Censoring Lord Lawson

Paul Matthews’ article on the Gore/Stott/Lawson furore deals with the important question of whether a top climate scientist has been economical with the truth in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme. Mainstream media coverage has entirely ignored the contribution of Professor Stott and concentrated on the question of whether ex-minister Nigel Lawson should be allowed to speak on the radio, or even whether he should exist.

Prominent would-be censors include physicist and BBC star science presenter Jim Al-Khalili who tweeted:

For Radio 4 Today to bring on Lord Lawson ‘in the name of balance’ on climate change is both ignorant and irresponsible. Shame on you.

To which particle physicist and BBC star science presenter Brian Cox replied:

I agree with @jimalkhalili . Irresponsible and highly misleading to give the impression that there is a meaningful debate about the science.

Tom Chivers at Buzzfeed repeated their opinions under the headline: “Scientists Are “Appalled” At The BBC Putting A Climate Change Denier On Radio 4’s Flagship News Show”

Al-Khalili told BuzzFeed News that he was:

“appalled at this blatant example of false balance”, which he said breached BBC Trust guidelines.

“Both the 2011 Jones report [into impartiality and accuracy in BBC science reporting] and the follow-up report for the BBC Trust in 2014 criticised the BBC for its often ‘undue attention to marginal opinion’,” he said, “particularly on issues such as anthropogenic climate change where there is now overwhelming scientific consensus.

“This obsession with false balance really has to stop.”

They were supported by Chris Rapley on Twitter, plus Michael Marshall at the New Scientist, and Doctor of Neuroscience and author of “the Idiot Brain” Dean Burnett in the Guardian.

The subheading to Dr Burnett’s Guardian article reads:

Climate change is serious: the BBC needs to stop this obsession with ‘balance’ and reject the scientifically-discredited argument that Nigel Lawson exists.

Dean Burnett can argue that Lord Lawson doesn’t exist because, according to his Guardian bio, he:

“..is a doctor of neuroscience, but moonlights as a comedy writer and stand-up comedian. He tutors and lectures at Cardiff University. He is also the author of The Idiot Brain, the paperback of which is published by Guardian Faber on 2 March. Dean is now represented by Aitken-Alexander. Enquiries can be sent to Chris Wellbelove, chris@aitkenalexander.co.uk.”

Dean is a comedian you understand, who just happens to write science articles at the Guardian, which just happens to publish his books written under his Doctor of Neuroscience hat. So when he says that Lawson doesn’t exist, he’s being funny, because he’s also a stand up comedian. It’s not to be taken in the sense: “Those who oppose my world view must be annihilated.” That would be so uncool, so 1930s. We don’t beat each other up in the street nowadays like those primitive pre-war fascists and communists. We tweet, if we’re BBC science stars, and we blog about who shouldn’t be allowed to exist (media-wise) iif we’re astrophysicists and neuroscientists. And we blow away our opponents by making them non-persons, as in 1984. But in a jokey way.

The BBC put out an article about how brave they’d been to interview someone who doesn’t think Al Gore is a saint, and there was an article on the site of the BBC’s house magazine the Radio Times, with comments:

Headline:

Radio 4 labelled “ignorant” and “irresponsible” for giving airtime to climate change sceptic Lord Lawson

Subheading:

The ex-Chancellor dismissed Al Gore’s environmental concerns as “clap trap” on the BBC radio show – and Brian Cox is one of many angry about his inclusion in the show

And the article signs off with the following false dichotomy:

”Was Radio 4’s Today show right to bring Lawson on in the interest of balance and free speech? Or should the BBC refuse to entertain the views of climate change deniers?”

The comments at the Radio Times are full of references to flat earthers, Holocaust deniers, the 97% etc.

There’s an article in the Telegraph headlined:

Brian Cox hits out at BBC for inviting climate change denier on Radio 4

which cites the article at Carbon Brief which claims that the Lawson interview “has already attracted widespread criticism from scientists,” citing the Telegraph article as its source.

There’s one supportive article at the Sunday Express and one in the Daily Mail by Lord Lawson’s son Dominic Lawson which is worth quoting in detail (h/t GWPF)

I received a puzzling email from a doctor last week … referring to an interview my father Nigel Lawson had just given to the BBC, in which he said there had been no increase in ‘extreme weather events’ and that we should stop panicking about climate change.

Dr Messner, a registrar in trauma and orthopaedic surgery at an NHS teaching facility in Yorkshire, seemed to think my 85-year-old father’s opinions indicated that he was losing his mind to dementia. […]

I emailed back that surely any doctor with respect for the proprieties of his profession does not give anyone a diagnosis of a potentially terminal condition in one of their relatives without personally having responsibility for the patient…


Dr Messner responded by asserting his rights to freedom of speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights…


Actually, he has a good point about freedom of speech — and it covers abuse (which basically is what Dr Messner’s original email was). But it is a little spooky when a doctor in this country regards dissent from establishment views on the effects of climate change as evidence of mental incapacity.


Totalitarian regimes in the past — notably the Soviet Union — often treated dissent as a form of mental illness. Such dissidents would be consigned to psychiatric units, where they were drugged by doctors compliant with the prevailing political orthodoxy.


I would advise elderly patients at Dr Messner’s orthopaedic clinic not to engage him in discussions about climate change. They may get a diagnosis they hadn’t bargained for.

This is what we’ve come to. Lord Lawson, as president of a thinktank/NGO with views on climate change said something in a telephone interview which might not have been strictly accurate, but which didn’t affect the gist of his argument. (He could have replaced his statement that temperatures have declined by the statement that they have hardly gone up at all, and his criticism of Gore would have been just as valid. Spokespersons for Greenpeace, the Friends of the Earth etc. can be heard daily making wildly inaccurate statements about climate, without a public outcry.) And here we have calls in the serious press and science journals, including from two of the most well-known scientists in the country, for him to be banned from expressing his views on the BBC.

I’ll start believing in a split in the global warming juggernaut when I hear someone – anyone – in the warmist ranks stand up for Lord Lawson’s right to be heard, and even – dare I say it? – debated with.

15 thoughts on “Censoring Lord Lawson

  1. Point of Information. Radio Times has little connection with the BBC today. It is now published by Immediate Media which is owned by Hubert Burda Media Holding, a German media group.

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  2. Geoff Chambers: ‘I’ll start believing in a split in the global warming juggernaut when I hear someone – anyone – in the warmist ranks stand up for Lord Lawson’s right to be heard, and even – dare I say it? – debated with.’

    Well, to be fair, actually there’s ATTP:

    I haven’t given this a huge amount of thought, but I found the general argument odd. Someone sticks their head above the parapet and publicly advocates against some kind of action related to a controversial topic. They become a target. People then suggest that maybe he should avoid commenting to somehow improve the public dialogue. It just seems fundamentally wrong, given that it basically seems to be giving in to bullies. If he’s getting things wrong, then please criticise his errors. Maybe there are occasions in which individuals might decide that they’re no longer playing a positive role, but I do think that suggesting that some should be silent because of how they’re perceived by others is a dangerous argument to make (without good reason, at least, to).

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/a-brief-roundup-the-bbc-and-omics/#comment-101254

    OK, I’m kidding. (Consider it payback for your nice Telegraph/Carbon Brief circular citation joke, which I thought was true and wasted five or ten minutes looking for proof of it.) ATTP said ‘advocates for’, not ‘advocates against’.

    Still, that doesn’t change the substance, does it, to be fair, actually?

    And If indeed some individuals think that it does then maybe they should pause to think about whether such thoughts should be considered more of an indication that they should perhaps pause to reflect on why they might be misguided – or perhaps, to be fair, on why some people might consider it to be perceived that they might be perceived to be misguided – rather than that they might not be misguided.

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  3. I don’t remember all those ‘scientists’ calling out Hawking’s silly comments about us turning into Venus. Or indeed Obama when deviated from real climate science. Gore of course is an ex politician but he’s allowed to spout any old poop.

    One has to ask why Lawson is chosen to speak at all when there are more qualified and verbally limber sceptics, I think the choice is in itself deliberate. I don’t suppose the BBC have contacted either of the Pauls. Or any of the other prominent sceptics, it’s not like anyone has to be there in person anymore.

    It’s important to note that neither Cox or Al-Khalili are climate scientists. Like most people outside the debate, they’re little more informed than the average person on the street.

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  4. VINNY BURGOO
    Sincere apologies. I’m deeply embarrassed about having invented the Telegraph/ Carbon Brief circular reference. With a dozen windows open on my ancient computer at once, I got it wrong, and the antiquated versions of the browsers I was using wouldn’t let me back in to check. From now on I’m going back to doing my research in the public library.

    Your last paragraph I take to be addressed to backward pupils in first year science like Dr Brian Cox. At least, I hope it is.

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  5. Tiny CO2

    The BBC has rules about who it can interview. Lawson is president of a charity with Bishops and Lords and Professors on board. Paul Homewood and Paul Matthews are just bloggers. They have things to say which Stott and Cox and Al-Khalil can’t answer, which is why these important academic and media people won’t debate. All we can do is hope that one day people will notice.

    In general, I’m in favour of the BBC’s rules, which favour structured debate between people elected or appointed to positions of responsibility, plus those who attain positions of esteem by e.g. writing a book. That’s because I believe in the existence of something called society, and in the basic premiss of social science, which is that our beliefs and behaviour are largely mediated by who we are socially, i.e. by what we do in society.

    (The fact that Homewood and Matthews are some of the very few people speaking the truth and that the rules prevent them from being heard raises other questions.)

    Blogs and Twitter break down these social structures. Millions of people click on their favourite blogUlike without the bother of attending a weekly service or paying their union dues or turning up to do a day’s work. The results can be seen in the comments on a thread like that at the Radio Times (and thanks to Alan Kendall for pointing out that it is no longer the voice of the BBC.) “I am what I feel,” they cry, “And I feel angry/frustrated with the way things are going, and it’s all the fault of someone who’s stopping them from going the way I want, and today it’s Nigel Lawson. Burn the witch.”

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  6. Cox and Al-Khalil can’t say anything to do with climate science other than utter bland generalities because it’s not their line of work. It’s all about appeals to authority, but there isn’t going to be much of that in climate science as long as the supposed experts rely on failing climate models for their ‘wisdom’.

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  7. Oldbrew. You resurrect an old meme, commonly repeated here and elsewhere, that supporters of AGW are not necessarily equipped by their training and experience to pontificate on this subject. Currently the targets are Cox and al-Khalili who have commented upon the lack of authorized recognition of Lawson’s expertize to pontificate on the BBC.

    This is a difficult subject, full of pitfalls, where arguments used by one side can be reburnished and used with equal or greater effect by the other side. Both sides of the climate war use similar arguments (but one side has always possessed the biggest guns).

    Firstly, climate science in its present format is a very young science and most of its senior practitioners were educated in different disciplines. The subject has also attracted people with a “soft science” (politics, economics, psychology) background who find themselves commenting upon hard science that they have partially acquired by a sort of osmosis. Add to this mix, science practitioners in very different subjects who, in order to prosper, acquire a climate change veneer in their funding applications and pronouncements. The media, commonly with a non- or even anti-science background have to make sense of this huge diversity of expertise. Commonly they get it wrong (or right, depending upon your own prejudices).

    Secondly are practicing experts in one field capable of making value judgments about another? My view is yes. A scientific training, when done right, conveys the ability to think, to appreciate elegance, to evaluate rigour and appropriateness. Thus a good physicist should be able to evaluate physical aspects of climate science but also the correctness (or otherwise) of how this might apply to the outside world. They may not be able to contribute, but as rational humans they ought to be able to evaluate the scientific “rightness” of anything they read or otherwise experience. Remember also they form part of a community – they hear other people (who they have come to respect), they hear (and commonly adopt) evaluations of those they assume are more expert. What results are scientists who are a complex mix of their own expertise and that of others.
    Lastly, why can’t these experts recognise the truth that climate science is full of rubbish which they ought to be able to recognize for what it is. I believe that many here believe that climate scientists are fully aware of the deficiencies and deliberately choose to ignore them for various nefarious reasons. I don’t happen to believe that. Of the many senior climate scientists I have me, almost all sincerely believe in what they are doing and that their work is important to the fate of humankind. They are supported in their views and efforts by the overwhelming accreditation of the scientific community and by large sectors of society in general. I see no evidence whatsoever for any lessening of this support nor for any split.
    Why aren’t scientists more sceptical of the prevalent climate dogma? Well that’s an entirely different question and perhaps deserving of a separate post.

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  8. AK, I don’t know that we do think that the scientists are covering up for various nefarious reasons… well not most of them. We see how people fall into these sorts of group think. The scientists know the science isn’t what they’d like it to be and are balking at saying so for a multitude of reasons. Some think the pause is the aberation and warming will zoom back. Some think that it won’t be as bad as they thought but action is so pitiful, they’re afraid to take their foot off the pedal. An extension of that are those that think green energy is worth doing no matter what climate is doing. Some want to say something but are afraid of the activists reactions as much as the other scientists. Even the slightest wobble is denounced as pandering to the deniers. Some have been so vocal about the catastrophe they don’t feel they can row back. Some are so used to science being attacked they support it without even questioning it. I hate to use the word but most are in denial about the weakness of their own field. And many more reasons.

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  9. Tiny. You of course are addressing my last question, the one I didn’t cover. Lets examine the reasons you advance:

    Some think the pause is the aberration and warming will zoom back. Possible, and if you believe in AGW, a laudible path to follow.

    Some think that it won’t be as bad as they thought but action is so pitiful, they’re afraid to take their foot off the pedal. Possible, and if you believe in AGW, again a laudible path to follow.

    An extension of that are those that think green energy is worth doing no matter what climate is doing.
    Less defensible, in fact a blatant incursion into the political arena.

    Some want to say something but are afraid of the activists reactions as much as the other scientists. Even the slightest wobble is denounced as pandering to the deniers. I fear an all too common occurrence. Not laudable but understandable as a human failing.

    Some have been so vocal about the catastrophe they don’t feel they can row back. Rank cowardice, another human failing.

    Some are so used to science being attacked they support it without even questioning it. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who I would put into this category.

    I think there are more common reasons, but I need to think upon the matter more and organize my thoughts. Watch this space.

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  10. “Some are so used to science being attacked they support it without even questioning it. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who I would put into this category.”

    I’d put Cox, King, Nurse, Steve Jones and even ATTP into that category. After a while they all move on to the category where they’ve said too much to back down. Eventually not looking at the sciencew becomes their best defence. They forget that the people who usually criticise science are on their side of the climate fence.

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  11. AK -“..are practising experts in one field capable of making value judgements about another? My view is yes.” May we note Hawking as a counter-example?

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  12. Osseo. Being capable does not always mean that scientists in different fields exercise those abilities. Nor does my belief mean that scientists are unlikely to disagree with “experts” in different disciplines – in fact they are more likely to agree. Most scientists, in my experience, are so narrowly focused on their research area that they are simply too busy to dispute with other experts. What is more difficult to explain is why those that have partially converted themselves into science communicators (Jones, Cox, al-Khalili) are not more sceptical. It is too easy to brand these people and call them names, but there has to be some intellectual reason to explain their attitudes. So far I haven’t deciphered it although I have some ideas.

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  13. ALAN KENDALL (16 Aug 17 at 5:59 pm)

    ”…there has to be some intellectual reason to explain their attitudes. So far I haven’t deciphered it although I have some ideas.”

    It would be good to hear those ideas, especially coming from a scientist. The most blatant example I can think of is Ben Goldacre, professional scourge of pseudoscience, declaring that he’d rather sing castrato than discuss climate science. It’s like a professional caster-out of devils announcing that he could do them all except Beelzebub.

    What is more difficult to explain is why those that have partially converted themselves into science communicators (Jones, Cox, al-Khalili) are not more sceptical.

    Here, the MORI Trust Poll is your friend. Scientists, doctors, and (bizarrely) hairdressers score highly (>80%) in terms of trust to tell the truth, while politicians and journalists are down in the low teens. When Jones, Cox etc. stoop to conquer, by, e.g., writing a report for the BBC Trust that had to be revised to avoid a libel case, or making a fool of themselves in an article in the New Statesman
    http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/sci-tech/2012/12/brian-cox-and-robin-ince-politicians-must-not-elevate-mere-opinion-over-sc
    They discover that influencing public opinion is more complicated than particle physics or the sex life of snails. And so it should be. I hope my opinion is worth more than that of a Higgs’ Boson or a gastropod.

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  14. Having had a civil conversation with Rosa Monckton at a mutual friend’s, I am mystified by the continuing refusal of so many of Lord Lawson’s relatives and associates to allow comments by climate scientists, let alone debate in the publications they edit.

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