This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I always thought the word “independent” was one of those straightforward terms. It is, surely, a close cousin to certain other words and phrases:
When we say someone is independent we definitely do not mean they are conspicuously identified with one side or another in a hotly-contested dispute.
Which is why I’m still scratching my head over last week’s announcement that the Australian government has placed professional climate activist Tim Flannery in charge of a body tasked with providing “independent” climate change information (see here, here, here, and here).
Flannery is, after all, the gentleman whose 2005 book, The Weather Makers , contains apocalyptic chapter titles such as The Unraveling World, Peril at the Poles, and – my personal favourite – Boiling the Abyss. In that book, people who think differently from Flannery are called liars, crackpots, and propagandists.
Employing logic that mimics the old Soviet Union, Flannery declares that:
Skepticism is an indispensable element in scientific inquiry, but when the intention is to mislead rather than clarify, we have not skepticism but deceit. (p. 245, North American paperback edition)
(Insert Russian accent here): yes, yes we have freedom of speech, comrade. But those who criticize the Kremlin are deceptive counter-revolutionaries (accent off). Isn’t that clever? Lip service gets paid to the right things, but anyone straying from the party line is peremptorily dismissed as a bad person with bad motives who deserves to be silenced and ignored.
Flannery is independent all right. About as independent as one would expect Santa Claus to be when asked if Rudolph really exists.
Maybe it has something to do with Australia being down under. Maybe the meaning of some words, once they pass the lips of certain government officials, somehow somersault in mid-air. Maybe they mysteriously mutate. Whatever the explanation, in Aussieland they’ve now taken on the exact opposite meaning as everywhere else in the English-speaking world.