Wash Post Excerpt: For Katharine Hayhoe, a prominent Texas Tech University professor and director of the school’s Climate Science Center, the label “skeptic” should be reserved for those truly interested in testing and retesting hypotheses in order to find the truth behind phenomena. In short, the true skeptics are the scientists themselves.
“We demand evidence, we kick the tires,” Hayhoe explained to me later over the phone. “The entire system of peer review is based on you making the best argument for the result that you’ve found, and then multiple colleagues who are not involved in your research then tear it apart and try to find all the holes possible.”
In her experience as a public figure exchanging emails and tweets with critics of climate science, many (though not all) of them are not motivated by a desire to find new evidence, she said. “Every single day I get someone on Twitter saying, nobody’s ever been able to show me a single study that links carbon dioxide with climate change,” she said. “I’m like, oh well, here’s an entire book.”
And what about the label “climate denier”? That tends to draw complaints, too — not so much from climate scientists but from those who question them, and resent any hint of a comparison with those who deny the Holocaust happened. ‘”Climate science denier’ is an accurate description, but can get some people’s hackles up,” Hassol said. “It is not, as some say, a reference to Holocaust denial.”
Indeed, Princeton physics professor William Happer pushed back against the term “denier.” Happer is one of the scientists I mentioned in my story as among those researchers who reject the notion that climate change is all that severe — and who was working with Pruitt’s EPA on the “red team-blue team” exercise.
When reached by email, Happer said the term “denier” is “designed to cast me and others like me as a Nazi apologist.”
“Any honest scientist should be a skeptic, most of all, a skeptic of his (or her) own scientific work, and the work of others,” Happer wrote to me. “If you insist on categorizing me as anything other than an honest scientist (and somewhat immodestly, a very good one),” he added, “you might call me a scientist who is persuaded that doubling or tripling CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere will be a major benefit to life on Earth.”
Instead, Hayhoe and Hassol often use the term “dismissive,” a phrase promoted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which starting in a 2009 study breaks Americans down into six categories when it comes to concern about climate change.
At one end of the center’s spectrum are the “alarmed” — or those fully convinced of the reality of climate change and the need to personally act on it. At the other end of the spectrum are the dismissives — or those “actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the center’s website.
“We struggled with this, too,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale center. But, Leiserowitz added, “skeptic is a word that really is better kept for scientists because that’s the very heart of science. One should always maintain a skeptical attitude, even about one’s own work. Maybe even especially about one’s own work.”