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Comedy debate

I always like it when upholders of the scientific consensus hold a debate, because they never fail to give us the opportunity to have a good old laugh at them. Take this major event later this month when the Press Gazette is going to look at whether sceptics should be heard or not:

Chaired by Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre it will ask whether it is time for journalists to rewrite the ethical rulebook and simply acknowledge a few scientific truths.

Among the panelists are broadcaster and geneticist Professor Steve Jones who published a report for the BBC Trust in 2011 in which he argued that the corporation gave too much weight to fringe scientific viewpoints on subjects such as climate change, GM crops and MMR.

The other panelists are:

BBC head of news programmes Ceri Thomas

Bob Ward – Policy and research director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change

Michael Hanlon – Science writer and author, former science editor of the Daily Mail.

Hanlon, for those who don't know, is the green guy at the Mail.

You have to laugh don't you? Truth as in Pravda, democracy as in the People's Democratic Republic of China, debate as in a Press Gazette debate.

Details here.

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Reader Comments (62)

Steve Jones wrote a superb book on genetics for the benefit of the general reader. In his field he is eminent. Out of his field he embodies the Feynman maxim.

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

And not a sceptic to be seen anywhere on the panel, so what will they be talking about. That's balance BBC style.

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterCeed

Fiona Fox -

"She is the director of the Science Media Centre and a former leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party."

"She has been accused of genocide denial in relation to a report she wrote in 1995 for the magazine Living Marxism on the violence in Rwanda.[10] She wrote this article using the name 'Fiona Foster'."

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered Commenteryoyo

Sounds like they need to have a pile of books to burn whilst they're at it.

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterElftone

Elftone. Just what I was thinking....

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

They love the sound of broken glass in the morning

Krystallnacht rides again. Or is it Fahrenheight 451?

When people want to ban you, then you know you are doing something right!

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Ah Michael Hanlon.

As a GP who is interested in genetics (not snail genetics like Steve Jones) I have a special place in my heart for Michael Hanlon. He had a world-wide 'scoop' two years ago concerning the birth of 'three-partent' babies. It was in June 2012.

The only problem was that one David Whitehouse, who has some inconvienient views on climate science and journalism, beat him by about 11 YEARS.

Which is probably why Whitehouse should be on the panel instead.

Mar 5, 2014 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterCeed

So, Fiona Fox, a genuine genocide denier, will chair a debate about whether or not to deny free speech to those who do not 'deny' the thing they are accused of denying.

And they say satire is dead.

BTW, Fiona Fox has an OBE – for services to science no less.

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Well they say you learn something new every day. A journalist, 'genocide denier' and (former - oh, that's all right then) leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party can be appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to science.

She has all the credentials of a "leading climate scientist".

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterHenry Galt

Perhaps it's time to start referring to Bob Ward as 'honest Bob'.. :-)

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:13 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

The parallels between the vaccine scam believers and AGW believers is strking. the dangerous part is that while the vaccine kooks put mostly themselves and their children at risk, the AGW kooks put us all at risk.

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

And remember it was Nurse, in that notorious programme where he set up Delingpole, who lined the "anti-science" climate deniers up with the "anti-science" people who trash GM crops.
You really couldn't make this stuff up.

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:29 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I'll endeavour to be there

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:30 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

I thought steve Jones was in the University of Easy Access doing something without Excel ??

There are maybe too many Steve Joneses, this starts to ressemble the Kims in Korea.

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

Hunter, if you were debating MMR, would you refuse to go up against vaccine scam believers? Would you be worried that they might influence the uninformed with their doubts?

(I always wondered about MMR. I don't just dismiss the anecdotal evidence, and I do think that somebody somewhere on the public health side might just sacrifice a few autism cases in the cause of herd immunity. After all, they want me to pay extra tax on sugar because someone else is obese..)

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

PTW: Phil Jones

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Please note: I am not THE Steve Jones!

The AGW movement has now entered the sinister phase. Is it a stretch of the imagination to think that sceptics might soon receive a visit in the early hours from the Thought Police?

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

ask whether it is time for journalists to rewrite the ethical rulebook and simply acknowledge a few scientific truths.


Did they just say that under the current "Ethical Rulebook for Journalists" it is unethecial to "acknowledge a few scientific truths"?

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterGackko

It is probably the Pilot for a new BBC 1/2 hour sitcom. The BBC answer to "The Big Bang Theory" ..."The Big Bollocks Theory"

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

Ceri Thomas used to be on the Advisory Committee of the Science Media Centre (web archive) and Bob Ward still is according to their website.

Mar 5, 2014 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

It's not a debate. It's a meeting of the Politburo to discuss the next purge.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Rewriting the ethical rulebook, eh?

When ethics become inconvenient, just change them. Simples!

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:33 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I hope someone will record their words of wisdom.

Dr David Viner is probably still up there with one of the all time greats, but maybe one of the panelists will use this event to steal the lead with a really memorable phrase or comment.

We should treasure such comments. When CAGW enters the history books as the biggest scientific blunder of all time, it would be good to remember the alarmist voices that that helped to make it famous.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

'First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.'

In some ways it is very flattering. We're in the 'ATTACK' phase of the quote below.
When your opponent becomes so desperate to shut down the debate

The panic is showing.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

The spin doctoring continues unabated it seems. The Grantham Institute is still providing money and direction to nonsense "climate change" agendas. Look at this bit of silliness germinated by them.
They're rather pink cadillac communists as we used to call those who reveled in the fruits of free markets, but never stopped trying to completely control and shut it down.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

I do not find this amusing in the slightest. It is getting ever more sinister.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartinW

Stuck-Record: - I agree, panic is setting in. I seem to remember Santer being quoted to say that 15 years of a temperature pause would be very serious or words to that effect. We are now at 17 years and 6 months.

This has been an extremely cold winter in most parts of the NH so the downward trend in global temperatures may take us into negative anomaly territory for 2014. That would surely destroy the credibility of the warmists who have no clue about how to explain the so-called pause.

The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous the warmists appear and the more desperate they become. They have no credible arguments left so they are trying to shut down the debate.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat


"I always wondered about MMR"

Same here. A lot of money has been quietly paid to people who were able to establish vaccine damage, and given the difficulty in that, it's fair to assume that the real situation is/was a lot worse. I had a colleague with a (then) toddler daughter who was in rude health before the jab, then reacted immediately and became severely autistic within weeks. Causality was flatly denied.

Now, mothers are being vaccinated while pregnant, because the vaccines they were given as children do not provide the transferable immunity that results from the diseases proper. There's no such thing as a free lunch, in other words.

Mar 5, 2014 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

It is hard to know if this kind of self-congratulatory love-in represents a desperate attempt to shore up the once apparently unassailable warmist triumph by re-stating the previously unchallenged assertions of an overwhelming consensus, that the science is settled, that scepticts are all in the pay of fossil-fuel interests, etc., or if the likes Fox, Jones, Ward, etc., genuinely don't understand that the ground has been decisively cut from beneath their feet.

I suspect the latter.

If, for years, you have been feted, hailed, applauded by like-minded souls who, like you, look to be in control of the high ground for aggressively championing what later turns out to be an entirely bogus cause, it is awfully hard to retreat without a calamitous loss of face.

So it's understandable that, as the evidence mounts against you, you assert ever more forcefully that you were right all along.

The end result, though we are some way from this yet, tends to be a tiny phut, an almost unnoticeable cloud of dust, as said gesticulating, foaming, assertive activist, still proclaiming his/her absolute access to the truth, is swallowed by a very much greater truth before disappearing, resurrected only as a tiny footnote as later generations struggle to make sense of their collective lunacy.

It is a moment I look forward to with considerable pleasure.

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:06 PM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

Another thought that will not have escaped the attention of our host.

If the panellists go overboard in their desire to muzzle sceptical debate at a time when "only 2% of climate models produce trends within the observational uncertainty" (to quote Professor Judith Curry) then they will certainly have no justification in science or in the public interest. This is where close monitoring of what they say would be useful.

This would make an excellent public interest story for wider publication, depending on how it turns out.

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

As far as I'm aware though I've not heard any 'mainstream' scientists disagree with this viewpoint. Tamsin maybe? Why are the more level headed scientists not criticising the bilge the comes out of the media about every other day?

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

First thing on the agenda , how to celebrate tractor production going up by 500% ?

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

You've said it all for me folks.......

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

This is fun too:

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

Sorry folks - we are talking to ourselves. Who is addressing their MP?

Mar 5, 2014 at 6:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

On the 1 April 2014 the Press Gazette is having a debate on the merits of the invasion of Kiev. This will be under the chairmanship of Fiona Fox.
Representing all sides of the argument the following eminent guests have been invited:
1Vladimir Putin (President of Russia)
2 Dmetry Medvedev (PM of Russia)
3 Ivana Bollocoff (Head of the NKVD)
4 Nicholas the Second Tsar of Russia (Decd)
A lively debate is envisaged.
Location The Politburo: Room 101

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Chaired by Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre it will ask whether it is time for journalists to rewrite the ethical rulebook and simply acknowledge a few scientific truths.

"I have agreed to chair this debate because I genuinely sit somewhere in the middle and think this panel guarantees a thoughtful, grown up discussion between speakers who care passionately about getting this right.”


It's a BBC comedy right....right?

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

I'm waiting for the Guardian and Independent to come out fully in favour of GM foods on the basis that the scientists all agree that it's harmless, and the the BBC to remove content like this from the BBC news web site.

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:32 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

"... it is time for journalists to rewrite re-read the ethical rulebook and simply acknowledge a few scientific truths.

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

or mark time until Leveson kicks-in.

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Stuck record is right:

'First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.'

We are seeing a lot of attacks on skeptics - more than ever before.

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

I remember 'debates'. We had them at school: 'The motion before the House is that this House considers....' There were proposers for the motion and against it. In their case it's, 'That this House considers there is no opposition to our point of view'. Motion carried!

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:50 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

If another group of people suggested that the British government spend billions of pounds on tackling some problem and foreign governments were urged to do the same, you might expect the media to ask critical questions such as:

1. Is the problem as serious as is claimed?

2. Will the policies for tackling the problem be effective?

3. Is the "cure" worse than the disease?

Why on earth should climate change policies and the arguments in support of them, escape critical scrutiny? What is unique about climate scientists and climate change policies?

Mar 5, 2014 at 7:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I see a Bob Ward post at WUWT.

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

It certainly appears that Bob Ward is getting more and more desperate and is prepared to bend the truth more and more. The end of the climate change scam approaches. Odious.

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Roy - very good question: why should climate policy be exempt from critical analysis?

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

I guess the majority can see the evidence that vaccination has been a great benefit to mankind and so can I but it doesn't half concentrate your mind when a close relative (baby son in my case) has an unequivocally related violent reaction (within minutes) to a vaccine. A greater understanding of parental fears and experiences might reduce the mindless criticism of those who decline vaccination.

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Hanwell

"Chaired by Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre it will ask whether it is time for journalists to rewrite the ethical rulebook and simply acknowledge a few scientific truths."


They wouldn't know a scientific truth if it slapped them in the face

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered Commentersunderlandsteve

Before about 1950 it was quite common for children to catch polio and partial paralysis, or complete paralysis if they were unlucky, in one or more limbs. I was among the first generation of postwar babies to benefit from the protection given by the polio vaccine. Nevertheless, I agree with what Anthony Hanwell said about treating parental fears with respect.

We have all heard TV programmes dismiss fears about autism and the NMR vaccine and have read newspaper articles attacking the people who raised concerns. It may be that the NMR vaccine is totally safe for everybody, but I am not completely convinced that there is no possibility of anyone developing a serious reaction to it. At least one other vaccine is not safe. I wonder how many people read reports like the one below on swine flu vaccine earlier this week? I bet we won't hear much more about it from politicians or from doctors writing about vaccination. Better to sweep it all under the carpet.

Brain-Damaged UK Victims of Swine Flu Vaccine to Get £60 Million Compensation, March 2, 2014

Patients who suffered brain damage as a result of taking a swine flu vaccine are to receive multi-million-pound payouts from the UK government.

The government is expected to receive a bill of approximately £60 million, with each of the 60 victims expected to receive about £1 million each.

Peter Todd, a lawyer who represented many of the claimants, told the Sunday Times: "There has never been a case like this before. The victims of this vaccine have an incurable and lifelong condition and will require extensive medication."

Following the swine flu outbreak of 2009, about 60 million people, most of them children, received the vaccine.

It was subsequently revealed that the vaccine, Pandemrix, can cause narcolepsy and cataplexy in about one in 16,000 people, and many more are expected to come forward with the symptoms.

Across Europe, more than 800 children are so far known to have been made ill by the vaccine.

Mar 5, 2014 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

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