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July 18th 2013 print

Tony Thomas

How to impress like Clive Hamilton

It's easy and not too expensive. Just dash off a note to the Royal Society of the Arts, enclose a small cheque and you, too, can append the impressive initials FRSA to your next plea for a return to the days when only candles lit the night

A bit of a loser myself, I like perving on the credentials of my betters. For example, I noticed last year that the official biography of the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, said that he “obtained…a Ph.D. in industrial engineering and a Ph.D. in economics.”

Wow, I thought, not one but two Ph.D’s, both from North Carolina State University, and both in 1974! I emailed the university to check, and got a prompt reply saying, “Yes, he earned two Ph.D’s.” Silly me, to have doubted it.

But 24 hours later, I got a follow-up from the uni press officer, obviously a decent chap, saying that he had checked more closely and his first reply was wrong . In fact Dr Pachauri was awarded only one Ph.D., for combined study in industrial engineering and economics, he said.

I alerted the IPCC about its misleading claim that Pachauri earned two Ph.D’s but the IPCC has, 18 months later, still not got around to correcting it. Busy people, I guess.

My next foray into credentialism involved everyone’s favorite guru, Dr Clive Hamilton AM FRSA.

Dr Clive AM FRSA is an Australian public intellectual, according to his own website and a host of other sources, including his publisher Allen & Unwin.

As a global warming alarmist, he is part of the Weber-barbecue-like tripod of Australian public intellectuals, the other two kettle legs being of course Dr Tim Flannery and Professor Robert Manne. I wondered, re Clive, who  ‘public intellectuals’ were. I guess Jean Paul Sartre’s definition, “the moral conscience of their age” seems the best fit. After all, Clive stood for the Greens in 2009 and his “AM” is a clear-cut 2009 honor for his service to the Left on climate-change policy, sustainability and societal trends.

But what’s with that “FRSA”? It looks a bit like that top science gong, “Fellow of the Royal Society” but actually stands for “Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts”, a different UK body. Being an FRSA seems like something special, since it always seems to be tagged to Clive’s profiles.

However, FRSA is a title you can actually buy on-line. About 27,000 people have done this, the current fee being $A123 as a one-off and $A255 a year.

Last March I put in a test application for an FRSA, for convenience using the name Kim Jong Un, of Pyongyang. The RSA website promised a confirmation within 12 working days.

I got emailed back a form from a Michael Ambjorn, Head of Fellowship at the RSA London headquarters, saying “Although we don’t contact all referees, some may be contacted for a character reference request.” I nominated Clive, his bestie Robert Manne and  Ray Finkelstein QC, without knowing of course whether they would support or criticise Mr Kim’s application. “Watch this space”, I told Quadrant Online readers.

“So then what happened?” I hear you cry.

I’m afraid I baulked at the first hurdle, which was remitting the required $378 (Quadrant Online tends to be dismissive of its contributors’ expense claims).

The RSA however remained keen to get the money, and after a pause, I got a pleading letter from its Fellowship Development Coordinator Mark Hall:

“Dear Mr Jong Un, 

We noted that you downloaded an application form to become a Fellow of the RSA, and I am just following up to find out if there is anything we can do to help you with your application.

I have included a reminder about the RSA below, but please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss Fellowship in more detail… "

There followed some hard-sell for Mr Jong Un about the advantages of meeting the other 27,000 Fellows, sharing skills for charity, generating ideas “that aim to have a positive social impact”, and so on. Again, I baulked at remitting the $378.

Then  I got a further RSA begging letter for Mr Jong Un, “just following up”, as Mark Hall put it. He invited Mr Jong Un to connect with recent Fellows such as Antoinette Saxer FRSA, who is “currently working on the upcoming Good Fashion Show which focuses on eco-ethical and responsible fashion. She talks about why eco-fashion inspires her and what she would like to connect to other Fellows.”

Well, OK, Mr Jong Un is a bit of a fashion icon with his funky, centre-parted hair-do, and he did star in a production of Grease when a teen at Berne International School.  He would doubtless appreciate my signing him up as a FRSA, but I felt guilty about further wasting Mark Hall’s time. I sent Mark a reply:

“Hi, Mark,

Thanks for your reminder. I have decided not to join your RSA after all as I am very busy smiting the double-dealing imperialist  running-dog lackeys in the United States.


Kim Jong-un, Dear Leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.”

As Hamlet put it, the rest was silence.

Tony Thomas is a smart-aleck. He blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com