Posted by: woodforthetrees | February 11, 2010

Who will be science’s Max Clifford?

Max Clifford might have helped Phil Jones

With Max Clifford's help, climate-change scientist Phil Jones might have had better publicity. From wikimedia commons.

I have a confession to make: I admire Max Clifford, the Britsh PR guru to the stars, famous for defending unpopular clients and for selling ‘kiss and tell’ stories to the tabloid papers. He is a very smooth operator and can paint anyone in a good light. Luckily as I solemnly pledged in 1998 not to sleep with David Beckham, after his petulance in the World Cup, I have had no need of Clifford’s services.

But I know someone who could do with his help: Professor Phil Jones from the University of East Anglia, the man at the centre of the hacked emails about climate change. I’m a bit behind the curve on ‘climate gate’ but it seems to me that a large part of the damage to the perception of climate change research could have been mitigated by a vigorous charm offensive in the media as soon as the story broke.

With the help of Clifford, Jones could have toured the studios, given newspaper interviews and participated in photoshoots. Jones would have explained the pressure he was under, put his case forward and said that he was sorry. Then Clifford would have stepped in and persuaded Sun readers that his client only wanted to save the world.

I’m a bit less confident that Clifford could explain the pros and cons of peer review and explain the value of consensus in science. And I’d advise him not to drag Karl Popper into all this – his philosphy of science is probably a red herring in this case and we’re in enough trouble already. But I think Clifford or any good PR adviser could have stopped a bad situation turning into a debacle.

How much does Max Clifford cost? Should we all chip in? You never know who might need him next.

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