Article: Climate of fear: scientists face death threats
Climate of fear: scientists face death threats04 Jun, 2011 12:00 AMAustralia's leading climate change scientists are being targeted by a vicious, unrelenting email campaign that has resulted in police investigations of death threats.
The Australian National University has confirmed it moved several high-profile climate scientists, economists and policy researchers into more secure buildings, following explicit threats to their personal safety.
Scientists at universities in NSW and Queensland have told of being moved to high security buildings, where their names do not appear on staff directory lists or on their office door.
''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,'' one scientist said.
''That's directly as a result of threats made against me.''
More than 30 researchers across Australia ranging from ecologists and environmental policy experts to meteorologists and atmospheric physicists told The Canberra Times they are receiving a stream of abusive emails threatening violence, sexual assault, public smear campaigns and attacks on family members.
Among the scientists being targeted is Australian National University climate institute director Professor Will Steffen.
Others include University of NSW climate change research co-director Professor Andy Pitman and University of Melbourne meteorology professor and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author Professor David Karoly.
Many scientists spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared the email attacks would escalate if they were identified.
Several scientists have installed upgraded home security systems and switched to unlisted phone numbers after receiving threats that their homes and cars would be damaged.
One scientist said he was advised by police to install a ''panic button'' security alarm in his university office after receiving death threats. Others have removed all contact numbers from their work websites, and deleted social media sites after these were defaced with abusive comments and obscene photographs. One researcher told of receiving threats of sexual assault and violence against her children after her photograph appeared in a newspaper article promoting a community tree-planting day as a local action to mitigate climate change.
Australia's new chief scientist, former ANU vice-chancellor Professor Ian Chubb has condemned these email threats as ''an outrageous attack'' on open and public debate.
''These hurtful attacks are intended to intimidate scientists, to scare them off and stop them from participating in public discussions on climate change. They are the antithesis of democratic debate,'' Professor Chubb said.
Federal Climate Change Minster Greg Combet said harassment of scientists or other researchers was unacceptable.
''There is nothing wrong with having a genuine debate but there is no place for harassment or bullying. People whipping up anxiety over a carbon price should temper their language and engage in rational debate rather than irrational scare mongering,'' Mr Combet said.
Australian Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said the emails were ''an orchestrated, extremist anti-science campaign attempting to threaten and intimidate people into silence.''
Outspoken climate science critic, Queensland Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce also condemned the attacks as malicious and counter-productive.
''No one deserves that kind of behaviour,'' Senator Joyce said.
University of NSW senior psychology lecturer Jason Mazanov said the emails were indicative of a ''closed room'' mentality where people have lost all sense of what is normal.
''They send a threatening email with no thought of the social cost or consequences,'' he said.
The AFP have advised that if an individual receives death threats and/or violently abusive emails, they should contact their state or territory police.