Behind the curtains in the OT Contributor emails chain, a dense conversation started last night after Mark Thompson passed along this bit of news along: Gawker’s Adam Weinstein published a post on Friday arguing that the denial of climate change should be criminalized, and that those who do deny it should face jail time as well as fines and liabilities associated with lawsuits. Or at least, those who deny it and are in the public eye should:
Let’s make a clear distinction here: I’m not talking about the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right, and climate change is a socialist United Nations conspiracy foisted by a Muslim U.S. president on an unwitting public to erode its civil liberties.
You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150’s gassy exhaust. Few of us believers in climate change can do much more—or less—than he can.
Nor am I talking about simple skeptics, particularly the scientists who must constantly hypo-test our existing assumptions about the world in order to check their accuracy. That is part and parcel of the important public policy discussion about what we do next.
But there is scientific skepticism… and there is a malicious, profiteering quietist agenda posturing as skepticism. There is uncertainty about whether man-made climate change can be stopped or reversed… and there is the body of purulent pundits, paid sponsors, and corporate grifters who exploit the smallest uncertainty at the edges of a settled science.
I’m talking about Rush and his multi-million-dollar ilk in the disinformation business. I’m talking about Americans for Prosperity and the businesses and billionaires who back its obfuscatory propaganda. I’m talking about public persons and organizations and corporations for whom denying a fundamental scientific fact is profitable, who encourage the acceleration of an anti-environment course of unregulated consumption and production that, frankly, will screw my son and your children and whatever progeny they manage to have.
Those malcontents must be punished and stopped.
Apparently, this isn’t something that Weinstein came up with on his own, but stems from an argument being made by Dr. Lawrence Torcello, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. And it should be noted that Torcello argues not simply for the criminalization of climate-change deniers, but also for those believers who do not speak out voraciously enough. Both Torcello and Weinstein explain that there is actual precedent, though you have to go to Italy to find it:
The earthquake that rocked L’Aquila Italy in 2009 provides an interesting case study of botched communication. This natural disaster left more than 300 people dead and nearly 66,000 people homeless. In a strange turn of events six Italian scientists and a local defence minister were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison.
The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public… Crucially, the scientists, when consulted about ongoing tremors in the region, did not conclude that a devastating earthquake was impossible in L’Aquila. But, when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him.
I’m not going to waste a lot of time saying what I personally think about the idea of jailing people who disagree with you on litmus-test political issues, as I don’t think it’s all that necessary. I can’t imagine anyone having read anything I’ve ever written who might seriously wonder where I might land on such a thing.
And although it’s tempting to add this data point somewhat forcefully to either my Right Path or Ideology Is the Enemy series, it seems a bit premature. Weinstein only published his bit on Friday, and though the right is already blasting its link all over the pace, it seems only fair to wait and give other liberal opinion makers the time to pen their own responses. Maybe writers at DK, TNR, MJ. MSNBC and BJ are already busy writing away about what a silly and dangerous precedent that would be. We’ll see.
For the moment, though, I wanted to just throw it out to the hive and see what folks here thought — to get a temperature reading on the whole shebang, if you will. I was somewhat surprised by comments behind the scenes, so I thought I’d have y’all tell me how in- or out- of the loop with all this I really am.
So, what say you, hive mind? Do we jail the deniers, as Weinstein advocates? If so, do we jail those believers that don’t speak out enough, as Tocello advocates? And should we limit this type of “for-the-betterment-of-soceity” criminalization at the borders of climate science, or is it worth looking further to other anti-science beliefs that have a dangerously detrimental effect — say, the anti-vacciine crowd, or the circumcision-to-control-AIDS crowd?
Talk to me…