Monday, May 4, 2015

How 'Climate Skeptic' became a bad word

I have a new pre-publication paper which you can download here. It examines the changing use and meaning of the term ‘skeptic’ in the US elite press. Based on an analysis of the New York Times it appears that the meaning of the word skeptic changed from a synonym of legitimate criticism to an illegitimate form of dissent. Different forms of climate skepticism appear in different time periods. Over time an escalation in rhetorical armoury can be shown, which was associated with political events, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the partisan mobilization of science at Congressional hearings.


Anonymous said...

As a skeptic/denier, I found it hard to keep reading after your reference to "Cook et al. 2013" with other than derision.

It appears to me that psychology and sociology are in a worse state than climatology.

Anonymous said...


climate science is not in a bad state. Interested parties are claiming this because of political reasons.

Every science direction has its own little problems that are common to all directions (flood of publications, for example) or are very specific.

I would not never say science direction X is worse than Y.

"climate skeptic" became a bad word because most (99%, I guess) "climate skeptics" are not skeptical but political clowns. They are good in PR and bad in science. The remaining 1%: I like.


Anonymous said...

Some remark:

almost all mainstream climate scientists are skeptical... but instead of political clownery under a stupid label, they just do their work, sometimes better, sometime worse. Like every person on this world.


Unknown said...

Reiner, the section of your article describing climate blogs contains numerous errors of fact and interpretation. I will submit in several parts due to limitations on length in blog software and first discuss your your characterization of "mainstream media" is based only on the New York Times. This results in a very inaccurate characterization of mainstream media coverage of my own work.

You say:

"With the emergence of the blogosphere in the mid-2000s, skeptical voices found a platform that they could control, becoming in a sense more visible though rarely mentioned in the mainstream press. [9 - There are very few news stories in the NYT archive that mention these blogs (one for McIntyre and three for Watts.)]"

Contrary to your assertion, my original academic criticism of the Hockey Stick was widely covered in the mainstream press in 2005, including the Economist, Nature, Science, BBC, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, a lengthy article in Natuurwetenschap and Techniek, Globe and Mail and National Post, among others; I was also interviewed on Dutch TV. Most conspicuously, our work received front page coverage on the Wall St Journal. It's hard to imagine wider mainstream media coverage. In retrospect, the failure of the New York Times to cover the story perhaps deserves a comment. The Climategate emails showed that Mann had sent a highly defamatory email to Andrew Revkin, accusing us of fraud, in an effort to persuade Revkin not to cover the story.

Note that this wide coverage by the mainstream press was more or less contemporary with the start of Climate Audit. Indeed, the widespread coverage clearly contributed to the very new Climate Audit attracting attention.

Again, contrary to your assertion that my work was "rarely" mentioned in the mainstream media, it also received very wide coverage in the wake of Climategate. I was interviewed by the Times, the Economist, the New Statesman, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Time magazine, the Guardian, Macleans … – I didn’t try to even keep track of all the interviews. I appeared on CNN three times, Fox News three times, BBC Radio several times. I was interviewed at length by a reporter from Germany (Der Spiegel) who even visited me in Toronto. A television crew from Finland also interviewed me in Toronto. Fred Pearce of the Guardian and New Scientist wrote a book about Climategate in which I was a prominent figure (adding to prior books by Andrew Montford and Mosher/Fuller). Perhaps most remarkably, in 2010, the New Statesman even included me in their 2010 list of “50 People Who Matter 2010” - see

It's hard to imagine how one could have received more coverage. Your premise of only "rare" mentions in the mainstream media seems about as wrong as possible.

Stephen McIntyre

Unknown said...

Second, you assert that the conclusions of the NRC panel in 2006 ought to have put an end to Hockey Stick controversy but this is incorrect.

You based on your conclusions on the New York Times, but surely you ought to have also consulted the contemporary statements of your Klimazwiebel cohosts, which took a diametrically opposite position to the New York Times.

Hans von Storch and Eduardo Zorita issued a press statement at the time, noting that the NAS panel report actually stated or implied severe crititicsm. For example (and there were other sharp statements):

"Thus, the public perception that the hockeystick as truthfully describing the temperature history was definitely false"

See contemporary report at

Eduardo also stated at the time
"in my opinion the Panel adopted the most critical position to MBH nowadays possible. I agree with you that it is in many parts ambivalent and some parts are inconsistent with others. It would have been unrealistic to expect a report with a summary stating that MBH98 and MBH99 were wrong (and therefore the IPC TAR had serious problems) when the Fourth Report is in the making. I was indeed surprised by the extensive and deep criticism of the MBH methodology in Chapters 9 and 11."


The NRC panel also stated that strip bark bristlecone chronologies, the essential ingredient of the Mann hockeystick, should be "avoided" in temperature reconstructions, though paleoclimatologists, including Mann, have thumbed their noses at this recommendation.

You say
"This [NRC 2006] endorsement did not silence the critics, partly because of the development described in the following section, the emergence of the blogosphere in the mid-2000s".

The reason why the NRC report did not "silence the critics" of the Hockey Stick - including von Storch and Zorita - was that the report did not support such a policy.

By the way, you should also talk to Hans and Eduardo about their first-hand impressions of the Barton Committee. Hans testified to the committee on July 19, 2006. You will be surprised by his impression of the Republicans and Democrats.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


many thanks for your comments. My paper is a study of the changing meaning of the term 'climate skeptic', using the New York Times as data source. It is a content analysis, and as such does not aim to pass judgement on who was/is wright or wrong.

I do not claim that "the conclusions of the NRC panel in 2006 ought to have put an end to Hockey Stick controversy".

I so say they did not silence the critics, and you concur. You give reasons for this, but the hockey stick debate is not the topic of my paper.

My point about the relative scarce coverage of skeptical voices in the mainstream press is documented in another publication of mine

Grundmann/Scott, 2014. Disputed climate science in the media: Do countries matter? Public Understanding of Science, Vol. 23(2):220-235 DOI:10.1177/0963662512467732

This reference needs including here. You are right that the sentence preceding footnote 9 makes claims about mainstream media but actually refers to data from the NYT.

Unknown said...

Reiner, while your stated purpose may have been an elucidation of the term "skeptic", your section entitled "‘Hobbyists’ and new social media (Post 2005)" doesn't seem to me to actually contribute to that purpose, but instead comments on various blogs. I re-iterate my disagreement with your assertion that I was "rarely mentioned" in the mainstream press and do not believe that the New York Times was representative in this respect.

You said that the NRC report "largely endorsed" Mann's assertion as follows:

"The following year a panel convened by the National Academies also investigated the issue. This panel’s report largely endorsed Mann’s assertion ‘that recent warming in the Northern Hemisphere was probably unrivalled for 1,000 years.’ ...This endorsement did not silence the critics."

As phrased, this states or implies that the critics were intransigent in the face of this "endorsement." However, as you can determine by asking Hans or Eduardo, the NRC panel did not actually "ENDORSE" Mann's reconstruction, as Hans and Eduardo recorded in their contemporary statement on the NRC panel quoted above: "the public perception that the hockeystick as truthfully describing the temperature history was definitely false".

Very little in this entire section is germane to elucidation of the term "climate skeptic" and, as stated above, seems to be to be mostly weakly substantiated characterizations of climate blogs.

There are some other points that I'll comment on separately.

Stephen McIntyre

Unknown said...

Reiner, I realize that your article "Disputed climate science in the media: Do countries matter" largely pertains to the "false balance" issue and that your observation in that article that skeptics are rarely mentioned relative to IPCC and its advocates is an important one with which I do not disagree.

My comment on your article arose largely because you name me personally and suggest/imply that I took to blogging because I had been shunned in mainstream media. On the contrary, I have been gratified by the coverage that I received by mainstream media, including, for the most part, from "green" reporters.

Stephen McIntyre

Unknown said...

Reiner, another point.

You say of the four blogs (including me at least by implication):
"This network of climate bloggers has applied the same tactic of questioning the funding sources of their opponents, the climate change mainstream, accusing their antagonists of alarmism and fraud, and of pushing a political agenda in the name of science."

I have not "questioned" the funding sources of the scientists that I've criticized. Second, even Mann (in his Statement of Claim) acknowledged that McKitrick and I had never made public accusations of "fraud" against Man (though Mann had made many defamatory accusations against us.) I have maintained and enforced a blog policy at Climate Audit against accusations of fraud.

In particular, I dispute your allegation that I have been "pushing a political agenda in the name of science" and request that you support that allegation.

Stephen McIntyre