RIGHT now, as I type, we’re in the middle of the global dissemination of a gross misrepresentation of facts.
The line currently being spun by climate change sceptic commentators and bloggers is that climate change scientists have lied about getting death threats.
At the same time a campaign of systematic abuse of climate scientists in an attempt to get them to withdraw from public debate is being ignored.
This spin-cycle started yesterday in The Australian, with a story reporting the findings of a report from the Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.
Mr Pilgrim ordered that 11 documents turned up through a Freedom of Information request to the Australian National University could, against the wishes of the university, be released to the public.
Mr Pilgrim concluded that 10 of the 11 documents “contain abuse in the sense that they contain insulting and offensive language” but did not contain “threats to kill or threats of harm”.
Oh. Well that’s OK then?
One email, the commissioner said, described an “exchange” during an “off-campus” event. The commissioner said the exchange “could be regarded as intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat”, adding that the “danger to life or physical safety” was “only a possibility, not a real chance”.
In the report, Mr Pilgrim added: “In my view, there is a risk that release of the documents could lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel or expressed through social media. However, there is no evidence to suggest disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to, endanger the life or physical safety of any person.”
Climate sceptic commentators and bloggers have taken this decision to mean that climate scientists have not received death threats and, on the face of it, that might seem like a fair conclusion.
Except they’ve ignored two key facts which undermine their conclusion.
The first, is that the FOI request only asked for correspondence covering a six month period from January to June 2011. What’s more, the request only asked for correspondence regarding six ANU academics. The report from the Privacy Commissioner made this clear.
Secondly, the original investigation which sparked the FOI request, published in The Canberra Times, found more than 30 climate scientists had received threats or abuse of one kind or another at universities across Australia and that this campaign had been going on for years. It wasn’t news to some of us. None of the emails I published on my blog were from scientists at ANU.
Despite the narrow nature of the FOI request and the foul nature of the campaign, sceptic blogger Jo Nova was utterly beside herself claiming the Privacy Commissioner’s report had shown that the campaign of intimidation didn’t exist.
Anthony Watts wrote the claims were entirely “manufactured” with “not a single document” to back it up.
James Delingpole said there had been no death threats “whatsoever” during the campaign, and then went on to trivialise reports that Professor Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia, had considered suicide.
At Catallaxy Files, senior IPA fellow Sinclair Davidson, said the threats “never happened” and were a lie.
All of these reports, no doubt hastily compiled but with a total lack of care or compassion, failed to take into account that the FOI request was so narrow that it couldn’t possibly back up their conclusions.
Sounds to me a little bit like cherry-picking one particular piece of climate data to try and construct an argument, while ignoring all the other evidence around them.
We still don’t even know what the documents in this selective trove actually say because the ANU has not yet released them, saying instead that it is “reviewing the report” and “considering our options”.
The question of whether the abuse constitutes a “death threat” is a red herring.
When climate researchers have their children threatened with sexual abuse, have their cars smeared with excrement and get emails telling them they’re going to “end up collateral damage”, then what else is it but a hate campaign.
In my view, the campaign of abuse is designed to intimidate climate scientists, discourage them from engaging with the public and discourage them from carrying out their research. Failing to condemn it shows just how low the climate change debate has become.