Princeton professor emeritus William Happer’s role in forming a White House climate security committee didn’t sit well with a number of media outlets, including The New York Times, which called the eminent physicist a “denialist.”
The headline prompted a backlash from those who object to applying a derogatory label associated with Holocaust disbelief to scientists and others who challenge worst-case climate-change scenarios.
Among those who bristled at the term was Roy Spencer, University of Alabama in Huntsville principal research scientist, NASA U.S. Science Team leader, and author of Amazon bestsellers such as “Inevitable Disaster: Why Hurricanes Can’t Be Blamed on Global Warming” (2017).
“Journalists using the ‘denialist’ label demean their profession,” Mr. Spencer said in an email. “None of the prominent skeptical scientists I know deny some level of recent warming, or humans as a contributing cause.”
He continued, “The question is the magnitude of the influence, whether the benefits of more CO2 are being ignored, and whether reducing CO2 substantially might well impoverish humanity.”
Supporters pointed out that the 79-year-old Happer has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Science and the JASON group, and a stint in the Bush 41 administration as Energy Department director of energy research.
“I have gotten to know Will Happer well over the past several years,” said the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell. “He is a man of great integrity and high attainments. Calling one of America’s most distinguished scientists a ‘denialist’ is just stupid.”
University of Colorado Boulder senior research scientist Roger A. Pielke Sr. said the term “denialist” constituted a “pejorative in the context of climate science.”
“It is a blanket condemnation of an individual so as to avoid discussing the substance of a person’s views on the issue,” said Mr. Pielke, who holds a Ph.D. in meteorology. “It is intended to denigrate someone. It is equivalent to calling a person a ‘heretic.’”
He also defended Mr. Happer’s bona fides. “I have met Will Happer and his scientific credentials are solid. For those who disagree with some of his conclusions, rather than insulting him, the discussion should be on the specific scientific questions,” Mr. Pielke said.
Critics have argued that Mr. Happer has “no formal training in climate science,” as his Wikipedia page says, although most scientists identified as climatologists hold degrees in geology, meteorology, physics or atmospheric sciences.
“He has some expertise in infrared radiation spectra, which is of some relevance to climate science, but he does not have formal training in climate science (nobody does really, it’s not really an academic discipline),” said Judith Curry, president of the Climate Forecast Applications Network, in an email.
Full story here
I would add that “climate denier” is against the rules of the Associated Press Stylebook. Clearly, NYT and Coral Davenport wanted to denigrate.