Is climate ‘misinformation’ criminal negligence?

Wants to apply criminal sanctions to scientific argument

Torcello – criminal sanctions to scientific argument

An assistant professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawrence Torcello, claims that climate ‘misinformation’ should be treated as criminal negligence.

Writing at the taxpayer-funded, and invariably Left-wing, Conversation site, Torcello compares the dissemination of climate ‘misinformation’ with the liability of scientists in relation to the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009:

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. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. As one citizen stated:

We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.

Torcello links to the inevitable ‘97% of climate scientists believe…’ myth and continutes:

We have good reason to consider the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent. The charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.

Criminal negligence is normally understood to result from failures to avoid reasonably foreseeable harms, or the threat of harms to public safety, consequent of certain activities. Those funding climate denial campaigns can reasonably predict the public’s diminished ability to respond to climate change as a result of their behaviour. Indeed, public uncertainty regarding climate science, and the resulting failure to respond to climate change, is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated denialists. (source)

But as with all those overcome with such totalitarian instincts, the arguments could quite easily be turned around. For example, the 97% figure Torcello cites is itself a blatant example of climate misinformation. It may be that 97% of scientists accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that an increase in the proportion of that molecule in the atmosphere will increase warming. But to claim that 97% of scientists subscribe to the alarmism of catastrophic AGW vastly overstates the certainty of the science.

As a result of that overconfidence in the apocalyptic projections of climate models, many of the poorest in society will be denied access to cheap electricity as a result of harsh emissions reduction measures, and will be prevented from enjoying the economic growth from which others have benefitted. If those emission reduction measures are eventually shown to be unnecessary, and that many have suffered as a result, should those responsible for the 97% figure be held criminally negligent as well?

Or perhaps these too:

  • Those who intentionally play down any natural influence on the climate (e.g. casually ignoring or dismissing solar effects), with the same end result? Should they also be held criminally negligent?
  • All those environmental activists who have ensured that piles of grey literature have been incorporated into the IPCC reports, to ensure that the worst possible scenarios are always communicated to the public? Them too?
  • The IPCC scientists themselves, perhaps, for intentionally offering up ‘scary scenarios‘ in order to capture the public’s attention and force governments to take action? That’s pretty shocking.
  • Those who engaged in blatant scientific misconduct, as evidenced by the Climategate emails? Hiding the decline sounds like intentional misrepresentation to me. That’s not just negligent, it’s wilful.
  • Those who use climate change as a Trojan horse for their own political ends, e.g. advocating a return to socialism, or to force through social justice reform? Surely that is climate misrepresentation as well?
  • The Greens, who shamelessly exaggerate the risks of climate change for their own political advantage?
  • Even the governments that have relied on so-called ‘independent’ climate advisers, such as David Karoly and Clive Hamilton (no, don’t laugh), on their climate panels, such as the Australian government’s Climate Change Authority? Ditto?

I could go on…

Once again, we see the double standards that are applied to the consensus and those that challenge it. The moral here is that those in glass houses should not throw stones.


  1. Or as I tweeted in response to this very same article, what goes around comes around, get yourself fitted for prison greys, hypocrite!

  2. “..the resulting failure to respond to climate change, is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated denialists”

    should read:

    “..the resulting response to non-existent danger is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated alarmists”

    There, fixed it.

  3. A wonderful development. They scare us with rising temperature and we scare them with falling bank balances. I know what camp I want to be in.

  4. Eamon Butler. says:

    I assume he will be turning himself in sometime soon so.

  5. “…and invariably Left-wing, Conversation site,…..” should read “dogmatically Left-wing…..” Having dipped into “The Conversation” from time to time, I have never left without wanting to shower afterwards. From a Brit’s perspective, I think of the Conversation as the Guardian week-end edition without the objectivity. What is particularly revealing is the Conversation’s own form of Young Earth Creationism. Before Tony Abbot’s landslide victory, all was formless and void. Not a word about the apologies the Left owes Australia over Gillard’s abject time in office or the intercene warfare in the ALP taking their attention away from the responsibilities of office. It’s also revealing to note the low bar required to be considered an intellectual by this periodical.

  6. thingadonta says:

    The problem that sometimes occurs with academia is this:
    – knowledge institutions are there partly because of weaknesses in the way society’s function and operate. That is, their role is often to ‘reverse engineer’ society in order to detect mistakes and weaknesses in the normal operation of the system. There is essentially nothing wrong with the role, provided it is managed correctly.

    However, in the process it may create, and often does, an unfortunate side effect; some people operating within such a process, such as within academic research, begin to think that the reverse engineering that goes on to isolate weaknesses etc, is the actual way the machine (i.e. society) functions and operates. That is, they confuse their role as supervisors and mistake watchers, with primary operators, A corollary is, that they can’t tell the difference anymore between misinformation and valid criticism. The only thing they can come up with, is that anything that hinders or obstructs their function as ‘operators’, (rather than as mistake watchers), must be a criminal act against the primary operation of the system. The above is a case of this. (North Korea is an even more extreme case).

    Someone once said of Plato’s long-thought out, but very naïve, utopian society-the Republic- run by a hand-picked group of philosophers, essentially immune from replacement or critical review, ‘what would such a social arrangement actually DO to the minds of those within it?’ So much for the idea of Plato’s hand selected few, the human mind, operating within any larger group, simply isn’t capable of sustaining objectivity over long periods, without some sort of external review and criticism. Opportunists, the weak minded, and careerism takes over. The comments from Torcello are a good example of this. He has lost touch with reality a long time ago.

    Only a well regulated, democratically structured academic culture can hope to steer the right course, so it’s up to the broader society around it to ensure that proper internal procedures are followed, it remains well supervised, thus making its tendency to confuse reverse engineering with reality is reduced to a minimum.

  7. Streetcred says:

    I prefer, “those in glass houses are stoned” as that seems to me to explain most of the quasi-intellectual drivel at “The Conversation”.

  8. When you look at some of the outrageous claim that some of them have said, perhaps if there was a legal process that was followed when these claim do not come true then there may well be some more thought given before someone says that the World Ocean will rise 100 meters, Flannery said that “our rivers would never be full again, that out dams would never be full again and he is trying to re-write what he said by making claim that are not true, James Lovelock said that the only surviving humans who would be able to breed would have to live in the antarctic although he did say that that would happen in twenty years so he would have died by then and he has recanted most of his claims, I think myself that in the future the scientific scaremongering will be a crime as it has caused far too much damage for purely self serving reason, anyone who can read between the lines can see that what they are also saying is that they need a big fat grant so that they can stop their own prediction from coming true. When it does not happen then they will claim to have saved the World from extinction. N

  9. I majored in humanities myself (law and English) so why do I have so little patience with philosophers? Perhaps because after two and a half millenia philosophy has discovered precisely zero, nada, and zilch answers to any of the worlds’ problems. Dear Mr. Torcello, instead of addressing real-world issues where you are plainly out of your depth, rather confine yourself to the great head-scratching debates over whether black is really black or just a shade of white.

  10. “… because after two and a half millenia philosophy has discovered precisely zero, nada, and zilch answers to any of the worlds’ problems. …”

    Maybe that’s because every time philosophy finds a solution, Humanity changes the problem?

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