Right or wrong?

May 3, 2007 at 9:56 am | Posted in Climate change, Ethics, Science | 4 Comments

I have no time to write right now, but this is worth perusing for discussion later:

The right to be wrong

An attempt to block the DVD release of The Great Global Warming Swindle displays contempt for free speech.


Several issues spring to mind:

  • With freedom comes responsibility
  • Freedom to misrepresent science and scientists places a responsibility upon misrepresenters to be answerable to the public
  • Acting in the public interest is to be encouraged; acting against it is to be discouraged
  • Manipulation of public opinion by special interests merits special attention in these days of highly organised think-tanks and well-oiled policy-making machines

Hmmm …



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  1. I don’t understand Sedgemore’s complaint. Ward’s letter does not petition the government to remove the right to distribute these lies. It petitions one of the participants in the lying to desist.

    Whether there are or potentially could be grounds to deny the right to lie is a free speech issue and an interesting one.

    Sedgemore’s implication that asking someone to reconsider his behavior is tantamount to censorship seems to me bizarre. Am I missing something?

  2. Misquoting others displays contempt for free speech, and is, in itself, an act of censorship. It’s also normal for punishments to impact the rights of those deemed guilty. However, those being misquoted surely have the right to prevent further abuse of their work and reputations, so requesting that those rights are upheld doesn’t even involve a punitive element.

    Then again, I’m not a lawyer, and when did the blindingly obvious ever prevent lawyers from arguing all the way to the bank?

  3. Hi Michael,

    Sedgemore is misrepresenting an objection to misrepresentation! You are not missing anything: Sedgemore is.

    Several right-wing blogs have denounced what they see as censorship of free speech very strongly this past week, so it is not surprising that it has been picked up and propagated by Sedgemore, despite his reservations (many of which I share). What I have not seen is many blogs reporting this Open Letter as a positive move. Most criticise it.

    My opinion is that the Open Letter is a good thing to bring the issue into the open. There is no reason not to challenge something that is wrong, after all. If we all felt the need to remain silent in the face of obvious wrongdoing, where would that end? So, I think speaking up for their profession and their own reputations is fair comment by these scientists.

    For those who have not read the Open Letter, I can tell you that Sedgemore’s subtitle itself is wrong! He says:

    An attempt to block the DVD release of The Great Global Warming Swindle displays contempt for free speech.

    1. There is no “attempt to blog the DVD release“.

    The scientists object to the release of the programme on DVD without removal of serious and fundamental misrepresentations first.

    2. There is no “contempt for free speech“.

    The scientists make four points in their Open Letter that show they recognise this as a possible reaction by Durkin, but they clarify it is not their aim:

    a) they do not dispute the right to air different opinions about climate change
    b) they are not seeking the censorship of differing viewpoints
    c) they are not seeking the curtailment of free speech
    d) they recognise and support the right to report different viewpoints on climate change

    All the scientists’ objections hinge on the harm done to the public interest by not correcting known errors. The misrepresentations of scientific evidence (facts) and misrepresentations of researchers’ interpretations (views) are well-documented, so amendment should be straightforward and then the DVD release can go ahead.

    I note nobody has mentioned defamation, but that sounds to me an appropriate description of what occurred with the airing of that programme.

  4. P.S. Francis Sedgemore writes under another Pythonesque title on his site here:

    “Nobody expects the Scientific Inquisition*
    Thursday 3 May 2007

    The following article was commissioned by the Guardian for Comment is Free, and published on 3 May 2007.”


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