Readers will recall Brian Cox’s appearance on Australian TV last month, where he clashed with a climate sceptic.
Graham Woods, PhD, has subsequently emailed Cox with some serious criticisms about show. Cox, unsurprisingly, has failed to respond, so Woods, as he promised, has now released the email into the public domain:
I’d appreciate your response to this email, which deals with your recent appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program.
First, I want to make it clear that, where you’re concerned, I’m not a ‘vexatious invigilator’. My wife and I (each with an earned PhD) have watched most of your TV programs, and have been struck by their intellectual clarity and your unassuming personal style (as well as by your BMI: we’re high-level wellness devotees). With that said, we both have serious misgivings about your recent appearance on Q&A.
No pronouncement that enjoys an audience has zero social consequences, and the more prominent the pronouncer the more significant the consequences are likely to be. Your recent Q&A appearance brings that out well. You were treated like a science guru, both by the audience and by compere Tony Jones, and it’s inevitable that what you said will affect the opinions of hundreds, probably thousands, of people.
You might disagree, but I’d argue that your authority carries a responsibility: a responsibility to ensure that your audience (whether that’s one person or thousands) is not misled by your pronouncements. It’s difficult to evade the conclusion that, on this recent occasion, you didn’t live up to that responsibility.
First, the program itself, including some of its history. In 2007, Tony Jones brought climate change sceptic Martin Durkin onto his program. My wife, Denise, and I, at that stage relatively uninformed and open-minded about the subject, expected Durkin to be given a decent opportunity to put his case. Instead, we watched the attempted ‘credibility destruction’ of a person who had obviously been set up to be ambushed. The attack was carried out most enthusiastically by Jones himself. I was so appalled by Jones’ behaviour that I wrote to the ABC about it (so did others); Denise and I were so disgusted that we’ve never been able to bring ourselves to watch Jones since.
In the recent Q&A (which, as matter of duty, I watched during its second airing, on Tuesday, August 16, 2016), Jones attacked nobody, but the ‘stage-management’ of that episode was undisguisedly tendentious. On the panel there was no acknowledged climate or ‘climate -related’ scientist with known anti-AGW views (e.g. Bob Carter, William Kininmonth, Ian Plimer) – and, had there been, I suspect that you wouldn’t have been there. In fact no panel member at all was a bona fide climate scientist: i.e. a scientist with specialised knowledge in one (or more) of the disciplines that are demonstrably related to global climate behaviour and who frequently applies that knowledge as a professional contributor to that field.
Instead, the panel comprised a ‘science superstar’ (an appellation used by commentators both before and after the show); a federal minister who would (inter alia) be interrogated about cutting spending on climate change; a federal opposition member with no obvious responsibility for any aspect of climate; a ‘mathematician’ (publicity blurb) who holds a bachelor degree built only partly on mathematics per se and who, as far as I know, is a person not connected professionally with any aspect of climate science research per se; and one lay climate sceptic who is – unfairly or not – perceived by many Australians as an extremist (on many topics) and so was expected to shoot himself in the foot on the subject of climate change.
The outcome of the ‘debate’ was predictable: most media presented it as climate change scepticism being ‘debunked’ by a leading scientist with a worldwide reputation.
The full letter can be read at Quadrant here: