Recently, John Parkinson sent me a threatening and abusive email not too dissimilar to those recently collated by journalist Graham ReadFearn. In a later exchange, the same individual tried to take the line that this behaviour was not threatening or abusive, and that the scientific community was being too sensitive. Similar sentiments have been circulated by Tim Blair. My only response to John Parkinson was “What part of these emails is not abusive and threatening?”.
Here is an illuminating discussion of this issue by Graham Readfearn, released on ABC Drum Unleashed yesterday.
You will be chased down the street with burning stakes and hung from your f****** neck until you are dead, dead, dead.
The above note was contained in an email sent to one of these academics, but it is just one example. There are many scientists who over recent years have been receiving notes and communications like this.
Last Saturday, The Canberra Times revealed it had discovered abuse, threats and intimidation of at least 30 scientists working on climate change across NSW, ACT, Queensland, WA, South Australia, Victoria and NSW.
In most instances, the abuse had been in the form of emails. There were other incidents which were not reported.
One researcher, The Canberra Times reported, had received “threats of sexual assault and violence against her children” after she was pictured in a newspaper at a tree-planting event.
Earlier this week, I published eight email texts on my blog and at independent media site Crikey, which included the following:
“Wouldn’t mind that turds such as yourself spend your time masturbating and collecting grants but you are costing jobs, and billions to the tax payers your filthy piece of lying shit! Die you lying bastard!@”
I should correct one error of my own making. When I published eight examples of emails sent to Australian climate scientists, I stated all the emails had been sent since January 2011. Two of the emails were sent in January 2010 and I did not have a date for the third. These three were all received by me in the minutes before publishing.
This leaves five examples from just two of the 30 scientists known to have been affected, far from the full extent of this issue. Other excerpts from these five emails, sent since January 2011, included “The quicker that C**ts like you and your kind Die the better” and “DIE YOU C**T”.
All of this abuse excludes the public attacks on climate scientists which have been made, and continue to be made, by some newspaper columnists and many bloggers who see action on climate change as an affront on freedom or a socialist plot.
Newspapers and blogs across the world have written about this Australian story, which taken in its entirety reveals a systematic and prolonged attempt to intimidate scientists and prevent them from engaging with the public.
In a statement, Universities Australia chair Professor Glyn Davis said the attacks were a “fundamental attack upon intellectual inquiry”. Disagreeing with scientific findings was part of robust debate, he said, but seeking to intimidate scientists “who reach unwelcome findings” served to undermine democratic society:
Academics should be able to contribute to public discussion without the risk of vendettas or email abuse campaigns. Serious public policy debate needs civil and informed discussion. Aggressive abuse and hate campaigns make no helpful contribution to a crucial policy debate.
So given the foul nature and extent of this abuse, how could anyone fail to condemn it? Even those who deny that human-caused climate change is a problem, would surely find threats of sexual assault and the sending of aggressive and intimidating messages to be beyond the pale?
Enter Tim Blair, a columnist at The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney which has a readership of more than 900,000 people. Rather than condemn the disgusting content of the emails, Mr Blair dismissed the entire story as “no big deal”.
Yesterday also in The Daily Telegraph, a follow-up claimed the initial story was a beat-up instigated by climate scientists to engender sympathy from the public. This story focussed only on issues at Australia National University in Canberra. No mention was given of the other 30 scientists in other institutions, some of which are in The Daily Telegraph’s circulation area.
How could this be an “opportunistic ploy” from the climate scientists, as the story suggests, when it was Canberra Times environment reporter Rosslyn Beeby who instigated and pursued the story?
And how could this issue raised in a rival Fairfax media outlet be dismissed by concentrating on just one university, when it’s clear that this involves a number of institutions?
The Daily Telegraph news story said the extent of heightened security at ANU was the issuing of keyless access cards, but it failed to include the fact that scientists were moved to a new location where keycard security had been introduced. Was this fact, like the others it chose to ignore, left out to make the issue sound more trivial?
None of these important factors bothered Shadow minister for industry, innovation and scienceSophie Mirabella, who last night also chose to peddle the myth that scientists had somehow orchestrated the release of emails to gain sympathy from the public.
In a press release she wrote how a “shadow has been cast over recent reports that scientists received death threats over the carbon tax debate”. Mirabella suggested that “some scientists appear not to have been totally honest about such threats”.
Which scientists have been dishonest, and how?
Why didn’t Sophie Mirabella’s office check with the university or The Canberra Times first? Perhaps they did. Why choose to react to this paper-thin meme rather than condemn the actions of the perpetrators, whose identity currently remains unknown.
Two things have been confirmed by this sorry and regrettable turn of events.
One is that the public debate over climate change, whether it be over the science or policies, has a very nasty and unsavoury underbelly.
The other, is that some have become so consumed in the pursuit of their own agenda or politic that compassion and reason have been pushed aside.
Graham Readfearn is a freelance journalist and writer covering the environment and sustainability.