Irish Farmers Journal: fearlessly on the side of fake news

Back in the 1970s, there was striking advertising poster in Kilkenny Mart featuring a powerfully built bull with a ring through its nose. The unsubtle slogan: ‘No bull in the Irish Farmers Journal’. The old Kilkenny Mart building is long gone, but the Farmers Journal rumbles on. Founded in 1948, it is approaching its 70th birthday and, in an age of plummeting newspaper sales, continues to have a robust weekly circulation of nearly 70,000.

And while never at the journalistic bleeding edge, the Journal has enjoyed grudging respect, both for its commercial savvy and for wielding significant political clout in the agribusiness sector. In recent months, however, the proverbial bull has not only returned to the Journal, it has run amok.

You cannot understand the Journal without reference to Matt Dempsey, who edited it for 25 years until 2013. Today, he is chairman of the Agricultural Trust, the body that controls the Journal, and retains a weekly column, so while 39-year old Justin McCarthy (with no journalistic experience beyond the Journal) is editor, there is little doubt as to who is the power behind the throne.

Dempsey is also a former president of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) and it appears to be here that he had a meeting of minds with retired UCD meteorologist, Ray Bates in their shared interest in shielding Irish agriculture from the need to cut emissions to tackle climate change. In July 2016, Dempsey’s RDS and the IIEA jointly launched a joint report outlining the ‘political commitment required to establish Ireland as global leader in climate-smart agriculture’.

The Advisory Committee for this project was drawn from a wide range of interest groups, and included Bates, who by then was making frequent political pronouncements in public on the need for Ireland to not do too much to tackle climate change for fear that it might in any way impair the aggressive expansionary plans of the beef and dairy sectors.

Many eyebrows were raised as to why a former Met Eireann scientist appeared far more interested in the well being of Irish agriculture rather than in articulating the mainstream scientific community’s alarm at the dangerous trajectory of climate change and the existential risks it poses for life on Earth.

Then, on May 5th last, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. That evening, a shadowy new group styling itself the Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF) had its inaugural meeting in a hotel in south Dublin. Their invited guest speaker was the noted US climate denier, Richard Lindzen. As a statement of intent, their choice of a hard-line contrarian could hardly have been clearer.

This reporter attempted to attend as a member of the press, but was rebuffed by the organisers, who explained it was a “strictly private event” and among the undesirables to be refused access were “politicians, media and NGOs”.

The ICSF describes itself as “a voluntary group of Irish scientists, engineers and other professionals, currently in a formative stage”. It plans to carry out what it says is “neutral, independent analysis of the latest climate research with the purpose of better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”. The 50 or so invited guests, including several current and former Met Eireann staff, were almost exclusively hand-picked on the basis of their relationship with Ray Bates.

The real purpose of Lindzen’s talk appears to have been to provide ammunition for the opening salvo in a new war on climate science, with Matt Dempsey and the Journal willing accomplices in the endeavour. Dempsey duly wrote up an entirely uncritical account of Lindzen’s junk science and ran it in his column. His understudy Justin McCarthy rushed in the editorial column to support and endorse the long-discredited denier talking points that Dempsey had rehashed from the ICSF talk.

Dempsey shipped a fair amount of flak for his troubles, including a very uncomfortable interview with RTÉ’s Philip Boucher Hayes, who wondered why Dempsey would rush to print statements that he appeared to have no idea were true or false. NUIM climatologist, Prof John Sweeney also thrashed Lindzen’s presentation as “balderdash”.

Rather than backing down, the Journal instead doubled down, first offering Bates a page to support Dempsey (Sweeney was also given right of reply, but his solitary piece amid a blizzard of contrarian coverage, has been the sum and extent of the Journal’s openness to the views of 97% of practising climatologists).

The Journal then went gangbusters, and ran a news item from the ICSF’s second meeting, this time quoting guest speaker William Happer, long-retired professor, Trump supporter and noted (and, frankly, somewhat unhinged) climate denier. The Journal comically headlined the piece: ‘Earth is in the midst of a CO2 famine – Princeton professor’, and reported Happer’s long-debunked spiel as though it was something other than crude prapaganda.

The Journal’s entirely new-found interest in the science of climate change did not end there. In the same edition, it carried a spread over two pages from a father-and-son duo called Michael and Ronan Connolly, self-styled ‘independent scientists and environmentalists’. In case you’ve never heard of them, that’s because nobody else has either. They are involved with Bates in the ICSF and run an odd little website called ‘Global Warming Solved’. They also labour under the curious impression that they have out-thought the entire global scientific community.

Here’s an example from their FAQ section: “There have been many peer reviewed studies which have claimed that man-made global warming is both real and dangerous. Our findings show that both claims are wrong.” Simple as that. And what about CO2?: “the models were wrong. CO2 doesn’t cause global warming.” Were the Connollys, self-described polymaths, actually able to prove either of these claims, they would by now be Ireland’s newest Nobel laureates.

The Connollys generously describe the entire international scientific community (NASA, NOAA, the UK Royal Society, the IPCC and hundreds more international scientific bodies and institutions) as more likely misguided than corrupt: “We are optimistic that when our new findings are considered by the scientific community, most open-minded scientists will agree with us that man-made global warming theory was flawed”. Indeed.

Before commissioning the Connollys to carry out a take-down on an actual climatologist, the internationally respected Prof John Sweeney, Journal editor Justin McCathy could have spent 10 minutes acquainting himself with the Walter Mitty credentials of his authors. But then again whatever the Journal is engaged in here, it is assuredly not journalism.

Four pages on in the same issue, under the heading ‘Agriculture the climate change scapegoat’ a tillage farmer is given space to air his flat rejection of climate science. “The fact that the Earth’s temperature is rising for the past 150 years is irrelevant”, Gerald Potterton explains. As if that wasn’t convincing enough, yet another full page article in the same issue screamed: ‘Climate proposals to cost Ireland €1bn’.

The one dissenting voice in this contrarian chorus is dairy farmer and former IFA environment chair, Harold Kingston. While like many in the IFA, he enjoys baiting ‘greens’, he is assuredly no fool; he is probably the best informed on climate issues in the entire organisation. Kingston ventured to being “very disappointed with Matt Dempsey’s article and the editorial comment about Richard Lindzen’s recent speech in Dublin…Lindzen’s science has been questioned and proved wrong” Kingston added. “To have it put out in the context of Irish agricultural emissions as an area worth exploring does no favours to Irish agriculture”.

You might by now be admiring the bravery of the Journal in printing such a seditious view of the nonsense being peddled by its eminence grise; however, Kingston’s well argued article never made it into the print edition and is instead buried behind an online paywall.

The trust any publication enjoys is hard earned and easily lost. The Irish Farmers Journal is now engaged in a reckless gamble with a reputation built up over seven decades. It is choosing to present and promote blatant propaganda and fake news, rather than informing readers of the real and imminent threats climate change poses, both to farming and to their personal safety. The truth, in time, will out.

The above article appears in the July 2017 edition of Village magazine

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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13 Responses to Irish Farmers Journal: fearlessly on the side of fake news

  1. N.J.Spencer says:

    Perhaps there should be some regulation about what organisations can call themselves, in the same way that one cannot for fraudulent purposes adopt a title such as Doctor or Professor. “Irish Climate Science Forum” sounds like a state-endowed scientific body with proper credentials, which is of course why the name has been chosen.

  2. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    I will never trust anything I read in the Irish Farmers’ Journal ever again. Or for that matter, anything I hear Matt Dempsey say or write, or anything Ray Bate says or writes. Or Justin McCarthy. I don’t know how these three can face the public and deliver blatant propaganda that, if accepted at face value, would be ruinous to all of us; to our lives, the future of humanity, and the future of all living things on Earth. What they and the fake “Irish Climate Science Forum” are doing in promulgating untruths and deliberately trying to mislead people is unacceptable, unconscionable, reprehensible, disgusting and, above all, immoral and sinful, and it may in time be judged criminal and a crime against humanity.

  3. Pingback: In deep water: Naughten approves major offshore oil drilling plan | ThinkOrSwim (the Blog)

  4. John Gibbons says:

    @NJ Spencer Excellent idea, though probably quite difficult to enforce. As you point out, folks like this cloak their activities in the garb of what, to the unwary, sounds like an official body with sound credentials. In the UK, its ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ is the fancy name for a denier mill with mystery funding and a tiny number of actual paid-up members that churns out denier propaganda. So far, its Irish counterpart looks suspiciously similar.

  5. John Gibbons says:

    @Coilin I’m not sure editorial credibility was ever a top priority for the IFJ, given its Pravda-like role as echo chamber for the Irish Farmers Association. I will refrain from commenting further on Dempsey, Bates or McCarthy, and let their own actions speak for them instead. All I will say is that I don’t think it’s at all far-fetched to imagine, as the climate crisis really starts to tear societies apart, that people are going to get very, very angry about those who misled them and blocked action to stem the crisis when there was still time.

    However, you’ll notice that many deniers are aged 70+, and so must feel confident they’ll have slipped off their own mortal coils before the climate sh*t really hits the fan, hence the reason perhaps that they appear so sanguine about it all right now…

  6. Pingback: In deep water: Naughten approves major offshore oil drilling plan | Climate Change

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  8. "Rocky Rex" says:

    These confusionists go under lots of names in lots of places.

    In the UK they are the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

    We need to smoke them out with real science wherever we find them.

    I do my best to help non-experts via my blog:

    (I don’t accept comments because it’s used by schools and others, and it won’t help them if it gets cluttered.)

  9. John Gibbons says:

    Thanks Rocky Rex, your site looks very useful. Some of our Irish school texts are worse than useless when it comes to explaining global warming, with Folens for instance presenting it as some great “debate” where one bunch of scientists say it’s real and it’s serious, while another, equally plausible group say the exact opposite. Scandalous that this type of crass misinformation is put into the hands of teachers and children, with no government fact-checking or oversight whatever.

  10. Pingback: Ireland's staggering hypocrisy on climate change. | Climate Change

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  12. Pingback: Mainstreaming doubt and nurturing climate denial | ThinkOrSwim (the Blog)

  13. Pingback: Stirring up tensions between farmers and environmentalists | ThinkOrSwim (the Blog)

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