Of labels, libels and language launderers

Back in 1996 – long before “global warming” aka “climate change” began to register on my radar – I paid a visit to the “language laundry”. Internet racism – in which the virtual footsoldiers leading the charge of the blight brigade, via the pretext of “revisionist scholarship” – had moved beyond infancy to the attention of the mainstream media.

I have no way of knowing if the journalists of that era were simply too lazy to do any research before engaging their keyboards, or if they were infected by the virus of post-modernism. But the end result was the same: an application of immoral equivalence ensured that truth would be taken to the cleaners. For example, Holocaust denial was cast as merely a “different point of view” while an organization promoting tolerance and education was (unjustifiably) accused of “censorship” for the simple act of requesting that Internet Service Providers consider telling racists to take their business elsewhere.

Yet, as Deborah Lipstadt noted in the Introduction to her new book, The Eichmann Trial:

In 1995, my book [Denying the Holocaust] was bought by Penguin UK and published in the United Kingdom. Not long thereafter, I received a letter from Penguin’s lawyers informing me that David Irving intended to bring a libel suit against me. I initially dismissed this as a groundless threat designed to frighten me. Even if his suit made it to court, which I doubted it ever would, I was certain the British justice system would see the absurdity of Irving’s claims and dismiss the matter. I did not then realize that the United Kingdom’s libel laws, which were the mirror image of American law, favored the claimant/plaintiff by putting the burden of proof on the defendant. The onus was on me to prove the truth of what I wrote, rather than on Irving to prove the falsehood.

Irving – whom Lipstadt had correctly labelled as a denier – was, in effect, attempting to silence Lipstadt via his frivolous libel suit. Notwithstanding Irving’s posturing both before and after the trial (not to mention various and sundry other attempts to silence his critics via frivolous libel suits), Justice Gray rendered a decision in April 2000, which was overwhelmingly in Lipstadt’s favour.

Fast-forward to 2010, the dawn of the post-Climategate era when opinion polls began showing that the general public was demonstrating an increasing lack of faith in the pronouncements of uncritical media mavens, as well as in the infallibility of the gospel according to “climate scientists”. Some have deemed “climate science”/climatology to be a “science” in its infancy (and quite rightly, given its very short history). Nonetheless, its practitioners have very quickly glommed onto their very own language laundry: a trick is not a trick, a decline is not a decline, a projection is not a prediction – and various so-called enquiries’ failure to examine “the science” gives the most egregious practitioners thereof the right to declare themselves “exonerated”. Shub Niggurath has recently documented a litany of unaccountability in climate science, that very much pertains to this.

But perhaps the most offensive output from the activists’ language laundry is their steadfast insistence on labelling those who have the temerity to question their gospel as “deniers”, knowing full-well (perhaps partly as a consequence of the extensive coverage of Irving vs Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt) that such a label carries the indisputable connotation of Holocaust deniers. Indeed, in February 2007, on the heels of the publication of the latest edition of the climate bible Boston Globe syndicated columnist, Ellen Goodman, as part of a “reframing” exercise, had declared:

“Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future,”

As Tom Yulsman correctly noted, in response:

Excuse me, but being skeptical about the scientific basis for global warming is nowhere near on a par with Holocaust denial. That is an utterly offensive statement — one that seems to comes up more and more in liberal discourse about climate change. If this is reframing the issue, count me out. I’ll take run-of-the-mill catastrophism, thank you very much.

Similarly, Dennis Prager had observed:

To equate those who question or deny global warming with those who question or deny the Holocaust is to ascribe equally nefarious motives to them. It may be inconceivable to Al Gore, Ellen Goodman and their many millions of supporters that a person can disagree with them on global warming and not have evil motives: Such an individual must be paid by oil companies to lie, or lie — as do Holocaust deniers — for some other vile reason.
[T]he equation of global warming denial to Holocaust denial trivializes Holocaust denial.
[Ellen Goodman’s] quote is only the beginning of what is already becoming one of the largest campaigns of vilification of decent people in history — the global condemnation of a) anyone who questions global warming; or b) anyone who agrees that there is global warming but who argues that human behavior is not its primary cause; or c) anyone who agrees that there is global warming, and even agrees that human behavior is its primary cause, but does not believe that the consequences will be nearly as catastrophic as Al Gore does.

If you don’t believe all three propositions, you will be lumped with Holocaust deniers, and it would not be surprising that soon, in Europe, global warming deniers will be treated as Holocaust deniers and prosecuted. Just watch. That is far more likely than the oceans rising by 20 feet. Or even 10. Or even three. [emphasis added -hro]

Considering this history, I was very disappointed last month in some of the replies from Dr. Judith Curry – a bona fide climate scientist whose efforts to promote dialogue and debate I very much respect – when objections were strenuously raised in response to discussion of a paper she had posted. The authors of this paper had chosen the following scheme of categorization of views: “Believers, convinced, skeptical, and deniers”. During her narrative on this paper, Curry urged:

“Lets for now not talk about whether we like the words “believer” and “denier.” They are clearly defined here in a way that is not pejorative.

Like many commenters, I found this particular product of the language laundry to be somewhat disturbing and uncharacteristic of Curry’s many other posts. I was also surprised to see that in one comment Curry wrote:

Legitimate people use this term in a way that is not intended to be pejorative. Richard Lindzen (a jew) has proudly proclaimed himself as a denier, as have several other serious scientists (Tomas Milanovic has self referred to himself has a denier on this blog).

I would have preferred if she had written “Richard Lindzen, who is Jewish …” but that aside, it’s unfortunate that Curry omitted mention of the context of Lindzen’s self-description. As scientist-blogger Lubos Motl wrote:

At the very beginning [of a BBC interview], Lindzen corrects the host that he is no “skeptic”: a “denier” (or “realist”) is actually more accurate.
[Lindzen] explains that the word “skeptic” is misleading because the word assumes that there is some pre-existing case for something that could be believed in, and the skeptics don’t believe it. However, there is no case for a climate threat.

In another comment, Curry invoked (what struck me as being) immoral equivalence. After recalling the early days of her blog in which certain activists had requested that the use of the word Climategate be banned, she wrote:

I decided not ban either word, since each is widely used in discourse and even in the published literature. So to those of you who don’t like the word “denier,” are you prepared to see “climategate” banned along with the word “denier”?

But I digress …

Certain European countries (e.g. Austria and Germany) do have laws which permit prosecution of the likes of David Irving and Ernst Zundel. I believe that such laws may do more harm than good, in that these prosecutions, albeit few and far between, tend to give undeserved publicity to the perpetrators. But given the history of Europe, I do understand why those governments have introduced such laws – although my hope is that they would certainly not be extended to those who do not endorse the still unproven human-generated C02->AGW hypothesis.

Were these European laws the “inspriration” for David Suzuki’s February 2008 “challenge” as reported by Canada’s National Post:

At a Montreal conference last Thursday, the prominent scientist, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient exhorted a packed house of 600 to hold politicians legally accountable for what he called an intergenerational crime. Though a spokesman said yesterday the call for imprisonment was not meant to be taken literally, Dr. Suzuki reportedly made similar remarks in an address at the University of Toronto last month.
“What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act,” said Dr. Suzuki, a former board member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“It’s an intergenerational crime in the face of all the knowledge and science from over 20 years.”

Who knows, eh?! If one is to believe Suzuki’s spokesman, it would appear that Suzuki and his cohorts have their own “language laundry”. Nonetheless, in March 2010, a Canadian organization calling itself “West Coast Environmental Law” (WECLWCEL) saw nothing wrong in posing the question: Is it “Time to sue climate change deniers?

WECL WCEL wax lyrically on the merits of PR hack Paul Hoggan and Greenpeace. One can well imagine that their denizens cheered loudly when a mere month later Canada’s Andrew Weaver decided to take a leaf from the book of David Irving by launching a libel suit against the National Post.

More recently Weaver used a variant of the “free speech for me to call you a denier but not for thee to question me ‘n my science” tactic against Dr. Tim Ball and he has now been joined in this effort by no less a luminary than Penn State’s Michael Mann. Readers may recall that Mann objects strenuously to being held accountable by the law of the land (although it should be noted that even some those he perceives as enemies have supported his stance on this) but prior to Cuccinelli’s investigation, Mann was very quick on the draw to threaten those who created the popular YouTube video “Hide the decline” – because they used his image.

Some called this early claim rather “flimsy”, and even though I’m not a lawyer, I’m inclined to agree. While I don’t always agree with Dr. Ball’s approach, I do respect his credentials and knowledge. That being said, there are some who find Mann’s latest attempt to silence one who does not share his views (or even his apparently high opinion of himself) to be equally flimsy. As Judith Curry noted in a recent post:

The allegedly libelous phrase is this:

Michael Mann, a professor in Penn State’s meteorology department and director of the university’s Earth Systems Science Center, claims that Ball defamed him when he said that Mann “should be in the State Pen, not Penn State,” for his alleged role in the so-called climate gate email tussle.

In a further comment, Curry observed:

Re ‘state pen,’ that is a rather routine joke that everyone uses about Penn State, I recall this from the period I was at Penn State (1999-2002). So the justification for [this complaint] escapes me, it is only drawing more attention to what […] Ball actually said.

The latest wrinkle to emerge from the environmental activists’ language laundry concerns the word “abuse” as it has apparently been translated by an unknown number of unknown Facebook (FB) users. Both Donna Laframboise and Watts Up With That reported that FB pages of those with a skeptical viewpoint had been flagged as “abusive” – thereby ensuring that they could not be shared by other users.

FB seems to consider items flagged as abusive in much the same way as the U.K.’s libel laws: i.e. “guilty until proven innocent”. FB has the capacity and technology to send notifications to users regarding any number of trivial matters; at the very least one would have thought they would have the decency to notify a user that one (or more) of his/her posts had been so labelled.

Isn’t it time that MSM journalists finally started shining a bright investigative light on such scurrilous attempts to silence those whose opinions diverge from the so-called “consensus“?

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