Hate campaign against climate scientists has not been debunked

WHEN you say that you have evidence to “debunk” something, then it is a good idea to make sure that the evidence you’ve got is actually up to the “debunking”.

Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that claims of climate scientists at the Australian National University receiving death threats as part of an ongoing email hate campaign had been “debunked”.

The evidence for the story, under the headline “Climate scientists’ claims of email death threats go up in smoke“, was a report from Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.

Mr Pilgrim’s report concluded that 11 documents which had been identified in a Freedom of Information request, could be released to the public.

Although the commissioner concluded that 10 of the 11 documents “contain abuse in the sense that they contain insulting and offensive language” they did not contain “threats to kill or threats of harm”. Even so, releasing the documents could “lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel or expressed through social media”, the commissioner’s report said.

A spokesperson for the ANU has told me that the university is “currently reviewing the report” and is “considering its options” which, presumably, are either to accept the ruling and release the documents, or to appeal.

The FOI request had followed reports in June 2011 that ANU researchers were facing the ongoing campaign and had been moved, The Australian said, to “more secure buildings” following explicit threats. As I’ve previously written, a host of commentators and bloggers have used the report to dismiss the hate campaign entirely.

As the original Canberra Times story had pointed out, the newspaper had found evidence of a campaign against at least 30 climate scientists at institutions across the country.

Today, Canberra Times environment and science reporter Rosslyn Beeby, who broke the story, has called for a more mature debate, while outlining again the disturbing nature of the campaign. One researcher’s two young children were named and threatened.

Yet the FOI request was restricted in asking only for documents and correspondence between January and June 2011 and only those sent to six named academics at ANU.

But let’s go back to the The Australian and its original claim, repeated at popular sceptic blogs around the world, that the claims of death threats had been “debunked”. The report in The Australian claimed that Privacy Commissioner had been called in to “adjudicate” on FOI in relation to reports of the campaign which had led to staff being moved to more secure premises.

Professor Will Steffen, the director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, has now told me staff were moved to a more secure area in April 2010, well before the period covered by the Privacy Commissioners report.

He said: “I and my Climate Change Institute staff were moved to more secure quarters around March/April 2010 because of concerns my staff had about the very open and accessible premises we had at that time. I had a duty of care to my staff to respond to these concerns. The move was taken in consultation with the Vice-Chancellor and with the ANU security office. This, of course, is well before the Jan-Jun 2011 period that the FOI request is concerned with.”

I understand there were several incidents at the ANU in early 2010. On two separate occasions, individuals had walked into institute premises demanding to see particular staff members. Both individuals were acting “aggressively” Professor Steffen said. The institute’s offices were on the ground floor with open access with no security restrictions. The institute’s website had also been subjected to what Prof Steffen described as a “cyber attack”.

At the same time, other climate scientists at other institutions had been receiving abusive messages and emails. These can be considered to be serious security flaws in the institution’s network. Maybe the institution can consider hiring an IT firm (like IT Management service lincoln or in the vicinity) that can help identify the nature of such cyber attacks and work towards preventing them in the future.

That said, shortly after ANU staff were moved, there was an incident at an ANU public engagement event where a climate sceptic who had been invited to attend had become frustrated. During an exchange, the individual had showed what he claimed was a gun licence to people sitting at the table, before claiming he was a “good shot”. The individual is understood to have left voluntarily.

Whether or not any of these incidents constitute a “death threat” is, to me at least, beside the point.But you have to ask yourself. If you were their boss and the staff were concerned about their safety, what would you have done?

Author: Graham

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

17 thoughts on “Hate campaign against climate scientists has not been debunked”

  1. Graham

    “Whether or not any of these incidents constitute a “death threat” is, to me at least, beside the point.But you have to ask yourself. If you were their boss and the staff were concerned about their safety, what would you have done?”

    I’ll tell you what I would have done. I would have assessed the accuracy and severity of the reported threat, taken commensurate action and NOT sat by while the following propaganda was produced by the media (and yes, this list is restricted to our very own ABC and would be many times longer if all the “death threat” stories were included including those that were pinned on the Guardian for weeks):

    1. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-04/death-threats-sent-to-top-climate-scientists/2745536

    2. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-05/death-threats-fail-to-shake-climate-scientists/2746230

    3. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-20/scientists-hit-back-amid-fresh-death-threats/2764356

    4. http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3454652.htm

    5. http://www.radioaustralianews.net.au/stories/201106/3235680.htm

    6. http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3325568.htm

    7. http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2011/06/04/3235718.htm?site=canberra&source=rss

    8. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-26/climate-change-media-coverage-very-ordinary/2942708

    9. http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3236974.htm

    10. http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2754194.html

    11. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-05/climate-scientists-receive-death-threats/2746350

    12. http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3313559.htm

    13. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2007-09-11/the-climate-change-scientists-have-received-large/2745558

    14. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-12-09/the-ugly-side-of-climate-politics/1176024

    15. http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2009/s2766202.htm

    Note should be made of the fact that the ABC is still to publish any stories relating to Mr Pilgrim’s report which is a little odd is it not given their feverish reaction (above) when the original story broke? Actually, come to think of it, that isn’t odd at all…


  2. And continuing with the hate campaign – Michael Duffy and Paul Comrie-Thomson on the ABC’s Counterpoint this afternoon. I’ve put the entire transcript of the segment below, but to get a full appreciation of the sneering tone, you need to listen to the transcript (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/counterpoint/) – it starts within the first few minutes of the program.

    Michael Duffy: Before we get to any of that, a quick quiz, Paul. When is a death threat NOT a death threat?
    Paul Comrie -Thomson: Let me think. When it’s made against a climate scientist, perhaps? You’ve been reading The Australian newspaper Michael.
    D: Indeed I have, and last week the national broadsheet reported a story that harked back to claims that some of Australia’s leading climate scientists had been the subject of email death threats. This is what ABC radio broadcast last June: “Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security. Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research. Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research. He says it’s been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks.”
    PC-T: So, a clear and present danger.
    D: So it seems, but this got climate blogger Simon Turnill interested, and he asked the ANU for copies of the emails. Well the university found eleven, but refused to hand them over on the grounds they might endanger the life or physical safety of any person.
    PC-T: Well we can’t be too careful with death threats.
    D: No indeed, but then it got more interesting. Turnill, who’d lodged a Freedom of Information Request, appealed, and the matter ended up with privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim, who’s announced that ten of the eleven emails in fact do not contain death threats, or even threats of harm. And the other one, which is only an account of a conversation that occurred off campus, poses a threat to physical safety that Pilgrim considers not a real chance.
    PC-T: Still, consider the precautionary principle. Perhaps the climate scientists lives hadn’t been threatened, but they might be later.
    D: (chuckling) Yes, indeed. As of last week the university was standing by it’s decision not to release the emails.
    PC-T: Freedom FROM information, where would we be without it.
    D: Now let’s stick to the theme of apprehended violence and turn to video or computer games.

  3. “Whether or not any of these incidents constitute a “death threat” is, to me at least, beside the point.”

    But that is exactly the point… You can’t go around claiming that there were death threats when there weren’t any.

    The Australian may not have debunked any “hate campaign” but they sure seem to have debunked the death threats.

    If there were any genuine death threats, a responsible employer would immediately turn them over to the police for investigation and criminal prosecution. Last I heard, the police were still waiting for a complaint.

  4. The scientists were clearly lying and misleading. Where is the evidence of “abusive phone calls threatening to attack the academics in the street”, “scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats”?

    They clearly haven’t been “subjected to a campaign of death threats” and again have scored an own goal and been caught out.

    They should stay out of politics and try to stick to the facts.

  5. Climate change, debunk? well we can all see that change is present but the reason is misunderstood. The reason for climate change is the airplanes, put carbon up high enough that the natural cycles{rain} can not wash the carbon back into the earth. The jet airplanes are the ones who have caurse and are responcible for continued climate change.
    We down here are 6% of the problem, study the atmospheric conditions on 9/11 when all plans were grounded.

  6. “Whether or not any of these incidents constitute a “death threat” is, to me at least, beside the point.”

    Ah, sorry? How do you logically get to that conclusion? This was all about alleged death threats to climate scientists. It was front page news. It was splashed all over the media. It was designed to illicit sympathy for climate change scientists and therefore discredit anyone who had any questions or doubts regarding the whole climate change issue.

    And yet it was completely and utterly false.

    You are a moral pygmy Mr Readfearn.

    Whoops, sorry, that probably constitutes a death threat hey?

  7. “If there were any genuine death threats, a responsible employer would immediately turn them over to the police for investigation and criminal prosecution.”

    And the abused always report their abusers to the police? Really? Oh, to live in such a black and white world, devoid of human nature and its foibles.

    By the way, the university moved the scientists to a secure unit, like any responsible employer would if there were threats against their employees. Mull on it.

  8. @comment number 6, Gazza: Oh dear if this is where Alarmist debate is going i’m not surprised the world has stopped listeniing. Something tells me your a Truther as well. 9/11 was a government plot right?

    @comment number 7: JG, re: “moral pygmy”, you forgot intellectual and defamatory also.

    Why the left will never grow up and realise they can’t just keep running around shouting “fire” in a crowded cinema i’ll never know. Imagine that, telling the fact finder that he has no evidentiary basis on which to draw his conclusions. Bush lawyers … unbearable lot.

  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. “I and my Climate Change Institute staff were moved to more secure quarters around March/April 2010 … This, of course, is well before the Jan-Jun 2011 period that the FOI request is concerned with.”
    Well that FOI request was wasted.

    The university had people coming into their premises and acting aggressively. The uni then moved staff into a building with secure access which is standard practice for most medium to large companies and govt departments.

    I don’t get why the climate change denialists are choosing to fight this fight. I wonder if it has to do with the last email in Nick’s zip file above mentioning The Daily Telegraph?

    For anyone experiencing offensive/harassing/menacing emails here is some sound advice from the Qld police:

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