ABC News Covers the New War on Climate Research (and on Michael Mann)

By Chris Mooney | May 23, 2010 6:14 pm

Here’s the report that (I understand) airs tonight:

Climate scientist Michael Mann has received hundreds of them — threatening e-mails and phone calls calling him a criminal, a communist or worse.

“6 feet under, with the roots, is were you should be,” one e-mail reads. “How know 1 one has been the livin p*ss out of you yet, i was hopin i would see the news that you commited suicide, Do it.”

“I’ve been called just about everything in the book,” Mann, who runs of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told ABC News. “It’s an attempt to chill the discourse, and I think that’s what’s most disconcerting.”

Mann is not the only one. The FBI says it’s seeing an uptick in threatening communications to climate scientists. Recently, a white supremacist website posted Mann’s picture alongside several of his colleagues with the word “Jew” next to each image.

One climate scientist, who did not wish to be identified, told ABC News he’s had a dead animal left on his doorstep, and now sometimes travels with bodyguards.

“Human-caused climate change is a reality,” Mann said. “There are clearly some who find that message inconvenient, and unfortunately they appear willing to turn to just about any tactics to try to suppress that message.”

I discussed much of this with Mann on Point of Inquiry–our show together is my most popular, and currently has 23,000 downloads.

Yeah, I wrote The Republican War on Science–but I am growing to believe that in some ways, the “war” on climate research now afoot is even worse than anything that existed during the Bush years. Because it has this central new aspect–the personal attacks on individuals, the threats…the Bushies were genteel, compared with this.


Comments (18)

  1. Mat C

    The “war” as you so casually put it could also just be the simple fact that more and more people are seeing that “climate change” is just phony science pushed by some in the scientific community, Al Gore, and politicians.

  2. shash

    MatC: The “war” is that far too many people who are ill-equipped to comment on the science assume that it HAS to be false because the conclusions are inconvenient to them.

    When “some” in the scientific community includes practically every scientist who knows enough about the subject to comment on it, you’ve got to start at least wondering…

  3. Nullius in Verba

    Some people have a poor way of expressing their anger. I don’t condone it. (Although I doubt any of it is intended seriously, either.)

    But it’s most unfortunate when you fail to mention that the other side does it, too.

    “We need to hit them where it hurts most, by any means necessary: through the power of our votes, our taxes, our wallets, and more.”

    “‘We must break the law to make the laws we need: laws that are supposed to protect society, and protect our future. Until our laws do that, screw being climate lobbyists. Screw being climate activists. It’s not working. We need an army of climate outlaws.’

    “The proper channels have failed. It’s time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and skepticism.

    “If you’re one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let’s talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like.

    “If you’re one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fueling spurious debates around false solutions, and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this:

    “We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work.

    “And we be many, but you be few.”

    That’s the ungrammatical threat of a communications director of Greenpeace on their website. They took it down, when it went badly for them, but nobody on our side of the debate has any doubt that they mean it. We’ve seen how Environmentalist organisations operate.

    The less-literate issue threats too – sceptic sites usually filter them out, but every now and then they show some of the choicer ones.

    And of course we remember some of the (no doubt hyperbolic) threats of violence made in the Climategate emails by those same scientists.

    I don’t seek to justify it by ‘tu quoque’ argument, I simply note that you have carefully only shown one side and not the other, in order to give a misleading impression. Was that deliberate? Did you know that people have threatened, and even on occasion attacked sceptics too?

  4. Michael

    shash: I totally agree with you. How dare he express his opinion? The scientific community is composed of pure and selfless souls fully backed by the politicians, the media and the industry. If an idea is so widely supported, it’s definitely true.

  5. Albert Bakker

    #3 – Thank you for uncovering that grand conspiracy of Greenpeace to commit mass murder. You are totally right, Greenpeace is very well known for their targeted assassinations. Very unlike your average normal civilized white supremacists.

    #4 – I’m sorry if I missed that, but did shash deny Mat C his right to express his opinion despite it having no base in reality? I like your humor though.

    Oh wait I don’t.

  6. Michael

    All this diatribe while the Earth coninues to cool down.

    Truly amazing.

    I believe the current trend of volcanic erruptions will continue, and these will certainly cool down the planet. The Atlantic currents are already beginning to cool. The warming trend [naturally caused] that we have experienced for the last few decades is over.

    There is ZERO historical proof that CO2 has caused any global warming. In fact, CO2 levels have gone up AFTER the global average temperature has risen. Warming and cooling cycles occur naturally and have been very well documented going back millions of years.

    There has been NO rise in sea levels. Antarctic ice is getting thicker. Most glaciers in the northern hemisphere are growing, not shrinking. El Nino is already transitioning into La Nina.

    AGW is a POLITICAL view, not a scientific one.

  7. I exmined the coverage of Climategate vs. the coverage of Mann and Jones’ exonerations. I posted the results here:

    Climategate Coverage was Unfair & Unbalanced

    Scott A. Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences
    Selden, NY
    Global Warming: Man or Myth?
    My Global Warming Blog
    Twitter: AGW_Prof
    “Global Warming Fact of the Day” Facebook Group

  8. For those who might believe what Michael is saying, I suggest you visit:

    Modern Day Climate Change

    The evidence of global warming is essentially everywhere.

  9. Michael

    Albert,: I am very sorry if I upset you. I just get suspicious when believing in something becomes mandatory or when a “truth” becomes overly promoted by the mainstream media. Unlike Michael #6, I have no inside knowledge. I just heard that there is an ongoing debate on global warming between respected members of the French science academy.

  10. Nullius in Verba

    “#3 – Thank you for uncovering that grand conspiracy of Greenpeace to commit mass murder. You are totally right, Greenpeace is very well known for their targeted assassinations. Very unlike your average normal civilized white supremacists.”

    What on Earth are you talking about? I see no conspiracy to commit mass murder. Is this some sort of desperate strawman argument, or do you know something we don’t?

    And I’m not sure what you’re talking about with the ‘white supremacist’ thing, either. There is no suggestion above of white supremacists intending targeted assassinations, either. Especially the normal, civilised ones.

    Why is it always the AGW believers who come up with the crazy conspiracy theories?

  11. Guy

    “There is no suggestion above of white supremacists intending targeted assassinations, either. Especially the normal, civilised ones.” -Nullius in Verba

    Are you suggesting that there are “normal, civilized” white supremacists?

    It might have been normal back in the days of slavery, but it’s considered a backwards trait these days. It has never been “civilized” because there are numerous ways to be uncivil to those you perceive to be of lesser value. Not all of them involve violence.

  12. Albert Bakker

    #9 – Micheal, I couldn’t get upset over something like that if I tried. I just noticed your sarcasm missed target. There is an ongoing debate about global warming, but not over whether it exists or whether human activity plays a role in it. The nonsense of the other Micheal in #6 is not part of that or any debate. You need facts for that.

    #10 – Yes alright, fair enough I overstated my point and by that kind of shot myself in the foot. But you presume some kind of equivalence in threats and targeted harassment that isn’t there. It’s the old false balance fallacy you are trying to pull and it’s not working.

  13. Nullius in Verba

    #11, Do pay attention. I was quoting an earlier comment.

    But to answer your question – yes, of course there are. They would be people who believed in white supremacism, but who chose not to do anything about it, since they know that the other people in their country don’t want it. It’s the same with Islamic supremacists, left-wing supremacists, or anybody else with firm ideas about how the world should be run.

    It’s not illegal to hold such views, and it’s not illegal to express them. I’ve even heard it said that one of the currently elected Senators of the United States government was once a Klan Kleagle. It wasn’t illegal for all those people to vote for him, either. Are you saying a Senator might not be civilised and normal?

    Civilised isn’t about being polite, or being friends with everybody, it’s about finding a way to be able to live along side people you don’t like. It comes from the Latin word for ‘city’, and means the behaviour appropriate to a city dweller. It’s about tolerance of differences of view – and that doesn’t mean just tolerance of people you like, or don’t mind, which scarcely count. It means tolerance of people you violently disagree with.

  14. Guy

    @NiV #11,

  15. civilized
    – 5 dictionary results
    /ˈsɪvəˌlaɪzd/ Show Spelled[siv-uh-lahyzd] Show IPA
    having an advanced or humane culture, society, etc.
    polite; well-bred; refined.
    of or pertaining to civilized people: The civilized world must fight ignorance.
    easy to manage or control; well organized or ordered: The car is quiet and civilized, even in sharp turns.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #12, That’s very gracious. Well handled, Sir!

    I happened to pick an example notable more for who said it than the extremity of what was said. But there are thousands of other examples from the less literate. Sceptics are insulted, threatened, derided, excluded, and ignored. Sceptics have lost their jobs over their views. There is, and has been for many years, a “war” against sceptics.

    One learns after a while not to take it seriously. Frankly, I don’t think the climate scientists take it seriously, either. It’s just a handy excuse to garner some much-needed sympathy.

  • Nullius in Verba


    Well played!

    Yes, enough people have misused the word that way for the dictionary makers to take note.

  • Nullius misses the irony.

    The “strawman” above is perfectly applicable argument without being a strawman in the sense of the threat: White Supremacist Groups (e.g., the KKK, Aryan Nation) have frequently threatened, often with bodily harm or extreme violence and dischord, the public safety of various other groups, but not limited to, black churches, Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, etc.

    The definition of “civil” does not apply to groups like this. They are classified as terrorist organisations in the FBI in the USA, as has Greenpeace. Actions undertaken by the latter (e.g., threats, done by nonscientists, I might add, which makes me wonder why its being included here) include the destruction of broad swaths of property and the potential threat of life that engenders.

    If anyone here (like perhaps Nullius) thinks that groups like the KKK are civilized, they should visit their websites for while, view their videos, and examine what separates terrorist organizations from civilians (note that this involves the paraphrased definition of terrorism that goes “martial effort expended against civilians”).

  • Nullius in Verba


    You miss precisely the point I was making. I said: “They would be people who believed in white supremacism, but who chose not to do anything about it, since they know that the other people in their country don’t want it.”

    To which you responded by talking about the set who would do something about it.

    The same applies to any of the other belief systems I mentioned. If a “left-wing supremacist” believes that those with left-wing beliefs should run the world, I have no objection. Should they, like Bill Ayers, choose to use violence to bring that about, then obviously I do. But it would be wrong to use the existence of groups like the Weather Underground to assert that left-wingers cannot therefore be normal and civilised.

    In this case, all we are told is that a white supremacist posted pictures of the climate scientists labelled with the word “Jew”. No mention of a threat. No mention of “targeted assassinations”. All of that is pure speculation and pre-judgement. It is entirely possible, and I suspect more common than not, for white supremacists to be all talk and no action. They have their opinions, which we don’t like, but to which they are entitled.

    The sole point of bringing it up was to point out that certain elements on both sides in this fraught debate commonly make deliberately disturbing/scary statements, at a roughly equivalent level, and that Chris gives a misleading impression that it is only the climatologists who have to put up with this, and that this is part of some sort of “war” on them. (A conspiracy theory? It’s not clear.) I don’t condone it. The ongoing war on sceptics doesn’t justify scaring the climate scientists. And violence is by no means justified.

    But I think the point was acknowledged in #12 sufficiently (as much as one could expect) that there’s no point in pursuing the point any further. This is what being civilised is all about – disagreeing, but finding a way to get along with one another nevertheless.


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    About Chris Mooney

    Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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