Debating the Royal Society's Public Intervention

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Here’s a great string on the Prometheus blog in which Bob Ward (the former communications director for the Royal Society) defends the case for the RS letter calling ExxonMobil to task for helping to misrepresent climate science.

Ward’s most trenchant interlocutor is Roger Pielke, Jr., one of the more scientifically accomplished and articulate industry-friendly experts on this file. The to-and-for is excellent, but if you aren’t otherwise inclined to get all the way to the bottom of the string, Bob Ward currently has the last word – a word worth reading:

As I think I mentioned in a previous posting, the sole aim of writing to ExxonMobil was to register with them, for a second time, the complaint about misrepresentations of the scientific evidence. Of course, the Society’s concern was about the potential impact of misleading statements, by anybody, on the public and policy-makers. If this falls within the working definition that you employ for political actions, then so be it. However, I think some of the other postings have suggested that my motive was partisan in some way eg anti-ExxonMobil. That I strongly refute, and as I said, I have similarly criticised Greenpeace for misleading statements that it has made on climate change (specifically citing individual weather events, such as the 2003 European heatwave, as evidence of climate change).

If this seems an unreasonable activity for a Royal Society to undertake, then I’m not sure what you are suggesting as an alternative. Do companies and lobby groups have a right to misrepresent scientific evidence, for whatever reason, unchallenged by science academies? Or do you think that such challenges are allowable, but should only be made by organisations other than the Royal Society?

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