Charlie Hebdo, Climate Scepticism & Free Speech

GWPF | 12 Jan 2015

Climate Extremism & The Chilling Effect On Free Speech

At the end of that process, some Global Warming deniers would never admit their mistake and as a result they would be executed. Perhaps that would be the only way to stop the rest of them. The death penalty would have been justified in terms of the enormous numbers of saved future lives. — Professor Richard Parncutt, University of Graz, Austria, 25 October 2012

As I read the grim headlines from Paris, I was reminded of another encounter in another European city, Berlin, specifically at the Opernplatz where the Nazis staged one of their most infamous book burnings in 1933. One of the authors whose works they incinerated was the great German poet, Heinrich Heine, whose epigraph now lines a memorial marking this historically ominous event: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.” And where they drive out and kill Jews, they will ultimately drive out and kill you, too. –James Kirchick, The Daily Beast, 10 January 2015

The message is clear: climate change deniers are scum. Their words are so wicked and dangerous that they must be silenced, or criminalised, or forced beyond the pale alongside those other crackpots who claim there was no Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. Perhaps climate change deniers should even be killed off, hanged like those evil men who were tried Nuremberg-style the first time around. Whatever the truth about our warming planet, it is clear there is a tidal wave of intolerance in the debate about climate change which is eroding free speech and melting rational debate. Brendan O’Neill, Spiked, 6 October 2006

1) Charlie Hebdo, Climate Scepticism & Free Speech – Climate Etc, 11 January 2015

2) Crackdown Ordered On Climate-Change Sceptics – The Times, 2 April 2014

3) Climate Scientist Forced Out From New Job In ‘McCarthy’-Style Witch Hunt – Daily Mail, 15 May 2014

4) Raymond Snoddy: BBC In Deep Water Over Climate Change Censorship Row – MediaTel, 9 July 2014

5) The BBC Is Scared Of Nigel Lawson – And It’s Right To Be – The Spectator, 12 July 2014

6) Climate Extremism & The Chilling Effect On Free Speech – Spiked, 6 October 2006

I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put [their climate change denial] in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it. Those who try to ensure we don’t will one day have to answer for their crimes. –Mark Lynas, 19 May 2006

In the climate wars, those that use pejorative names for people that they disagree with are the equivalents of racists and anti-semites, and deserve opprobrium and disrespect. It is very sad, not to mention bad for science, to see scientists engaging in this behavior. We need to open up the public debate about climate change, and get rid of the tyranny of political ‘correctness’ in the climate debate that is being enforced by a handful of self-appointed and readily-offended fools. –Judith Curry, Climate Etc, 11 January 2015

As George Bernard Shaw said, “All great truths begin as blasphemies”. In the West in the past, it was the Christian God that was protected by a censorious forcefield. Now it’s climate-change orthodoxy, the ideology of multiculturalism, Islamo-sensitivities, gay marriage… These days, speaking ill of any of those new gods could earn you a metaphorical lashing from the mob, or expulsion from polite society, or possibly a prison sentence. –Brendan O’Neill, The Australian, 10 January 2014

A globally-renowned climate scientist has been forced to step down from a think-tank after he was subjected to ‘Mc-Carthy’-style pressure from scientists around the world. Professor Lennart Bengtsson, 79, a leading academic from the University of Reading, left the high-profile Global Warming Policy Foundation as a result of the threats, which he described as ‘virtually unbearable’. In his resignation letter, published on the think-tank’s website, he wrote: ‘If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.” –Willis Robinson, Daily Mail, 15 May 2014

Science regresses if it becomes intolerant of criticism. At the beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth I of England spoke words of tolerance in an age of religious strife, declaring that she had no intention of making windows into men’s souls. Unlike religion, science is not a matter of the heart or of belief. It exists only in what can be demonstrated. In their persecution of an aged colleague who stepped out of line and their call for scientists to be subject to a faith test, 21st-century climate scientists have shown less tolerance than a 16th-century monarch. There is something rotten in the state of climate science. –Rupert Darwall, National Review, 15 May 2014

Ministers who question the majority view among scientists about climate change should “shut up” and instead repeat the Government line on the issue, according to MPs. The BBC should also give less airtime to climate sceptics and its editors should seek special clearance to interview them, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Andrew Miller, the committee’s Labour chairman, said that appearances on radio and television by climate sceptics such as Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, should be accompanied by “health warnings”. –Ben Webster, The Times, 2 April 2014

The danger comes instead from self-censorship. Which BBC editor now is going to invite Lord Lawson or even Prof Bob Carter on to their programmes in the certain knowledge that they are likely to be criticised and perhaps have time-consuming complaints upheld against them? As Lord Lawson argues, surely correctly, he has, in effect, been banned by the BBC. It is an easy thing to judge. Let’s see when he next appears in the climate change context. There will, of course, be no edict. He will just never ever be invited to take part in any BBC programme on the issue. –Raymond Snoddy, MediaTel, 9 July 2014

The BBC has effectively banned Lord Lawson, the former chancellor (and former editor of this magazine) from appearing on its programmes to debate climate change, unless he is introduced with a statement discrediting his views. When people try to close down debate rather than engage with it, there is a pretty clear conclusion to be drawn: they lack confidence in their own case. —The Spectator, 12 July 2014

1) Charlie Hebdo, Climate Scepticism & Free Speech
Climate Etc, 11 January 2015

Judith Curry

In response to the tragic shootings at the headquarters of satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, there have been a number of provocative essays on freedom of speech.

I have discussed the issue in a previous post In defense of free speech, but the recent events have compelled me to write a post on the broader issues raised by Charlie.  Below are excerpts from articles on the topic that have resonated with me or that I otherwise found provocative. […]

Climate wars

Anyone defending the satirists at Charlie should have a tough time defending Michael Mann in his legal war against the satirical writings of Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg.  It will be interesting to see if Charlie and the defense of satirists changes the dynamics of the Mann vs NRO/CEI/Steyn lawsuits.

David Brooks says it best:

Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.
Healthy societies, in other words, don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semi-respect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.

In the climate wars, those that use pejorative names for people that they disagree with  are the equivalents of racists and anti-semites, and deserve opprobrium and disrespect.  It is very sad, not to mention bad for science,  to see scientists engaging in this behavior.

We need to open up the public debate about climate change, and get rid of the tyranny of political ‘correctness’ in the climate debate that is being enforced by a handful of self-appointed and readily-offended fools.

Full post

2) Crackdown Ordered On Climate-Change Sceptics
The Times, 2 April 2014
Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Ministers who question the majority view among scientists about climate change should “shut up” and instead repeat the Government line on the issue, according to MPs.

The BBC should also give less airtime to climate sceptics and its editors should seek special clearance to interview them, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Andrew Miller, the committee’s Labour chairman, said that appearances on radio and television by climate sceptics such as Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, should be accompanied by “health warnings”.

Mr Miller likened climate sceptics to the Monster Raving Loony Party and said that the BBC should limit interviews with them just as it restricted the coverage it gave to fringe political parties.

In a report published today, the committee criticises the BBC’s coverage of climate change, saying that its news programmes “continue to make mistakes in their coverage of climate science by giving opinions and scientific fact the same weight”.

The MPs say that the BBC should apply the same “stringent requirements” to interviewing climate sceptics as it applies to interviewing politicians. “For example, any proposal to invite politicians to contribute to non-political output must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics. The BBC could benefit from applying a similarly stringent approach when interviewing non- experts on controversial scientific topics such as climate change,” the committee says.

Speaking to The Times, Mr Miller added that when Lord Lawson appeared, the BBC should make clear that his think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, questioned the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “At the very least, put a caption at the bottom of the screen: ‘the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s views are not accepted by 97 per cent of scientists’,” he said.

The committee’s report says that the Government is “failing to clearly and effectively communicate climate science to the public”. It concludes: “All Ministers should acquaint themselves with the science of climate change and then they, and their Departments, should reflect the Government approach in person, in media interviews and online by a presenting a clear and consistent message.”
Mr Miller named Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, as one of the ministers he believed had deviated from the Government line on climate change.

Full story

 

3) Climate Scientist Forced Out From New Job In ‘McCarthy’-Style Witch Hunt
Daily Mail, 15 May 2014

Willis Robinson

A globally-renowned climate scientist has been forced to step down from a think-tank after he was subjected to ‘Mc-Carthy’-style pressure from scientists around the world. 

Professor Lennart Bengtsson, 79, a leading academic from the University of Reading, left the high-profile Global Warming Policy Foundation as a result of the threats, which he described as ‘virtually unbearable’.

The Swedish climatologist, who has published more than 200 papers, said he received hundreds of emails from colleagues criticising his decision to switch to the organisation.

His ‘defection’ was described as the biggest switch from the pro-climate change lobby to the sceptic camp to date.

In his resignation letter, published on the think-tank’s website, he wrote: ‘If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety.

‘I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life.

‘Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc.

‘I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.

Full story

4) Raymond Snoddy: BBC In Deep Water Over Climate Change Censorship Row
MediaTel, 9 July 2014

As Nigel Lawson, the former chancellor, accuses the BBC of banning him from debating climate change at the Corporation, Raymond Snoddy warns that the reputation of BBC News would be seriously compromised if journalists were found to be censoring.

The BBC is getting itself in a huge hole over its coverage of climate change – and it does not seem to see the need to stop digging.

The controversy is best highlighted by the BBC’s decision to uphold a complaint against the Today programme for the appearance of climate change sceptic Lord Lawson to discuss the impact of climate on the recent floods.

A complaint against the World at One has also been partially upheld after an interview with a sceptical scientist Professor Bob Carter, head of the department of earth science at James Cook University.

Even though the former Chancellor was more than balanced by his co-guest the scientist Sir Brian Hoskins, chairman of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, the BBC apologised to complainant Chit Chung, a Green Party activist who has a draught proofing and insulation business in Dorset. […]

The danger comes instead from self-censorship. Which editor now is going to invite Lord Lawson or even Prof Bob Carter from New Zealand on to their programmes in the certain knowledge that they are likely to be criticised and perhaps have time-consuming complaints upheld against them?

As Lord Lawson argues, surely correctly, he has, in effect, been banned by the BBC. It is an easy thing to judge. Let’s see when he next appears in the climate change context.

There will, of course, be no edict. He will just never ever be invited to take part in any BBC programme on an issue that he has put considerable effort into learning about, and one where he has published a best-selling book.

On the BBC internal contacts list producers add advisory notes against names and you can be sure the former Chancellor will get one.

One of the key components of the case for a new licence fee is the integrity of BBC News. The case for man-made global warming may indeed be the right one, but the reputation of BBC News would be seriously compromised if journalists were found to be censoring, if not inconvenient truths then troubling anomalies.

Full story

5) The BBC Is Scared Of Nigel Lawson – And It’s Right To Be
The Spectator, 12 July 2014

It is only a matter of time before Nigel Lawson — if he is allowed on the BBC at all — has to have his words spoken by an actor in the manner of Gerry Adams at the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign during the 1980s. In the case of Mr Adams, whose voice was banned from the airwaves by the government, the BBC stood up for free speech. But it is quite a different story with Lord Lawson.

The BBC has effectively banned the former chancellor (and former editor of this magazine) from appearing on its programmes to debate climate change, unless he is introduced with a statement discrediting his views.

The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Department this week ruled that the Today programme broke BBC guidelines in February by inviting Lord Lawson to a debate with Sir Brian Hoskins, chairman of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change. It bizarrely claimed that his views are ‘not supported by the evidence’ — though he had pointed out, correctly, that the planet has not been warming for the past 17 years. Nevertheless, the BBC politburo warned, listeners should have been warned that Lord Lawson is in a minority and, therefore, his words ‘should not be regarded as carrying equal weight to those of experts such as Sir Brian Hoskins’.

Lord Lawson is, of course, not a scientist. But a great many people speak on the BBC on subjects in which they do not have any formal qualifications: Al Gore, for example. Or Rajendra Pachauri, a railway engineer by training, who now runs the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). Neither does the BBC seem to be worried about non-scientists addressing scientific issues when it comes to such things as fracking or GM crops, on which any green activists are welcome to speak, however bizarre their scaremongering theories.

What Lord Lawson is, however, is chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a think-tank that has no quarrel with the idea of global warming. Its aim is to appeal to reason, and to engage in mature argument rather than hysteria. Lord Lawson is advised by scientists who until recently included Lennart Bengtsson, a research fellow at the University of Reading. Professor Bengtsson was hounded off the GWPF board by his fellow scientists.

When people try to close down debate rather than engage with it, there is a pretty clear conclusion to be drawn: they lack confidence in their own case. The suppression of debate was shown again this week when Vladimir Semonov, a climate scientist at the Geomar Institute in Kiel, Germany, revealed that a paper he wrote in 2009 questioning the accuracy of climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was effectively censored by the scientist to whom it was sent for review. Their reasons for demanding passages be removed seems rather less than scientifically rigorous: one wrote that the offending material would ‘lead to unnecessary confusion in the climate science community’ and another said that ‘this entire discussion has to disappear’.

The process of peer review used in the scientific press is often held up as a mark of quality, which enables poorly conducted scientific research to be weeded out before it reaches the eyes of readers less qualified to judge the rigour of the work. This may to some extent be true, even if peer review failed to spot weaknesses in the now discredited Fleischmann-Pons cold fusion experiments of 1989 or stop the MMR scare.

But the peer review process is also open to abuse. Just as the social sciences became infected by political correctness 20 years ago, climate science has become governed by climatic correctness. To question the consensus that the world is facing fire and tempest as a result of anthropogenic global warming is, in the eyes of some working in the field, simply not allowable. That is something which was revealed in the Climategate scandal of 2009 when leaked emails from the University of East Anglia caught out scientists who had been withholding data, trying to keep rivals’ papers out of journals and in one case threatening violence against a sceptical scientist.

The BBC at first declined to go into the content of the emails, preferring to treat the story as a case of data theft. The fact that the emails contained material of extreme public interest seemed to count for nothing. The unknown individuals who leaked the emails can only dream of the hero worship afforded to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange; attitudes on the left towards release of information seem to swing dramatically depending on what information is being released.

The same is true of the BBC’s attitude towards balanced debate — something which is supposed to be guaranteed by its charter. The BBC has decided that it is allowable to debate such issues as whether benefit cuts are causing distress or whether sports-women are being discriminated against by male-dominated bastions — something the Today programme does virtually every morning. But dare to question whether it is wise for the country to embark on the economic experiment of abandoning fossil fuel on the back of some far-from-robust scientific models, and you will have to find another media outlet.

6) Climate Extremism & The Chilling Effect On Free Speech
Spiked, 6 October 2006

Brendan O’Neill

Whoever thought that serious commentators would want it made illegal to have a row about the weather? One Australian columnist has proposed outlawing ‘climate change denial’. ‘David Irving is under arrest in Austria for Holocaust denial’, she wrote. ‘Perhaps there is a case for making climate change denial an offence. It is a crime against humanity, after all.’ (1) Others have suggested that climate change deniers should be put on trial in the future, Nuremberg-style, and made to account for their attempts to cover up the ‘global warming…Holocaust’ (2).

The message is clear: climate change deniers are scum. Their words are so wicked and dangerous that they must be silenced, or criminalised, or forced beyond the pale alongside those other crackpots who claim there was no Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. Perhaps climate change deniers should even be killed off, hanged like those evil men who were tried Nuremberg-style the first time around.

Whatever the truth about our warming planet, it is clear there is a tidal wave of intolerance in the debate about climate change which is eroding free speech and melting rational debate. There has been no decree from on high or piece of legislation outlawing climate change denial, and indeed there is no need to criminalise it, as the Australian columnist suggests. Because in recent months it has been turned into a taboo, chased out of polite society by a wink and a nod, letters of complaint, newspaper articles continually comparing climate change denial to Holocaust denial.

An attitude of ‘You can’t say that!’ now surrounds debates about climate change, which in many ways is more powerful and pernicious than an outright ban. I am not a scientist or an expert on climate change, but I know what I don’t like – and this demonisation of certain words and ideas is an affront to freedom of speech and open, rational debate.

The loaded term itself – ‘climate change denier’ – is used to mark out certain people as immoral, untrustworthy. According to Richard D North, author most recently of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence: ‘It is deeply pejorative to call someone a “climate change denier”…it is a phrase designedly reminiscent of the idea of Holocaust denial – the label applied to those misguided or wicked people who believe, or claim to believe, the Nazis did not annihilate the Jews, and others, in very great numbers.’ (3)

People of various views and hues tend to get lumped together under the umbrella put-down ‘climate change denier’ – from those who argue the planet is getting hotter but we will be able to deal with it, to those who claim the planet is unlikely to get much hotter at all (4). On Google there are now over 80,000 search returns, and counting, for the phrase climate change denial.

Others take the tactic of openly labelling climate change deniers as cranks, possibly even people who might need their heads checked. In a speech last month, in which he said people ‘should be scared’ about global warming, UK environment secretary David Miliband said ‘those who deny [climate change] are the flat-earthers of the twenty-first century’ (5). Taking a similar tack, former US vice president-turned-green-warrior Al Gore recently declared: ‘Fifteen per cent of the population believe the moon landing was actually staged in a movie lot in Arizona and somewhat fewer still believe the Earth is flat. I think they all get together with the global warming deniers on a Saturday night and party.’ (6)

It is not only environmentalist activists and green-leaning writers who are seeking to silence climate change deniers/sceptics/critics/whatever you prefer. Last month the Royal Society – Britain’s premier scientific academy founded in 1660, whose members have included some of the greatest scientists – wrote a letter to ExxonMobil demanding that the oil giant cut off its funding to groups that have ‘misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence’.

It was the first time the Royal Society had ever written to a company complaining about its activities. The letter had something of a hectoring, intolerant tone: ‘At our meeting in July…you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge.’ (7)

One could be forgiven for asking what business it is of the Royal Society to tell ExxonMobil whom it can and cannot support – just as we might balk if ExxonMobil tried to tell the Royal Society what to do. The Society claims it is merely defending a ‘scientific consensus…the evidence’ against ExxonMobil’s duplicitous attempts to play down global warming for its own oily self-interest. Yet some scientists have attacked the idea that there can ever be untouchable cast-iron scientific facts, which should be immune from debate or protected from oil-moneyed think-tanks.

An open letter to the Society – signed by Tim Ball, a professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg, and others – argues that ‘scientific inquiry is unique because it requires falsifiability’: ‘The beauty of science is that no issue is ever “settled”, that no question is beyond being more fully understood, that no conclusion is immune to further experimentation. And yet for the first time in history, the Royal Society is shamelessly using the media to say emphatically: “case closed” on all issues related to climate change.’

Or as Charles Jones, an emeritus English professor at the University of Edinburgh, put it in a letter to a publication that recently lambasted climate change deniers, ‘[W]e are left with the feeling that [climate change] is a scientific model which is unfalsifiable and which has not been – and indeed cannot be – the subject of any theoretical counter-proposals whatsoever. As such, it must surely be unique in the history of science. Even a powerful model such as Relativity Theory has been the object of scientific debate and emendation.’ (8)

For all the talk of simply preserving the facts against climate change deniers, there is increasingly a pernicious moralism and authoritarianism in the attempts to silence certain individuals and groups. This is clear from the use of the term ‘climate change denier’, which, as Charles Jones argued, is an attempt to assign any ‘doubters’ with ‘the same moral repugnance one associates with Holocaust denial’ (9).

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently celebrated the ‘recanting’ of both the tabloid Sun and the business bible The Economist on the issue of global warming. (‘Recant’ – an interesting choice of word. According to my OED it means ‘To withdraw, retract or renounce a statement, opinion or belief as erroneous, andesp. with formal or public confession of error in matters of religion.’ Recanting is often what those accused before the Spanish Inquisition did to save their hides.) Pleased by the Sun and The Economist’s turnaround, Monbiot wrote: ‘Almost everywhere, climate change denial now looks as stupid and as unacceptable as Holocaust denial.’ (10)

Earlier this year, when a correspondent for the American current affairs show 60 Minutes was asked why his various feature programmes on global warming did not include the views of global warming sceptics, he replied: ‘If I do an interview with Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?’ Here, climate change deniers are explicitly painted as the bad guys. He also argued that, ‘This isn’t about politics…this is about sound science’, and went so far as to claim that it would be problematic even to air the views of climate change sceptics: ‘There comes a point in journalism where striving for balance becomes irresponsible.’

Some take the moral equivalence between climate change denial and Holocaust denial to its logical conclusion. They argue that climate change deniers are actually complicit in a future Holocaust – the global warming Holocaust – and thus will have to be brought to trial in the future. Green author and columnist Mark Lynas writes: ‘I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put [their climate change denial] in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial – except that this time the Holocaust is yet to come, and we still have time to avoid it. Those who try to ensure we don’t will one day have to answer for their crimes.’ (11)

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2 thoughts on “Charlie Hebdo, Climate Scepticism & Free Speech

  1. Holocaust deniers, to my knowledge, have killed no one. Climate change deniers have ensured dangerous delay on climate change mitigation, leading to millions of people being impacted by climate chaos. It’s interesting (and not a little pathetic) that climate change deniers get their widdle feewings hurt so easily while insisting that their right to free speech is more important than the rights of 7 billion plus people (not to mention billions of other creatures) to life, livelihood, food security, clean water sources, home and homeland.

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