Another contribution from Don Aitkin, settled into his retirement accommodation and back in the groove with his column to demonstrate his status as a National Treasure.
It was not until my honours year (and I was lucky to get into it) that I began seriously to ask questions about life, nature and the rest. My History teachers had equipped me for such work: I was always to go to the original source, and question it. How valid are you, the source, anyway? Who says so, and how do they know, and so on? Before long I was a doctoral student, and these approaches were part-and-parcel of my intellectual life. I was creating new data, to some degree, and my work had to be as good as I could make it. Postdoctoral work, especially in the USA, intensified that priority. ‘Garbage in, garbage out’ I first heard in 1965, in Ann Arbor. Thereafter that was the way I tried to approach all issues in thought.
Perhaps that style of work brought me to the attention of elders and betters in other areas. By the time I was forty I was being asked to do things for which I had little prior experience, and each new task filled out my knowledge base, and seemed to intensify my way of doing things. In the middle 1980s I was a member of the Australian Science and Technology Council, the Chairman of the Australian Research Grants Committee, the Chairman of the Board of the ANU’s Institute for Advanced Studies, and involved in a number of other activities that spun off, as it were, from these responsibilities. All of them led me into new fields of inquiry, and that was exciting, because I kept on learning.
And all the above now merges into a short thought-piece about ‘climate change’, among other things about the ways in which organisations, especially scientific ones, have felt the need to have a position on it. The number that do so grew from none to a lot once governments started pumping money into the issue of how to deal with the twin scares of increasing global gas emissions and the change to climate thought to be resulting from the increase (always a negative effect, in this case).
I know of no case where the entire fellowship of any learned body was asked to express its view. If there is one case, then someone will tell me. Very often, as in the case of the Australian Academy, a small panel was asked to write the position paper, and the panel seemed to consist only of those of the alarmist persuasion, or, if that is too strong (because there was one sceptic, if I recall it properly, who had a lot of trouble with the procedure), not to be balanced by the inclusion of an appropriate number of well-known sceptics. ‘We’ll look bad if don’t follow their [the Academy’s] example!’ was a cry voiced in another Australian scientific body, according to one of its sceptical fellows, who told me what had happened in his outfit.
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