Death Threats, Intimidation and Abuse – The Life of a Climate Scientist

Climate “skeptics” like to portray themselves as rebels against the scientific mainstream which is trying to suppress their views. For example, an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal of 27 January claimed that climate skeptics were being prosecuted similarly to how geneticists had been prosecuted in the Soviet Union under Stalin. William D. Nordhaus has debunked this and the other claims of the WSJ piece in this excellent article.

In fact, the opposite is true: prominent climate scientists are often subject to tremendous hostility from those who do not like what they say.  For instance, when John Schellnhuber gave a presentation in Australia last year he was greeted with a hangman’s noose. And the perpetrator even bragged about it on video.

Another one who has similarly suffered, Michael Mann, the creator of the “hockey stick”, is to publish a new book in a few weeks where he tells his personal experience – The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. The Observer recently summarised some of the key points of Mann’s history.

Mann became a target of climate deniers’ hate because his research revealed there has been a recent increase of almost 1°C across the globe, a rise that was unprecedented “during at least the last 1,000 years” and which has been linked to rising emissions of carbon dioxide from cars, factories and power plants. Many other studies have since supported this finding although climate change deniers still reject his conclusions.

Mann’s research particularly infuriated deniers after it was used prominently by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in one of its assessment reports, making him a target of right-wing denial campaigners. (…)

A barrage of intimidation was generated by “a Potemkin village” of policy foundations, as Mann puts it. These groups were set up by privately-funded groups that included Koch Industries and Scaife Foundations and bore names such as the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Heartland Institute. These groups bombarded Mann with freedom of information requests while the scientist was served with a subpoena by Republican congressman Joe Barton to provide access to his correspondence. The purported aim was to clarify issues. The real aim was to intimidate Mann.

In addition, Mann has been attacked by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general of Virginia who has campaigned to have the scientist stripped of academic credentials. Several committees of inquiry have investigated Mann’s work. All have exonerated him.

Thousands of emails have been sent to Mann, many deeply unpleasant. “You and your colleagues… ought to be shot, quartered and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families,” said one. “I was hopin [sic] I would see the news and you commited [sic] suicide,” ran another.

Thankfully, Mann appears to be undaunted.

Mann insists he will not give up. “I have a six-year-old daughter and she reminds me what we are fighting for.” Indeed, Mann is generally optimistic that climate change deniers and their oil and coal industry backers have overstepped the mark and goaded scientists to take action. He points to a recent letter, signed by 250 members of the US National Academy of Science, including 11 Nobel laureates, and published in Science. The letter warns about the dangers of the current attacks on climate scientists and calls “for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.”

Related Posts

Nordhaus: Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong

Climate Deniers Get Taste of Their Own Medicine, Reveal Double Standard

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