Monday, October 09, 2006

Silencing dissent?

From the cesspit:

Apparently Labor member Kelvin Tomson is sending out the following letter to Australian company executives.

For the past five years I have been concerned about the impact of global warming on the planet in general and Australia in particular. I have made numerous speeches in the Parliament and in the broader community on the need for urgent action to address this issue. Throughout this period I have been increasingly frustrated by the misinformation spread by “climate change sceptics”, who have sought to undermine the case for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by peddling pretty much any line they could think of - that global warming was unproven, that it might not be man-made, that it might be good for us etc. None of these things is true. Global warming is happening, it is man-made, and it is not good for us.

I am prompted to write to you, as well as to a substantive number of other companies, by two recent events. First I saw Al Gore’s global warming film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It is an excellent film and I highly recommend it to everybody. In it he observes the divide between the scientific consensus on global warming - of over 9,000 scientific studies into the issue, every last one concludes global warming is real, man-made and bad - and media reporting of the issue, in which over 50% of reports suggest the science is uncertain. This divide is clearly a result of propaganda and misinformation. Secondly I noticed that the Royal Society, Britain’s leading scientific academy, has written to US energy company Exxon Mobil asking it to halt financial support for groups that have misrepresented the science of climate change. The Royal Society says Exxon Mobil has given $4 million to 39 groups that have been misinforming the public.

I am writing to ask if your company has donated any money to the Institute of Public Affairs, the International Policy Network, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the European Science and Environment Forums or any other body which spreads misinformation or undermines the scientific consensus concerning global warming. If your company has donated such money in the past, is it continuing to do so? If so, I request that your company cease such financial support.

Your earlier response to these important questions would be greatly appreciated.

Kelvin Thomson MP
Member for Wills

As usual Bolt’s childish take is best ignored but this letter does raise some concerns, as does the letter the Royal Society sent to Exxon Mobil. If a company wants to fund research that it thinks may be of benefit to it then so be it. If the research is garbage (which it most likely will be) it won’t pass peer review, won’t make it into decent journals and it won’t be scientifically accepted. It will have no effect on the consensus. What scientists need to do is clearly communicate to the public why good reproducible results obtained from well designed experiments form part of the scientific consensus and why poor quality research doesn’t, though it should be reinforced that the quality of research should not be judged by where the money has come from to fund it.

It is unfortunate that groups such as the IPA and others want to misrepresent what is and isn’t good science, and confuse the issues associated with climate change. However, attempting to silence them just gives them more credence. They can play up the idea that their science is being forcibly hidden from the public. Even if 50 % of reports suggest that the science behind global warming is uncertain, according to a recent Lowy Institute survey only 7 % of respondents thought that ‘until we are sure that global warming is really a problem we should not take any steps that would have economic costs’. When properly informed, the public is not as susceptible to disinformation as some may think.