Bill Nye the Science Guy Says James Inhofe Is Not a “˜Climate Skeptic’

A group of scientists say that a commonly used phrase in press coverage of climate change is all messed up.

Sen. James Inhofe
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Dec. 10, 2014, 1:31 p.m.

How should re­port­ers write about law­makers and oth­ers who dis­pute the sci­entif­ic con­sensus that cli­mate change is largely driv­en by hu­mans? A group of 48 sci­ent­ists, sci­ence writers, and oth­er ex­perts—in­clud­ing pop­u­lar edu­cat­or Bill Nye—have some strong views on the sub­ject.

The group is­sued a state­ment last week tak­ing the me­dia to task for us­ing the phrase “cli­mate skep­tic,” say­ing that the word “den­ier” is more ac­cur­ate. In the state­ment, the Com­mit­tee for Skep­tic­al In­quiry dis­ap­prov­ingly cites a Novem­ber New York Times piece that de­scribed GOP Sen. James In­hofe, who calls glob­al warm­ing a “hoax,” as a “prom­in­ent skep­tic of cli­mate change.”

The sci­ence ad­vocacy group says that the terms “skep­tic” and “den­ier” have been wrongly con­flated in the press. “Prop­er skep­ti­cism pro­motes sci­entif­ic in­quiry, crit­ic­al in­vest­ig­a­tion, and the use of reas­on in ex­amin­ing con­tro­ver­sial and ex­traordin­ary claims. It is found­a­tion­al to the sci­entif­ic meth­od. Deni­al, on the oth­er hand, is the a pri­ori re­jec­tion of ideas without ob­ject­ive con­sid­er­a­tion,” writes the group, which also in­cludes No­bel Prize win­ner Har­old Kroto and Ann Druyan, who helped cre­ate both Cos­mos TV series and was the wife of the late Carl Sagan.

The let­ter ar­rives at a time when polit­ic­al battles over cli­mate-change policy are es­cal­at­ing. One of the biggest fights will come when as­cend­ant Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans—in­clud­ing In­hofe, who will be chair­man of the Sen­ate’s en­vir­on­ment com­mit­tee next year—launch ef­forts to thwart Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion green­house-gas reg­u­la­tions.

The over­whelm­ing view of sci­ent­ists is that green­house-gas emis­sions from burn­ing fossil fuels and oth­er hu­man activ­it­ies are the main driver of glob­al warm­ing. For in­stance, the Amer­ic­an Met­eor­o­lo­gic­al So­ci­ety states: “It is clear from ex­tens­ive sci­entif­ic evid­ence that the dom­in­ant cause of the rap­id change in cli­mate of the past half cen­tury is hu­man-in­duced in­creases in the amount of at­mo­spher­ic green­house gases.”

The Dec. 5 state­ment from Nye and the oth­ers says the dis­tinc­tion between “skep­tic” and “den­ier” is im­port­ant in polit­ic­al de­bates. “As sci­entif­ic skep­tics, we are well aware of polit­ic­al ef­forts to un­der­mine cli­mate sci­ence by those who deny real­ity but do not en­gage in sci­entif­ic re­search or con­sider evid­ence that their deeply held opin­ions are wrong. The most ap­pro­pri­ate word to de­scribe the be­ha­vi­or of those in­di­vidu­als is ‘deni­al,’” the sci­ence ex­perts write.

“Not all in­di­vidu­als who call them­selves cli­mate change skep­tics are den­iers. But vir­tu­ally all den­iers have falsely branded them­selves as skep­tics. By per­pet­rat­ing this mis­nomer, journ­al­ists have gran­ted un­deserved cred­ib­il­ity to those who re­ject sci­ence and sci­entif­ic in­quiry,” the state­ment adds.

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