Ben Goldacre says I’m a “penis.” He has told his 85,000 or so followers as much on Twitter. I’m also “absolutely a dick”, he goes on to tell his fan base, lest any of them doubt Ben’s commitment to the view that I am some kind of penile appendage.
And do you know what? I’m glad. I’m glad first because a “penis” isn’t such a bad thing to be called. Mine, certainly has kept me very happy over the years; possibly given pleasure to others; allowed me to pee in all sorts of exotic situations which might otherwise have proved tricky; and helped breed two beautiful children.
But the second reason I’m glad is because it gives me a chance to tell Ben something I’ve been meaning to tell him for ages: that though he’s a delightful guy and a massive talent, he’s also a moral and intellectual coward.
The reason I didn’t mention this before is because I think we’ve been observing a sort of unofficial truce. Ben and I met years ago at a Goldfrapp set years ago at Glastonbury. We were both pilled up, we both worshipped Goldfrapp and naturally we bonded instantly. Even though we probably haven’t spoken more than a couple of times since, I like to think (and it may be that Ben thinks differently) we have an affection for one another which transcends our ideological differences.
The biggest of those ideological differences has to do with Anthropogenic Global Warming. In a nutshell, I think it has been greatly exaggerated by a number of special interest groups with an axe to grind: scientists in pursuit of the trillions of dollars worth of funding; eco-charities who depend for their donations on scare stories; leftists using environmentalism to further an anti-capitalist agenda; deep greens who believe man is a blot on the landscape and that he should be punished through tax and regulation; governments and NGOs who see it as a way of raising taxes, increasing control, and being seen to be addressing popular concerns; cynical corporations who wish to “greenwash” their image or make easy money through taxpayer funded scams like wind farms; and so on.
This, essentially, is what this blog is about. I write about all sorts of other stuff too, as regular readers will know. But mainly I see myself as a combatant in an ideological war in which I’m fighting against the tyranny of Big Government and fighting for free markets, small government, openness, honesty and personal liberty. One way I can do this, I believe, is by exposing the lies and inconsistencies of those who claim the case for AGW (and related eco-perils) is stronger than it actually is. And also by relaying such new pieces of scientific research in this field that sound interesting. None of this involves scientific research, for I am not a scientist and have never claimed to be. Nor does it involve lying or making stuff up because frankly there’s no need. Yes I am polemical, yes I can be abusive, but that’s because I think righteous rage is a useful weapon in a war where so much is at stake: ultimately the freedom for us all to live our lives as WE choose rather than as the fascistic control freaks of the environmental left would prefer us to live.
Goldacre, on the other hand, takes a rather different view. I don’t wish to caricature his position and I’m happy to make corrections where I’m wrong. But I believe he remains committed to the idea that the scientists informing the IPCC’s assessment reports are decent men of integrity; that the computer models showing that man made CO2 is contributing to significant and potentially catastrophic global warming are reliable; that the massive and hugely worldwide costly action being taken to deal with this threat is justified. Ben, in other words, is a true believer in Al Gore’s “consensus.”
Here though, is what puzzled me – and has for a long time about Goldacre’s work. He has put his scientific training as a doctor, and his loose, readable, acerbic, funny writing style to excellent use, first with a popular Guardian column, then with a bestselling book called Bad Science. Goldacre’s schtick is scepticism. He looks at the facts and the evidence behind the junk science that so often appears in newspapers and makes fools of the charlatans behind it. Among his targets, much to my delight, has been a successful nutritionist whom I have always loathed because when I met him he was unconscionably arrogant and rude to me. Many of Goldacre’s campaigns I support. I like and admire what he does. But where I don’t respect him one jot is in his views on ‘Climate Change,’ for they jar so very obviously with supposed stance of determined scepticism in the face of establishment lies.
Whether Goldacre chooses to ignore it or not, there are many, many hugely talented, intelligent men and women out there – from mining engineer turned Hockey-Stick-breaker Steve McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick to bloggers Donna LaFramboise and Jo Nova to physicist Richard Lindzen….and I really could go on and on – who have amassed a body of hugely powerful evidence to show that the AGW meme which has spread like a virus around the world these last 20 years is seriously flawed. And that, what’s more, there has been what amounts to a mass cover-up by most of the mainstream media – in the case of the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent for ideological reasons, in other cases through a mixture of ignorance, or “noble cause corruption.” This is empirical observable reality, grounded in much solid evidence. It is not something James Delingpole, rampant self-publicist made up to get a few extra hits on his tawdry blog. Even if James Delingpole were to stop ranting hysterically about these embarrassing truths they would not go away. They are here to stay and they are growing more apparent by the day. It’s something a man like Goldacre ought to be aware of and covering properly.
And this is what I mean when I talk of Goldacre’s intellectual and moral cowardice. It is certainly very true that the majority of his audience comprises left-leaning Guardian readers, predisposed to believe in the line – heavily promoted by the activist journalists who write for the Guardian’s environment pages – that AGW is a fact and that anyone who disputes it is evil. But stating something violently, aggressively and continuously – as the Guardian and its soulmates at the BBC and Independent do – doesn’t make it so. Nor does citing big names, like the Royal Society or NASA make something necessarily true either. This is a dishonest rhetorical technique known as the Argumentum ad Verecundiam: the appeal to authority.
There was a good example of the appeal to authority on TV last night. Some people may have seen it. It was a Horizon documentary in which a man named Sir Paul Nurse, by dint of the fact that he’d shared a Nobel prize in genetics, and that he was the new president of the Royal Society, was given carte blanche by the BBC to make several unproven assertions on climate change and global warming. One of them was to declare that the scientists exposed behaving badly in the Climategate emails were almost entirely innocent – just decent men getting on with their job. Another was to lend his weight to the idea that journalists and bloggers who have criticised these “Climate Scientists” are simply irresponsible “deniers” guilty of harassment and that they should be ashamed of themselves. Sir Paul will no doubt be delighted to hear that this message – which he helped promulgate in mob-stirring post in the Guardian’s environment pages – was angrily relayed back to me by many of his fans via poisonous emails today. The top bloke from the Royal Society essentially validated the view that Climate “deniers” are just ignorant, trouble-making scum. And his rentamob believed him.
But let’s return to Goldacre’s “penis” tweets. The reason he made them – credit where credit is due -was partly to point out to his fans that he thought the fuss over Nurse’s documentary had been somewhat exaggerated. Though talked up by the Guardian’s environment pages as if it represented the destruction of James Delingpole and everything he and his evil denier chums believed in, what it actually consisted off was this: Paul Nurse puts to Delingpole a slightly odd, unexpected analogy about Climate Change; Delingpole after an awkward pause says he doesn’t think much of the analogy; and, er, that’s about it.
Or, as Goldacre puts it in his tweets, relayed during the programme (H/T Bishop Hill)
delingpole clearly a penis, and he’s citing it for wrong reasons, but “peer-to-peer” review is not an insane idea
god, i’m really sorry, i like Nurse, but this is kind of slow, feels like a bit of a duty watch.
[Delingpole] is absolutely a dick. but that was weak, and if it was their killer moment, makes the press activity of today a bit ugly tbh
well, sorry, delingpole didnt do brilliantly on a question, and fumbled, but they say they interviewed him for 3 hours. thats the killer mo?
if that was the killer delingpole moment that the bbc have been crowing about all day then i’m actually quite unimpressed
I’m grateful for Ben’s honesty in this regard. But I think to cover his back and show he was “down with the kids” by calling me a “penis” was symptomatic of the moral cowardice I find in his writings on Climate Change generally.
Taking the standard BBC/Guardian/Independent line on AGW (and related eco-threats) is a very safe thing to do if your target audience is young and hip and instinctively green/liberal-left. It requires no effort, no thought, and certainly no courage.
If Goldacre really wants to stick his neck out, why doesn’t he try arguing against a rich, powerful, bullying Climate-Change establishment which includes all three British main political parties, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the President of the USA, the EU, the UN, most schools and universities, the BBC, most of the print media, the Australian Government, the New Zealand Government, CNBC, ABC, the New York Times, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, most of the rest of the City, the wind farm industry, all the Big Oil companies, any number of rich charitable foundations, the Church of England and so on?
I do, almost every day. Not because it makes me money or gets me lots of high-fives from right-on Guardian fans. But because I believe in the truth.