Shame, Steketee, shame!

For many years I have read and enjoyed the columns of Mike Steketee of The Australian. His intelligent analysis, wisdom and insights have informed me and helped guide my thinking. He has often been a beacon amidst a dark sea of intolerance and inanity. Yet I feel my loyalty has been betrayed by his latest column: “Sceptics derail well-founded climate action” (The Weekend Australian, February 27-28, 2010).

Mike’s apparent personal fervour for the concept of global warming has seduced his otherwise emotionless and rational analysis of ‘the facts’. This is betrayed in his statements: “(Those arguing against climate change) have shifted public opinion merely by raising a few instances where claims about the effects of global warming have been exaggerated or not sufficiently documented, and by catching a few scientists playing politics.”

But worse was to come . . . “Heaven forbid that anyone involved in a highly charged political debate should sex up their case through the selective use of material and exaggeration.”

How could you, Mike? The very essence of your plea for forgiveness is the core of the necessary denial of such latitude. The whole point is the credibility we, the unwashed general public, assume can be given to scientific ‘facts’.

That’s it, Mike. Fact versus fiction. Or even, if you like, fact versus personal opinion. Don’t you get it? The whole fundamental underpinning of scientific debate is that it is – supposedly – based entirely on fact and not opinion. The rest of us can only argue on opinion. We are not ‘experts’. Our only hope of determining issues of substantial complexity is to be able to rely on impartial and unbiased ‘evidence’ provided to us by experts and/or scientists. The bottom line is that truth must be free of bias or exaggeration. You now suggest such truth is a convenience to be used when desirable. That view debases the entire conception of scientific debate. Again, how could you?

To think that you can excuse lies or distortions as ‘sexing-up’ is unforgiveable for a senior journalist in our national newspaper-of-record. Frankly, given the admiration I have harboured for your assessments for so many years, I find it almost unbelievable that you should have to be challenged on such a fundamental issue.

Perhaps it is time that The Australian and The Weekend Australian clearly define all articles by staff which reflect opinion as opposed to those which are reportage. I respect your views but I cannot condone your plea for distortion to be allowed to rule in so-called scientific debate. This is an appalling step too far and goes to the very heart of quality journalism. Indeed, it goes to the very heart of the public’s ability to believe in what we are presented in the name of journalism. This is far too important a line in the sand to be erased by the next wavelet.