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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Canberra Times: Australian climate scientist's children threatened with sexual assault after promoting community tree planting; climate scientist has windshield smeared with excrement after presentation at local library on how to conserve energy; death threats received by Australian university professors

Change of attitude needed as debate overheats

by Rosslyn Beeby, science and environment reporter, The Canberra Times, June 14, 2011 
What are the essential qualities of a good debate? According to the Kettering Foundation - a United States think tank that explores issues of democracy - good debate is characterised by broad participation, civility, diversity of views and a willingness to consider opposing arguments and re-examine one's own. Good debate is not about personal attacks or ''bully pulpit'' generalisations.

Just over a week ago, The Canberra Times published a story revealing Australia's climate scientists are being targeted by ''a vicious unrelenting email campaign that has resulted in police investigations of death threats." It's been interesting to watch, and read, the reaction.

Seriously, who could condone abusive, violent threats against Australia's scientists? Or, apparently taking their cue from the kind of sexist comments that launched the global Slutwalk phenomenon, argue those arrogant climate scientists are just asking for it?

Naturally, there are opposing views on climate change and the Gillard Government's proposed carbon tax, just as there were opposing views on the introduction of a goods and services tax. But it's possible to disagree with dignity.

Various bloggers have accused us of ''beating up'' our front-page story from a handful of complaints. Not so. We spoke to more than 30 scientists, in all states and territories, to ascertain if threats were confined to pockets of high-profile scientists regularly quoted by the media. They were not. It seems anyone speaking up on climate change - however briefly - is fair game in this trolling campaign.

Two of the most shocking cases involved young women who have had little media experience or exposure. One was invited to speak on climate change at a suburban library. Her brief was simple - talk about everyday things people can do to cut their carbon footprint, talk about climate books available at the library (list provided), leave time for questions, and mingle afterwards. The other woman was asked by a local newspaper to pose with her young children for a photograph to illustrate an article promoting a community tree-planting event. 

She was briefly quoted as saying planting trees could help mitigate climate change. Two days after the article appeared, she received emails containing threats of sexual assault and violence against her children.

As for the woman speaking at the library, her car windscreen was smeared with excrement - animal or human, does it matter? - and the words ''climate turd'' written (also in excrement) across the car bonnet. Proof perhaps, of a climate dissenter with a Freudian complex indicating arrested development.

These vile attacks were intended to intimidate. Why not raise a difference of opinion during the half-hour of coffee and chat after the library talk? Why send abusive emails to a young woman whose photograph illustrates a chatty story in the back pages of a regional newspaper?

Several bloggers who dispute the reality of climate change have disputed the veracity of these threats. Opposition science spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella issued a statement claiming, ''the apparently false allegation of death threats have diminished the individuals involved and reflect poorly on the scientific community.''

False allegation? Who did she speak to? Apparently not the climate scientist who has been advised by state police to install a panic button in his office after receiving death threats. Or to the scientist who had his house vandalised (hence police advice to install video surveillance), or the researcher who received an email, with a marksman's target superimposed on his photo. Sorry Sophie, none of this behaviour is acceptable.

The unpleasant reality is several universities across Australia have been forced to upgrade security to protect scientists. This has ranged from deleting phone numbers from websites and removing names from faculty notice boards, to installing multiple card-swipe entries, office doors protected by punch-in codes, and moving researchers to areas with secure lifts.

The Australian National University's former Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Chubb confirmed the university moved several researchers to secure buildings after threats to their personal safety. Did these threats occur, as claimed by Herald Sun blogger Andrew Bolt ''five or six years ago''? No. An email from the ANU media office confirms, ''the university took the decision last year.'.

Have the threats abated? Not according to the majority of scientists we contacted. Two weeks ago, when ANU economist Professor Ross Garnaut published the final report in his climate update, many scientists said their computers and mobile phones were flooded with spam emails and texts, many abusive or defamatory.

And that's how we came across the story. There was no ''exquisitely timed'' release of information as claimed by one climate sceptic's blog. There was no conspiracy, rather it was just a chance catch-up call that yielded an unexpected result. We rang a contact (an ecologist) on his landline as he was furiously - in both senses of the word - deleting spam from his mobile.

All political parties should condemn these attacks on our scientists. And to his credit - and despite his dissenting views on climate change - Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce did so, saying no one deserved such tactics. Dissent should not exclude reason or respect.



    justmeint said...

    Just a general conversation with young kids, about (so called) Climate Change, will reveal that they are being fed much disinformation – be it via the media, the school curriculum or even from their parents and close relatives.
    It seemed to me that much of the ‘knowlege’ espoused from these children’s mouths was very biased towards the THEORY of Carbon Based Man Made Climate Change (CAGW). Please remember a theory is still unproven.

    My Husband remembers that in 1943 – while in the 4th grade at school, in his weekly reader, it taught that within ten years America would have used up all of its oil reserves…. never happened yet the kids were fed that information!

    Reading my news online I came across the following, which I believe backs up what I was thinking/experiencing. Get the children young enough, teach them what you want them to know and believe, therefore indoctrinating them, and you have the whole future society doing your bidding (perhaps?). For complete story follow the link

    Tenney Naumer said...

    I believe you are confusing the common meaning of the word "theory" with the scientific meaning of the word. In the present case, the word theory means that the science is on solid ground; just as we do not completely understand the theory of gravity, yet it is there, and we understand its effects if not its exact cause.

    When scientific theories are postulated, experiments can be performed to see if the theory holds true -- and in this case, it most certainly holds true.

    Based on the laws of physics and assumptions about future emissions, scientists warned us more than 20 years ago that droughts, floods, and fires would increase. Indeed, they all have.

    This type of example cannot be compared with incorrect predictions of oil reserves from grade school newspapers.