Beware of Labels

By Keith Kloor | January 21, 2013 10:25 am

If I call you anti-science, which discourse might that be related to? The one on climate change, evolution, biotechnology, or vaccines? Because the term is flung around so freely, who can tell. That was the point I tried making with this recent post.

More importantly, is slagging you as anti-science a constructive way to have a conversation? In fact, it’s likely a conversation stopper.

Such is the case with any term that has become politically loaded. Like “denier.” I was reminded of this yet again via Andrew Revkin and a twitter exchange he had with some folks who cling to the “denier” usage in the climate debate. For a one-stop shop summation of the back-and-forth, along with some excellent commentary, read this post by Dan Kahan at his Cultural Cognition site.

Photograph courtesy of Splinter/Flickr Creative Commons.

 

A reader there also left a comment with this astute observation:

Seems to me that the counterproductivity of using the term “denier” is fairly obvious. But even if the counterproductivity can’t be proven, could there be any possible advantage to using the term? Does it advance understanding in any way? Does it create an environment for productive exchange of views? Does it in any way further the goals of people who are concerned about the potential dangers of climate change?

Good questions. The commenter went on to suggest that the same logic applied to the favored terminology of climate skeptics (who have their own set of pet terms to disparage the climate concerned community), as well.

Is there any hope for either side to take the high road?

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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