IMAGINE coming in to work and opening your inbox to read an email asking you to “kill yourself” before another note reads “I hope someone puts a bullet between your eyes”.

How about another email where the sender describes themselves as a “one man swat team” telling you to “back the FUck off” or they will “smack the living shit out of you”.

Another emailer says “I’d kill you in a second if given the chance” and another writes that you have been “blacklisted” and that “your children and family will know because we know where you live… expect us at your door to say hello.”

This is not an imaginary scenario, but is instead a sample from the inbox of climate scientist Professor Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia in the UK, as revealed following a Freedom of Information request realised yesterday.

Professor Jones wasn’t alone in the halls of the university. The FOI reveals how a presumably US-based emailer warned that if Prof Acton, the university’s vice-chancellor, was to ever travel to America that “we will have plans for you as well. If you bring your family, all the merrier.”

Remarkably, these examples (the full release is here on a pdf) are not the worst, nor are they the nastiest. What’s more, they provide an insight – whether we want it or not – of the campaign against Professor Jones which at one point, caused him to consider suicide in the wake of the non-scandal that was Climategate.

The climate sceptic blog Bishop Hill was equally disgusted at the most recent release of emails, suggesting that “there are several messages in there that seem to me to be criminal”.

They are of course only the latest piece of evidence of a hateful campaign of intimidation and abuse being waged against climate scientists across the world, including staff at a number of Australian universities.

In the pages of The Australian newspaper, commentators and journalists have editorialised this issue to suggest the threats are overblown.

In one recent story, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell even went as far as to claim that he, too, had received death threats about climate change. “These climate scientists need to harden up,” he told one of his own reporters, who presumably didn’t ask his boss for any evidence.

But even if Chris Mitchell has received abuse over his newspaper’s warped coverage of climate science, the point is that climate scientists such as Phil Jones are not editors of newspapers. They are scientists. Chris Mitchell chose to be part of the public discourse and is engaged in it daily. Professor Phil Jones didn’t.

What is now clear is that climate scientists around the world are being subjected to a vicious and hate-filled campaign of intimidation. These are individuals who have chosen to devote their lives to enabling the world to understand how the planet works and the risks of artificially changing the composition of its atmosphere and oceans.

The focus of journalists and commentators so far has been on the content of the emails and on the scientists on the receiving end.

The situation mirrors that of “climategate” where almost three years of police investigations have so far failed to reveal who orchestrated the unlawful hacking and release of University of East Anglia emails.

Yet while we know the names of the some of the scientists being targeted and harassed, we are always spared the identities of those who are responsible for compiling the hate and then clicking the “send” button.

Isn’t it now time the nature of the inquiry turned to the campaign’s perpetrators, rather than the victims?

UPDATE: A version of this blog has been posted on DeSmogBlog, with some added detail.

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