I do, seriously, try to keep politics out of my posts but, without being too pompous about it, there is more to being an academic than a big robe and a silly hat. One of the great freedoms of the academic is that we can, to a large degree, do and say what we want in terms of speaking truth to power. In many regards, like many freedoms, this expression becomes an obligation when we see something happening that is contrary to our ideals and our beliefs.
Right now, the University of Western Australia, an institution of a similar nature to my own, has just finished holding a large meeting of its academic staff to discuss a new “Consensus Centre”, run by Bjorn Lomborg, and funded by $4 million of government funding. This, at a time, when the Australian Federal Government has been slashing every other body that, just possibly, has a contrary view to what they would like. Here is evidence that there is academic unrest over this decision at UWA.
Lomborg is a (deliberately) controversial figure who walks an odd line through the areas of climate and economics, believing in events but questioning their impact. He is a Contrarian who has been effectively dispatched from his own country and has been seeking a home for some time, along the way taking the opportunity to speak to at least a few right-leaning politicians who were looking for such an ally. This would all be part of the background noise of science, were it not that he has been, repeatedly, found to be in error and he has not seriously addressed the concerns. From a personal perspective, I think he finds it too easy to make the human lives of the third world equivalent to economic advantage in the first world – to put it simplistically, in his world, people in Africa can die if it makes good economic sense in Europe.
Today, it is my duty as an academic, as a scientist, as a believer in people and as a human being to speak out on this issue.
As I understand it, today’s meeting at the University of Western Australia was effectively a mockery of formal consultative process in that they held the meeting after the decision had been committed to irrevocably. Someone at the meeting reported that:
“UWA VC says Lomborg agreement with Government has been signed.”
Lomborg’s economic credentials are under question. Lomborg’s motives are under question. The Federal Government’s motives are under question. This decision cannot, and should not, be irrevocable.
We need to remember what we are.
We are Universities. We are servants of truth, bastions of art, culture and science. We are the lighthouses that keep the flame of knowledge burning when everything around us is dark.
We stand against the tide of ignorance and we push it back as best we can.
We are not for sale. We take a salary to live but we are not paid to think of one thing or another, we are paid to be the agents, advocates and guardians of the academy.
We do not repeat lies when we know that they are lies. We do not support the repetition of flawed and broken data because it sells books. We do not shore up politicians because it looks good on the bottom line.
I support the staff and students at UWA who are rightly outraged by this and are calling for the deceptively named Consensus Centre agreement to be nullified. I sincerely hope that this matter is resolved – the University of Western Australia is far, far better than this.