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« Plans coming to fruition | Main | An oldie and a goodie »

On namecalling

Readers will remember Amelia Sharman for her work on the EU's biofuels scandal and also for her paper on global warming sceptics. Her latest paper (£), in WIRES Climate Change and coauthored with Candice Howarth of Anglia Ruskin, is on the subject of namecalling, again with particular reference to the climate debate. It includes a survey on the literature on the subject, taking in all the silly papers on the subject by people like Rahmstorf and Lewandowsky (citing the Moon Hoax paper, apparently with a straight face!).

It also reviews various terms of art, concluding in passing that there are no appropriate terms for people who are not covered by the extremes of warmist and alarmist or sceptic and denier. The authors don't seem to have heard of "lukewarmers". They seem to uncritically accept arguments that "sceptic" is an unsuitable label for dissenters on climate change.

Encouragingly, however, their conclusion is that that namecalling by academics isn't helping.

It is critical that policy-makers continue to use the academic literature as an evidence base, therefore it is also vital that researchers are attentive to the ways in which their use of, and focus on labels in the climate debate may not be contributing constructively toward a more inclusive dialog about climate change.

I can't help think that this misses the point though. "Contrarian" and "denier" are used precisely to prevent inclusive dialogue on climate change. It is no coincidence that eco-activists academics and eco-activist politicians  and media people are both enthusiastic users of the d-word and enthusiastic complainants - to newspapers and broadcasters and media regulators - whenever dissenting views are aired.

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Reader Comments (85)

La Resistance.

Jan 21, 2015 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

As sceptics are routinely called deniers, regardless of how many times we point out that this is both offensive and inaccurate (most are lukewarmers and only question the magnitude / sign of the feedbacks which the Catastrophic AGW thesis depends on), I suggest we start to call them 'Branch Carbonians'.

Jan 21, 2015 at 10:22 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

It is not just direct namecalling but also implied nastiness as well.

People may remember the hapless Iain Stewart at the Heartlands conference whilst doing the pseudo-documentary "Climate Wars". He tried to imply that skeptics were a small band of deluded people who were particular nasty to the likes of the pretend Nobel Laureate Michael Mann. Character assassination by implication. In fact I seem to recall the programme makers actually referred to him as a Nobel Prize winner! They also placed the wonderful Hockey Stick as being great science.

Climate heresy will not be tolerated!

Jan 21, 2015 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

"Dehumanisers" is a good way to label people who shout "denier"

- Strange the trolls try to say the Bishes paper is not a proper paper..Yet they'd acclaim such silly papers as the one above.

- Looking for new namesplits might be an attempt at divide and rule.

- Strange how climate "experts" are so certain but so little aware of debate details and don't know of "lukewarmer" and CAGW

Jan 21, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

One Vancouver Sun opinion writer, Stephen Hume, now retired so I thought, wrote in yesterdays paper about "the hottest year evah" has at least stopped using the d word. He however uses skeptic in scare quotes. I suppose it is an improvement.

Jan 21, 2015 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterGary Mount

Crass as their manners are, they are nonetheless trying to romance us.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

What amuses me about this sort of study is the ineptitude of how they are conducted. You’ve got to wonder how long they spend actually studying their subjects compared with the amount of time they spend overanalysing the results. I credit them with coming up with the conclusion that you shouldn’t insult people you need to sway but my first instinct is ‘well duhhhh!’

Being unaware of lukewarmers as a group is typical and is like the olden days of animal studies where ‘scientists’ would gather information to illustrate a point they wanted to prove, rather than observe what really happened and try to fathom why. It’s not even that hard to study us because, unlike animals, we can tell researchers exactly why we do what we do. I know, I know, it’s not how psychologists do things. They prefer to tease the information out rather than rely on their subjects deluded impressions. Perhaps that’s why they take so long to conclude the bleeding obvious or else end up with stuff that is so far from true it’s hilarious (Dr Lew, I’m pointing at you).

To those warmists who can’t decide what to call us, sorry, it’s not your place to choose. I know that it hurts that we took the cool name first but now it’s taken, you can’t have it back. By all means think up your own kick ass name but as a guide, make it short, easy to spell and no Joe Stomper Romm, ‘climate eagle’ doesn’t pass that test.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

It is no coincidence that eco-activists academics and eco-activist politicians and media people are both enthusiastic users of the d-word and enthusiastic complainants - to newspapers and broadcasters and media regulators - whenever dissenting views are aired.
Which in itself (unless I have forgotten my Psychology primer) is prima facie evidence that they know they are on uncertain ground.
I've said before that the fundamental difference between the fanatical warmists — scientist and environmental activist — and the lukwarmers and sceptics is that the latter want to get the science and the policies right whereas the former have an overarching need to win whatever the consequences.
The hangers-on, whom we meet here on a daily basis, have at best a tenuous grip on the science of climate or even (as Noel is busy demonstrating on the "unintended consequences .." thread and as the likes of BBD did every time he got near a keyboard) on the principles of scientific endeavour.
If they actually knew what they were talking about they would be only too pleased to debate and knock us for six. As it is they are only too aware that they would probably lose.
Sharman and Haworth is irrelevant since, as you rightly point out, they accept the work of Lewandowsky and Rahmstorf uncritically and are firmly in the ranks of those who think that if only they and others were a bit more polite then we would all accept what they say. No suggestion that the reasons for that non-acceptance might have any validity.
For Critical Awareness: 0; for Scientific Relevance: 0. I shan't bother rating for either technical merit or artistic impression but I doubt they would register high on any scale either.

As I was about to post this another thought occurred relating to the Lawson/Hoskins "debate" last summer. It would be interesting to know what percentage of warmists were sitting with their heads in their hands listening to Lawson getting it right and Hoskins getting it badly wrong and whether anyone "in authority" took Hoskins to task for his blundering.
Or whether they just couldn't hear or even whether in the aftermath they believed the opposite of what was said.
It is a mad world where all the pressure the next day was, in effect, to demand that the BBC ban Lawson from the airwaves for being right.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:17 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Both sides—pro-science AND disinformationist—need to grow up and stop labelling each other out of the debate.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

I couldn't care less about the name calling. “Tory” Whig” and “Quaker” all started out as insults, and those insulted didn't come out of it too badly.
What's more disturbing is Sharman's statement that “It is critical that policy-makers continue to use the academic literature as an evidence base”. But that's precisely what is wrong with so much of what passes for social science. Instead of finding out stuff that's true, they're trying to find stuff that will be useful to policymakers. Social science is just market research for governments.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Bradley Keyes, nah, there's no point. We're all just waiting for the climate to make it's mind up. Until then, there's nothing either side can substantially do. Warmists aren't going to get the action they want and politicians are too nervous to admit what we're doing now is a waste of money so they'll continue to piddle other people's money down the drain. If it wasn't AGW it would be something else.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Mike Jackson:

…demand that the BBC ban Lawson from the airwaves for being right.
That is really the nub of the argument: the climastrologists know that they are so wrong that they insist that any views contrary to their dearly held beliefs be silenced. The BBC, in their blatant desire to convert the entire population to their particular, peculiar, left-wing thinking (sheltered as they are from any battering from the financial, sociological and ethical storms of the real world) perceive this as to their benefit, and are only too happy to acquiesce.

I suspect that it will not be too long before they discover that the trust which can takes years to build only requires a few moments to destroy.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:39 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

But do confusionists even want a debate?

We recently tried to organise one—"That The Last 200 Years of Physics Are A UN Hoax"—and sent invitations to dozens of the most notorious local science-challengers, offering them a unique chance to tell us why the facts are wrong in front of a respectful audience of people open to a variety of ideas, not just the truth.

Wanna guess how many had the courage of their (often fossil-fuel-funded) convictions, when push came to shove?

Suffice it to say, it's obvious to me that the continual calls for "debate" are a disingenuous tactic. The scientists' policy of pretending not to hear them for the last 25 years is justified, because we all know certain elements would then demand a second debate, then a third, etc.

Anything to delay urgently-needed lifestyle cuts.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

Bradley Keyes help may be only a phone call away for you. HTH

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

"That The Last 200 Years of Physics Are A UN Hoax" and I can see why people on both sides of the debate would reject that as being biased from the get go.

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Warmists aren't going to get the action they want and politicians are too nervous to admit

LOL. It never ceases to amuse me when deniers resort to language like "warmist," and then wonder why the scientists have no particular desire to explain themselves or their working to people so obviously full of... vitriol? Bile? Choler? Gall? Spleen?

(Sorry, advancing years have left me a bit rusty on the periodic table, but you know what I mean.)

Jan 21, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

Does Sharman realise that the error bars of the deniers overlap with the error bars of the warmists? We're all in the IPCC sensitivity range now. So why not Big Enders and Little Enders?

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff Chambers: good observation.

TinyCO2: my own suspicions are that there is a concerted effort for world government. Obviously, it is in the interests of most countries’ leaders to follow the plan, as there could be an awful lot for them to gain from it, hence, so little opposition. There have been many tests to see if the world’s population will be pliable enough for this dream to be realised; the “hole in the ozone layer” was probably the most successful endeavour in that field, and almost everyone is now so convinced that it was real, with a real solution, that no more public research is being done. To gain more support for global governance, global problems need to be found; and what could be more global than “global warming”, especially if it can accused of being “catastrophic”, and be blamed as anthropogenic? Although, even that has had to be amended to “climate change” as the warming bit of AGW, erm, stopped. Still, keep beating the drum that it is all the fault of humans, especially those humans who have developed their own countries ahead of others, so that they may be bled dry and impoverished, to join the rest of the cattle sheeple, to be herded at the whim of those in control.

Bradley: what world are you from? What, or who, is a science-challenger? As the UN has not been in existence for 200 years, there is an obvious flaw in your opening premise, anyway. Please, to be taken seriously, do make realistic points: “…their (often fossil-fuel-funded) convictions…” As most “fossil-fuel funders” have their very existence dependent upon science, such a statement is making your proclamations seem rather vacuous – for a start, where is your evidence?

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

And I've lost patience with trojan horse style offers... hence the bile. I embrace the name calling because it's honest. Dumb, but honest.

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

You’ve laid your cards out, there, Bradley:

It never ceases to amuse me when deniers resort to language like "warmist," and then wonder why the scientists have no particular desire to explain themselves or their working to people so obviously full of... vitriol? Bile? Choler? Gall? Spleen?
(My bold.) Do you not consider the term “denier” to be rather vitriolic, bilious, choleric or splenetic? No, I suspect not – I mean, they deserve it, don’t they? “Warmist” is quite an accurate description, as the target of the word is convinced that warming is not only happening, but is soon to surge out of control and will be catastrophic. “Deniers”, however, deny very little, merely asking for evidence to support often outrageous claims. An explanation from you as to quite why you should object to the first yet use the latter with apparent equanimity should be interesting.

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:16 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

I'm happy to use another term than 'warmist' so long as it's short. I don't use 'alarmist' because it is insulting. Sorry Geoff your suggestion is too long and LE and BE would take too long to explain.

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Agree. The last thing you do when implementing policy that directly affects peoples' lives is listen to academics. Especially science on its own.

One thing I've noticed in the climate debate is that a large majority of players and hangers on are theorists. A large majority of sceptics are empiricists. So in the end we are having the age old debate of theory versus evidence. For people who don't have scientific training and in particular not much experimental training or fieldwork, theory is seductive. It gives you a sense of power.

The problem is that it's false. Once you get your hands dirty with experiments or any other type of validation / proof of concept to verification activity it dawns on you how naive you've been to believe theory was everything. That it makes you look like an amateur.

For some people in this debate, they just want to remain naive and amateurish for whatever reason conscious or otherwise. And to make it worse people are giving them shed loads of money to keep at it!

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Bradley Keys,

Perhaps you would like to clarify who is who?


Jan 21, 2015 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Never mind Bradley, your subsequent posts have made it plainly clear where you stand on Mann Made Global Warming (tm).



Jan 21, 2015 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Good point, Micky.

It's not just about getting your hands dirty doing experiments, either. People who have gotten their hands dirty actually implementing the policies that come down from on high are painfully aware of the yawning gap between theory and practice.

And yes, academics are the last people on the planet that we should be asking about policy. They haven't got a clue. In fact, everything about their career choice mitigates against them having a clue.

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:54 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Seems Bradley has drawn the short straw and is now 'Troll of the month', never seems to be more than 2 on duty at any one time ;) . Don't worry Bradley, just a few more weeks and you can bow out and send the replacement in.

Jan 21, 2015 at 12:56 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Radical Rodent,

What are science-challengers, you challenge? OK, let’s pretend your question is genuine and answer it “in good faith,” wink wink. I understand science-challengers (as would the vast majority of sensible people) to be the superannuated Caucasian males who vocally insist scientific knowledge is always “partial!!” and subject to revision as more information comes in, completely ignoring the fact that we already have 25 years of data and that pretty much most of it is consistent, adding weight to a single, scientific conclusion: that an incremental carbon tax is all that stands between us and the literal destruction of the planet, leading to further ocean acidification etc., ad nauseam in a vicious cycle.

Funny thing is, in my experience, most of these self-proclaimed “citizens” probably couldn’t even give the definition of science if I’d tested them by asking! ROFL FAIL

your proclamations seem rather vacuous – for a start, where is your evidence?

Ah, the old denialist two-step. I think we all know the dance.

1. vocally shriek “where is your evidence?” [Check.]
2. the science tries to explain, calmly and at normal conversational volume, that just because there's no evidence, it doesn’t follow that it’s not true—in other words, you’ve just committed a fallacy a grade-schooler would be embarrassed by!
3. loudly refuse to take the science’s word for it because this evidence, offered in good faith, doesn’t meet your arbitrary personal standards of "proof," completely ignoring the thousands of pages of evidence that is IPCC WG1-3.

Better trolls, please.

Jan 21, 2015 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

The paper is a literature review, so its apparent failings (such as the apparent unawareness of lukewarmers) represent the collective failure of the social science community.

The main message, repeated many times, is that labelling people into one of two camps is polarising and unhelpful:
"Existing climate labels serve to represent individuals as polar opposites, failing to represent the myriad of opinions that exist between these extremes."
"social science research has so far been unable to fully capture the extent and variety of the arguments and, importantly, underlying motivations that comprise these opinions."
"Their binary and dualistic format (e.g. an alarmist vs. a denier) entrenches positions by focuses on differences, creating an unhelpful ‘us and them’ mentality".

Which is all fine, though fairly basic stuff. The title says it is a critical review, but the criticism is rather mild and non-specific. Regular offenders like Oreskes, Dunlap, Lewandowsky, Weintrobe etc are cited without any criticism.

It see that the first author is at the same institution as Don Keiller. I wonder if they have ever met for a chat.

Jan 21, 2015 at 1:36 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Better science please Bradley. If your science is soooo convincing how come so many people are unconvinced? You don't have to take our word for it, just look at your CO2 success so far. Or is that too harsh a metric to use as a way to rate performance? Oh I'm sorry, scientists don't work that way.

Neither calling us names nor being nice to us will make the science any more fit for purpose.

I'm not sure that being polite to warmists will encourage them to bite the bullit and put their house in order. After all, didn't most of us start by being polite?

We'll see who burns first... if at all.

Jan 21, 2015 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

we already have 25 years of data and that pretty much most of it is consistent, adding weight to a single, scientific conclusion: that an incremental carbon tax is all that stands between us and the literal destruction of the planet,
Yikes! As bait and switch goes that is really up there with the dumbest I have seen .... evah!
Note the bulldozer approach from science into policy by someone who — purely guessing here, Bradley, old fruit, but I doubt you'll come clean either way — probably doesn't have a clue about either. (Link to your actual qualifications welcome).
Note the "Caucasian males" bit. You're not a Caucasian male, then? Either way it's not relevant.
the science tries to explain, calmly and at normal conversational volume, that just because there's no evidence, it doesn’t follow that it’s not true
But without evidence where is the proof that it is, Bradders? Where is the reason to believe it? Because you say so? Because Dr Mann (he of the long since debunked hockey stick) says so? And what about the observations that cast doubt? What about the history of the world that casts doubt? What about the peer-reviewed papers that cast doubt? Why shouldn't we believe them?
"—in other words, you’ve just committed a fallacy a grade-schooler would be embarrassed by!" Too bloody right you have, sport.
... loudly refuse to take the science’s word for it
Do I need to translate Nullius in verba for you? And please, let's not go into the "thousands of pages of evidence from IPCC" as if that amounted to anything other than a little bit of science and a lot of hot air (from a political organisation, may I remind you) , and anyway I think you'll find that most of us here do accept a fair amount of what the IPCC scientific reports actually say as opposed to the bit the NGOs write to con the policymakers.
Better trolls, please.
Amen to that!

Jan 21, 2015 at 1:55 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Bradley Keyes (11:27 AM)-
Re: your dichotomy of "pro-science" and "disinformationists", I offer you the words of Donna Laframboise: "We all want things to be cut-and-dried. We all feel emotionally certain those with whom we disagree are morons. But grown-ups know real life isn’t like that."

Advance beyond a cartoonish view of the participants.

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Tiny, you are being played with. Read the climate Nuremberg blog... ;)

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes


"Toyed with"? LOL... Conspiracist parodnoia much? See, this kind of, how can I put this faux-nicely?, ideation is why we in the science world put inverted commas around "skeptic." What you are, Diogenes, is a cynic.

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

I see that you are fluent in Lewandowsky as well, Brad

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Brad is a sceptic - everybody, you are not getting his style -

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods


For a parody of warmists watch Brigstocke's little show at the RSA yesterday. You can't get any more strange than the real thing. Anybody messing about should be made to watch the crigeworthy little show until they surrender.

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I love the "we in the science world" bit. Arrogant t**t!

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:49 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Bradley Keyes: I am sorry, but I do not understand what you are trying to say in your first paragraph. Logically, ALL scientists are “science-challengers”, though I suspect that is not what your implications are. It is interesting that, on the basis of absolutely no information whatsoever, you say that these “science-challengers” are old, white males. I could take umbrage at that, on all three points. Further on, you then talk about “…the literal destruction of the planet…” I suspect – nay, I hope – that you meant figurative, as it is highly improbable that there is anything known and impending that can literally destroy this planet. So, FAIL there.

Why is asking for some evidence “the old denialist two-step”? Would you use that excuse in a court of law: “I’m sorry, m’lud, but I know ’e done it, and you asking for any evidence means you are denying that fact on ’is be’alf…” If you cannot or will not provide any evidence to support your claims, why are you so surprised people do not take you seriously? Another FAIL.

As for “vocally shriek” (is there any other way to shriek apart from vocally?), where do you get that from?

Your point 2 is not even approached by you; no attempts to explain, calmly or at normal conversational volume. FAIL again.

…just because there's no evidence, it doesn’t follow that it’s not true…” Perhaps you think that you’ve executed a perfect body-swerve, here, but, no, you haven’t; to declare something as “True” in any argument would most probably result in others saying, “Prove it.” They might not in your little world, Bradley, but, when you get out into the real world, you could be in for a nasty shock. Yet another FAIL.

Point 3: where have I refused to take “science’s” word for it? What “arbitrary personal standards of ‘proof’” have you determined that I have? FAIL.

Finally, “thousands of pages…”? Seriously – thousands? FAIL.

You are right on one point, though, Bradley – we do need a better quality of troll than you are providing.

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:54 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Barry Woods -
Ah, I see now. Poe's Law strikes again!

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:57 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

I wouldn't mind but it's the second time!!!

This is for you Bradley. Watch it until you're ready to say sorry... I give it 15 minutes in.

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

See your point, Tiny – “…a group of talented comics..”? Perhaps they were talking about another group of comics, because they sure as eggs ain’t on the list given!

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:22 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent


asking me to say sorry for that atrocity is like expecting Dave Chapelle to apologise for Paris, only not quite as logical because I have no ideology in common with the perpetrators.

PS I don't believe you made it to 15 minutes, nor that you know anyone who did.

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

You are right on one point, though, Bradley – we do need a better quality of troll than you are providing.
You just can't get the staff these days. :)

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:38 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Hmmm... a sense of humour. Not all is lost, then.

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:38 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

PPS Tiny, don't feel bad—laugh at ATTP (my link upthread) instead.

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

Brad, I love the way you got Anders to agree that science is "belief in the knowledge of experts" and no one picked up the misquotation.

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes


no, I'm afraid I've exhausted my limited Lewandowsky already. (The only other word I know is "pursued," but even Lewandowsky parvenus knows that one.)

Jan 21, 2015 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

Bradley, the apology is for the tease, the punishment is the show. And I swear I was in front of my PC while the whole thing played... although I might not have listened to most of the words. I really like the bit where a guy in the audience is asked if he understood the meaning of the dance and he got that look 'please don't hurt me' before admitting he hadn't a clue.

Jan 21, 2015 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


and that's why they're called believalists :-)

Tom Curtis eventually came to the rescue of his laughable leader, if I recall.

Jan 21, 2015 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBradley Keyes

Dang! I feel duped!

Another one on the list, I'm afraid...

BTW, does anyone know how voodoo wax dolls work; I got them off E-bay, and no instructions came with them. There are a number of people I want to make suffer!

Jan 21, 2015 at 4:39 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

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