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Research Hypothetical

Moderator - Dr. Niloufer Selvadurai

The Hypothetical Scenario

Tim Planet is one of Australia's leading scientific researchers in the field of climate change. Planet has published his empirical findings as to the link between the level of carbon emissions and documented incidents of climate change in South-East Asia. His findings have been published in highly respected scholarly journals and as well as in the popular media. The daily newspapers and popular magazines have carried stories about Planet's research. Planet regularly appears on the popular week day current affairs programme Sensational Stories.

Additionally, Planet has a highly popular personal internet website where he uploads his latest publications and hosts a chat room on the issue of climate change. From this site, Planet also provides a subscription based electronic newsletter which earns him approximately $120,000 p.a. Planet's work was recently recognised by an Order of Australia. Planet is presently employed by The University of the Future.

Tony Sceptic is a politician who has taken a strong stand against what he describes as "the climate change mafia." Sceptic states that whilst there is undoubtable evidence as to the occurrence of climate change, there is insufficient evidence connecting these documented incidents of climate change to carbon emissions. Sceptic appears on Sensational Stories and claims that Planet is "immoral" in espousing this "nonsense." Sceptic blames Planet for "popularising misinformation in Australian society."

Sceptic further claims that Planet's views have been responsible for the formulation of the Government's policy on carbon emissions and that these views are "financially bankrupt." Sceptic states Planet is responsible for "saddling future generations with debt." Sceptic ends by calling Planet a "dangerous crank who must be silenced."

1.   A Brief Introduction and Outline of Defamation Law - Moderator (20 mins)

  • A brief introduction on the nature of a "hypothetical" and the format for the discussion.
  • A brief outline of Australian defamation law for the purposes of considering the scenario.

2.  Group Discussion - Consideration of Issues Raised by the Scenario (30-45 mins)

  • What are the competing interests in the scenario? What is the tension?
  • How should this tension be resolved?
  • To what extent is it a matter for the academic community?
  • To what extent is it a matter for the general community?
  • Is it merely a domestic issue or are there international considerations to be considered?
  • What is your personal feelings on this issue?
  • How would a proponent of freedom of expression respond?
  • How would a proponent of defamation law who seeks to protect the commercial value of reputation respond?
  • How can the interest of freedom of expression and the protection of reputation be reconciled?
  • What are the differing perspectives?

3. Group Discussion - Application of Issues to Personal Experiences in Your Field of Research (30 -45 minutes)

  • Is the problem raise in this scenario in any way applicable to your field of research? Discuss?
  • To what extent is this issue one of ascertaining "truth"?  Alternatively, will it always be undeniably relative?
  • What is the relationship between scholarly research and communications in the popular media?
  • In light of the rapid evolution and popularity of the Internet, does the academic community need to think again about the use of the Internet as a vehicle for the distribution of research?
  • How do we reconcile the inevitable clash of academic and popular cultures?