Mentioning the war


Do you know “Godwin’s Law”? It was an observation made very early in the days of blogs and their comment threads. A comment thread, as soon as it reaches a certain size, will inevitably include a comment in which someone or something is compared to the German Nazis. As soon as such a comparison is made, it has been decided, on blogs everywhere, the commenter responsible has lost the argument.

On climate change blogs and threads we observe the opposite phenomenon – as soon as a climate change thread has reached a certain length a climate change denier will demand that the other contributors stop referring to him as a denier because it carries the meaning of “holocaust denier”. And this is, you know, hurtful and distressing to someone who is just a genuine seeker after truth, a skeptic, like um, whatsisname, Galileo. Those nasty “warmists” deliberately use the name “denier” to discredit the tens of thousands of scientists and their friends who are skeptical about global warming, so stop it.

I don’t now who used the term “denier” first to replace “skeptic” in this context. Probably many of us reached for the more accurate term at about the same moment in blogs around the world. Now although I am not a gambling man I wouldn’t mind having a dollar or two on a bet that not one of the scientists who first began referring to people as “deniers” had for a moment thought of that other well known small group of people the “holocaust deniers” (I mean, who does think about them except on the occasions when one goes to gaol?).

No, instead we were responding to a category of behaviour that remains evident, if anything more evident, today. In the early days of climate change research, say 20 years ago, it was certainly possible, as in every other area of scientific research (including, for example, the early days of evolutionary theory, relativity, DNA, quantum physics, plate tectonics, big bang theory) for scientists, and the informed public, to be skeptical about the data and hypotheses being put forward.

Data accuracy could be questioned, the meaning of observations disputed, future projections debated. The skepticism served to develop new data collection methods, make more observations, refine computer modelling programs. Over the last 20 years then every skeptical point has been asked and answered. In every other area of research where new paradigms were developed, including the ones listed above, this process resulted in a shift in the scientific community (both those directly concerned and those in other disciplnes) and the general public from skepticism to acceptance (which is not to say that research was finished, just that it was aimed at filling in gaps, refining details). In just one, climate science, has this not been the experience. Oh it has been among the directly concerned scientific community, where acceptance of climate change theory is so close to 100% that the difference is irrelevant (the only 2 or 3 “skeptics”, to give them the benefit of the doubt, remaining are concerned about the precise role of clouds as the planet warms). It has also been accepted by close to 100% of the rest of the scientific community. No the difference is that a noisy minority of the general public, supported by a tiny number of scientists from other disciplines, have engaged for 20 years in a campaign in which not a single research result, or observation, or hypothesis, or computer model was accepted. In addition, while every objection was answered by climate change scientists the answers were simply ignored, the “objections” repeated on blog after blog, newspaper after newspaper, and of course the world of radio shock jocks.

This kind of behaviour, where the meaning or content of every piece of research is simply denied, over and over again, during a period of some 15 years, is not “skepticism” but pure denial. Denial there is a problem, denial that anything needs to be done to address it. This is the greatest case of mass hallucination since the lead up to World War two in Britain.

So nothing to do with “holocaust denial”, everything to do with a clear pattern of behaviour. But now that they mention it, cap fits and all that. The refusal to accept what had happened during the war has exactly the same hallmarks. It is also a refusal to accept evidence (an astonishing mass of evidence) of any kind – eyewitness accounts, survivor accounts, the result of trials, infrastructure observations, political documents from perpetrators – that disagree with the preconceived ideology of the writer. So yes, climate change deniers are just like holocaust deniers.

And just like the more general class of deniers who have sprung up everywhere, funded and supported by ideologues like the Koch brothers, energy companies, tobacco companies, right wing think tanks. We have ozone deniers, nicotine deniers, DDT deniers, fishing deniers, evolution deniers, forestry deniers, live animal trade deniers, irrigation deniers. Doesn’t matter the issue (though many relate to the environment) – if there is a benefit to big business in preventing some legislation, some regulation, some economic effect on their business, the deniers will spring up like mushrooms on a dung heap.

Not skeptics, deniers.

Denialism works.

10 comments on “Mentioning the war

  1. Gail says:

    Well if they really object to deniers, I suggest we call them zombies instead. Zombies continue to rise from the dead no matter how effectively they are slain, just like the stupid lies deniers repeat.

    And besides it’s like Halloween every day!


  2. Oh, very well said, David!

    Funnily enough I woke up this morning thinking about exactly this question of the use of the word “denier,” and feeling not a little irritation about the outcry whenever it’s used.

    Thank you for such a strong reclaiming of our right to use it whenever it is appropriate.


  3. Big M says:

    The denialists continually cry out for more evidence of AGW. The ice caps aren’t melting, they argue. But, they are, I think the largest iceberg in living history broke away from the arctic in the last couple of years. Glaciers aren’t melting! Well, yea they are. This is like the hole in the ozone layer. All the rage in the seventies, now hardly mentioned. Well that hole in the ozone layer is often mentioned in reputable news services, but didn’t continue to grow exponentially because we radically reduced the use of chemicals that were causing/exacerbating it.

    Australian scientists have put together a great website, called the Conversation, yet denialists disbelieve the claims therein because ‘those scientists make a living from AGW.’ UGGHHH???, or, ‘peer reviewed papers are only reviewed by like mided scientists!’ No, they are published for ALL scientists to read, digest and comment.

    I give up.


  4. Gail says:

    Big M –

    Isn’t it bizarre? It’s like saying doctors can’t be trusted to diagnosis illness because that’s how they make their living!


  5. paul walter says:

    Their own logic is childish.They say the have the wisdom to be guardians, but their motives for suppressing or endorsing things is suspect, we all loath self seeking in ourselves and its forgotten by ourself-proclaimed betters that as they see through us, so their motives are more transparent in many things than they want us to know, hence the increasing meddling with information throughout western society on the basis that if we pick up one blooper we retain or increase the capacity to spot more, later.
    Gail’s analogy has me thinking of not getting accurate information on the basis that I can think, wtf?
    Jennifer Wilson’s post has me thinking of a series of ideological terms from which civilised conversation should be rid of, for the furphies they are, such as the one about any one who seems sceptical at the mess made of Lebanon and then Gaza by Israel a few years ago, is someone quicky deserving of being labelled as some thing akin to a “holocaust denier”, too true.


  6. [...] a read of Mentioning the war on the Watermelon Blog. David Horton reclaims THAT word from the climate change deniers who call [...]


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