Leading article Australia

Conversation stopper

21 September 2019

9:00 AM

21 September 2019

9:00 AM

A s heavy snow fell in southeastern Australia this week, for the third time this year, preparations were still underway for Friday’s climate strike by those who want greater action to reduce carbon emissions.  But the cold weather has turned into a Cold War at The Conversation, a website for articles written by academics that are addressed to the general public, and which claims to have 10 million readers who visit each month.  The editor has announced not just that he is ‘implementing a zero-tolerance approach to moderating climate change deniers’ whatever he means by that pejorative term, which is clearly meant to draw a parallel with Holocaust-deniers; he is also adopting a zero-tolerance approach to ‘sceptics.’  Indeed, not only will he be removing their comments, he will be locking their accounts.

One assumes that academics such as Peter Ridd, the former professor at James Cook University who was sacked, allegedly for breaching his employment code of conduct, and then awarded $1.2 million in compensation after winning an unfair dismissal case, could not be published on the website.  After all, the Guardian refers to him as a ‘climate change sceptic scientist’ and he has argued that ‘the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated.’

Perhaps The Conversation wouldn’t even care to publish work by Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation who said this week that a science-based approach to climate change ‘is undermined when facts are taken out of context to justify extreme measures in the name of climate action,’ and that ‘action should be based on a balanced view of the science available to us and not on a biased reading of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.’

The war on scepticism is truly frightening.  The scientific method is built on doubt.  As David Hume said, ‘A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.’ Descartes based his Discourse on the Method for Guiding One’s Reason and Searching for the Truth in Sciences on reason and scepticism.  His fundamental rule was ‘never to accept anything as true if I did not know clearly that it was so … and to include nothing in my judgments apart from whatever appeared so clearly and distinctly to my mind that I had no opportunity to cast doubt on it.’

Both would have got short shrift at The Conversation.  ‘Those who are fixated on dodgy ideas in the face of decades of peer-reviewed science are nothing but dangerous,’ rants the editor.  ‘It is counter productive to present the evidence and then immediately undermine it by giving space to trolls. The hopeless debates between those with evidence and those who fabricate simply stalls action.’

What is most galling about this intolerable intolerance is that it falls to taxpayers and consumers to foot the bill.  The website is funded by the university sector, government and business.  We hope that wiser heads steer The Conversation back to something that represents genuine discourse, not a dialogue of the deaf.  For as Albert Einstein said, ‘blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.’

Gladys the cross they bear

Premier Berejiklian’s flash new tram service will be running along George Street in time for the Christmas rush, we are promised, a mere 18 months late. Whether the premier survives to cut the ribbon is another matter, after single-handedly driving her premiership off the rails over the decriminalisation of abortion. She survived a threatened spill this week, but the fact that one was contemplated less than six months after  her first election as leader reduces the odds that she will be there to fight the next in three and half years time. Ms Berejiklian has only herself to blame for her predicament. Only she can say why the decriminalisation bill was sprung on her colleagues at all or why it was driven with unseemly haste through the parliament, without recognition of its profound moral consequences or the need for legislative safeguards. Dr David Van Gend highlighted the horror of sex selection in his excellent article ‘Daughter Slaughter,’ in these pages, which caught everyone’s attention thanks to a brilliant Speccie cover. Naturally, her ministers will rally around her, as loyal ministers always do, right until the moment when they don’t. That will come sooner rather than later unless she can demonstrate leadership skills which hitherto have not been on display. She must heed the advice of her colleagues and the thousands who have rallied outside parliament urging the introduction of amendments and a proper parliamentary inquiry to ensure the matter is thoroughly considered. Otherwise, many would rather vote for Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear, than bear with Gladys.

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