As part of its just launched free-speech campaign, Spiked! over in London has a big piece on Brandis. That's not a misspelling for Brandeis, the supposed scholarly institution that reminds us that, as Kate McMillan likes to say, the opposite of diversity is university. No, Brandis is George Brandis, QC, the Attorney-General of Australia. Mr Brandis introduced me when I spoke in Brisbane in Queensland two years ago, and I was very touched not by anything he said about me and my free-speech battles but by his warm words about Broadway Babies Say Goodnight (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available, etc, etc). If I'd known he was such a fan of Broadway Babies, I'd have sung and danced "Hello, Dolly!" instead of "Kung Fu Fighting". As Attorney-General, Mr Brandis is in charge of parliamentary reform of Australia's notorious Section 18c (roughly, the equivalent of Canada's now repealed Section 13). But I was especially heartened by this passage of his interview with Brendan O'Neill:
Brandis says he's been a fan of free speech for ages. He reminds me that in his maiden speech to the Australian Senate, given 14 years ago when he was first elected as senator for Queensland, he let everyone know that 'one of my most fundamental objectives would be to protect freedom of thought and expression'. He tells me he has long been agitated by 'the cultural tyranny of political correctness'. But there were two recent, specific things that made him realise just what a mortal threat freedom of speech faces in the modern era and that he would have to dust down his Mill, reread his Voltaire, and up the ante in his war of words against, as he puts it, the transformation of the state into 'the arbiter of what might be thought'. The first thing was the climate-change debate; and the second is what is known down here as The Andrew Bolt Case.
He describes the climate-change debate – or non-debate, or anti-debate, to be really pedantic but also accurate – as one of the 'great catalysing moments' in his views about the importance of free speech. He isn't a climate-change denier; he says he was 'on the side of those who believed in anthropogenic global warming and who believed something ought to be done about it'. But he has nonetheless found himself 'really shocked by the sheer authoritarianism of those who would have excluded from the debate the point of view of people who were climate-change deniers'. He describes as 'deplorable' the way climate change has become a gospel truth that you deny or mock at your peril, 'where one side [has] the orthodoxy on its side and delegitimises the views of those who disagree, rather than engaging with them intellectually and showing them why they are wrong'.
He describes how Penny Wong, the Labor Party senator for South Australia and minister for climate change in the Julia Gillard government, would 'stand up in the Senate and say "The science is settled". In other words, "I am not even going to engage in a debate with you". It was ignorant, it was medieval, the approach of these true believers in climate change...'
The great irony to this new 'habit of mind', he says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as 'throwbacks', when actually 'they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion'. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing 'new secular public morality', he says, 'which seeks to impose its views on others, even at the cost of political censorship'.
"Secular public morality," indeed. Professor Judith Curry is chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences, winner of the Henry G Houghton Research Award from the American Meteorological Society, etc, but someone who made the mistake of deviating from the one true path of the "eco-orthodoxies" and thus has been declared guilty of apostasy by the climate mullahs. See this Tweet from Professor Curry:
@BVerheggen @CColose @theAGU you mean like how Mann tries to intimidate me by calling me denier, anti-science, serial climate misinformer?
The "Mann" referred to is, of course, Michael E Mann, who is strangely inarticulate for one so expensively educated, but like his thuggish acolytes is particularly relentless in getting out the old social-media tire-iron for Judith Curry. It's worked:
With regards to climate science, IMO the key issue regarding academic freedom is this: no scientist should have to fall on their sword to follow the science where they see it leading or to challenge the consensus. I've fallen on my dagger (not the full sword), in that my challenge to the consensus has precluded any further professional recognition and a career as a university administrator. That said, I have tenure, and am senior enough to be able retire if things genuinely were to get awful for me. I am very very worried about younger scientists, and I hear from a number of them that have these concerns.
That's the point. Ayatollah Mann launched his fatwa on Judith Curry pour encourager les autres, to make an example of her, to make it plain to any other would-be dissenters the price they will pay. In her round-up of current free-speech issues, Professor Curry quotes both me and George Brandis:
With regards to climate change, I agree with George Brandis who is shocked by the "authoritarianism" with which some proponents of climate change exclude alternative viewpoints. While the skeptical climate blogosphere is alive and well in terms of discussing alternative viewpoints, this caters primarily to an older population. I am particularly pleased to see the apparent birth of resistance to climate change authoritarianism by younger people, as reflected by the young Austrian rapper.
~When you refuse to debate or (as the Mannatollah does) debate only with hysterical queeny labels - #denier, #KochMachine, #antiscience, #zzzzzzzzz - eventually you lose the capacity to debate. With that in mind, I am a little disappointed, to be honest, by the quality of the devastating retorts to my free-speech piece in the Speccie. Most seem to have offered a variation of this lame trope:
Who's this Mark Steyn fool & who's telling him he can't speak or write freely? Wait, didn't he just?
Ha-ha. Funny. Or try rapier wit Adam Stirling:
You know what's funny? Widely published author @MarkSteynOnline complaining in *national newspaper* rightwing freedom of speech threatened.
You know what's really funny? The only reason Master Stirling can read me in a Canadian national newspaper is because Maclean's and I fought a long, hard public battle and won it! And we've got seven-figure legal bills to prove it! How funny is that? Had we lost before Stirling's own crappy province's "human rights" tribunal, the statutory penalty would have been a lifetime publication ban on me in British Columbia and de facto throughout the rest of Canada. Under the appalling written law in Stirling's province, we were, in fact, guilty, but we made it politically problematic for the three judges to convict us. So they chickened out. And, when we'd seen them off, we kept up the pressure nationally, so that eventually, last year, the federal equivalent of British Columbia's thought-speech law was repealed.
And that's the only reason you can still read my writing in a Canadian newspaper - because me and Maclean's defeated the British Columbia's "Human Rights" Tribunal's attempt to criminalize it. When Adam Stirling has some skin in the game - about anything - he's welcome to get back to me.
Obviously, I can say what I want, and I do. In that sense, I'm like Judith Curry: I can afford it. But I bang on about freedom of expression because of what happens around the world every day to fellows nobody's heard of - like Simon Ledger of the Isle of Wight, whom you can read about in John Roskam's excellent round-up of my Aussie tour.
~Speaking of an inability to debate, unlike John Hinderaker and Paul Mirengoff, I never debated at college, never having gone to one. But I did debate at high-school-level, and this portrait of the degeneration of student debating is tragic.
~While we're on the subject, congratulations to our friend Brian Lilley on the third anniversary of his Sun News show. He celebrated with a rerun of yours truly. Feel free to click or not. It's your call.