|Not just a river in Egypt|
|♫ We're not listening ♫|
“”Does Christopher Booker exist? Or is he simply a device invented to waste as much of other people's time as possible? Might he in fact be a computer programme randomly generating nonsense in order to keep scientists, environmentalists and public health campaigners so busy refuting it that they can't get on with what they ought to be doing? I ask because it seems almost impossible that one man could make so many superhuman cock-ups.
Christopher Booker (1937-2019) was a British journalist and author. He was a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph in the UK between 1990 and 2019. He also wrote regular columns for The Spectator and was a long-standing contributor to Private Eye, where he penned the poems of E.J. Thribb (aged 17 1/2) and the columns of leftie ranter Dave Spart. He published The Seven Basic Plots (2004), a controversial book on storytelling from a Jungian perspective, which took him 35 years to write.
On the other hand, he was also an anti-science crank with a range and depth quite astonishing for a journalist of such eminence. Possibly, his long association with Private Eye, which habitually pokes fun at The Great And Good clouded his judgement. In seeing scientists as "establishment" figures, with their obscure language and ivory towers, he mistrusted them as a reflex reaction. While it is possible to hold plausible opinions on politics without much expert knowledge, the same is not true of science. Many deniers and cranks do not appear to appreciate this difference — Booker was certainly among them.
Climate change denial
The book is in fact well argued, well written and thoroughly referenced. It is also complete bollocks from start to finish. His favoured tactic is to misunderstand (being charitable) or misrepresent the sources he quotes. As with creationists, it's only if you check what the references say that the deceit becomes plain.
Booker was a creationist of the intelligent design variety. He was not particularly interesting or original in his claims; he merely regurgitated a selection of favourite creationist tropes such as Darwin's "eye problem", the fossil record, etc. As usual, he reconciled this with his worldview by blaming the scientific establishment that insists on the Darwinian orthodoxy and resists any challenges to its authority.
His hook for a story in The Spectator was a conference that he attended on intelligent design. This was held at a secret location, with participants that were (seemingly) there by invitation only. The meeting was bankrolled by an unnamed billionaire.[note 1] Booker seemed unaware that the heroes of his article represented the kind of conspiracy that he habitually condemns. The scientific bodies that make up "the establishment" can at least be named and are not secretive (at least, not in the way he implies).
Denying the health risks posed by asbestos is a fringe activity, even for hardcore cranks. Booker rose to the occasion. Indeed, one of his most famous claims is that asbestos "is chemically identical to talcum powder". It isn't, of course, but this information has not led him to a retraction or even an acknowledgement of his nonsense. Talc and some forms of asbestos are both magnesium silicates, but since there have been persistent worries about asbestos contamination in talc, it should be obvious they are not the same.
Most people would trust a professor of chemistry to know such things as chemical structure. As a member of the scientific establishment, professors are not to be trusted. Instead, Booker turns to John Bridle, who claims an honorary doctorate from the Russian National Academy of Science and a position at the University of Glamorgan, for his information. In reality, Bridle has no connection to either academic institution: he simply says he has, and he is a known fraudster.
The dubious qualifications of his source have been pointed out to Booker. Facts appear to have little impact. Presumably, he either thought that a proven liar is a reliable source or he regarded this as an attempt by the scientific establishment to discredit him and his source.
Booker was, unsurprisingly, a eurosceptic. He believed that the UK's European integration was a slow-motion coup d'etat with an agenda of subordination to invasive centralised regulation that could be economically harmful to the country. He and his partner-in-crime Richard North published a couple of books shitting on the EU, including The Castle of Lies: Why Britain Must Get Out of Europe (1996) and The Great Deception: Can the European Union Survive? (2005).
Booker was a persistent and tenacious campaigner for victims of stupidity caused by government and other forms of officialdom and bureaucracy. This is a very worthy aim and he ought to be applauded for it. However, it appears he was just as incompetent and oblivious to reality as with his anti-science crusades. In his summing up on a case where a child was taken into care, Judge Bellamy singled out Booker for criticism:
Mr Booker's articles contain significant factual errors and omissions. […] this underlines the dangers inherent in journalists relying on partisan and invariably tendentious reporting by family members and their supporters rather than being present in court to hear the evidence which the court itself hears.
He also got into bother while a jazz reviewer for the Sunday Telegraph by producing an enthusiastic review of a concert that had actually been cancelled.
George Monbiot has been a persistent critic of Booker's nonsense. In response, Booker offered a robust defence of his claims, wheeling out a set of unreliable and discredited sources in his defence.
An article written by Booker with Richard North about the IPCC chief Rajendra K. Pachauri was retracted by The Sunday Telegraph on the grounds that it was a pack of lies. This seems to be part of a general attack on Pachauri by climate change deniers. The retraction was highly unusual given virtually everything else Booker has written for the Sunday Telegraph is also a pack of lies yet never gets retracted.
- The sleuths at Pharyngula point the finger at Walt Ruloff, the main backer for the "documentary" Expelled. No proof, but it ticks the boxes.
- The superhuman cock-ups of Christopher Booker, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 13 Oct 2011
- Christopher Booker obituary, The Guardian, July 4, 2019
- The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker
- The Real Global Warming Disaster by Christopher Booker, Philip Ball (formerly an editor at Nature) demolishes the book
- Scientists In Hiding, Christopher Booker
- Christopher Booker's Notebook: Billions to be spent on nonexistent risk, 13 January 2002 (he's serious)
- Talcum Powder and Cancer, American Cancer Society
- The patron saint of charlatans is again spreading dangerous misinformation, George Monbiot on Booker
- Booker’s false claims (42 articles and counting) downplaying the risks of white asbestos, Richard Wilson
- Christopher Booker's notebook: All done with passive smoke and mirrors, 1 July 2007
- Christopher Booker's notebook: EU bars a malaria life-saver, 2 July 2006 (many of the common themes here, as a bonus he gets to blame the EU — another pet hate)
- http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/euroscepticbutsane Eurosceptic, but sane], Prospect Magazine
- The strange case of “Bregretter” Christopher Booker
- Court decision
- For How Much Longer Can This Go On?, monbiot.com
- Carbon capture is not here yet / The Great Moonbat is the one who's spreading 'misinformation' about asbestos, 28 September 2008
- Dr Pachauri — Apology
- See, for example Climate Audit on this in a post by Steve McIntyre