Posted by Michael Jameson on Oct 11, 2018
Freedom of Speech and Searching for the Truth
One of the most disturbing things to happen in our country this year was when the Vice-chancellor of Massey University effectively banned Dr Don Brash from giving an address to students and gave a totally false reason for her action.  Don Brash has of course spoken to our Club on at least one occasion and in my opinion, always has something worthwhile to say and has carefully prepared the content beforehand.  I know him personally from our time together at the University of Canterbury and I found it quite astounding that such a well-mannered, thoughtful person should ever have been banned.  I say that even though today I fundamentally disagree with many of his political views.
One of the really great things about having the privilege of attending university is that you get exposed to many people from a wide variety of backgrounds and with all sorts of views.  As a result, you have the opportunity to seriously consider ideas and opinions that are quite different from the ones you may have grown up with and you are forced, if you have any intellectual honesty, to consider whether indeed your own views and opinions may need to be at least modified or significantly revised. You don’t simply reject unpalatable ideas; you actually have to ask yourself, “have I been mistaken”, or “was I aware of particular evidence that might cause me to think that my own view or position was actually based on quite shaky foundations”.  For most of us who pass through university this is a valuable learning experience and it means that we can emerge from university with our minds broadened and able to contribute to a more tolerant society.
If as a society we refuse to allow people with radical ideas the opportunity to express those ideas we are much the poorer and are in the position of never having our closely-held opinions, or in many cases prejudices, tested for their actual validity and truthfulness.  However, in saying this I am equally appalled at the way our relatively “free press” seems to think that anti-fluoridationists and militant anti-vaccination people are somehow entitled to equal coverage in the interest of so-called balance.  I say this because these same people are notorious for putting forward material that has no scientific basis whatsoever, such material never having been peer-reviewed and in the worst cases actually putting forward claims that are palpably untrue.  Such people do not deserve to be seriously listened to.
We see in the wider world that many people including apparently President Donald Trump are still disbelievers in the reality of human-caused climate change.  (As I write this, yet another major hurricane is hitting the State of Florida and causing awful destruction!)  As a society we have to be prepared to accept that some things are established scientific fact and they cannot be rejected simply because we don’t like them or, as in the case of Australia, there are powerful mining lobbies wanting to preserve the very profitable coal-mining industry.
This brings me to the whole question of “fake news”.  Not everything we read or see through our media can be relied upon as being factually based.  We desperately need an independent body to speak up when prominent people deliberately put forward statements that they know to be false.  Maybe people who do such things should be guilty of a criminal offence depending of course on the nature of the untruth being broadcast.  Such a law in the USA would have had President Trump impeached long ago!
My final message is simply listen carefully and respectfully, and always seek the truth.