While I’ve been distracted and gallivanting about, some good news has come in. The Australian government had set aside $4 million to give to Bjørn Lomborg, to create an institute of climate quackery at the University of Western Australia. I’m sure UWA could use $4 million (is there a university that isn’t strapped?) but they decided they didn’t need it that much and turned it down. I think most institutions of higher learning would similarly reject money for that purpose, or for building an astrology center, or a creationist think-tank.
It’s a little something called intellectual integrity.
(Universities sometimes fail in this regard, though, which is how the University of Minnesota ends up with a Center for Spirituality and Healing. But that’s a different story.)
As you might guess, conservatives are furious. Their standard line is that this was a violation of FREE SPEECH!
First to don the water skis for the shark jump was the education minster, Christopher Pyne, who vowed that he would find a new home for Lomborg’s questionable methodology.
“You can be certain it will happen,” said Pyne, before revealing that he had apparently been on the phone to “freedom of speech” and word had come back.
“Freedom of speech demands that it does,” declared Pyne (hashtag facepalm).
Many in Australia’s stable of conservative thinkers were so incensed by the decision of UWA’s vice chancellor, Paul Johnson, that the only balm to sooth their fiery rage was to quickly over-write 700 words for a Rupert Murdoch newspaper.
This was Australia’s very own “Scopes Monkey Trial” … a “disgrace to universities”… a “grotesque betrayal of the tradition of free thought” … a “craven surrender to the mob”. And that was just News Corp’s climate science mangler-in-chief, Andrew Bolt.
Free speech apparently means that the Australian government owes me $4 million right now. After all, I have things to say, and some Australians read them, and I want the money, and therefore if I’m not immediately given a government sinecure to say whatever I want, the principles of free thought have been destroyed.
Except, we’ve been over this before. Free speech means the government is not allowed to interfere with your expression of ideas, not that the government must subsidize your every word. Free thought actually is an intellectual tradition, but it does not mean that the universities may be bought — it means that they are allowed the freedom to practice some intellectual rigor and decide what the best ideas are. That means we have the freedom to say that some ideas are very bad, including the denialism of Lomborg.
I thought this comment by Will Grant was perfect.
Former Institute of Public Affairs fellow Tim Wilson, now a Human Rights Commissioner, accused the university of engaging in a form of “soft censorship”.
The Australian National University academic Will Grant pointed out that indeed universities did engage in soft censorship all the time. “It’s called learning”, wrote Grant.
Quite so. You know you’re dealing with a fool when they start arguing that freethought means you have to have an undisciplined brain that gives equal weight to both wise and foolish ideas.