Spittle-flecked invective? Pfui!

In yesterday’s response to Bob Ward, concerning his open letter to Martin Durkin, and the links between Durkin, the Science Media Centre and other extremist groups, I strongly criticised both the letter and the SMC, and praised George Monbiot for having condemned the SMC attacks on GM critics such as Ronan Bennett and Alan Rusbridger. I also highlighted the SMC’S almost complete neglect until last year of climate change.

Bob Ward has today linked to an article published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in which Durkin is reported to have acknowledged two scientific errors – including the one about volcanic eruptions and carbon emissions – and said that these will be corrected.

Very clever, Mr Durkin. But Ward et al. demand that all the errors be removed, and then state that if this were done, the documentary would fall to pieces.

I’m not so sure about this. Durkin could remove all the blatant scientific errors, and still make a superficially plausible case based on issues that are not 100% clear-cut, and over which there remains some scholarly debate.

Those of us with experience of working as research scientists know that reality is ever thus, yet given the increasing strength of climate models backed by hard data, the near-consensus view of climate change is the only credible one to take. But try explaining that to a mass audience. I’m convinced it can be done, but not in the combative rhetorical style beloved of the media and a number of scientific protagonists.

Here’s a quote from Bob Ward in the Seattle P-I article:

“Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements. Somebody has to stand up for the public interest here.”

Strong stuff, and very, very wrong. Free speech does indeed extend to coming out with any old rubbish, and people – even highly intelligent ones – frequently do. Others are free to point out factual errors, and in doing so attempt to convince the masses of the truth. This is how the open society works.

Ward’s open letter is a very bad mistake, in my opinion. As well as indicating a contempt for free speech, the signatories display a lack of political nous, and I fear that Durkin will run rings around them.

Returning to the issue of the SMC, the balance of opinion in the Psci-com community (or at least among the few who dared step into the pit) is against me, but I wonder how much of this is due to my boat-rocking, and how much is reasoned criticism.

The bastard children of the Revolutionary Communist Party now have a very strong grip on the day-to-day workings of the British science communication system. They may not control it – Susan Greenfield, Dick Taverne and others are heavy duty operators with their own agendas – but through their entryist tactics RCP acolytes have achieved a level of influence completely out of proportion to their numbers.

Bob Ward has denounced me, and referred to my supposed lack of evidence to back up the case against Fiona Fox and the SMC. But he completely ignored the substantive points I made. Ward is behaving like a sensorily-challenged monkey. All he can do is reproduce the list of SMC advisory board members, and after I had ridiculed the notion that a list of such worthies has any relevance.

I have been accused in engaging in ad-hominem attacks on the SMC Director, and former New Scientist Editor Michael Kenward described my intervention as spittle-flecked invective. This after agreeing with me that the open letter to Durkin is pants.

Let’s get this straight. In this debate I have engaged in a combination of ad-hominem and ad-argumentum attacks, and make no apology for this. It is legitimate to highlight motives as well as publicly-stated positions and actions, and expose people of bad character.

Kenward refers to SourceWatch‘s take on the SMC, and compares SourceWatch to rabid right-wing American conspiracy theorists. This is a most peculiar statement to make, as SourceWatch’s bias is clearly to the left. While one cannot accept SourceWatch material on trust, in this case they have done a good job on the RCP/LM crowd, who face criticism from right across the political spectrum.

I will continue to speak my mind on the subject of hyperbole in the climate change debate, and the influence of extremist political groups within the science communication community. As I wrote yesterday, what annoys me most about all this is how public scientific discourse on climate change is fast degenerating to a level set by the worst elements of the scientifically-illiterate media.