On September 9, 2016, Quadrant Online published the following open letter from Graham Woods to Brian Cox. Grahan Woods is an Australian PhD.
I’d appreciate your response to this email, which deals with your recent appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program.
First, I want to make it clear that, where you’re concerned, I’m not a ‘vexatious invigilator’. My wife and I (each with an earned PhD) have watched most of your TV programs, and have been struck by their intellectual clarity and your unassuming personal style (as well as by your BMI: we’re high-level wellness devotees). With that said, we both have serious misgivings about your recent appearance on Q&A.
No pronouncement that enjoys an audience has zero social consequences, and the more prominent the pronouncer the more significant the consequences are likely to be. Your recent Q&A appearance brings that out well. You were treated like a science guru, both by the audience and by compere Tony Jones, and it’s inevitable that what you said will affect the opinions of hundreds, probably thousands, of people.
You might disagree, but I’d argue that your authority carries a responsibility: a responsibility to ensure that your audience (whether that’s one person or thousands) is not misled by your pronouncements. It’s difficult to evade the conclusion that, on this recent occasion, you didn’t live up to that responsibility.”
The letter continues with detailed arguments. From the Quadrant article, it appears that Brian Cox did not respond.
For those that do not know Brian Cox, he is a brilliant TV presenter of science, who has brought an interest in science and the wonder of the world and of the universe into many people’s lives [well, that’s my opinion, anyway].
Graham Woods’ letter challenges Brian Cox on his (Brian Cox’s) recent appearance on the Australian TV panel program Q&A. It is [again, in my opinion] an excellent letter, polite and carefully reasoned, that points out the flaws in Brian Cox’s statements and arguments on Q&A, in particular the fact that he took part in “the attempted ‘credibility destruction’ of a person who had obviously been set up to be ambushed” and his statement that “The absolute – absolute – consensus is that human action is leading to an increase in average temperatures.“. The letter is well worth reading in its entirety.
Graham Woods’ letter goes on to “help people understand what sort of world they’ll inhabit if fossil-sourced substances are taken off the menu.”.
One of the things that struck me about Graham Woods’ letter is how difficult it is for individuals to stand up against the mainstream in any field, and in particular in science. Brian Cox, from a position of scientific authority, can have a high impact with a very few simple but incorrect statements, yet it takes pages of detailed argument to even begin to refute them – and then it is far too easy for all those pages of arguments to be ignored. (Anthony Watts would be well aware of this, of course – years of argument and evidence on WUWT, even though they have an amazingly wide audience, have so far simply been ignored).
One of the ways that Brian Cox tried to evade responsibility for his statements was highlighted by Graham Woods: “Your implicit invitation, that people do their own research, is disingenuous: you know, as well as I do, that most people won’t do their own research, and that many are simply not capable of it. The vast majority of the world’s public look to respected spokespersons such as you to instruct them about what they should think and believe. You have a profound duty of care to instruct them even-handedly and fairly; I believe you failed in that duty on the recent Q & A.“. Well, I have a Mathematics background, and not only do I try to check anything that is said by anyone on either side of the argument rather than just accept it, but I have attempted to do my own research. I have been honoured – and fortunate – to have some of it published on WUWT. I would like to add my support to Graham Woods by supplying links to it here. [I am not a Quadrant Online subscriber, so I can’t post them there]. If anyone knows Graham Woods or how to contact him, please forward this article to him. I would like him to know that he has support, and to provide him with supporting arguments from a different angle.
and the four-part series:
If Graham Woods is not already familiar with WUWT, then simply bringing WUWT into his line of vision may also be very helpful.
Mike Jonas (MA Maths Oxford UK) retired some years ago after nearly 40 years in I.T.