Sunday, 18 December 2016

Political speech crime

In an article at The conversation Professor Torcello has proposed that ‘an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent’. I am wholly in agreement with him. I cannot think of a political party whose campaign can be characterised as anything other than an organized campaign funding misinformation and I would be delighted if we could bang them all up in chokey for it and be rid of them. Sorry, what’s that? He wasn’t talking about politicians? Well what was he talking about then?

People who disagree with him about global warming! I see. Hmm…. Do you think he might be persuaded to include the politicians? No. I see. How disappointing….Oh well, many a precious hope is destined to be dashed on the rocks of ill fortune and yet we must soldier on! So, anyway, what’s he on about then?
Apparently, because

Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death. When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes,

we should bang people up who have some money and agree to disagree loudly together.
At least, I take it that that is what he means by ‘organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent’. It is, admittedly, a rather odd sentence. Can a campaign be criminally negligent? I thought that criminal negligence was a kind of mens rea, the guilty mind that is necessary for an act to be a crime. So it is a mental state. Events aren’t really the kind of things that are or can have mental states. And I was rather hoping we were after establishing speech crime rather than thought crime (although that too is good, of course). So if he didn’t mean what I said, he should have.

As a motivating example he offers the successful conviction of scientists in Italy for providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about an earthquake that killed people. I must say, when I heard that news my heart gave a little beat of joy. Who knew Italy had so advanced in such a short time? One minute, Berlusconi and bunga-bunga parties, the next, banging up bunglers.

And it gets better, since apparently they weren’t convicted for what they said but for what they didn’t say.
when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him.

So you see, the politician who misled people didn’t get convicted but the scientists who didn’t mislead them did. Heh, heh.

Puzzlingly, despite the high stakes and dead people, Professor Torcello doesn’t think ‘poor scientific communication should be should be criminalised because doing so will likely discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all’. He’s obviously missed the brilliance of the Italian tactic here: if it does discourage them we can encourage them again by punishing them for not saying things as well!
What he wants to criminalize is ‘cases in which science communication is intentionally undermined for political and financial gain’. So bang up people who get votes or paid for disagreeing loudly with scientists. That would have put paid to those mangy politicians and their green energy cronies who intentionally undermined Bjorn’s point that all those windmills make no detectable difference to global warming at 2100!
In case anyone is worried about free speech, Professor Torcello points out
We must make the critical distinction between the protected voicing of one’s unpopular beliefs, and the funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions.
Not sure I really see the difference: if you can’t fund a strategically organised campaign to voice one’s unpopular beliefs what are you going to do? Announce them in your back garden? But heh. Why quibble? There’ll be no difficulty banging up the politicians. Each will  testify that other’s voicing of so-called ‘unpopular beliefs’ is in fact ‘a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions’. And then we’ll get the trade unions and the crony capitalists banged up for funding it all. Heaven!

Originally at

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