This week, a French TV weatherman was fired from his job after releasing and then promoting a climate change-sceptical book (no, it’s not Michael Fish). The presenter in question, who has dismissed the label of being a “climate-sceptic”, and opened his dismissal letter on a video on social media. Doing so, he said “I decided to open it with you, in front of you, as it concerns everybody, in the name of freedom of speech”.
The concept of being fired for having different views is not a new one. Even the idea of being dismissed, or publicly ridiculed, for having different scientific views is not new or unusual. Many of the greatest scientific discoveries, such as Gallileo’s heliocentric system or Hutton’s geological time theory, were initially thrown out of scientific discussions due to their extreme viewpoints compared with the knowledge at the time.
In America, prominent academic researchers and scientists can gain tenure, which not only affords job security in a volatile sector, but also determines that scientific dissent is not a reason for dismissal. This is known as the right to academic freedom. The idea of it is that it promotes original ideas to arise and questions to be asked of previously accepted work that may have flaws. Essentially, you can have your own views and say what you want, providing you can get the funding to work on it and attempt to prove it.
In most of the rest of the world, no similar system exists, either in Academia or outside agencies. In 2010, an Israeli government official was sacked after denying climate change and evolution. However, just a year ago, the UK Minister for the Environment was a staunch climate sceptic, and refused a meeting with leading scientists to discuss climate change after pushing a 40% cut through. And a health professor in Canada retained her job despite teaching her university classes warning that vaccines were dangerous and caused autism despite the paper being dismissed after the author admitted lying about results in order to get his conclusion.
So which of these situations is sacking the offender justified, and when is it not? Should government ministers in charge a department be required to have a viewpoint that follows scientific consensus? Should those in positions of celebrity, or have the responsibility of teaching have to be vetted to prevent extreme views being taught? And what of those who in academia, whose very job it is to question things?
An issue arising from the sacking of the French weatherman is that he has a platform to put forward his case. The book has sold well, mostly thanks to the publicity he has got from the media, and from his celebrity status. Without it, it would undoubtedly not sold as well. And that in itself is dangerous. In a world where what celebrities say has a large influence over the young minds of the world, then it is understandably worrying when someone with that influence goes against what is scientifically believed.
It’s a dilemma that France 2, the TV station in question, should never have had to face however. Because weather and climate are different things. And although Verdier wrote a Masters dissertation on Climate Change and the Media, it was back in 1992, and he has not had a role in climate science since. Why should someone not at the forefront of the field be given an equal platform to discuss his theories? Surely those with the most knowledge about a subject should be the ones who’s views should be given most publicity and be allowed to discuss the pro’s and con’s of it all?
Verdier himself, in his dissertation, remarked “The dubious amalgam between weather and climate is the most common mistake in the media”. Who is better placed to take advantage of it for his own gain than him then?