Hate campaign against climate scientists hits the denier spin-cycle

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.

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Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

15 thoughts on “Hate campaign against climate scientists hits the denier spin-cycle”

  1. Spot on Graham. One overlooked factor is how employers, by and large in many countries, have a primary duty to protect their employees, and if there’s even a slight doubt concerning their safety then I find it hard to believe that measures to ensure their safety beyond question does not take priority over any FOI legislation or findings. Hopefully, the ANU will be appealing. I find it difficult to believe that the interviews for researchers at unis contain such questions as, “Would you feel comfortable wearing a knife-proof vest when attending events?”

    If a single person is harmed as a result of this finding, Mr. Pilgrim and the Commission should find themselves facing many questions at the very least. The ramifications for FOI legislation in such a scenario could also result in curbs and far more stringent tests on the validity of any request.

  2. I thought climate science deniers had already sunk about as low as they could. However when I read that they should ‘man up’ and not be ‘sooks’ when they get abusive and threatening letters, emails and are subject to other forms of intimidation, I realise that the worst of the deniers live in a different world to most people – a very dark place.

    I suspect it’s a sign of desperation – some people support email threats, the Heartland Institute is putting up posters of the Unabomber – and Monckton uses swastikas and images of Hitler to ‘prove’ we’re heading for an ice age.

    Pretty poor substitutes for scientific research.

  3. EXACTLY, in your own words, what is the EVIDENCE for man caused global warming ?
    Alarmists claim “overwhelming evidence” but can never describe any !

  4. Spin, spin, spin. Why don’t you show us the actual death threats? Asking for the evidence which supports an allegation is not a “hate campaign”.

  5. And, Mr Readfern, your calling people who disagree with you “deniers” (somehow equating them with “Holocaust Deniers”) is not a “hate campaign”???

  6. I don’t _want_ to see “actual death threats”. I’d hope that such items were being held and used appropriately in police and similar security-type files.

    They may not … yet …. in isolation …. be material suitable to sustain a successful criminal prosecution. But further such threats, or some action related to these threats, would probably be backed up by these materials.

    Security and administrative staff at universities and police forces may not be perfect in every task they undertake. But we have to rely on them making the best judgements about how to deal with current and past threats and ensure they’re in the best position to protect staff and to deal with any further such worrying incidents.

  7. With respect it is difficult to take these ANU academics seriously unless they can produce actual evidence of real death threats. And that is the point. They tried to play the victim card, over-played their hand and now can’t back it up. No one has yet produced evidence of a real death threat. Nothing you have cited above or I have read anywhere else constitutes a death threat. Abuse yes, but a death threat? Spare me. And that is your problem with this argument. Yes I see some abusive emails were received (ho hum, delete key, next), and the poo on the windscreen would have been stinky and unpleasant (in the words of my first boss – the world is full of a-holes. If you leave the house you will find them. Then he would have told me to fetch a hose.) But they claimed they had a fear for their lives. The only mitigating circumstances are that these are academics who may not be exposed to dealing with the public or the real world the rest of us live in. If ANU CAGW academics really want to play in the big game (on the tax payers teat naturally) to support this CAGW scam then harden up and stop whinging.

  8. “…academics really want to play in the big game (on the tax payers teat naturally) to support this CAGW scam then harden up and stop whinging.”

    And therein lies the problem. What this amounts to is that some people don’t like what other people’s work involves, so that makes them fair game. If they don’t like it, they should make sure their children go to school in disguise and they just ‘suck it up’ whenever an angry person shows up at the reception desk or sends them an abusive letter.

    I’ve worked in a couple of places where security from angry, crazy or criminal people was an issue. You do get used to working with ‘rescue’ buttons under your desk and with time-consuming security checks at entry, but it’s never easy when someone is threatening you and yours over the phone or in writing.

    And it’s never as simple as “ho hum, delete key, next”. Why not? Well, despite the threats being personal, you can never be sure that this person really does know who you are. You ignore it and some poor woman you’ve only ever spoken to in the lift gets bailed up in the carpark having been mistaken for you – not nice at all. Someone who knows what they’re doing really needs to do a proper threat analysis. The price of ignoring or dismissing such threats is just too high – and you might not be the one who pays it.

  9. I feel I can now throw some light on the matter. The document viewed as most “threatening” referred to an alleged Deliberation at the ANU about climate change in the Canberra region at which one person “made a death threat” (sic) by showing his gun licence and boasting about his skill as a sniper.. Only two people dropped out of the conference only one of those who did so attended the even meal. Me. I am certainly the one who is alleged to show someone their gun licence. That is not true while at the evening meal (of poor quality) comments moved to eating game meat and I was approached by the Commissioner for the Environment ACT, Dr Maxine Cooper who recognized me as someone involved in the kangaroo culling program in the ACT. She politely asked if she could sit at the vacant seat next to me and asked if I had past the recent licence test – not easy. I replied yes and showed her my current licence. I also impressed on any one interested the high standard of marksmanship necessary to allay any cruelty concerns. I might add that earlier in the day I had challenged two speakers to comment on a letter in the Canberra Times that claimed that temperatures had not increased in the Canberra area for decades. They were unable to do so, having not apparently checked the record despite the the “Deliberation” (conference) supposed to be about rising temperatures in the Canberra region. As all daytime conversations were recorded (we all signed waivers to allow this) this can easily be checked.

  10. The public know nothing about thermodynamics and lapse rates, but they know the difference between death threats and just abuse. And they know the techniques of shifting the goal posts, reversing onus of proof and evasion.

    Your and Nick Stoke display complete blindness and inability to concede an obvious error (of claiming “dearth threats” when there are none ) on the part of climate scientists and their supporters in ANU admin and the media.

    Do you have any idea how damaging your evasion is to your reputation with the public for being objective and trustworthy scientists?

    I just don’t get it. For intelligent scientists, you are acting really dumb.

  11. This has been extremely frusturating to read all this. My own sister left the country a few years ago after recieving some very specific death threats over her research on climate change and ground water. One threat mentioned the name of her toddler and that was enough for her and her husband to decide to leave the country. They did this quietly and without fuss because of fears for their safety.

    There has been undeniably some very extreme threats made to scientists and to see this sort of sleight of hand used to deny these people their traumatic stories does nothing to disabuse me of the observation that there are some very sinister people in the denialist industry.

    Sorry for this anonymous comment. I’m possibly outstepping my bounds even mentioning it anonymously as some of her collegues are still getting this sort of abuse and for the most part just want it to go away so they can go back to doing what they do. Science.

    It appears the PR companies pushing the anti-science agenda learned well from their intimidation of health researchers back in the “tobacco is harmless” campaigns.

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