Monday, 20 August 2012

Prof Mackay (Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Dept Energy and Climate Change): extreme political activist who is not qualified for the job

Professor David Mackay is the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser on Energy and Climate Change - a position that is for four days per week (according to his Cambridge University website) and he is also in charge of a new team of scientists and engineers looking at setting the UK's future energy policy. Mackay has just been given a budget of £40 million for new R&D into ways that the UK can meet its Kyoto obligations. I have always found it curious that Mackay should be advising on Energy and Climate change because not only is he unqualified to do so (he is a Professor of Natural Philosophy whose research expertise is in machine learning and statistical inference) but because his amateur views on the subject (which are spelt out in his book ‘Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air’) are, like his politics, extreme; he seems to believe in an imminent apocalypse that can only be avoided if everybody in the Western world stops driving cars and using energy.

Prof Mackay is also an extreme political activist, whose views include equating the actions of British and American soldiers with Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, and also encouraging people to stop paying taxes as an 'anti-war' protest. Until September 2009 all of these views were hosted on his Cambridge University home web page where he attempted to force his political views on his students. His website also contained deeply offensive cartoons ridiculing Jesus and Christianity. A friend of mine made an official complaint to Cambridge University about this in 2007 (correspondence below) when, as you can see, the University refused to even ask him to separate out the political material from his teaching and research material. The offensive material was, however, taken down in 16 September 2009 when Mackay posted a statement saying “Civil servants aren't permitted to be politically active, so I have removed my political links from this website”. This coincided with his appointment by Ed Milliband (who was then the Government Minister for Energy and Climate Change) as his adviser. When I discovered in 2009 that Mackay had been appointed to this post I wrote a letter of complaint to Ed Milliband (but never received a reply). My complaint contained a copy of the 2007 Cambridge correspondence.

While I can understand why global warming fanatics could be seduced into giving Mackay a position of authority in government, I was surprised that a government under Conservative leadership could have continued and even expanded his role. It is possible David Cameron is unaware of his radical political views (imagine how voters would feel if they knew that millions of pounds of tax payers' money was being given to this man who has already forced his poisonous views on his Cambridge students). This is a man who has advocated not paying taxes to protest ‘against war’. For consistency it should therefore be acceptable, in his view, not to pay taxes to protest against other government policies – such as the Government’s energy and climate change policies which many people feel are fundamentally flawed and will lead to disaster. Those are the very policies being imposed by Mackay and his colleagues.

Screenshot of David Mackay's home page in 2007 (click to enlarge)

Cambridge University Correspondence in Chronological Oder

Sent: Friday, 1 June 2007, 16:41
Subject: Offensive content on website of one of your members of staff

Dear Professor Richard

I was disappointed and somewhat alarmed at some of the material on the home page of one of your Professors. Specifically, the home page in question is:

The home page, which clearly contains a lot of important and useful information for the Professor's students, is unfortunately interspersed with political messages and slogans that have nothing whatsover to do with the Professor's work at the University. Moreover, the home page contains links to other pages on the site which are extremely offensive, such as:

These include deeply offensive cartoons ridiculing Jesus and Christianity.

There are two new prominent links on the right hand side:

(together with a cartoon link)


The first of these links is to a campaign encouraging people to withhold paying their income tax in protest against 'the war'.

The second is a piece which appears to have been written by Prof Mackay himself; it makes an explicit 'moral equivalence' argument that American and British soldiers are no different from Al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban.

The reason I came across this site is that my daughter is considering applying to Cambridge for one of the sciences. Prof Mackay is of course perfectly entitled to hold these personal views, no matter how repugnant many of us find them. However, he is not entitled to force these views on impressionable students trying to find course notes and other information relevant to his and his department's teaching and research.

I think it would be in the University's best interests if the political material was removed and I look forward to hearing from you that it has been.

Yours sincerely



From: I.J. Lewis <>
To: XXXXX Sent: Friday, 8 June 2007, 17:24
Subject: Re: Further offensive material on same site

Dear Mrs.

I am sorry you were disturbed by some of the web content posted by a member of staff here at the University of Cambridge. We have policies in place to prevent misuse, enforced via the University Computing Service under authority formalised in the University Ordinances. With a large body of people here at the University, particularly including the undergraduates, we do routinely take action where that is necessary.

My staff have made a careful review of the content causing you concern, and it will, I'm sure, surprise you to learn that the content does not fall foul of our policies. The author is expressing a personal political opinion and in this case has separated that content onto the 'non-work' half of his homepage. These personal pages are hosted on University servers, but our policies expressly allow this.

Our policies are designed to protect other users as well as the reputation of the University, but also to protect freedom of expression and intellectual endeavour. This is generally straightforward as the vast bulk of material produced by members of the University is relentlessly academic to the highest standard and the misuse of the network, typically by undergraduates with an entrepreneurial flair, is easy to determine. We are cautious about overstepping our authority regarding personal homepages of staff or student and will not take action in this case.

I hope I have given you some insight into the environment here at Cambridge, and assure you it retains a vibrant atmosphere of academic excellence which remains undeflected by the considerable freedom personal expression you have witnessed.

I hope that your offence at a web page from over 100,000 hosted here at Cambridge doesn't give you the wrong impression of the place, and that your daughter has a successful academic career here if that is her choice.

If I can help further feel free to call my at my office on 01223 334 702.

Ian Lewis,
Director, University Computing Service.
University of Cambridge


To: I.J. Lewis <>
Sent: Monday, 11 June 2007, 11:32
Subject: Re: Further offensive material on same site

Dear Mr Lewis

Thank you for your response.
But I have to point out a fundamental error in it. You say that that "the author is expressing a personal political opinion and in this case has separated that content onto the 'non-work' half of his
homepage." That is not correct. There is no division of this home page into 'work' and 'non-work'. For example, links to the author's Information Theory notes and the notes about examinations are nested between blatantly political statements and links. Students trying to find such important information  have no option but to be exposed to the authors' political views. There is NO OTHER page through which students could find the course notes. Hence, as I stated in my previous email, the author is forcing these views on impressionable students trying to find course notes and other information relevant to his and his department's teaching and research.

I suspect that the policy you are referring to allows a member of staff to have a link on their home page to their 'personal pages'.  I do not believe it allows  for the home page itself to be the personal political bulletin board as in this case.

There is a very simple solution. The author must be advised to genuinely separate out all the 'non-work' links and material. The home page with the url
should contain only work-related material and there should be a single link to a different 'personal' page. That is surely the intention of the University's policy.




From: I.J. Lewis <>
Sent: Monday, 11 June 2007, 13:07
Subject: David Mackay homepage

Dear Mrs. XXXXX ,

thank you for your reply. Having reviewed David's homepage we have determined not to take action to force a change or its removal.

I would like clarify a couple of possible misunderstandings. David's separation of information on his homepage into 'work' and 'non-work' is on his own initiative, not a requirement of a policy here. And for what it's worth, his column headings are "What's new at work" and "What's new (non-work)" which suggests a division of some kind which you appear to have missed. Forgive me if I have misunderstood your comments in this regard.

(Dr.) Ian Lewis


To: I.J. Lewis <>
Sent: Monday, 11 June 2007, 17:57
Subject: Re: David Mackay homepage

Dear Dr Lewis
I find your decision extremely disappointing. My proposed solution  (i.e. just move the 'non-work' material to a different web page, with a link to it) is so simple that surely the Professor would have no objections to doing it. Have you asked him? If he really did say no then at least we know where we all stand (i.e. that he is deliberately setting out to force his political views on naive and impressionable young people). Given his prominent and deeply offensive article claiming moral equivalence of British soldiers and Al Qaeda terrorists I am sure that would be a matter of interest to certain national newspapers.
I also dispute your claim about the obvious division of material. For a start there is a political banner about nuclear weapons that runs across the top of the page and secondly students trying to find course information on the page would have much more difficulty finding it than, say, finding the above mentioned offensive article.



There was no reply to the last email letter.

We have a snapshot of the home page as it was in 2007 and a snapshot of two of the offending articles linked from the home page (linked above). By the time of Mackay’s appointment in September 2009 these articles and the other offensive links were removed - but only because Mackay was forced to do so due to his appointment as a Civil Servent.

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