deniers are not sceptics [csi open letter]

Deniers are not Skeptics

December 5, 2014

Public discussion of scientific topics such as global warming is confused by misuse of the term “skeptic.” The Nov 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 priorirejection 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 SETIResearch

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

Dick Smith, Film Producer, Publisher, Australia

CSI Consultants

Luis Alfonso Gámez, journalist, the Magonia blog, Spain
Felix Ares de Blas, Professor of Computer Science, Univ. of Basque, Spain

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