Last week I posted about the submission that Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill and I sent to the BBC’s Review of the Impartiality and Accuracy of Science Coverage. In passing, I mentioned that initially we had written to Professor Richard Tait, Chairman of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC), who was fronting the project, but had failed to get any kind of response from him. I also said that I would post more about this later.

In fact I mentioned what happened in another post on 3rd August 2010, but as putting our submission in the public domain last week created so much interest – Harmless Sky had by far its heaviest traffic to date, although some of that was due to the Ofcom story it seems worthwhile making the whole correspondence available now, if for no other reason than that it shows what a very strange organisation the BBC is.

This is the original letter that Andrew and I sent to Professor Tait:

Dear Professor Tait

BBC Trust Review of Accuracy and Impartiality of Science Coverage

We understand that during 2010 the BBC Trust intends to carry out a review of the Corporation’s science coverage. This is welcome and encouraging news.

We both run blogs, at Bishop Hill and Harmless Sky respectively, and we have both been extremely critical the BBC’s output relating to climate change. As I am sure you are aware, such comment often becomes the subject of mainstream media stories now, a trend that is likely to accelerate as the public’s scepticism about anthropogenic global warming grows and the media adjust its editorial policies accordingly.

We realise that pubic criticisms of the BBC’s impartiality is very harmful to the Corporation’s  reputation, but experience has taught us that, where this subject is concerned at least, going through the official complaints procedures is slow, time-consuming, frustrating, and usually ineffective. The BBC has also failed to respond positively to enquiries that we have made.

It would seem reasonable to assume that the BBC Trust has instituted this review as a result of concern within the organisation as well as criticisms that have appeared in the media and elsewhere. Of the three topics specifically mentioned in the BBC Trust’s press release announcing the review – GM crops, the MMR vaccine and climate change – there can be no doubt that the latter has had by far the greatest impact on public policy and the everyday lives of BBC viewers, listeners, and website visitors. The BBC is a major opinion former in the UK.

We feel that, if the BBC Trust’s review is to be credible and lead to a genuine reappraisal of BBC editorial policy on this crucial subject, then it is essential that the voices of informed critics should be heard. Indeed it is difficult to see how even the terms of reference for the review can be established without some input from sceptical bloggers.

The unexpected and dramatic events of the last few months concerning the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the failure of the Copenhagen summit, and revelations about the conduct of the IPCC have changed attitudes in the media dramatically, and this transformation has been largely led by the blogosphere. Evidence from opinion polls shows a steady increase in scepticism among the public over the last three years which is now accelerating.  This does not suggest that editors will revise their newly adopted policies of publishing sceptical material about climate change any time soon.

As the BBC’s report on impartiality in the 21st century, published in 2007, made clear, impartiality is the cornerstone of the BBC brand. Our concern is that the BBC’s reputation for impartiality should be preserved. We have substantial archives relating to the way that the BBC has reported climate change in recent years and we will be happy to assist the review process in any way that we can.

Yours sincerely

I think that most people would agree that this was constructive, moderate in tone, and fairly conciliatory considering the problems that we have both encountered when dealing with the BBC in the past.

Not having an email address for Professor Tait, I sent the letter to Bruce Vander, the secretary of the ESC with the following covering note:

Date sent:  Wed, 07 Apr 2010 11:13:43 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

I attach a letter addressed to Professor Richard Tait and I would be most grateful if you will ensure that he receives this and confirm that you have done so.

Yours sincerely

Tony Newbery

Which really could not be very much clearer or more straightforward.

I expected swift confirmation that the letter had been passed to the great man and that, in due course, a more or less non-committal, but diplomatic, reply would be forthcoming. Perhaps something along the lines of, ‘Thank you for offering to make a submission to the our review. This should be sent my colleague ….. Do not hesitate to contact me again if … etc, etc’. But that’s not what happened at all.

Just an hour-and-a -quarter after I had hit send, this arrived:

Dear Mr Newbery, Mr Montford,

Thank you for your letter to the BBC Trust, the contents of which I note. [sic]

I will, of course, share you [sic] letter with Richard Tait and with Professor Steve Jones who is authoring the review, but let me take this opportunity to respond to a number of the points you raise.

Your letter states that: ‘It would seem reasonable to assume that the BBC Trust has instituted the review as a result of concern within the organisation as well as criticisms that have appeared in the media and elsewhere’.  This is not the case, as the press release and published terms of reference make clear. This is the latest in a series of reviews that assess impartiality in specific areas of BBC output. Previous topics covered were BBC coverage of business (2007) and the devolved nations (2008).

It is a key priority for the Trust that the BBC covers potentially controversial subjects with due impartiality, as required by the Royal Charter and Agreement. The review is a ‘health check’ of current coverage, looking to identify both good and bad practice. It makes no presumption of significant failings – or, for that matter, successes – at the outset.

The published terms of reference make clear what is in the review’s scope and what is out, and the means by which Professor Jones will go about assessing the BBC’s coverage, including detailed content analysis, engagement with key stakeholders and audience research if deemed appropriate.

I hope this letter goes some way to clarifying some of the points you raise.

Yours sincerely,

Jacquie Hughes

Editorial projects [sic] Leader

I have not the slightest idea what an Editorial projects [sic] Leader at the BBC might be, and nor do I very much care. If a letter is addressed to a particular person, however exalted, I do expect to receive a reply from them, even if it only says that the matter is being delegated to someone else. That is a very basic matter of courtesy as well as being sensible public relations.

I’m not going to discuss the content of Ms Hughes’ letter, although there is at least one claim in it that may raise a few eyebrows, but let’s just focus on the careful choice of words in the second paragraph: ‘I will, of course, share you letter with Richard Tait and with Professor Steve Jones who is authoring the review’. There is a world of difference between ‘sharing’ a letter that was not addressed to you with the intended recipient and actually giving it to them, and anyway I hadn’t sent the letter to Ms Hughes but to the secretary of the committee that Professor Tait chairs, with a specific request to deliver it to him. Quite honestly, I wasn’t in the least bit interested in what the Editorial Projects Leader had to say, and in any case her letter didn’t address the main point of our letter, which was to find out whether the BBC’s review would consider a submission from a couple of bloggers who had taken a particular interest in the impartiality of their coverage of climate science. Make no mistake, we were in no doubt that, for some people at the BBC such a submission would be about as welcome as a pile of dog poo on the living room carpet, but that’s not the point. In such circumstances grown-up organisations, however large and exalted, usually go through the motions of being polite and pragmatic when dealing with critics.

I had no intention of getting involved in correspondence with a member of the BBC Trust’s staff who had apparently intercepted the letter, or had it diverted to them by the very person who had been asked to pass it to his boss. So I wrote to Bruce Vander again.

Date sent: Thu, 08 Apr 201010:14:21 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

I look forward to receiving your confirmation that Professor Tait has received the letter that I attached to an email that I sent to you yesterday.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Newbery

And again:

Date sent: Tue, 13 Apr 2010 11 :26 :02 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

On 7th April 2010 I emailed you asking that a letter to Professor Tait, which I attached, should be forwarded to him and also for confirmation that this had been done.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Newbery

And yet again:

Date sent: Tue, 04 May 2010 08:31 :07 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

I emailed you on 7th April 2010 in your capacity as secretary to the ESC enclosing a letter addressed to Professor Tait, the chairman of the committee. You have not responded to my request for confirmation that Professor Tait has received this letter in spite of my sending you two reminders.

Unless you provide me with either the confirmation that I requested — or a reason why you have chosen not to pass the letter to Professor Tait — by the end of this week, I will seek an explanation from the BBC Trust for your failure to act appropriately. Ignoring my correspondence will not, I am afraid, make this matter go away.

Yours sincerely

Tony Newbery

The irony of this situation will not be lost on those who have noticed that Mr Vander is the BBC Trust’s Complaints Manager as well as secretary to the ESC.

Be that as it may, this fourth message did provoked a response, nearly a month after I had asked for confirmation that Professor Tait had received our letter.

Date sent: Tue, 4 May 2010 09:08:02 +0100

Dear Mr Newberry [sic]

I am confused by your requests that you require confirmation that Richard Tait has seen your letter of 7 April 2010. As my colleague, Jacquie Hughes, Editorial Project Manager, wrote to you on the same day (7 April) confirming that she would share your letter with both Richard Tait and Professor Steve Jones, author of the Science Review, which I believe she has done.

You may also remember that she clarified that the review was the latest in a series of reviews that asses impartiality and is a ‘health check’ of current coverage which makes no presumption of significant failings and will identify good and bad practice. The review is not as you suggested “as a result of concern within the organisation”.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Vander

Complaints Manager and Secretary to the ESC

Up to this point, I had clung on to the hope that the BBC weren’t playing  silly word games by referring to the letter being shared. After all, even critics of the BBC would expect our national broadcaster to behave in a grown-up way over such a trivial matter of office procedure. The first paragraph of Mr Vander’s letter dispelled this hope when instead of answering my question he echoed the term ‘share’. And why? Oh why? would Mr Vander say that he  believes that the letter has been shared with Professor Tait? Wouldn’t it be so much easier just to say that the letter has been passed to the person it was addressed to if that was the case.

By now Mr Vander was not only wasting his employer’s time, but mine too, so I was fairly blunt when I replied.

Date sent: Thu, 06 May 201010:17:17 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

Thank you for your email and I regret that you find my request confusing.

I would be grateful if you would now answer the question which I asked: have you given the letter to Professor Tait, and if not why not? Your email does not answer this question, although it implies that you have not done so.

Passing the letter to another BBC Trust employee who proposes to ‘share’ the letter with the intended recipient is not an adequate response, and nor is saying that you ‘believe’ that this has been done.

I wish to know whether Professor Tait has received the letter, which was addressed to him.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Newbery

Unfortunately Mr Vander had still not got the message that I really did want a sensible answer, or perhaps I just wasn’t tugging my forelock humbly enough. After another ten days has slipped by, I had another try.

Date sent: Mon, 17 May 2010 08:58:59 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

I look forward to receiving a reply to my email of 6th May which I have copied below for your convenience.

Your sincerely

Tony Newbery

Which triggered this auto-reply:

Date sent: Mon, 17 May 2010 08:59:57 +0100

Out of Office AutoReply: Re BBC Review of Science Reporting

Thank you for your email. I am out of the office until 1 June, if your matter requires urgent attention please email XXXXXXX XXXXX at: or XXXX XXXXXXX at

As it was now the holiday season, and I was going to be away myself, there was no choice but to be patient. Eventually this turned up in my inbox:

Date sent: Thu, 3 Jun 2010 13:46:48 +0100

Dear Mr Newbery

Thank you for your email dated 17 May.

Please accept my apologies for the delay to my reply but I have been away from the office on leave and only returned this week.

I am writing to confirm that your letter has been shared with Richard Tait.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Vander

Complaints Manager and Secretary to the ESC

By this time I was about ready to start screaming.

Up until this point I had refrained from blogging about this, although the BBC Trust’s obtuseness or worse had made it very tempting. As I’ve said before on this blog, I don’t particularly enjoy Auntie bashing; all I want is a BBC that one can rely on to behave correctly, and be proud of as one of the great British institutions. However this episode had now become so bizarre that there was good reason to make it public, so I wrote what I think was a fairly restrained post about it and, observing the usual courtesy of offering the right of reply to someone who is being criticised,  let Mr Vander know that I had done so.

Date sent: Tue, 03 Aug 2010 16:45:14 +0100

Dear Mr Vander

I have now posted a copy of the joint letter sent by Andrew Montford and myself to Professor Tait on 7th April at my blog, together with some comments on the problems we have had obtaining confirmation that this has been delivered to him:

It seems only fair to let you know about this, and I will of course be willing to post any response that the BBC Trust may choose to make.

Yours sincerely

Tony Newbery

The reply was:

Date sent: Tue, 3 Aug 2010 17:08:37 +0100

Dear Mr Newbery

Thank you for email dated 3 August 2010.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Vander

Complaints Manager and Secretary to the ESC

And at that stage I decided that it really wasn’t worth spending any more time trying to find out whether Professor Tait had seen our letter: or whether it had been diverted to Ms Hughes so that he would not have to reply to it: and if so why? Or whether Professor Tait had in fact seen the letter and connived at the prevarication that followed. Or why any of this should happen when a courteous acknowledgement and emollient invitation to make a submission to the review would have been the sensible response. Such behaviour breeds mistrust.

Eventually, in September, Andrew Montford discovered that the public but evidently not critical bloggers who might be alarmingly well informed about the issues had been invited to make representations to the BBC Trust’s review. He wrote to Professor Steve Jones to ask if he would accept a submission from us. The correspondence was brief, but courteous, businesslike, and prompt.  Professor Jones gave no indication that he had heard anything of our letter to Professor Tait, although he was not specifically asked about this.

This story has a moral. Last week we went public with our submission to the review, and it immediately began to cause embarrassment to the BBC. If I am interpreting whispers reaching me now correctly, that may be just the start.

Had we received an appropriate response to our original approach to the BBC Trust we might have been content to wait until their review was published before saying anything.

118 Responses to “More about smoke and mirrors at the BBC Trust”

  1. PeterM

    As I’m a charitable person I will say yes, you have made a completely valid and logical point. And to be truthful my answer should be obvious, in that I have no reason to question anything he has to say about science.

    However the lecture wasn’t about science, it was about broadcasting, and as I say for a few seconds he was inept and clumsy with his presentation, just as if he knew he was talking rubbish, and gave a nervous laugh, in contrast to the bulk of the lecture that was coherent and down the line so to speak. You just knew he was not speaking as someone who had researched properly what he was presenting. And having given many a technical presentation in the past I know that is what happens when you talk out of the wrong orifice on a subject, even if it is only fleetingly.

  2. Peter Geany, #98:

    I was away all day yesterday and didn’t spot that it was on. It would be interesting to know whether he mentioned that the BBC are conducting a high level review of this subject at the moment, or whether his choice of subject was just a mere ‘coincidence’. I’m downloading it.

  3. Peter Geany,

    You say “And to be truthful my answer should be obvious, in that I have no reason to question anything he has to say about science…..However the lecture wasn’t about science, it was about broadcasting”.

    This seems rather a strange strange. Prof Brian Cox must be skilled as a broadcaster and a lecturer, otherwise, presumably, he wouldn’t be asked to lecture and appear on TV programs.

    However, first and foremost he’s a scientist. That’s his core competence. If he fluffs his lines when lecturing, looks at the camera rather too often when he’s in a studio, that doesn’t detract from what he’s saying about the science of global warming.

    And what he is saying certainly applies to some contributors on this blog!

    “I believe in a straight-talking version of science. There’s nothing mystical about it. We are too delicate with people who talk crap sometimes.”

  4. PeterM

    “I believe in a straight-talking version of science. There’s nothing mystical about it. We are too delicate with people who talk crap sometimes.”

    Hey, Peter. I’m all for that!

    (Now let’s define “crap”.)


  5. PeterM and Peter Geany

    In this September 2008 BBC TV session, Professor Brian Cox shoots down (former Chief Scientific Advisor for the UK government) Sir David King’s statement that particle physics research was “navel-searching”, “curiosity-driven” research with little bearing on the advancement of mankind and, in his view, the money would be better spent on finding solutions to known problems, such as climate change.

    Hmmm… Looks like Cox was of a different opinion.


  6. Max,

    Not such a different opinion as you might be imagining.

    For example, you rubbished this sort of suggestion yourself (firing Sulphuric Acid into the atmosphere) and I must say that I’m not too sold on the idea either. But this is Brian Cox saying the same thing:

    “Why not intentionally put pollutants, which may be designed to be benign in other respects, into the atmosphere to accelerate global dimming, and therefore slow the climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions.”

    He does go on to say “….so global dimming shouldn’t be seen as a means to allow us to continue to increase carbon dioxide emissions.” But I’d say that would be the danger of these sort of schemes being accepted. It could well be though that we’ll have no alternative if nothing is done about CO2 emissions.

    Of course I don’t know for sure, but if you are looking for some indication of what Brian Cox might consider to be “crap”, I’d say its highly likely that we’d need look no further than your statement that it was “arrogant to think puny man could change the climate”.

  7. Peter #106

    I am sorry but Max was only repeating your new best friend Hubert Lamb, former Director of CRU and author of hundreds of articles on climate.

    “The idea of climate change has at last taken on with the public after generations which assumed that climate could be taken as constant. But it is easy to notice the common assumption that mans science and modern industry and technology are now so powerful that any change of climate or the environnment must be due to us. It is good for us to be more alert and responsible in our treatment of the environment, but not to have a distorted view of our own importance. Above all, we need more knowledge, education and understanding in these matters.”
    Hubert Lamb


  8. PeterM

    So you are back (106) to my earlier statement that “man cannot change our planet’s global climate”.


    We’ve beaten this to death on the NS thread, where you have been unable to show how “man could change our planet’s global climate if he wanted to“.

    Sorry, Peter, the thought that “man can change our planet’s global climate” in actual fact fits the category of “crap” pretty well. And it will remain in this category, as far as I am concerned, until you can show how (but please do so on the other thread, rather than here).


    PS Brian Cox is apparently a brilliant particle physicist. He knows a helluva lot more about particle physics than you or I ever will, but probably no more about the hare-brained scheme of “shooting sulfuric acid into the stratosphere” than you or I do. All I know for 99.999% sure is that it is a “hare-brained scheme”.

  9. Brian Cox is getting a pasting at Bishop Hill and elsewhere. Had to happen with his silly, no idiotic comment. The more time one has to reflect on his lecture the more it appears either he has been carefully manipulated, or he has decided to join the establishment, and bet that he will be of more use as a lame broadcaster than as a dedicated scientist.

  10. The BBC Trust Impartiality in Science report is available here
    Given the tremendous work TonyN has done in publicising the questions around BBC science coverage, I hope we can get a useful discussion going here, once everyone’s had a chance to look at it. Happy (or not so happy) reading.

  11. Come on Tony, let’s have a post about the amazingly ignorant, biased and abusive ‘science report’ from the BBC!

  12. Steve Jones:

    Purity of belief makes it easy for denialists to attract the attention of news organisations but hard for them to balance their ideas against those of the majority. This can lead to undue publicity for views supported by no factual information at all.

    Aside from being a straw man argument, this appears slightly odd, coming from a man whose views and speculations appear to include the following: a) coral reefs will almost certainly become extinct before too long, b) a sixth mass extinction is definitely under way, c) humanity is probably doomed as well, and d) there’s a possibility of human males becoming extinct, before that.

    There’s a review of Prof Jones’s 2007 book “Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise” here on the Guardian website:

    The coral of the title provides a rather loose link for a series of ruminations on natural history and global change. The pessimistic conclusion is that we humans are doomed, sooner or later – and probably sooner. The death of the coral that is happening now is a herald of what will ultimately happen to us all. The message is neither new nor cheering, but it is very well told.

    Corals trap carbon dioxide in their limestone skeletons, so another link introduces an account of the current crisis in the atmosphere – organisms have been on hand to remove excessive gas in the geological past, but we are now headed for a crisis to match the great extinctions of many millions of years ago.

    And from the book itself (caveat: these quotes are from the internet, as I haven’t read the book yet):

    Life has seen five major extinctions since it began. The reefs have been witnesses to them all and are now horrified onlookers to the sixth. They remind us of our own fragility and of how a Garden of Eden can so easily be destroyed. Those who live upon such places, or study them, are right to feel a certain sense of gloom


    Corals have always been the canary in the ecological coal mine. There have been five great extinctions throughout the history of life and, in every single one of them, the first to go has been the corals.

    They show a forthcoming disaster and very often it has to do with global warming. Coral bleaching is a harbinger of another mass extinction.

    Presumably, speculating that coral and (eventually) humans are doomed, as global warming and a man-made sixth mass extinction event get under way, would be deemed suitably scientific and worthy of being aired by the BBC, but suggesting, on the other hand, that it and we might not necessarily be doomed after all, would be denialistic and should not be given airtime.

  13. Steve Jones uses small snippets of his knowledge to induce fright in his audience with out of context throwaway quotes. This is the man with long standing links to the BBC who carried out their “independent review” of science coverage. The contempt I feel for such idiots knows no bounds. Their ego’s must inflate their heads so much they must be severely restricted now where they can lecture.

  14. Alex
    Jones’ book sounds very interesting, and highly relevant to his views of scepticism. If BBC listeners and viewers find out that the coral isn’t disappearing, Professor Jones is going to look silly, and his reputation as a science populariser will suffer.
    Like many others, I’ve been letting off steam at Bishop Hill where the traffic is greater, but the conversation tends to move on rather fast. I’ve just spotted this on the Wikipaedia article on Jones, which nobody at Bishop Hill mentioned:

    “Jones suggested in a BBC Radio Ulster interview in 2006 that Creationists should be disallowed from being medical doctors because ‘all of its (Creationism’s) claims fly in the face of the whole of science’”.

    Not the first time that someone has proposed banning a particular religious group from practicing certain professions. And he did it on BBC radio, so they knew what they could expect when they appoited himto do the review.

    Was there any explanation of the long delay in issuing the report? Could that be a sign of resistance to Jones’ views somewhere in the Beeb? No doubt TonyN will be commenting on this when he gets back. In the meantime, it would be interesting to have others’ reactions.

  15. I haven’t found anything yet to account for the long delay, but in the meantime I came across an interview on Radio 4 last Thursday which has some bearing on the report (transcript here) – with Lord May and science journalist Connie St Louis discussing the BBC and impartiality re science.

    I found the things Connie St Louis said interesting, and quite revealing. On the one hand, she is saying that science has become a sort of “priesthood”, and that science journalists tend to just communicate what scientists say, without any kind of scrutiny. But on the other, she says that having Nigel Lawson talk about climate change on TV is “spurious”, because climate change “is actually considered to be science fact now, and has been rigorously debated and scrutinised”.

    She has a blog, where she has made similar points about the shortcomings of journalists, here and here:

    The recent ‘Climate Gate’ leaked emails story and the recent errors by the UN Climate Change Panel are in part examples of the failure of science journalism to thoroughly investigate these stories. Is it too busy trying to promote the science of climate change rather that scrutinise and rigorously question it? Journalistic robustness might leave very little room for the growing climate sceptics lobby. Science journalism needs a clear definition and vision of what it is about.

    Much of the coverage that is called science journalism is PR and communications masquerading as journalism.

    And yet, there’s still that blind spot. Climate science is “science fact” – end of. Is there really nothing there, after all, to pique the interest of an investigative science journalist?

  16. Steve Jones mentions April 2011. Has he forgotten that December 2010 was the coldest since 1890?

  17. Just a word of explantion.

    I’m actualy on holiday at the moment, and passing through Oslo on my way home. It’s a very very sad city this evening

    Apparently Steve Jones’ report has been published and no doubt there will be things to say about that when I have had a look at it. At the moment it seems pretty unimportant in a city the streets of which are filled with tens — maybe hundreds — of thousands of very quiet people carrying flowers and heading for the cathedral.

  18. No doubt TonyN will have lots to say about the Steve Jones impartiality report when he gets back. In the meantime, here’s a point that hasn’t been made here or at Bishop Hill.
    This article was about the very long offer of help which TonyN and Andrew Montford made to the BBC over their impartiality report, and the rude brush-off they received.
    Despite the BBC’s repeated refusal to acknowledge that they would pass the message to its intended recipient, it obviously got to Professor Jones, since he says:

    A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti-global-warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.

    This is clearly false, as can be ascertained by a quick scan of this blog or Bishop Hill, or hundreds of other blogs, including Wattsupwiththat (voted best science blog of the year) which are brimming with factual arguments in favour of what Jones would consider denialism, often backed by peer reviewed science.
    It is unusual for a journalist to utter something which is clearly false, since he risks being corrected by another journalist or by a reader’s letter. Does Jones not know that it is false? (in which case he has not undertaken the most cursory enquiry) or is it that he knows, and doesn’t care?
    I believe the latter, since he is after all, recommending that the people who will know that it is false shouldn’t be listened to, since “the factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over”.

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