Skeptics, Denialists, What’s the Difference?
I’ve got a pet peeve.
It annoys me to no end when people engage in the art of rhetoric by framing scientific debates, yet cry foul when their strategies are used against them. Although I have little experience in formal debate, I’ve spent nearly a decade writing to various internet forums, seeing first hand how great argumenters practice their craft, twisting words and carefully constructing sentences to convey very precise meaning. It truly is an art; it takes not only a mastery of language, but determination and insistence bordering on trollish behavior.
Recently, some people opposed to AGW (and, as always, I insist that that opposition is based on misguided political ideology) have begun crying foul at the labels being attached to them. Perhaps the best example is the behavior occurring at Watts Up With That. At that particular blog, moderators immediately challenge posts with the word “denialist” rather than “skeptic.” The logic to the challenge is asinine; apparently, “denialist” is a loaded term always meant to connote holocaust denialism. No matter what the context, whenever someone less-than-receptive to the skeptic viewpoint posts at that site with the offending word, their comment is eviscerated by moderators who ignore the substance of it and demand that they refrain from using such vulgarities.
Of course, it’s all a bunch of bull. It’s really as simple as this: if you are taking your anti-AGW cues from Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, you are a denialist because you deny that global warming is occurring. You can only be a skeptic if you are skeptical about some aspect of AGW, and your concern is legitimate. Someone debunking AGW by citing underwater volcanoes is not a skeptic; they are not only a denialist but they are in denial with respect to their attitude towards AGW and their scientific reasoning skills as well.
The vast majority of the skeptical commenters in the blogosphere are denialists, not skeptics. This has nothing to do with any sort of connotation of either word; rather, it’s all denotations (i.e. dictionary definitions; see skeptic  and denialist [1,2,3,4]). We’ll save the topic of hypocrites and conspiracy theorists for later; I’m thinking that might be a good topic for a series of entries.