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The sad demise of ‘On Line Opinion’

By Clive Hamilton - posted Wednesday, 2 July 2008


In an email exchange with the editors of On Line Opinion, I have explained why I will not be contributing any further pieces to the site because it has been “captured” by climate change denialists. At the request of Graham Young I am putting my arguments into this last piece for On Line Opinion. At least, it will be my last unless and until the journal returns to the objectives it was set up to pursue.

My suspicions that On Line Opinion had been captured were prompted in May when chief editor Graham Young published a vigorous attack on Robyn Williams for one snide remark he made about climate change "sceptic" Don Aitkin. The vehemence of his attack was so disproportionate to the slight that I guessed that Young himself has become a climate change denialist and was infected with the sort of emotional fanaticism that causes climate change denialists to lose perspective.

These suspicions were confirmed by the publication on Monday June 30 of a piece by Tom Harris and John McLean titled "The UN climate change numbers hoax", of which more below. I then noticed On Line Opinion has been publishing a string of denialist articles and has been actively promoting the work of the Australian Environment Foundation, widely seen to be an organisation set up by anti-environmentalists to confuse the public.

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On Line Opinion claims it is just pursuing "balance" in the space it gives to climate change scepticism. But, as a number of journalists and authors have pointed out, "balance" means bias in the case of the climate change debate because by giving a "balance" of views On Line Opinion is communicating to its readers that there is a legitimate debate among scientists about the weight of scientific evidence on global warming. This is false and misleading.

The denialists have conspicuously failed to generate contrary evidence that can be published in refereed journals and instead devote themselves to creating doubt by exaggerating, exploiting and twisting the various uncertainties and unexplained phenomena that naturally characterise a body of science as complex and emergent as climate change science.

The so-called sceptics are not true scientific sceptics at all; they don't treat the arguments and evidence on each side sceptically but are fanatically anti-IPCC, dismissing all of its arguments.

I have explained this at more length in an article for New Matilda here.

There I also explain why I do not presume to engage in arguments about climate science because I do not have the expertise to do so without making a fool of myself. Denialists without any scientific qualifications, or irrelevant ones, show no such humility.

According to the line of argument about balance, it would be perfectly acceptable for On Line Opinion to carry a series of articles repudiating the link between AIDS and the HIV virus. (Try googling AIDS denialism.)

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The AIDS denialists have to account for the fact that the overwhelming weight of medical and epidemiological evidence is against them, so they must invent fanciful theories about colonialist plots and gay capture of science to compensate for the lack of hard evidence to support their beliefs.

This is exactly what the climate change denialists do, and each time On Line Opinion runs one of their pieces it is, inter alia, endorsing their view that Australia's most eminent climate scientists are frauds and liars.

Would Graham Young argue that the interests of balance demand that On Line Opinion give space to the claims of creation science? Would it give space to the conspiracy theories about 9-11 being a CIA plot, or the Larouche delusions about the Royal Family being in cahoots with global Jewry to run drugs? Balanced, yes, but loopy and deceptive too.

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About the Author

Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

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