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May 07th 2012 print

Tony Thomas

‘Death threat’ fictions

A year ago alleged death threats against warmist climatologists at the Australian National University became a media sensation. The story was a mammoth beat-up promulgated and/or swallowed by the science community, which normally prides itself on checking evidence.


A year ago alleged death threats against warmist climatologists at the Australian National University became a media sensation.


The elements involved an organized and possibly funded campaign by sceptics to terrify and silence climate scientists, who were merely doing an honest job of putting climate facts before the public. “The barrage has left the scientists… working behind unmarked doors and surrounded by heavy security,” as one report put it.[1]

In the past fortnight official information has been released that the ‘death threats’ were fiction. The story was a mammoth beat-up promulgated and/or swallowed by the science community, which normally prides itself on checking evidence.

On June 4 The Canberra Times ran a story “Climate of Fear” by Rosslyn Beeby, science and environment reporter, describing a vicious campaign of death threats.[2] Her account of police investigations was incorrect, which may be why the newspaper has dropped the story from its website.

The story focused on ANU scientists but also mentioned threats to those at Melbourne and Queensland Universities, in all, “more than 30” researchers. Those named included Will Steffen (ANU), Andy Pitman (UNSW) and David Karoly (Melbourne University). An un-named scientist was quoted: ”If you want to find me, it’s impossible unless you make an appointment, sign in with some form of photo identification, and are personally escorted to my door. That’s directly as a result of threats made against me.” Later, another claimed police had urged him to install a ‘panic button’ in his office, and one had upgraded his house security after someone threw eggs.[3]

Ian Chubb, former ANU vice-chancellor and newly-installed Chief Scientist, weighed in saying the threats were outrageous attempts to intimidate climatologists and stifle debate on climate change. 

“We’re back to the Middle Ages aren’t we?” he asked the ABC. “I mean, that’s what they tried to do to Galileo.”[4]

Simon Turnill, who runs the Australian Climate Madness blog and is legally qualified, put in next day a Freedom of Information request to six prominent ANU climatologists seeking the ANU’s threat emails. On August 4 the ANU refused to disclose its 11 relevant emails. It cited an exemption involving danger to its personell’s lives or security. The next day (Turnill doesn’t muck around!), he appealed to the Privacy Commissioner, Tim Pilgrim, who on April 26 this year disallowed the ANU claim and said the emails (less personal identifications) could be released.[5] The ANU is considering an appeal and meanwhile declines to release the emails. Disclosure might show how weak the ‘threat emails’ really are.

Pilgrim found that 10 emails didn’t involve a threat to kill or to harm; they were just abusive. The 11th described a verbal exchange at an off-campus event.

Pilgrim said the exchange could be “intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat… I consider the danger to life or physical safety in this case to be only a possibility, not a real chance.” It sounds like uproar in a pub, which occurs even in Australia.*

The Canberra Times story appeared a fortnight before the two-day annual “Science meets Parliament” jamboree in Canberra on June 21-22, where scientists proselytise to MPs.

On June 20, the first day of that event, the chief executive of the Federation of Science and Technological Societies (FASTS), Anna-Maria Arabia, upped the ante. She told the ABC she had received an emailed death threat that very morning! She had not reported the incident to police, she said, because she was too busy with the Parliamentary event. The email said she would be ‘strung up by the neck’ and killed for promotion of the human-caused warming theory.[6] Arabia, a B.Sc. (Hons), was previously an advisor to federal labor ministers Anthony Albanese and, earlier, to Kim Beazley.

She told the ABC that she suspected the death-threat email came from “the same people who propagate extreme behavior and misinformation”, her code phrase for climate sceptics. She went on to say that the 200 scientists were in town to tell politicians to ‘put a stop to this misinformation campaign’, surely an authoritarian agenda. The compere signed her off by saying, “Who knew it was such a tough and dangerous job being a climate scientist in Australia?”

A man in Seattle, a serial internet pest, the next day boasted in a comment on the Tom Nelson sceptic blog of having sent the email. “I Googled for her email and did my usual Nazi Bitch Whore litany, like I do every day. My usual litany includes, "When the Grand Jury is done with you, I’ll enjoy watched (sic) them string you up."[7]

This is abusive and, as Arabia said, totally unacceptable, but is not a death threat, just a cut-and-paste diatribe.

With hindsight, laurels go to the sceptics and reporters who debunked the ‘threat’ stories from the outset. Sydney’s Telegraph reported the same week that one of the ANU’s ‘threats’ was in a letter posted five years earlier.[8] And the “angry verbal exchange” incident was already a year old. The ANU to this day has not complained to the police, and ex-vice-chancellor Ian Chubb conceded last week that he hadn’t read the “threat” documents before sounding his tocsin for freedom from fear. The fuss about nine ANU climatologists being relocated to secure secret offices was nothing more than provision of keyless swipe cards.[9] Even that could have been a coincidence, as the whole ANU chemistry department was issued similar cards in a routine upgrade about the same time.[10]

In contrast, Australia’s eminent science bodies took the furore at face value, not pausing to inspect the evidence. The country’s highest science panjandrums, the executive committee of the Academy of Science, expressed their deep concern and “called on community leaders to defend intellectual freedom.”[11] Great stuff but a bit over-the-top re a few abusive emails. During “Science meets Parliament” on June 21, the academy president, Suzanne Cory, returned to the ramparts by inveighing against the ‘vicious personal attacks and threats’.[12]

To strike a discordant note amid all this piety, only a month before the ANU story broke, ten climate science academics participated in a rap video broadcast on ABC TV’s “Hungry Beast” program. The lyrics included, “We are scientists, what we speak is true; unlike Andrew Bolt our work is peer reviewed.” To broadcaster Alan Jones they chant, “Float away, motherf—–r”. A businessman character sings that he was ‘busy sucking d—k in Copenhagen.” The video ends, “I’m a climate f—g scientist, Yo pricks!”[13]

 

The scientists acting and by-lined in the video included PhD students Tim Leslie and Tristan Sasse and Drs Jason Evans and Katrin Meissner, all from the Climate Change Research Centre, University of NSW; Professor Roger N. Jones, research fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University; Dr Ailie Gallant, post-doctoral research fellow, school of earth sciences, University of Melbourne; and Drs Leanne Armand and Linda Beaumont, climate futures research centre, Macquarie University.[14]

Not to be outdone by the Academy, the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in late June conveniently bundled together death threats, FoI requests, fraud investigations and legal challenges to scientists, as representing attacks on science itself.[15] Apparently taxpayer-funded US climatologists seek unique exemption from US laws.

Neither body grasped that when scientists urge, for example, draconian cuts to emissions and hence to living standards, they have become political players and subject to the same rough and tumble as the political classes.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) at UNSW, Professor Les Field has made the obvious point: “To the extent that (email harassment) is illegal, it should be dealt with by the force of the law.”[16] To date, no-one has been charged and even formal complaints appear not to have been made. 

To cut to the chase, what’s in those emails?

Academic ethicist Clive Hamilton was given some to publish. Some pre-date February 2010, compared with the ANU story dated June 2011. Presumably they are among the worst he can muster.

• “There will be a day of facing the music for the Pitman type frauds … Pitman you are a f**king fool!” {This refers to Dr Andy Pitman of UNSW}

• “If we see you continue, we will get extremely organised and precise against you. We will not do so if you rightfully argue against our points from a science view. But we will if you choose to stray into attacks on us as people or as a movement. The institution and funders that support you will find the attention concerning.”

• “F**k off mate, stop the personal attacks. Just do your science or you will end up collateral damage in the war, GET IT.”

Hamilton went on to claim that columnists Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair, and blogger JoNova, were sooling the abusers onto the scientists. Hamilton invoked the near-fatal shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as indicative of where the cyber-abuse of scientists might lead: “The attempts at intimidation have only made (the scientists) more resolved to keep talking to the public about their research. Their courage under fire stands in contrast to the cowardice of the anonymous emailers.”[17]

Queensland University marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was emailed: “Eat shit and die to (sic) lying Communist asshole”. He told the media, “They are pumping out on a daily basis almost as if it is a nine-to-five job for them … Whether these individuals are in the pay of special interests or not is an interesting question.”[18] Actually, the ANU, in the six months to June 2011, could discover only 11 relevant emails to its six top climate staff.

Melbourne University meteorologist David Karoly got one: "Global warming is the biggest fraud in the history of mankind. People that promote it need to be put down!"[19]

Blogger Simon Turnill cites two from the ANU, but rejects that they are death threats (which are legally punishable) and suggests recipients simply use their ‘delete’ button: "Die you lying bastard", and "The quicker that C***s like you and your kind Die the better".[20]

Sceptics, individually and as a group, get their share of nastiness. The gold standard for threats are those such as routinely received by blogger Andrew Bolt, e.g. “Andrew Bolt is a vile c—t of a man. I openly condone hunting him down and beating him within an inch of his life”.[21]   Fairfax columnist Richard Glover said that deniers should have their views forcibly tattooed across their arms or chest, and ex-News Ltd columnist Jill Singer suggested that deniers be gassed with carbon monoxide.[22]

The ‘father of global warming’, scientist-activist James Hansen in 2008 called for trials of climate sceptics for "high crimes against humanity".[23] Greenpeace published a statement explicitly urging law-breaking to combat sceptics: “We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.”[24]

The most violent advocacy against sceptics was in a film made 18 months ago by the 10:10 UK environmental movement, which seeks 10% cuts in emissions. The film showed a teacher urging her class of 13 year olds to use efficient lightbulbs, and reduce air and car travel. Two students, Phillip and Tracy, are hostile. “No pressure,” says the teacher, who presses a button. This explodes both of the children, showering classmates with blood and flesh and reducing Phillip and Tracy to red puddles of gore.[25] This was a fully professional production starring Gillian Anderson and with script written by the scriptwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Richard Curtis. When posted on the Guardian blogsite, half the commenters approved, but 10.10 removed it, belatedly realizing that a massacre of children from sceptic families is not all that amusing.

It’s a bit clumsy to call this entire saga ‘death-threat-gate’. But it is weird how many of the iconic warmist narratives (e.g. hockey-sticks, polar bears, melting-Himalaya-glaciers, Hansen-congressional-testimony, snows-of-Kilimanjaro…) turn out to be crocks.

Tony Thomas is a retired journalist.

* Blogger Graham Readfern has since reported, quoting the ANU’s Professor Steffen, that the moving of ANU climate staff  to more secure areas occurred in April 2010, more than a year before the Canberra Times story, as a result of two visits by an aggressive individual. Readfern asserts  that the 11th email cited by Privacy Commissioner Pilgrim involved a sceptic at an ANU forum who had become frustrated, showed a gun licence to people at his table, and claimed he was a ‘good shot’. He left voluntarily. Tim Blair has his own take on that…


 

FOOTNOTES:


[14] ibid

[19] ibid: physicsworld.com