The Royal Society is the world’s oldest extant scientific society. And, it is a place where scientific controversy has a home. Both Huxley and Wilberforce were members back in the 19th century, when young Darwin’s ideas were first being knocked around.
More recently, just a few weeks ago, the Royal Society accidentally agreed to host a talk by coal baron and formerly respected science writer Matt Ridley. Matt Ridley has been a great disappointment to us scientists and science teachers. Many of us used his book as a supplementary reading in our evolution courses, for example (Ridley was a respected science writer back in the day). But more recently he has become a global warming science denier, and the suggestion has been made that this is because his personal wealth is tied up in coal mining.
Here are some resources to get up to speed on the Ridley controversy:
Anyway, the Royal Society accidentally allowed the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is an anti-science organization pretending to be a, well, a policy foundation of some sort, to book a talk by Matt Ripley. This was clearly an attempt to legitimize climate change denial. The real science community got wind of this, and objected. From Graham Readfearn:
The Royal Society is coming under internal pressure to cancel a booking on its premises made by climate science “sceptic” group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, DeSmogUK can reveal.
Several fellows and associates of the society – the world’s oldest scientific academy, founded in 1660 – are angry over an agreement to hire its premises to the GWPF for its 17 October annual lecture, to be delivered by Lord Matt Ridley.
DeSmogUK also understands some scientists intend to raise the issue at a meeting of the Royal Society’s governing council on 6 October, with a request to cancel the GWPF booking.
Well, they did. And the Royal Society thought about it and decided to allow the talk to continue.
And, we can get mad about that if we want, but I’m not. The Royal Society clearly made a mistake in making the booking, but this sort of mistake is one of the costs of at least trying to live in a world where the conversation over science can generally be an honest one, and nefarious shenanigans such as this booking by a fake think tank to have a fake expert talk about fake science circumvents that honest conversation.
I’m reminded of the time when Harvard’s Kennedy School of government accidentally booked Famous African Dictator Mobutu Sese Seku Kuku Kibombe of Zaire to give a talk as part of a series of world leaders talking about government. Not long after word of that got out, there was a move towards uninviting, but that is actually very difficult for an institution to do. That talk went forward, with protests, and Americans became suddenly much more aware of Mobutu and what he had been up to in the country formerly and currently known as the Congo. This actually helped with ongoing efforts to get the US Congress to cut ties with Mobutu (he had been a loyal mercenary extraordinary and plenipotentiary on behalf of the US for years, fighting the Libyans and other African bad guys …) but I digress. The point is, Mobutu’s talk at the Kennedy school ended up being an important nail driven into his eventual coffin.
DesmogUK’s Kyla Mandel now reports that the Royal Society will allow the talk to go forward, but promises that if the speaker throws science under the bus, there will be people watching and reporting.
When the Royal Society met to discuss the matter, there was general agreement that climate change was real, that Ridley was not a friend to the science, that they regretted giving the talk, etc. But they also felt that cancelling the talk would give more cachet to the cancelled speakers and his fake think tank than they deserved. Rather, they thought, let the talk go ahead and “If the GWPF uses this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence it would undermine the legitimacy of its views on policy responses to climate change.”
Sounds very Minnesotan. Passive aggressive counter attack, that.
I look forward to the debunking of the talk by Matt Ridley, the 5th Viscount of Coal. Or whatever he calls himself. His career as a respected science writer is pretty much over, but there’s always room for one more nail.