Nature Climate Change published an article by Paul Bain titled Promoting pro-environmental action in climate change deniers. Both Bishop Hill and WUWT criticized the article for using the term ‘denier’ instead of the more neutral label ‘sceptic’. The word ‘denier’ is used 41 times in the paper.

Bishop Hill wrote to the editor of Nature Climate Change, writing (bold mine):

Dear Dr Howlett

I have written a blog post on the Bain et al paper you have recently published. I found it quite surprising that a reputable journal would publish an article that contained so much offensive language.

http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/6/18/potty-mouthed-nature.html

I was wondering if you would care to comment on your decision to publish the article in this form. Did the editorial team consider asking the authors to use less incendiary language? Do you view your journal as having a role in encouraging civilised debate? Do you have policies on offensive language?

Thanks for your attention.

Keith Kloor has a good summary of the sceptic/denier dilemma as well, showing that most commentators (like Revkin) prefer the more neutral term ‘sceptic’.

High profile journals like Nature and Nature Climate Change of course must set an example or as Bishop Hills puts it ‘encourage a civilised debate’. Unfortunately they have not done this in their own editorials. I found four editorials, two in Nature and two in Nature Climate Change, that used the term ‘denier’.

In the wake of climategate and IPCC errors Nature published an editorial Climate of Fear. It starts like this:

The integrity of climate research has taken a very public battering in recent months. Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.

Climate scientists are on the defensive, knocked off balance by a re-energized community of global-warming deniers who, by dominating the media agenda, are sowing doubts about the fundamental science. Most researchers find themselves completely out of their league in this kind of battle because it’s only superficially about the science. The real goal is to stoke the angry fires of talk radio, cable news, the blogosphere and the like, all of which feed off of contrarian story lines and seldom make the time to assess facts and weigh evidence. Civility, honesty, fact and perspective are irrelevant.

The second Nature editorial mentioning the D-word is dealing with the Cuccinelli case:

Mann is the co-author of the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph, which shows estimated global temperatures over the last millennium to have been relatively constant until a drastic rise in the twentieth century. Mann has long been a target of climate-change deniers, and the scrutiny intensified last autumn when his e-mails were among those stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK. But Mann’s research has been upheld by the US National Academy of Sciences, and an investigation by Pennsylvania State University into the e-mails also cleared Mann of any misconduct. Given the lack of any evidence of wrongdoing, it’s hard to see Cuccinelli’s subpoena — and similar threats of legal action against climate scientists in a February report by climate-change denier Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) — as anything more than an idealogically motivated inquisition that harasses and intimidates climate scientists. (…)

Cuccinelli’s actions against Mann hark back to an era when tobacco companies smeared researchers as part of a sophisticated public relations strategy to raise doubts over the science showing that tobacco caused cancer, and delayed the introduction of smoking curbs for decades. Researchers found themselves bogged down in responding to subpoenas and legal challenges, which deterred others from the field. Climate-change deniers have adopted similar strategies with alacrity and, unfortunately, considerable success.

Olive Heffernan used the word ‘denier’ in a Nature Climate Change editorial in early 2010:

The first of these — dubbed ‘Climategate’ — saw thousands of emails obtained illegally from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and posted on the Internet. Carefully timed ahead of international climate policy negotiations, the emails showed apparent attempts by a handful of IPCC climatologists to withhold data from climate deniers and to exclude contentious information from the panel’s report. Unsurprisingly, this cast doubt on the credibility of the UN body.

Another editorial that is dealing with the BEST results uses it four times:

If deniers of climate change thought that ‘Climategate’ would once and for all have put paid to all this nonsense, the conclusions of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project (http://berkeleyearth.org/), which have received considerable publicity in the past month, suggest otherwise. (…)

As an aside, Muller draws a clear and considered distinction between open-minded sceptics, whom he respects, and outright deniers who are unlikely to be budged from their preconceived views, whatever the facts. (…)

His only plea is that sceptics, and perhaps less optimistically erstwhile deniers, should consider the accumulating evidence for global warming with a similar level of objectivity and open-mindedness. (…)

Deniers — some of the more vociferous of them at least — see talk of dangerous climate change as part of some global anti-libertarian conspiracy against unfettered free-market capitalism and wealth creation, and an excuse for the imposition of personal and corporate tax rises.

What makes it so bad is that in most cases the term is used without mentioning names. James Inhofe is the only example although you could say that this sentence  – the emails showed apparent attempts by a handful of IPCC climatologists to withhold data from climate deniers – suggests that McIntyre en Eschenbach, who were going after temperature and proxy data are ‘deniers’ according to Nature.

Seriously, if Nature really wants to disqualify some scientists by labelling them ‘deniers’, they should publish a list of them and be more transparant about it. Is Lindzen a denier according to Nature? Pielke sr., Roy Spencer or John Christy? What definition do they actually use? Please let us know, because what is the chance a scientific paper of a ‘denier’ gets a normal treatment?

So in answer to Bishop Hills letter where he wrote “Do you view your journal as having a role in encouraging civilised debate?” history shows the answer is actually ‘no’. You could even say that the Nature editorials encouraged scientists, like Bain in this case, to continue using the word ‘deniers’.