Errors and Omissions: They’re not sceptics, they’re deniers

Our Letters Editor reviews the slips from this week's Independent

Guy Keleny
Friday 11 October 2013 18:07 BST
Greg Barker suggested 'the sceptic press' often used research that had not been peer-reviewed to bolster its position
Greg Barker suggested 'the sceptic press' often used research that had not been peer-reviewed to bolster its position

On Thursday we reported on criticism of the BBC’s “balanced” coverage of scientific questions surrounding climate change. The headline: “BBC gives the sceptics too much airtime, says Tory”.

I’m not proposing to ban the word “sceptic” in this context, but to point out that it is tendentious, since most people think of scepticism as a virtue. Over the past five years or so, the people formerly known as climate change “deniers” have succeeded in becoming “sceptics”, on the plea that to associate them with Holocaust deniers is a smear.

Let’s just run the colours up the mast. I think these people are anti-science flat-earthers. If they succeed in preventing rational action to stabilise the climate, they will destroy human civilisation within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. They are every bit as dangerous as Holocaust deniers.

If “climate change deniers” is too much for delicate stomachs, let’s at least keep open the option of sometimes calling them “denialists” or “contrarians”. The latter – meaning people who take delight in adopting any contrary position – is particularly apt.

Sceptics give or withhold belief according to the weight of evidence. That is what the climate scientists do.

Same old thing: The lead article on Thursday’s sport pages argued that Australia’s cricketers are in a position similar to the one they faced at the start of the summer. The headline said: “Déjà vu as Australians start tour in turmoil.”

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Déjà vu is the illusion that what you are experiencing at this moment has happened before. If it really has happened before, that is not déjà vu.

Leave it out: The “Americanism” radar bleeped on reading this on Thursday, in a report about the US government shutdown: “The CDC [Centres for Disease Control] has reportedly called back several of the workers furloughed.”

In a British newspaper, shouldn’t that be “sent on leave”? Maybe, but don’t snort too loudly. “Furlough” may be more common these days in American than in British usage, but it is not an American coinage. The word dates back to 1625, with the modern meaning of leave of absence for a soldier.

Bad choice: “Disabled people are being forced to choose between having a drink or going to the toilet during ‘flying care visits’,” a news story reported on Monday. That should be either “choose to have a drink or go to the toilet” or “choose between having a drink and going to the toilet”. Choose one or the other.

Less, please: “Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox successfully claimed 3p of taxpayers’ cash for a car journey of fewer than 100 metres,” said a news story on Monday. We pedants are always rebuking people for using “less” when it should be “fewer”. This time it is the other way round. What we are talking about here is not the number of metres but the length of the trip – “less”.

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