Durkin row and SMC bias (26/4/2007)

Former Royal Society PR man, Bob Ward, has coordinated a letter sent by leading scientists to the film maker Martin Durkin asking for his production company Wag TV not to release the DVD of his film, the Great Global Warming Swindle, unless it is heavily edited to remove inaccuracies and distortions that could mislead the public.

The wording of the letter is not unreasonable - see

But inevitably it has generated headlines like 'Move to block emissions 'swindle' DVD' (The Guardian) that play into Durkin's hands.

The Guardian article talks about dozens of climate scientists trying to block the DVD release or get it removed from sale, while the sub-heading to the Guardian piece reads: 'Wag TV producers reject 'contemptible gag attempt''

Durkin must have thought it was Christmas. Ward has put 'Swindle' back in the headlines ahead of the DVD going on sale and provided Durkin with a platform from which to shout about gagging, suppression etc. while reminding everyone, 'The DVD will be on sale shortly at a shop near you.'

Some have also been struck by the irony of Bob Ward being on the Board of the Science Media Centre whose director, Fiona Fox, is part of the same political network as Durkin - the LM (Living Marxism) group.

The following appeared on a list for science communicators as part of an exchange following Bob Ward alerting subscribers to his letter. A leter version was also published on the writer's blog at

For more on SMC bias see Andy Rowell's complaint to the SMC's Board.

Bob, I did read the letter, and regard it as not only a pointless exercise, but potentially damaging to the science case for anthropogenic global warming.

Channel 4 is a commercial entity that makes money for its shareholders. The TV channel may be bound by a code of conduct when it comes to what it can broadcast, but Wag TV is free to distribute the DVD, and I'm not sure how it could be otherwise. While it doesn't give me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, neither am I particularly troubled by it.

We are surrounded by wild claims, ideological nonsense, misrepresentations and even outright lies. But it is not for the state through its regulatory bodies, or assemblies of the great and good, to pronounce on what information may or may not be published. So challenge Durkin, show him to be the dissembler he undoubtedly is. But win the battle by force of argument. The data are on your side, and do not require backing up with bullying tactics.

I will not withdraw my statement about the SMC being associated with the RCP cult. Sophia Collins helpfully provides a link to the Sourcewatch page on the SMC, but there are many, many other public sources of information on this and associated organisations.
[http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Science_Media_Centre ]

Fiona Fox was a prolific contributor to the RCP's Living Marxism magazine and monthly review journal. In December 1995 Fox had published in LM (under the pseudonym Fiona Foster) an article entitled 'Massacring the truth in Rwanda', which led to outrage in Africa and the west. Even the Nazi-hunting Wiesenthal Centre entered the fray to denounce Fox.

As for Lloyd Anderson's question about a potential mix-up between Claire and Fiona Fox, I should point out that the women in question are sisters, and both used the alias 'Foster' when working for the RCP.

In her LM writings, Fiona Fox focused largely on Ireland, and was for a time head of the Irish Freedom Movement, a front for the RCP that was vocal in its support for the 'armed struggle'. The RCP opposed the peace process from start.

The transformation of Fox into a science pundit is fascinating, especially given that she has no scientific qualifications. Fox is a journalism graduate, and her professional background, like that off many RCP associates, is in political spinning and PR.

If the SMC is more 'moderate' than its sister organisations, that is down to its association with the Royal Institution, Greenfield, Taverne [!] et al. Elspeth Bartlet refers to the SMC and GM. Almost all the GM stories that come out of the SMC are strongly pro-GM. Now I'm critically pro-GM, but I have to say that much of the pro-GM propaganda published by certain science and industry lobby groups leaves me cold. George Monbiot, with whom I seldom agree, was quite right to highlight the SMC's vicious attacks on GM critics. Politics dressed up with a little science is a dangerous thing, and is inimical to critical thinking.

The Science Media Centre, Sense about Science and myriad other associated organisations are political lobby groups, not credible science outreach initiatives.


Dr Francis Sedgemore
Freelance journalist and science writer
tlf: +44.7840191336; web:


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