Say Goodbye to Climate Change Skeptics

Last Updated:
Thu, 2017-11-09 15:32

The Associated Press (AP) recently announced an update to its AP Stylebook regarding climate change skeptics. The AP Stylebook is a standard reference guide for journalists, meant to ensure consistency in word choice, usage, and spelling in all editorial work. With more and more news centered on climate change, it became necessary for the AP staff to review its existing listing about climate change and confirm that the guidance accurately reflects the current public opinion and tone on the subject.

Global Warming AP Stylebook entry

AP now discourages journalists and writers from using skeptic or denier in reference to climate change doubt. Instead, AP’s guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. The reasoning for this change in rather intriguing. According to the AP Stylebook editors:

“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. They say they aren’t skeptics because ‘proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.’ That group prefers the phrase ‘climate change deniers’ for those who reject accepted global warming data and theory. But those who reject climate science say the phrase denier has the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier so The Associated Press prefers climate change doubter or someone who rejects mainstream science.”

What’s great about the AP Stylebook (and its editors) is that they don’t mince their words. And that’s the point of the stylebook. Given the broad-reaching exposure of journalistic news, audiences in all regions and all educational levels have to be able to understand the information that is being presented to them. The AP Stylebook helps journalists all over the world to not only be on the same page about modern word usage but to also be as clear, concise, and comprehensible as possible.

What I take from the above AP explanation is a not-so-subtle acceptance of climate change and global warming data. On one hand, I find this interesting because journalism is supposed to be non-biased – simply presenting facts to the community. Of course those who intricately follow climate change research would say that communicating that research is indeed presenting facts. What I’m trying to say is that I appreciate such a reputable organization taking a very public stance on climate change and doing so in a firm but diplomatic way. The AP editors could have allowed climate change denier, but they took into account the negative connotation that that phrase could bring (comparing it to a Holocaust denier). Journalists walk a fine line of having to convey the facts without flat-out offending their audience.

The full AP Stylebook entry for global warming is as follows:

global warming  The terms global warming and climate change can be used interchangeably. Climate change is more accurate scientifically to describe the various effects of greenhouse gases on the world because it includes extreme weather, storms and changes in rainfall patterns, ocean acidification and sea level. But global warming as a term is more common and understandable to the public. Though some public officials and laymen and only a few climate scientists disagree, the world’s scientific organizations say that the world’s climate is changing because of the buildup of heat-trapping gases, especially carbon dioxide, from the burning of coal, oil and gas. This is supported by more than 90 percent of the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

In a joint publication in 2014, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of the United Kingdom stated: “Human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution – have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations by about 40 percent, with more than half the increase occurring since 1970. Since 1900, the global average surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). This has been accompanied by warming of the ocean, a rise in sea level, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and many other associated climate effects. Much of this warming has occurred in the last four decades.”

To describe those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces, use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science. Avoid use of skeptics or deniers.

AP Stylebook coverThe AP Stylebook was first published in 1954, when print news was the only option. Historically, the AP style of journalism has always offered short-form writing strategies. Its simplified grammar, such as dropping the Oxford comma and using figures for all numbers above nine, saved space and ink. I think it’s interesting that one of the recommended phrases for climate change skeptics is longer than the three-word option we’re used to. “Those who reject mainstream climate science” is uniquely precise but also takes up more print and web space. Of course using space (and ink) is somewhat less of a concern in modern times, with most people reading their news on the Internet. The Associated Press is responsible for keeping up with the times and modifying its listings to reflect current culture and understanding.

As the AP recently noted, such changes – whether they involve adding a new term or amending an existing definition – are driven by their relevancy to reporting the news. Keeping the Stylebook up-to-date is a year-round process, and the AP staff taps into many resources for advice and guidance. No change is made lightly.

So if you start to see news stories related to climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science, you'll now understand why you don't hear them being referred to as climate change skeptics. Climate change skeptics are a thing of the past...