Science-Based Issues


Sir: For the record: I did not compare climate change deniers to paedophiles in my Science Show broadcast (Chronicle, March 2013). What I did do was make up several outrageous scenarios to illustrate how a (wilful) misunderstanding of science for political purposes can be harmful—even fatal. Saying asbestos is safe is dangerous; saying HIV infection does not lead to AIDS is irresponsible; claiming paedophilia is good for kids as some do, is absurd.

The program began by quoting the New Scientist magazine’s lament about lies related to science in the American election and I gave the example of one Republican candidate’s bizarre claim that a rape victim’s body can “naturally” reject fertilisation.

In this context it was obvious that I was linking the distortion of climate science by mischievous political elements to similar (if hypothetical) distortions of other science-based issues.

There are plenty of people who do not hesitate to distort the science of climate change for ideological reasons. Their doing so is likely to delay or cancel any sensible efforts to reduce risk. This, like the examples above, is irresponsible.

Robyn Williams
ABC Science
Sydney, NSW


Keith Windschuttle responds:

Robyn Williams’ claim that his broadcast did not compare climate change deniers to paedophiles is disingenuous. By “linking” (his term) an aspect of the behaviour of one group to that of another and finding similarities between them, he was surely making a comparison, as any good dictionary would confirm.

Moreover, since when did paedophilia join the ranks of “other science-based issues”? What is scientific about it? There is no gene for paedophilia. It is a sexual preference, not a biological attribute. By introducing this topic into the debate over climate science, Williams’ broadcast was as wildly irrelevant as it was conceptually odious. He chose moral stratagem over fair comment.

In his forty years as an ABC broadcaster, Williams has built himself a reputation as Australia’s pre-eminent science journalist. It is a pity to see him ruining his once good name by using such desperate tactics in support of a scientific hypothesis which today, when the temperatures and oceans are failing to rise in the way global warming advocates predicted, has so patently lost credibility.


An Impetuous Bush Bloke


Sir: As one who usually heartily agrees with Peter Ryan’s thoughts, and as one in agreement with Peter’s list of leftist “noisome dead cats” hung around the nation’s neck (March 2013), may one nonetheless mention a few points omitted from his anti-Ned polemic: “a horrible habitual criminal … a loudmouth rural lout and scoundrel … a blow-hard, a big-noter and a bullshit artist … a multiple murderer, a bank robber, a bandit, a kidnapper, an arsonist, a horse and cattle stealer, a racist bully … a traitor [to Harry Power] … a mountebank”, and more. Phew! No redeeming features there, at all?

True, Ned Kelly’s brief life included all or most of the above activities, for which he paid in full. A shining example of the law-abiding citizen he assuredly was not. However, from my personal (and still widely held?) perception of the Kelly saga, and without consulting any pro- or anti-Kelly accounts, the following reasons why Ned won’t be forgotten come to mind.

The Kelly family were among an underclass of impoverished “hardscrabble selectors”, at a time when much of Victoria’s land and its institutions, including the constabulary, were held by and in considerable thrall to the interests of a landed squattocracy, whose “huge landholdings had virtually been stolen from the public”. The inevitable resentment generated a “flash bunch” of petty lawbreakers, including Ned’s uncle “Wild Wright” and younger brother Dan. Following further “flashness”, including Ned’s conviction for stealing a horse, the Kelly hut at Greta was raided by one Constable Fitzpatrick. As a consequence of his perjured evidence of assault, Ned’s toil-worn mother, separated from her infant, was sentenced to three years hard labour in Pentridge by Judge Redmond Barry. A good harsh lesson needed by those recalcitrant Irish?

There followed the “Kelly gang outbreak”, culminating in the deaths of three troopers at Stringybark Creek, when a police party, disguised as prospectors, equipped with long straps for transporting the dead outlaws back to Wangaratta on their horses, were ambushed by the Kelly four, refused to surrender, and lost the fire-fight. The fugitive outlaws finally took on a trainload of police at the Glenrowan hotel; three of the gang were shot dead, and the lightly-armed Ned, rather than “doing a runner”, famously returned, clad in home-made armour, to “fight the unbeatable foe”: a company of armed troopers. There followed his inevitable capture, trial by Justice Barry (should he have disqualified himself?), and his execution by hanging; his final words on the scaffold, “Ah, well, I suppose it had to come to this.”

I’m happy to be corrected wherever these “gullible” perceptions, still widely held, are wrong. Even if partly incorrect or unbalanced, they outline no “beat-up”, no ordinary parasitic criminal, but an impetuous young bush bloke who justifiably resented the treatment of his underclass in general, and his family in particular. “As game as Ned Kelly” will continue to be an Australian byword for defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, with no chance for our present-day excuses and soft sentencing.

John O’Connor
Cottles Bridge, Vic


Ted Hughes


SIR: Did there once exist a decency whereby prominent poets, claimed by a critic to be “B-grade at best”, merited at least some citation from the works to back their assertion? Certainly Joe Dolce (March 2013) disallows Ted Hughes this. Instead, we learn this poet is inferior through some connection to ferrets, and his appointment to the laureateship by a sovereign who had also raised two pop stars to the knighthood. Here’s A-grade reasoning, no doubt, though mongrel irreverence is always, alas, just mongrel irreverence.

A-grade, B-grade, certainly poets each have their stature regarding an accomplishment in the art. But I prefer to think the character of a poet’s work is far more enriching as a focus of interest than how the artist stands in a league. And the character of Ted Hughes’s work is fascinating for three compelling reasons.

It has the most thrillingly exact eye for the imagery of the natural world, pervasive throughout the Collected Poems, but conspicuous in, say, Lupercal or Season’s Songs.

Hughes had the most daring and resourceful mythopoeic imagination since Blake. To fantasise mythic stuff is one thing. To find the elemental material sufficient for an epoch of nuclear stand-off, rampant consumer appetite and the distractions of mass-society, shows intellect and passion in a particular integrity, and this the poet does, most successfully in Crow, but again, pervasively in his opus.

In Hughes’s Collected—I would suggest in all Collecteds—there are duds, and worse, there are mannerisms. But in Hughes’s writing, whether the poems, the letters, or the invariably freshly conceived criticism, there is an entirely individual intentness of mind at work.

Now Joe Dolce has found a Hughes letter and had some fun picking holes in its logic. This letter, written as a private communication from the poet to an acquaintance, does that correspondent the courtesy and trust to engage him at the energetic edge of their interests and the try-outs of their articulacy. Of course, now the poet is dead and the letters are in the public sphere, Joe gets licence for his cheap shots, though one can decently hope a personal document will arouse in posterity sufficient imagining to allow the fairness of its context.

In my view Joe Dolce’s fun with Ted Hughes’s letter insults the work of a poet who possessed extraordinary distinctness, and degrades the discourse on poetry generally. I read a lot of poetry, and a lot of argument. I have my own compass for where the B-grade lies. Even that requires some ascent from what Joe Dolce passes as irreverent cleverness when he sings on Iconoclasm Avenue.

Alan Gould
Ainslie, ACT


Just Another Ism


Sir: Tack on an “ism” at the end of a word and it immediately becomes demonised. Capitalism, materialism and chauvinism are all prime examples of academic terms. Feminism is no different. The mere sound of the word galvanises opinion. Of course, feminism is simply the female equivalent of chauvinism. Why do feminists always seek to set themselves apart from men and then supposedly champion democracy?

Two high-profile feminists, Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf, continually make jokes about men. Germaine Greer: “There are only two things that men do better than women: cooking and making dresses.” Very clever, Ms Greer. Many of the world’s top chefs and fashion designers are indeed men. Greer-style sarcasm does little to advance women’s issues.

Feminists become feminists to self-promote. Feminists do not successfully promote women. If these media-savvy individuals truly cared about the plight of women in war-ravaged and poverty-stricken areas, they would be proactive. Writing books, appearing on television and lecturing in halls is all self-serving. Greer and Wolf are celebrities. They attract attention by making headline-grabbing comments. Feminism is nothing more than a form of extremism. Oops, there’s another “ism” to add to the list.

Linda Nathaniel
Riverview, NSW


Roofless Greenhouse


Sir: Walter Starck’s article, “The Greenhouse Lacks a Roof” (Quadrant Online, February 22, 2013) is one of the most rational and logical expositions I have read, particularly the acknowledgment that the spectra within which CO2 absorbs IR are limited and, therefore, finite before saturation becomes a factor.

The explanation may be simplistic but it represents a comprehensible factor which is little publicised. Walter’s points represent empirical facts (or, at least, tangible scientific theories) that I was lectured in more than fifty years ago. Why have such studies been discarded in favour of computerised fantasies?

Michael Wright
via e-mail


Eyewitness Accounts


Sir: Without wishing to add to what many must regard as a seemingly unending conflict of letters, I must say that I think Samuel Beaux (Letters, March 2013) is rather missing the point.

As I understand it, the Gospels (and the New Testament) are not the original, divine word of God, exact and unalterable, as many Muslims claim the Koran to be. They are the work of men setting down recollections of something that happened that appeared miraculous.

As we all know, recollections of events can vary, and over the years can be added to or embellished. It is therefore not remotely surprising that inconsistencies arise—after all, how can something indescribable be described or something supernatural be rationalised?

What seems clear to me is that, per the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles, something happened and was witnessed that changed those who saw it to such an extent that they were compelled to tell others about it, and in some cases to try and set out in writing what they had witnessed. In many cases, the experience was so profound that they were willing to lay down their lives as a consequence.

People today may know better than these early witnesses what they actually saw, and argue that they were mistaken, misled or hallucinating. I do not think, however, that what they had experienced should be dismissed merely on the grounds that years after the events, and after many transcriptions and later additions, minor inconsistencies between witness statements may have arisen.

Andrew Porter
Glen Iris, Vic


Free Speech and Racism


Sir: I would like to congratulate Anthony Dillon for his essay in the March 2013 edition. It is one of the most well-thought-out and best-written articles I have seen on the issues of freedom of speech and “racism”. The only other articles that I have read that came even close are those written by Thomas Sowell.

Is there some way that Anthony’s article can be placed in the mainstream media where it might get the attention that it deserves and where such issues are never addressed in such detail?

Dennis Boothby
via e-mail


The Keating Mystery


Sir: John Stone’s memoir (March 2013) reveals a Paul Keating who was an inspiring leader, urbane, astute, fair-minded and intelligent. Up to the spring of 1984, John Stone may have had the best of Keating. What on earth went wrong with Keating subsequently? Will someone please let us know?

Antony Walker Powell
Harbord, NSW

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