Action Words Are Better Than Labels Such As ‘Skeptic’ And ‘Denier’

Instead of declaring that someone is a “climate change skeptic” or taking it a step further and using the word “denier,” use action words to explain what that person has said and done.

Basically, tell the audience what that person has said about climate change and humans’ contributions to it, and/or what that person has suggested should or shouldn’t be done. That information is much more helpful than any labels. “Says he doesn’t believe the science” says a lot more than “is a skeptic.” “Has called climate change a hoax” is better than “is a climate change denier.”

One reason action words are better is that the labels aren’t always easy to apply. Here’s what the words mean (from Webster’s):

-   A “skeptic” is “a person who habitually doubts, questions, or suspends judgment upon matters generally accepted.”

-   A “denier” refuses to accept something “as true or right.”

You have to determine what it is a person is skeptical about or denies is happening. At one end of the spectrum, someone may refuse to accept that climate change is happening. That’s complete denial. Another person might agree that climate change is happening, but doesn’t accept that humans are contributing to the change. That’s denial about one point, but not another. A third person might have doubts about climate change or questions about its severity and causes. That’s skepticism.

There are many other possible combinations.

Please note that we’re not saying you can’t use the words or must use one and not the other. The message here is that, as we’ve said before, action words are almost always better than labels. And if you do use a label somewhere in a story or piece, you have to be sure it fits and be as precise as possible.

(“Memmos;” Dec. 14, 2016)

December 14, 2016

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