The issues of free speech and censorship seems to have cropped up in a number of places in the climate debate recently. Judith Curry has a recent post where she has highlighted and commented on recent articles about this topic. I have a number of issues with introducing this topic into the climate science debate. One is that it seems that some are arguing that they should be allowed to say whatever they like. Sure, but your right to free speech doesn’t override my right to not be adversely and unfairly influenced by what you say. What you say has to be true and defensible, especially if what you’re saying reflects on someone else. Another is that it seems that some are complaining that they’re being unfairly targeted for what they say. It’s almost as if they object to being criticised. Again, you’re free to say what you like, but I’m free to criticise you if I think what you’ve said is untrue – again, while staying within the law. So, until someone can show that some are trying to introduce legislation that makes it illegal to say certain things about climate science, it’s hard to see how it’s really a free speech issue.
There’s also an element of irony to some of what people say with regards to free speech. Some people criticised my post about The BBC and its balance as being undemocratic and as arguing against free speech. Really? Surely, it’s perfectly democratic for me to present an argument as to who a major media organisation should interview about a complex topic? I wasn’t proposing new legislation, I was simply suggesting that if a media organisation is to interview someone about something like climate science, maybe they should typically interview an experienced climate scientist. I certainly wasn’t suggesting that certain people should be prevented from expressing their views – I was simply suggesting that major media organisations could be more selective. Of course, those criticising me are well within their rights to suggest that what I’m proposing is undemocratic. That’s the beauty of free speech. I’m then within my rights to suggest that it seems somewhat hypocritical to play the free speech card while – at the same time – trying to delegitimise what someone else has said. Of course, such a process could go on forever and achieve nothing, which may well be the point.
In some sense, one of my main issues with introducing free speech arguments into the climate science debate is that it seems like a cop-out. Free speech doesn’t mean immune from criticism or that you have the right to any kind of platform. It just means that you have the right to express your views – assuming you don’t break the law while doing so – without fear of prosecution. If you’re finding it difficult to get a platform to express your views, or if you’re being heavily criticised when you do, maybe your views aren’t sufficiently robust and your arguments aren’t particularly coherent. Maybe you should think about what you’re saying, rather than suggesting that others are trying to prevent you from speaking freely.
In a similar vein, Collin Maessen had a recent guest post about Legitimate skepticism. Collin’s always had a very strict moderation policy which he explains in his blog rules and which, if I remember correctly, he’s applied to one of my comments in the past. His application of his moderation rules is robust and even-handed. Yet, when he applied them to some of the commenters yesterday, he was accussed – on Twitter – of censorship. Again, this seems absurd. If I don’t let you comment on my blog, I’m not censoring you. You’re welcome to comment elsewhere. You can even start your own blog if you think you’re unable to comment here and wish to respond to what is said. If you can’t follow a site’s moderation rules and your comment gets deleted or edited, it’s your fault for not following the rules, not an example of censorship.
This really brings me to the main reason for writing this post. It was really just an excuse to post the cartoon below which – I think – summarises the position succinctly and accurately.