UPDATE: Some new data has come to light, see below.
As Bishop Hill and WUWT readers know, there’s been a lot of condemnation of the way John Cook’s Skeptical Science website treated Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. recently when he attempted to engage the website. Shub Niggarath did a good job of summing up the issue (and demonstrating all the strikeouts of Dr. Pielke’s comments) here, which he calls a “dark day in the climate debate”.
As the issue found its way through the blogosphere, the condemnation of the technique became almost universal. Pielke Sr. tried again, but finally resigned himself and gave up trying to communicate. WUWT received some criticism from SkepticalScience as a rebuttal to the issue of “Christy Crocks” and other less than flattering labels applied by the Skeptical Science website to sceptical scientists whom they don’t like. They objected to the category I had for Al Gore, (Al Gore is an idiot) which I created when Mr. Gore on national television claimed the Earth was “several million degrees” at “2 kilometers or so down”. I thought the comment was idiotic, and thus deserved that label.
In the dialog with Dr. Pielke this label issue was brought up, and I found out about it when he mentioned it in this post: My Interactions With Skeptical Science – A Failed Attempt (So Far) For Constructive Dialog.
I decided the issue of the Gore label, like Dr. Pielke’s complaint about labels like “Christy Crocks”, was valid, and decided immediately to address the issue. It took me about an hour of work to change every Gore related post to a new category (simply Al Gore) and delete the old one. I then sent an email to Dr. Pielke telling him that I had taken the suggestion by Skeptical Science and Dr. Pielke seriously, and changed the category, with the hope that Skeptical Science would follow the example in turn. You can read my letter here.
Meanwhile Skeptical Science dug it its heels, resisting the change, and Josh decided that it might be time to create a satirical cartoon, about how Skeptical Science’s proprietor, John Cook had painted himself into a corner not only with the labeling issue, but because Bishop Hill had caught Skeptical Science doing some post facto revisionism (months afterwards, logged by the Wayback Machine) making moderators inserted rebuttal comments look better, which in turn made commenters original comments look dumber.
Of course the original commenters had no idea they were being demeaned after the fact since the threads were months old and probably never visited again. The exercise was apparently done for the eyes of search engine landings.
I figured, since Mr. Cook makes part of his living as a cartoonist, he’d appreciate the work. While he has since removed the reference to his cartoon work from his current Skeptical Science “About us” page, it does survive on the Wayback Machine from December 2007 like those previous versions of commenter web pages that have been edited. A screencap is below:
The cartoon where he spoofs Mr. Gore is something I can’t show here, due to copyright limitations (there’s a paywall now on Cook’s sev.com.au cartooning website) but it does survive in the Wayback Machine here.
So point is, like me, even Mr. Cook has spoofed Mr. Gore in the past, he’s an easy target, especially when he makes absurd claims like the temperature of the interior of the Earth being millions of degrees.
While we haven’t (to my knowledge) heard from Mr. Cook what he thinks about Josh’s latest bit of cartoon satire, we all have heard plenty from Skeptical Science’s active author/moderator “Dana1981”
While we could go on for ages over what was said, what was rebutted, etc, I’m going to focus on one comment from Dana1981 that piqued my interest due to it being a splendid window of opportunity for us all.
Dana wrote in the WUWT cartoon thread:
dana1981 Submitted on 2011/09/24 at 5:42 pm
Please, can people stop using the acronym “SS”? The correct acronym is “SkS”
Dana probably doesn’t realize the magnitude of the opportunity he opened up with that one comment for his beloved Skeptical Science website, hence this post.
For the record: this was my reply:
REPLY: On this we agree, folks please stop using it. Now Dana, would you agree to stop referring to people here and elsewhere using that other distasteful WWII phrase “deniers”. You’ll get major props if you announce that. – Anthony
Note that this wasn’t the first time I admonished WUWT commenters on the issue,I also said it as a footer note in this thread:
Note to commenters, on some other blogs the Skeptical Science website is referred to as SS.com with the obvious violations of Godwins Law immediately applied. Such responses will be snipped here in this thread should they occur.
Dana is obviously upset about the “SS” abbreviation, due to the immediate connection many people have to the feared and reviled Schutzstaffel in World War II. I understand Dana’s concern first hand, because when I first started my SurfaceStations project, I had a few people abbreviate it as SS.org and I asked them to stop for the same reason. I suspect that like me, when Skeptical Science created the name for their website, they had no thought towards this sort of ugly and unfortunate abbreviation usage.
But this distaste for “SS” as an abbreviated label opens up (or paints a corner if you prefer) another issue for Skeptical Science – their continued serial use of that other ugly and unfortunate WWII phrase “deniers” in the context of “holocaust deniers”. Of course some will try to argue there’s no connection, but we know better, especially since the person who is credited with popularizing the usage, columnist Ellen Goodman, makes a clear unambiguous connection:
I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future. – Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe, February 9, 2007 “No change in political climate” on the Wayback Machine here
Skeptical Science authors, moderators, and commenters know that people involved in the climate debate here and elsewhere don’t like the “denier” label any more than Skeptical Science like the “SS” label.
The big difference though becomes clear when you do a site specific Google Search:
A similar search on WUWT for “SS” using the internal WordPress engine search yields two results, Dana’s comment/my response, and another commenter asking about the issue which is fair game. The other handful of “SS” references Dana 1981 were removed from the thread per his request (click to enlarge image):
So, since Dana1981 has not answered my query about the use of the word “denier” on Skeptical Science and since there is such a huge disparity in usages (thousands versus two), I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring the issue forward.
In addition to their own sensitivity over ugly and unfortunate WWII labels, Skeptical Science has two other good reasons to stop using the term “denier”.
1. Their own comments policy page, which you can see here on the Wayback Machine (Feb 18th, 2011 since I can’t find a link anymore from the main page, correct me if I am wrong), emphasis mine:
No ad hominem attacks. Attacking other users or anyone holding a different opinion to you is common in debates but gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words ‘religion’ and ‘conspiracy’ tend to get deleted. Comments using labels like ‘alarmist’ and ‘denier’ are usually skating on thin ice.
Interestingly, the first appearance of the comments policy page (Jan 17, 2010) said this:
No ad hominem attacks. Attacking other users, scientists or anyone holding a different opinion to you is common in debates but gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words ‘alarmist’, ‘religion’ and ‘conspiracy’ are usually skating on thin ice.
So clearly they have moved to address the use of the word “denier” in policy, which seems to have appeared in March 2010, but strangely I can’t find any link to the comments policy page on their main page today that would allow users to know of it. Again correct me if I have missed it.
2. The other good reason is their recent Australian Museum Eureka Prize award (Congratulations by the way to John Cook) which has this to say in their code of conduct policy
Not calling people you disagree with on science issues “deniers” with a broad brush would be consistent with both Skeptical Science’s and The Australian Museum policies on how to treat people. Mr. Cook might even ask the Museum to remove the phrase from their press release (2011 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes Winner Press Release pdf – 1,419 kb) since it clearly violates the Australian Museum’s own written policy:
While he and Dana1981 may not realize it, there’s an excellent opportunity here for Mr. Cook to redeem himself and his Skeptical Science website in the eyes of many.
My “modest proposal” is simply this:
Make a declaration on your website, visible to all, that the use of the word “denier” is just as distasteful as the use of “SS” to abbreviate the website Skeptical Science, and pledge not to allow the use of the word there again. Update your own comments policy and ask the Australian Museum to adhere to their own policy of respect on the treatment of people, and remove it from their press release as well. As Eureka winner, you are now in a unique position to ask for this.
In turn, I’ll publicly ask people not to use “SS” in referring to your website, and to ask that in the future the phrase “AGW proponents” is used to describe what some people call “warmists” and ask the many bloggers and persona’s I know and communicate with to do the same. I’m pretty sure they would be thrilled to return the gesture of goodwill if you act upon this. I’ll bet Josh would even draw a new cartoon for you, one suitable for framing. (Update: Josh agrees, see comments)
You have a unique opportunity to make a positive change in the climate debate Mr. Cook, take the high road, and grab that brass ring. Thank you for your consideration. – Anthony
UPDATE: Tom Curtis in Australia in comments works mightily to defend the use of the phrase “climate denier”. One of his arguments is that the word “denier” has a long period of use, going back to 1532, and of course he makes the claim (as most AGW proponents do) that “we shouldn’t be upset about the phrase” because there (and I’m paraphrasing) “really isn’t much of a connection”. He didn’t accept examples such as the one Ellen Goodman made in 2007 that really propelled the phrase into worldwide consciousness via her syndicated column.
So I thought about this for a bit, how could I demonstrate that the word “denier”, by itself, has strong connotations to the atrocities of WWII? Then I remembered the ngram tool from Google Labs, which tracks word usage over time in books. So I ran the word “denier”, and here is the result:
Note the sharp peak right around WWII and afterwards, as books and stories were written about people who denied the horrible atrocities ever happened. No clearer connection between WWII atrocities denial and the word “denier” by itself could possibly exist. It’s a hockey stick on the uptake.
Curiously, the phrase “climate denier” is flatlined in books, probably because many book editors rightly see it as an offensive term and don’t allow it in the manuscript:
UPDATE2: In comments, Tom Curtis now tries to claim that “holocaust denial” is a recent invention, and thus the peak use of the word “denier” after WWII has no correlation with the war. This updated graph shows otherwise:
As would be expected, the word “Nazi” starts a sharp peak around 1939, and then starts tapering off after the war ends. In parallel, and as the war progresses and ends, the word “denier” starts peaking after the war, as more and more people denied the atrocities. But as we see in the Jewish Virtual Library historical account, “denial” started right after the war.
Paul Rassinier, formerly a “political” prisoner at Buchenwald, was one of the first European writers to come to the defense of the Nazi regime with regard to their “extermination” policy. In 1945, Rassinier was elected as a Socialist member of the French National Assembly, a position which he held for less than two years before resigning for health reasons. Shortly after the war he began reading reports of extermination in Nazi death camps by means of gas chambers and crematoria. His response was, essentially, “I was there and there were no gas chambers.” It should be remembered that he was confined to Buchenwald, the first major concentration camp created by the Hitler regime (1937) and that it was located in Germany. Buchenwald was not primarily a “death camp” and there were no gas chambers there. He was arrested and incarcerated in 1943. By that time the focus of the “Final Solution” had long since shifted to the Generalgouvernement of Poland. Rassinier used his own experience as a basis for denying the existence of gas chambers and mass extermination at other camps. Given his experience and his antisemitism, he embarked upon a writing career which, over the next 30 years, would place him at the center of Holocaust denial. In 1948 he published Le Passage de la Ligne, Crossing the Line, and, in 1950, The Holocaust Story and the Lie of Ulysses. In these early works he attempted to make two main arguments: first, while some atrocities were committed by the Germans, they have been greatly exaggerated and, second, that the Germans were not the perpetrators of these atrocities — the inmates who ran the camps instigated them. In 1964 he published The Drama of European Jewry, a work committed to debunking what he called “the genocide myth.” The major focus of this book was the denial of the gas chambers in the concentration camps, the denial of the widely accepted figure of 6 million Jews exterminated and the discounting of the testimony of the perpetrators following the war. These three have emerged in recent years as central tenets of Holocaust denial.
These books and the reaction to them clearly account for the post war peak in the word “denier” [at least in part, the word denier also is used with nylon stockings which came into vogue during the period – see comment from Verity Jones] . My point is that the peak of the word “denier”, is associated with WWII and the atrocities committed that some people did not believe, and wrote about it. Unless Mr. Curtis wishes to start disputing the Jewish historical account, clearly the peak is related and I find it amusing he is working so hard to distance the word from this association with WWII. Sadly, it is what users of the word do to justify their use of it when using it to describe skeptics, which is the whole point of this post.
Note to commenters and moderators – extra diligence is required on this thread, and tolerance for off topic, rants, or anything else that doesn’t contribute positively to the conversation is low.