The Perils of Denial

The top two items on Crikey today are about the climate change denial of Future Fund Chairman David Murray and the final collapse of Pauline Hanson’s lawsuit demanding a recount in the NSW election.

On the surface they don’t have a lot in common, other than right-wing politics. However, there is a core lesson from the Hanson story that Murray would do well to learn. As Mathew Knott forensically demonstrates, Hanson was basing her case on evidence that looked shonky from the start. While there was no hard evidence her source, “Michael Rattner” was lying, there was plenty of inconsistencies to indicate something was fishy. Yet rather than exploring them she chose to charge in with a case that will cost her roughly $100,000, and make her look ridiculous even to many of her supporters. Why?

Quite simply because when you’re used to looking at the world and seeing whatever you want to see, evidence becomes a dangerous thing. It keeps producing results that upset you. Evidence shows Aborigines aren’t privileged, well let’s ignore it. We’re not being flooded by Asians? All the more reason to not look too closely at the figures. It’s not just that critical inquiry is a skill that needs practice to develop, if you do it long enough avoiding thinking things through becomes a skill in it’s own right. Few do it better in Australian public life than Hanson.

The quotes attributed to Murray suggest he is rather expert in denial even by the standards of the Australian Right. The response “The amount of ice in the world is slightly increasing. It is not decreasing” is one of the easiest denier myths to disprove. It’s one even the Andrew Bolts of the world are likely to ignore. It seems Murray has not even bothered to look too deeply into the memes that echo around the deniosphere.

Under any circumstances this would suggest he might not be the sort of person qualified to make the sort of careful judgments required to invest other people’s money. However, s Bernard Keane notes, his job involves choosing whether to invest in fossil fuels or renewable energy, and also assessing insurance companies heavily exposed to natural disasters that are likely to become more common under climate change. Clearly* the man is incapable of taking a sensible view of these sorts of things.

* Yes I’m making the assumption he has been quoted accurately. If not, I think Crikey can be expecting one hell of a lawsuit.


About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
This entry was posted in Enemies of science, Global Warming, Psephology. Bookmark the permalink.

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