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Friday, December 5, 2014
CSI: Deniers are not Skeptics
by The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, December 5, 2014
Public discussion of scientific topics such as global warming is confused by misuse of the term “skeptic.” The November 10, 2014, New York Times article “Republicans Vow to Fight EPA and Approve Keystone Pipeline” referred to Sen. James Inhofe as “a prominent skeptic of climate change.” Two days later Scott Horsley of NPR’s “Morning Edition” called him “one of the leading climate change deniers in Congress.” These are not equivalent statements.
As Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we are concerned that the words “skeptic” and “denier” have been conflated by the popular media. Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.
Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.”
As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is “denial.” Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.
We are skeptics who have devoted much of our careers to practicing and promoting scientific skepticism. We ask that journalists use more care when reporting on those who reject climate science, and hold to the principles of truth in labeling. Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.
Mark Boslough, Physicist
David Morrison, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, at the SETI Institute
Bill Nye, CEO, the Planetary Society
Ann Druyan, Writer/producer; CEO, Cosmos Studios
Ken Frazier, Editor, Skeptical Inquirer
Barry Karr, Exec Director, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Amardeo Sarma, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Executive Council, Chairman GWUP (Germany)
Sir Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Ronald A. Lindsay, President & CEO Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Center for Inquiry
Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University
Christopher C. French, Dept of Psychology, Goldsmiths University of London
Daniel C. Dennett, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University
Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College
Douglas Hofstadter, Director, The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, Indiana University
Stephen Barrett, Co-founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), and the webmaster of Quackwatch
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Professor, Department of Psychology, Emory University
Terence Hines, Dept of Psychology, Pace University
James Randi, President James Randi Educational Foundation
Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer and Director of the Center for SETI Research
Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Henri Broch, Physicist, Emeritus, University Nice Sophia Antipolis, France
Eugenie C. Scott, Chair, Advisory Council, National Center for Science Education
Edzard Ernst, Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, University of Exeter, UK
Indre Viskontas, Cognitive Neuroscientist, Host Inquiring Minds Podcast
David J. Helfand, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University
Mario Mendez-Acosta, Journalist, Science Writer, Mexico City
Cornelis de Jager, Astrophysicist, Past President, International Council for Science
Sanal Edamaruku, President, Rationalist International
Loren Pankratz, Psychologist, Portland VA Medical Center, Retired
Sandra Blakeslee, Science Writer
Benjamin Radford, Deputy Editor of the Skeptical Inquirer Magazine
David Thomas, Physicist and Mathematician
Stuart D. Jordan, NASA Astrophysicist, Emeritus
David H. Gorski, Cancer Surgeon, Wayne State University School of Medicine
Anthony R. Pratkanis, Professor of Psychology, UC @Santa Cruz
Jan Willem Nienhuys, Mathematician, Waalre, The Netherlands
Susan Blackmore, Psychologist, Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth
Ken Feder, Anthropology, Central Connecticut State University
Jill Tarter, Bernard M. Oliver Chair, SETI Institute
Richard Saunders, JREF Million Dollar Challenge Committee, Producer - The Skeptic Zone Podcast
Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, Williams College
Lawrence M. Krauss, Director, The ASU Origins Project, Arizona State University
Barbara Forrest, Philosophy, Southeastern Louisiana University
Kimball Atwood, Physician, Newton, MA
James Alcock, Psychologist, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada
Massimo Polidoro, Science writer, author, Executive Director CICAP, Italy
E.C. Krupp, Director, Griffith Observatory