Benoît Rittaud is a mathematics lecturer at the University of Paris, and the author of “Le Mythe Climatique”. He also runs the climate sceptic blog skyfall.fr. He’s just written a book called “La Peur Exponentielle” (The Exponential Fear). Here’s an extract from the description on Amazon:
“The modern fear of the exponential is a reality at the same time widespread and little known. Constructed scientifically, although perfectly irrational, it is the source of numerous alarmist beliefs based on the fear that we are soon about to hit the limits of our planet: resource depletion, population explosion, global warming…
“Describing a phenomenon as exponential leads naturally to prophesies of catastrophe, and to the rejection of the other (fears of population explosion, the Jewish usurer etc.)… The last part proposes ways of overcoming this fear: tackling our horror of large numbers, reconsidering our relation to time and infinity…”
Benoît was invited to discuss the book on an hour-long programme on French public radio. Then, suddenly, the programme was cancelled. As the ensuing correspondence makes clear, the cancellation was not because of the contents of the book (essentially mathematical and philosophical) but because of who he is. Here’s a slightly abridged translation of Benoît’s article. The original is at: http://www.skyfall.fr/?p=1532
I’d been invited on a live radio show to talk about my new book “the Exponential Fear”, when last Tuesday I received a letter announcing that the programme had been cancelled. Without naming the station involved, I’ll just say that it was one of the stations of Radio France. That’s significant for two reasons:
– Radio France has explicitly announced its desire to participate actively in ensuring the success of the Paris Climate Conference in December;
– My climate scepticism has already earned me the cancellation of two interviews on two different stations of Radio France (so this is the third).
Here’s the letter I received:
“We have just finished reading your extremely interesting book. However, we are not able to devote an hour long programme entirely to the opinions of a climate sceptic. Our programme is not one devoted to debate, and we thought that the subject would be purely mathematical and philosophical. Consequently, we are sorry to have to cancel the programme. Thank you for your understanding, yours sincerely, …..”
Because I want to respect their anonymity, I can’t show here that in fact certain of the subjects they’ve tackled recently have been controversial. But note the sentence: “we are not able to devote an hour long programme entirely to the opinions of a climate sceptic.” It’s difficult not to interpret this as a ban on my expressing my opinions in general. In the words of the writer (and I imagine that, given the circumstances, he had weighed them carefully) it’s not the book that’s the problem, but me. For the journalists of Radio France, it’s inexcusable that I should be a climate sceptic, even though I’ve written a book which they consider “very interesting”.
With my faith in human nature and in the possibility given to us all to make honourable amends, I replied as follows:
“Though I was certainly surprised that climate scepticism appears to be sort of crime, I was even more astonished that you should put it forward as a reason for cancelling the programme. For, having read the book which you invited me to discuss, you must know that the climate is far from being its main subject. (I haven’t counted, but roughly twenty pages out of the four hundred must be concerned with the climate. What’s more, I’ve already given four talks about the book, without once mentioning the climate.) There should therefore be no problem in finding a way of discussing my “very interesting” book (as you described it) while avoiding the question of climate, should you wish. We could, for example, discuss the story of the grains of rice on the chessboard and it’s interpretation through the ages, the idea of the “surfinite” as an intellectual alternative to the infinite, the debate over circular time versus cyclical time and the associated mathematics, (notably in Medieval India). There’s plenty of philosophy and mathematics therein, without any mention of climate.
“I cannot imagine that the true reason for cancelling my invitation could be that I’m on some kind of blacklist, in other words, that my opinions on the climate mark me with a seal of infamy, on no matter what subject. On the contrary, I would like to believe that you know how to distinguish between the different opinions an author may hold, and that it is not necessary to be in total – or even partial – agreement with what he says in order to admit the validity of a public debate on the subject.
“I therefore request you to reconsider your position, in which case I will consider the matter closed…”
To which the programme producer replied as follows:
“Thank you for having taken the time to reply. You are not on a ‘blacklist’, and obviously I don’t consider your opinions as a crime.. On the other hand, these opinions – let’s call them ‘climate sceptic’ – appear quite clearly in your work, even if the climate is not mentioned specifically, and I therefore don’t feel able to accept your presence as the sole guest on this live programme, in the absence of a contrary point of view….”
Note the quality of the reasoning here. No, you’re not on a blacklist (whatever makes you think that!) It’s just that your book contains some examples of bad thoughts, and that “I don’t feel able to to accept your presence..”
I confess this episode doesn’t reassure me about the liberty of the media.