The production of ignorance part 2

Australian Attorney General George Brandis thinks it is medieval, politically correct and a rejection of freedom of speech for scientists and others not to engage with climate denialists.

Presumably he also thinks it’s medieval for people not to engage with creationists who believe the earth was created 10,000 years ago and Adam and Eve shared the world with dinosaurs; and, perhaps medieval not to engage with people who think the Sun revolves around the earth. Now the blog doesn’t know how good a lawyer Brandis is but he’s obviously an awful Attorney General and worse historian. After all the point of medieval life – and the church which dominated it – was not to engage with contrary beliefs but to seek to obliterate them with torture, censorship and auto da fes.

The comparison is odd -or perhaps not on reflection – because it confuses the power situation and the changes modern society has brought. In medieval times it was the powerful who enforced ignorance. In modern times the powerful – businesses and their PR people, the Murdoch media and others – are not enforcing ignorance but rather encouraging it as described in the blog’s last post. The difference is perhaps one of the major products of the Enlightenment. You have the right to be ignorant, and the right to promote ignorance, but the other side have the right to ignore you if you are unpersuadable.

The blog’s friend John Spitzer this week sent some more information about the promotion of ignorance, highlighted in physicstoday, which illuminates the company Brandis is keeping.

The physicstoday article points to a Wall Street Journal online opinion page video featuring David Berlinski on “the arrogance of the sciences.” Basically it supported the WSJ editorial line about the dangers of leftist academe and the strongly leftists IPCC political agenda which fails to see that “the best environmental policy is economic growth”, and warns readers to “beware claims that the science of global warming is settled.” Berlinski is interesting because he is a bit of a modern-day medievalist. He has produced a well-received book on calculus but he has also produced The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions, and an article for the creationist publication Evolution News and Views including one that scoffed at the Higgs boson. He also says, in the video, that the climate scientists are in it for the money and the ability it provides to “dine in Paris restaurants”. Thank heavens none of the climate denialists accept money, bottles of Grange, op ed publication fees from business journals or other inducements from the energy companies and right wing activists who fund so much climate change ignorance!

Meanwhile George Mason University’s Ed Maibach (see the blog seriatum) has had a co-authored letter published in Science. The letter compares the tactics of the tobacco industry faced with the US Surgeon General’s report on smoking and finds strong parallels with the current situation with climate change. The book, Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, the Science letter says, shows the tobacco issue “created an industry playbook for running misinformation campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific conclusions.”

The letter concludes: “Today it’s inconceivable that an American decision-maker would risk the public opprobrium that would result from expressing scepticism that tobacco causes cancer.” Well yes, but then you could just avoid the problem by characterising the science and those accepting it as medieval and politically correct.