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Controlling the debate

Posted by Richard Wednesday, March 14, 2007 ,

Only slightly more weighty than that penned by la Sieghart for yesterday, The Times today offers a lengthy contribution from its science editor, Mark Henderson, applauding the acceptance by politicians of the need for action on climate change.

This is the metropolitan clever-dick tendency at work, the perceived wisdom "in the loop", where Henderson – a man who admits he is not a scientist, having taken his degree at Oxford in modern history - exudes approval at the "extent to which all the parties are now agreed on the need for a more robust legislative approach to global warming."

Thus, while the debate rages on the blogs and the forums, the Lord High Representative of the MSM trills that the argument "is no longer about the rationale for cutting greenhouse gas output". To Henderson and his sanctimonious men, it is about how this should be achieved. "It is now recognised that the details are where votes are to be won."

Politics has caught up with science, albeit a decade or so late, he writes, telling us that, "notwithstanding the enduring objections of a small band of scientific sceptics," such as those who contributed to the Channel 4 programme The Great Global Warming Swindle, "the evidence that the world is getting hotter and that humans are responsible has become overwhelming."

Thus are our choices (and liberties) circumscribed. "As in politics, there is still room for debate over the intricacies of what is happening and what should be done about it," intones the man from the MSM, "but the wider issue is largely settled." Human-induced global warming is more than a hypothesis.

To give him some little credit – very little – the hired hack then does make some attempt at justifying this stance, but the thrust of his arguments are no more profound than those produced by la Seighart. Basically, it amounts to a leap of faith that it is improbable that "so many clever men and women could be wrong" with the added value proposition that the strength the experts’ arguments lie in the multidisciplinary approach.

Thus declares Henderson with an aura of finality that brooks no dissent: "The most compelling reason for believing global warming to be a genuine problem is that the theory is consistent with evidence emerging from a multitude of different fields." Thousands of scientists may be mistaken - but across so many diverse fields?

Wearily do I observe, we have been here before. The global warming hype indisputably bears the hallmarks of a scare. As a veteran of the egg, listeria and then BSE scares, I saw the same scientific certainty, the same intolerance of dissent and the same conviction that ruinously expensive and disruptive measures must be taken. Yet, of BSE in particular, where are the half-million deaths a year that were so confidently predicted, for a disease that the chief scientist in the field declared could be "worse than AIDS"?

As for consensus, through all those scares, we saw the scientific communities dive for cover and stay cowering in their bunkers, fearful for grants, for reputations or just opting for the easy life. As in commerce where, as the old saw went, "no one ever got fired for buying an IBM," no one ever got fired for going with the flow. But offer a dissenting voice and just watch the grants dry up and the invites to conferences in far-way exotic places disappear.

Most of all though, one remembers the media, cheer leaders all for every passing scare. Never once do I remember any individual MSM outlet standing aside at the height of a scare, its correspondents asserting that the science was wrong, that the fears were overblown and that the controls demanded by scientists and rent-seekers, and then adopted by the politicians, were unnecessary.

Instead, what I have seen consistently is the media closing down the debate. Once the metropolitan clever-dick circle decides its line, contrary voices struggle for a hearing and then are used mainly as foils to confirm the rectitude of the "line".

Thus Mr Henderson is simply treading a well-worn path. He and his little circle of mates and fellow travellers are doing what the MSM always does – they are attempting to close down the debate. The funny thing is that, despite their apparent sophistication and claims to modernity, they are curiously old-fashioned. They have failed to recognise the power of the internet and, having insulated themselves from it, are unaware that the debate rages on, or that it is going on without them.

In their isolation, the hacks are matched only by the politicians – the two groups still feeding off each other as if they were the only players. This time, though, it ain't going to work. An increasing constituency has decided that they no longer have the power or authority to control the debate. We will not be silenced.

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