I like Johnny Ball. In fact, he is a bit of a hero to me. For those who haven’t heard, Johnny spoke at Robin Ince’s Godless shows on Tuesday, saying that he did not believe there is any significant link between global temperatures and human activity. Several writers have described how the audience booed Johnny off the stage, with some suggesting that this demonstrates how ‘liberal atheists’ are intolerant of certain viewpoints (e.g., here).
I was performing on the same bill, and was standing in the wings throughout Johnny’s set.
It seemed to me that the main issue was one of timing not content. The Godless shows involve lots of performers and everyone is given a small amount of time. Johnny had already used up his time BEFORE starting his climate speech. Obviously many people there did not think that Johnny had the evidence to support his position, but nevertheless sat through what must have seemed like an eternity of his climate-related material in polite silence. Johnny then said a race-related line that many perceived as offensive and this, combined with a sense of boredom, started the slow hand clap (I didn’t hear any booing but might have missed it because it was tricky to hear in the wings).
In short, in my opinion this wasn’t about curtailing free speech. The organisers could have asked Johnny to leave the stage because of the timing issue. Instead gave him as long as he wanted. It’s just that the audience were not sympathetic to Johnny’s evidence, got bored and decided that enough was enough.
Update: The line was a pun on crustaceans as ‘crushed Asians’ and a reference to illegal immigrants.