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University of Western Australia’s VC disowns Monckton event on campus

Lord Monckton will appear at two Western Australian universities over the coming days. AAP

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Western Australia has distanced himself from climate change sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton, who will appear on campus next Monday.

Professor Alan Robson today released a statement which said Monckton’s scheduled talk did not reflect the views or values of the University.

Earlier today he said he hadn’t felt moved to speak out against an individual appearing at the University before, but the news that Monckton would be speaking urged him to act.

“I think it’s an extraordinary case,” he said.

“My view has been to let many flowers bloom and let many voices be heard, but when people take an anti-science view I’m more critical.”

According to Professor Robson UWA had not sought out the appearance.

“It’s not endorsed by the university, it’s not hosted by the university, he’s not invited by the university. A group from the community have hired a venue at the university and we are providing a venue from which he’s going to speak.”

“Somebody rang up and booked a venue and that’s the extent of the involvement.”

Monckton will be giving the annual Lang Hancock Lecture at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle tonight, an appearance that prompted UWA PhD student Natalie Latter to circulate an open letter condemning the University’s decision to host the visiting peer.

The lecture is sponsored by Gina Rinehart, Chair of mining company Hancock Prospecting.

But Latter says Monckton’s appearance at UWA on Monday comes under a different set of circumstances.

“I’ve read the statement that the Vice Chancellor put out today and I accept that there is a big difference between hosting an event and hiring out a lecture theatre to a community group,” she said.

“But that doesn’t mean I like it.”

Professor Malcolm McCulloch of UWA’s school of Earth and Environment says he was disappointed to see Monckton appearing on campus.

“I am unhappy with it because I think it’s misrepresenting UWA’s view,” he said.

“He’s a non-scientist pretending to be a scientist. Not only is he a non-scientist but he is actually deliberately misrepresenting scientific information.

"If any academic did that they would be subject to reprimand.”

On 2UE this morning, Monckton said the campaign to stop him speaking at Notre Dame betrayed the “totalitarian tendency” of academics.

He said his ability to give the lecture was a matter of free speech.

But Professor Michael Levine, who specialises in free speech and tolerance at UWA’s School of Philosophy, says this isn’t the case.

“It’s not about free speech,” he said. “The issue is about the best available scientific evidence and the kind of speaker one wants to hear on this type of issue.”

Professor Levine said the real issue lay with the members business community who are partially funding Monckton’s tour.

“You must let people speak, but you shouldn’t confuse a case of free speech with a case where you’re endorsing somebody, and paying somebody, to speak at a university when they’re obviously not the best person to speak on the matter.”

The Conversation is putting Lord Monckton’s climate change theories to the test in Monckton watch: interrogating the Lord’s science.

I contacted Lord Monckton for comment on this story. He missed the publishing deadline and has requested that his response be published in full. It follows below.

Q. I’m interested in your reaction to the petition that’s been going round in Western Australia urging Notre Dame to cancel your visit. Is this an issue of free speech?

I understand that the petition makes the following assertions, to which I shall respond seriatim:

Primo, I am alleged to have circulated “widely discredited fictions about climate change” and to have distorted the research of countless scientists.

Please specify three instances in which I am thought to have circulated “widely discredited fictions about climate change”, with a clear citation in each instance of my ipsissima verba, and provide evidence, in the form of at least five peer-reviewed refutations in each instance, that the widely discredited “fictions” are indeed fictions . Please specify 25 instance [sic] in which I am thought to have “distorted the research of countless scientists”, with a clear citation in each instance of my ipsissima verba, and with evidence from each of the scientists in question that he or she has directly criticized my work from their personal knowledge of it, rather than from hearing a distorted account of it via an interfering third party, and with evidence in each instance from the peer-reviewed literature that the scientist’s criticism is justifiable, and with evidence in each instance that the scientist in question is unaware of any peer-reviewed literature that might reasonably be held to support my alleged “distortion”.

Secundo, “With zero peer-reviewed scientific publications, he has declared that the scientific enterprise is invalid and that climate science is fraudulent.”

See Climate Sensitivity Reconsidered, in Physics and Society for July 2008. See also my commentary on the maladroit attempt by the American Physical Society to claim ex post facto that the paper was not peer-reviewed (hint: it was). Please explain why, after undergoing the discourtesy to which the Society subjected me, I should be at all inclined to submit further papers for peer review, and explain whether a point similar to this one has been raised by any of the petitioners in respect of Al Gore and, if so, with what result, and, if not, why the petitioners are singling me out as uniquely unfitted to speak freely.

Tertio, “He stands for the kind of ignorance and superstition that universities have a duty to counter.”

This is mere hand-waving. In the absence of any specific allegation, I am not in a position to answer.

Quarto, one of the signatories said it was a disgrace that any university associated itself with “someone who has clearly got no academic credibility”.

At the University of Cambridge, it was not unusual for laymen with interesting things to say to address academic audiences: I have done so myself on many occasions at many universities (including Cambridge), both in public lectures and in faculty-level seminars on subjects as diverse as the theory of currencies and the determination of climate sensitivity. It is difficult for me to discern any evidence that the petitioners have had foreknowledge of the content of my proposed lecture. In the absence of that foreknowledge, it is not clear what is the petitioners’ evidence for their notion that I have “no academic credibility” (whatever that may mean).

Quinto, another signatory said he endorsed my right to free speech “for example in a pub or on a soap-box or in a circus arena”.

More hand-waving. It is not clear to me what academic credibility any such remark is thought to possess.

Sexto, the petition was organized by a student and signed by only four or five dozen students and their teachers.

It is encouraging that, after weeks of scavenging for signatures, so few members of the Australian academic community could be induced to seek to deny to the University of Notre Dame at Fremantle its academic right to allow and to foster free speech in accordance with its statutes and statutory objectives.

Q. How do you respond to allegations that you purposefully misrepresent science to promote your view?

Please specify three allegations in terms, together with my ipsissima verba in each instance, and with evidence from the peer-reviewed literature that my “view” was erroneous, and with evidence that a suitably-qualified scientist in the relevant field contacted me to inform me of my error, and with evidence that, even after such contact, I persisted in my erroneous view, and with evidence that no peer-reviewed paper could be found which might reasonably be held to endorse my “view”.

Q. What are your thoughts on the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia distancing himself from your scheduled appearance at the University?

Professor Robson should resign and put himself out to grass immediately. He is plainly unaware of his duty to protect and promote freedom of speech. Students at the university should consider leaving it and going to a proper university, lest they be corrupted by canting sanctimony.

Finally, a question of my own. Please disclose the sources and amounts of your website’s funding and, in particular, please state how much funding the website has received directly or indirectly from taxpayers’ funds. This is a Freedom of Information request.

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