April 27, 2008 | Graham

Who the hell is Robyn Williams? Can anyone help?

This morning’s Ockham’s Razor broadcast was by Don Aitkin on global warming. Presenter Robyn Williams introduced him in these terms:

It is one of the disappointments of my life as a broadcaster that I’ve never managed to interview Nigella Lawson. How would she fit into a science program you may wonder, but that’s mere detail.
I have, on the other hand, had her father Nigel Lawson on the Science Show, talking about innovation or some such, with his usual flair and penetrating intelligence. Not a science-trained man, but economics is near enough, isn’t it, and he was Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (or Treasurer).
Now Lord Lawson has brought out a book on climate called An Appeal to Reason. Here’s the first paragraph of a review in this week’s Spectator magazine:
‘When there is so much data suggesting the world’s climate is heating up’, goes the review, ‘some may find it presumptuous of Nigel Lawson, who is not a scientist and has undertaken no original research, to hope to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. Would we take seriously an appraisal of his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer written by someone whose only expertise was in oceanography?’
Well the same could apply to Professor Don Aitkin, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra, a political scientist and like Lawson, a journalist. Professor Aitkin gave a lecture on climate to the Planning Institute of Australia, A Cool Look at Global Warming. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I thought you might like to hear some of his thoughts, recast for Ockham’s Razor. Though 9 out of 10 Australians are said to be alarmed at climate change, 10% think differently, and Professor Aitkin is one of them.

There are a number of issues of impartiality that arise from this introduction, but in this post I am interested in the main slight which is that because Aitkin is a “journalist” (I actually think he would be more correctly described as a social scientist) he cannot be taken seriously on the issue of climate change.
So, I’m interested in what qualifications Robyn Williams has. Afterall, while argument from authority has no role to play in establishing the truth of a proposition, turned back on its proponent it can often be the best demonstration of just how hollow their argument is.
Here is what I think I know about Williams. Happy to be corrected, or to have the list extended.

  • He has an honours degree in biology. He does not have qualifications in physics, climatology or earth-sciences
  • He has some honorary PhDs, but he does not have an actual PhD
  • He is a visiting professor at UNSW, but is not actually on staff
  • He is an adjunct professor at UQ, but is not actually on staff
  • He has in the past, and perhaps to the present, been a supporter of communist politics
  • .

If I am correct in all of this it leads to the conclusion that his only standing on this issue is as a journalist, with a particular political bent, who is no better qualified than Don Aitkin. Which in his own terms must make it quite improper to make the introduction that he did. Afterall, with those qualifications, what would he know?

Posted by Graham at 3:37 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. I’m wondering if there is any connection between “qualifications” and what someone knows, or is deemed to know. In my world they are fairly well divorced from each other- if you have “qualifications” people think you know nothing. Often, they are wrong, but you can never prove it to their satisfaction because you have been written off at step one. I believe anyone can have a valid contribution to make on the topic of “climate change”- some contributions are just not very grounded or practical!

    Comment by Kay — April 27, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

  2. I’ve checked into the communist part of the above list. It appears that his father and mother were Marxists, and while he has not been a communist, he has been active in radical causes. http://www.abc.net.au/talkingheads/txt/s1505785.htm
    As you can see from this, he’s a man on a campaign.

    Comment by Graham Young — April 30, 2008 @ 10:13 am

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