. There is no label you can put on them that they will not bleat about.

Again, you cheerfully give up high ground with no reason

Marion Delgado said...

Michael, some ARE denialists, some ARE skeptical on principle, and the majority are ignorant. I realize "ignorant" is not going to be any better PR than denialist, though.

Brian D said...

James Hyrynshyn has taken to using "pseudoskeptic", even though the original def. doesn't quite match.

I, personally, have just used Frank's "inactivist" - when I'm forced to define it (as it's a relative neologism), the definition shows that the critical point isn't what they believe, but rather what they think should be done. This avoids alienating people calling for the right shift for the wrong reasons. (For instance, I have a cousin in the military with a strong disrespect for science who openly mocks anthropogenic GW claims, but is a very vocal transition-from-fossil-fuels advocate for security reasons. He may be a 'denier', but he's not an inactivist.)

That said, I'm with Eli here, and have no compunction against calling a denier a denier. The reason I prefer "inactivist" over "denier" is similar to the rhetorical strategy of Greg Craven: the point is to switch from "row thinking" to "column thinking".

guthrie said...

Not conservative. Someone who is conservative wants to preserve things, not let them get destroyed.

The only problem with the word denialist is that some people use it too easily; I use it only for people who repeatedly ignore the evidence that I or others have presented to them. Some people are triger happy and use it on anyone who says AGW isn't happening, when often these people are just uninformed or stupid.

Dano said...

Denial is a psychological condition. Capitulating to their game and frame is weakness and poor strategy. Painted into a corner my patootie.

Use the psychological condition and see how there is no answer. Why is there no answer? Because there is no answer. Many know at some level this is true. The ones that don't give a nice show.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

Brian D captures my motivation here.

It is to discuss the consequences of the attitude, not the attitude itself.

I think this is important. It is not the committed opponent we are trying to reach. We certainly don't want to butter them up. But any names we call them should reveal them for what they are, an actual threat to the listener.

Belette said...

Well you can't use septic cos I trademarked it :-)

Martin said...

Like Eli I also don't see any problem with 'denialist'. It's the psychological term one uses for this kind of attitude: "being in denial". Base an ideology on it and it's 'denialism'.

The association with Holocaust denial is a feature, not a bug -- the oversensitivity on this point is a bit of an American peculiarity. Before this is over, climate denialism may well have a higher body count than what the Nazis left behind... and anyways Holocaust denial doesn't kill as such, it 'only' insults the memory of those already dead.

BTW I like the Churchill quote on top. This is indeed 1939 revisited... there must be something in that metaphor that we can harvest.

Hank Roberts said...

http://www.google.com/search?q=definition%3Ainactive+persistent+dangerous

leads to

demented
unrelenting
impacted
constipated

http://www.google.com/search?q=definition%3Aabsurdly+reckless+risk-taker
Hmmm, leads to this topic. Best term in those results would be "rash"

Nah, I still prefer Lindzen's term, cited here earlier: "industry stooges"

http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2007/04/science-budget-talking-point.html?showComment=1176168060000#c8609221574833228051

Dano said...

Quiggin uses 'delusionist' which I don't think is quite right...'pseudoskeptic' may be a bit closer, but in my mind imparts some rationality to the choice, which I think makes it wrong (or at least inaccurate). But whatever works.

Best,

D

guthrie said...

Well, the consequence is that the denialists then claim we are evil nasty name calling people for calling them denialists. The fact is that they would say that for any name we give them. Dano is correct. They want everything their way, including framing the debate and labelling of the sides.

Wat a listener makes of the labels we give them will depend upon the listeners views.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Who is your opposition, MT? Who is your 'they'? I can't remember whether you lump the likes of, say, Monckton and Pielke Jr together, but many alar ... er, many of your ilk ... er, many do. There really is no useful term that could cover such disparate understandings of climate change (and far greater extremes are often gathered under labels like 'denialist' or 'sceptic'). Just make your arguments and, if you must, label individuals who oppose them according to how they oppose them. People who accept the basics of AGW but differ on the detail or on how to deal with it shouldn't have to share a label with those who don't have a clue - and forcing them to doesn't help the alar ... er, ilkish cause one little bit.

Hank Roberts said...

"ites"??

I dunno.
Cassandrists?
Cassandres?

I've got it:

Cassandroids.

matt andrews said...

"Pseudo-skeptic" is not bad, but a touch cumbersome, and "denialist" is of course the most common and generally recognised term, and it serves the purpose reasonably well already.

I quite like "anti-science" as a general adjective, demonstrating their rejection of both the scientific findings and the scientific way of doing things (openness to new data, seeing things in the context of the big picture of existing evidence, constant enquiry).

bigcitylib said...

How about "Warmocaust Collusionist"?

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Vinny Burgoo:

"differ on the detail or on how to deal with it"

Monckton: We shouldn't act to stop global warming.
Pielke Jr.: We should act, as long as the time to act isn't now.
Lomborg: We should only act when we have nothing else to do, and we'll always have something else to do.
Richard Courtney: We should promise to act, but the promise is of course an excuse not to act.

Clearly, there are huge differences between these people. Clearly.

* * *

MT:

Well, I don't know. Climate Ponzis? Climate Neros? Climate Madoffs?

But seriously, I think all this 'framing' talk is hogwash. It's not the framing, it's the communications infrastructure.

-- bi

Martin said...

...and of course the most appropriate term would make your lawyer frown.

Dano said...

I think all this 'framing' talk is hogwash. It's not the framing, it's the communications infrastructure.

Framing is part of the infrastructure. Framing is a subset of rhetoric. It is part of your argumentation.

Look how you framed the positions of those four pseudo-whatevers: oversimplified and missing the nuance of their tap-dancing away from admitting man's contribution (esp Monckton).

Best,

D

jgdes said...

You might as well call us "heretics" because you present yourselves here as a religious cult of anti-industry doom-mongers.

Though we'd prefer "realists" since the skepticism actually stems from; a) seeing a lifetime of doom-mongers proven wrong and b) noticing that it's industry that brings the wealth and pays for all the science in the first place.

"Contrarians" may be an acceptable compromise since many contrarians to mainstream science have been proven correct; as indeed have the more skeptical scientists on the climate issue, whether you want to admit to that or not.

But what do you call yourselves? Are you the "3 degree-ers or the 1 to 6-ers? Until you discourage all the blatant exaggerations that science doesn't even vaguely support, then you will always be considered merely as liars by the opposition I'm afraid: It's seen as "lying by omission" or "intellectually dishonesty".

If you were to bother to search for common ground though you would easily find it. Many skeptics agree that there are other good reasons to switch from fossil fuels. You might call Lomberg a skeptic but he is really a fellow 3-degree-er. However he does at least seek compromise.

Now either you care about the environment and you encourage Lombergian dialog on common ground (planting trees, alternative energies etc) or you summarily reject it because you really just want to fight over an issue that MIGHT be a problem a hundred years from now. As you guys always seem to choose the latter, it looks to us realists just like more elitist, anti-industry, middle-class angst.

So enjoy your slipping majority while it lasts. The public will reject anything that costs too much and you'll be in the minority again in a trice. Or you could become a realist now. Just accept that while your doom-saying may be proven right, the odds are stacked against it, and you need to settle for what we can realistically achieve by working together.

Michael Tobis said...

jgdes urges we compromise with physical reality, but physical reality has not taken our calls so far.

matt andrews said...

jgdes: I quite like "contrarian" myself, and it's interesting that it's one of the few terms which is perhaps acceptable to (some of) both the contrarians and the mainstream.

Apart from that, your post contained a string of weird assertions, though.

"A lifetime of doom-mongers proven wrong" does not constitute a scientific point, or a rebuttal of the consensus science.

"The industry" generates all the wealth... well, the implication is that the only industry that can generate wealth is carbon-intensive industry. Logical fallacy there, I'm afraid.

"many contrarians to mainstream science have been proven correct; as indeed have the more skeptical scientists on the climate issue, whether you want to admit to that or not." Sorry, but that's just a wild handwaving assertion entirely lacking in evidence. Where and how, exactly, do you claim that contrarian scientists have been proven correct on climate?

"3 degree-ers or the 1 to 6-ers?" What? This is a deeply silly question, I'm afraid. Spend a couple of hours reading IPCC AR4 and learn about the intrinsic uncertainty in climate projection.

Dano said...

You might as well call us "heretics" because you present yourselves here as a religious cult of anti-industry doom-mongers.

Speaking of framing, a common frame from the (blanks) is the religious frame, the robed priests, the believers. This arises from mental frames, where the mentaler tries to fit reality into their frame.

So we come back to psychology again, and it is augmented by jgdes and the obvious lack of education in the natural sciences.

There is the issue, there in a nutshell (IMHO).

Best,

D

guthrie said...

Lets take this one bit at a time, although MT has given the short answer:


"You might as well call us "heretics" because you present yourselves here as a religious cult of anti-industry doom-mongers."

I know some do. But lumping them in with those who support renewables (oddly enough built using some pretty nifty technology) is stupid.


"Though we'd prefer "realists" since the skepticism actually stems from; a) seeing a lifetime of doom-mongers proven wrong and b) noticing that it's industry that brings the wealth and pays for all the science in the first place."

I note no mention of the science. Your statement only holds if you actually have any science backing you up. Fortunately for us, you don't.


""Contrarians" may be an acceptable compromise since many contrarians to mainstream science have been proven correct; as indeed have the more skeptical scientists on the climate issue, whether you want to admit to that or not."

Examples? I can think of one or two, neither affecting the outcome. You appear unaware of the sheer level of stupidity in all but a tiny percentage of attacks on climate science. If the climatologists were getting attacked by real science it would be great, unfortunately they just get assaulted every day by morons with stupid ideas. You're an engineer, you'll be familiar with perpetual motion machines? Imagine people trying to prove to you that they work, every single day.



"You might call Lomberg a skeptic but he is really a fellow 3-degree-er. However he does at least seek compromise."

Well Lomborg is the interesting one, whereby he says that he agrees with what the scientists say, but somehow ignores the conclusions regarding the necessary actions that derive directly from the science. He makes a good living from it anyway.

"Now either you care about the environment and you encourage Lombergian dialog on common ground (planting trees, alternative energies etc)"

I think you'll find we are all doing that, but trees are not enough, as the science shows. Have you read any of the science on this issue?


"or you summarily reject it because you really just want to fight over an issue that MIGHT be a problem a hundred years from now."
Within the next 50 years. The melt rate of Himalayan glaciers, shifting deserts and rainfall, as well, as increasing temps and oceanic acidification, all will be hitting us noticeably within the next 50 years, ie my lifetime. So you'll excuse me for getting a bit annoyed about how previous generations have fucked up.

"As you guys always seem to choose the latter, it looks to us realists just like more elitist, anti-industry, middle-class angst."
Thats nice, shame about all the poor people who support us or are going to get wiped out by the changing climate. Defining yourself as a realist does not win you the argument.

"So enjoy your slipping majority while it lasts. The public will reject anything that costs too much and you'll be in the minority again in a trice. Or you could become a realist now. Just accept that while your doom-saying may be proven right, the odds are stacked against it, and you need to settle for what we can realistically achieve by working together."

So, what you are saying is that we need to work together to do something, but it won't be what we want, because nobody will accept it, despite what we want (Like 80% cuts in CO2 etc) being too hard, despite being necessary?

gravityloss said...

jgdes, you're a victim of the Galileo fallacy.

There is a lot of evidence supporting a 3 C CO2 sensitivity.

If I suddenly claim that I own your house and you claim it's yours, the sensible truth for "realists" looking at the issue is not automatically in the middle.

Anna Haynes said...

Quisling?

Anna Haynes said...

This is where we need the humanities, and those well-versed therein. Literature (the non-scientific kind) must abound with characters who hindered action in the face of danger to the group.

Like in Jaws.
(which probably says far too much about my literary tastes...)

lenny said...

Shorter Jdges:

AGW isn't real because some other guys were wrong about something else, and industry pays for lots of stuff.

james h said...

I have found "pseudoskeptic" to be the most appropriate term because it describes those who claim to be skeptical of the science, but fail to apply proper skepticism to their own thinking; hence: false skeptic.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

jgdes:

You insist on calling yourself "realist" and calling people you don't agree with as "doom-mongers". And then you wonder why people refer to your kind using unflattering labels and don't want to seek "common ground" with you.

I'd like to call you a "hypocrite", but I guess you won't like that term, so maybe I'll just say that you're "unprincipled". How does that sound, Sir?

* * *

Dano:

"Framing is part of the infrastructure. Framing is a subset of rhetoric. It is part of your argumentation."

I don't think so, unless by "infrastructure" you mean something else. I'm referring to the web of think-tanks, linkspam blogs, "coordinated local activists", etc. that the inactivist movement has. It's one thing to have a message, it's another to actually get the message heard.

-- bi

Nosmo said...

jgdes said..."Until you discourage all the blatant exaggerations that science doesn't even vaguely support"

The people who get the most respect here--e.g. MT, James Anon, William Connelly--have a long history of calling out blatant exaggerations.

greenfyre said...

There is considerable truth to Anna's 'Quisling', but I fear it has become archaic and few would get the key point. There is also the Godwin problem.

As I have always argued, when I say Denier I am describing a behaviour, not a person. Don't like the taxonomy? then change the behaviour.

Oakden Wolf said...

Dissonaut: a combination of dissenter, disparager, and dissonancer (cognitive). Also implying that most of them are spaced-out, spacey, or just plain space cadets. And implying as well that they are exploring the dimensions of dissension.

Anna Haynes said...

From ClimateProgress commenter Jorleh -

"These guys are Madoffs, making money while the world collapses."

Nick said...

How about something simple like "diverters"? this should differentiate the confused from the forces with ulterior motives.

Anna Haynes said...

I'm currently leaning toward "Heedless About Climate Change", or HACC, as a label for irresponsible journalists and other purveyors-to-the-public.

Anna Haynes said...

Nihilist.