Speaking Up for Scientists Who Receive Death Threats

June 15, 2012 | 2:59 pm
Michael Halpern
Former Contributor

“I hope someone puts a bullet between your eyes,” reads one email to British climate scientist Phil Jones after he became the target of climate change science deniers. “Please, for Christ’s sake, kill yourself,” reads another. “Expect us at your door to say hello,” reads a third.

This is not what a scientist signs up for when he or she dedicates his or her life to the pursuit of knowledge.

A series of these emails were released online this week in response to British Freedom of Information Act requests following the theft of private correspondence from the University of East Anglia. It’s important to note that these vile messages have been condemned not only by most of those who accept climate change science but by most who do not. Thankfully, most people recognize that death threats have no place in our discussion about what to do about climate change.

But it’s messages like these that remind me how infrequently we let scientists know just how much we value their contributions to society. We need to encourage the best scientific minds to continue to learn more about how and why the climate is changing and what the consequences are and will be.

thank you card

Say thanks to climate scientists in the comments section below, or send me a physical card to pass along. Photo courtesy Flickr user Aforestfrolic

Threats and attacks on scientists are nothing new, ranging from threatening emails to dead rats left on doorsteps. Sometimes attackers use more mainstream methods, such as subpoenas, attorney general investigations, or invasive open records requests.

This is the world in which scientists who work on high-profile issues sometimes live. So in addition to fighting back against these attacks, we need to say thank you. The Phil Joneses of the world should be reminded of our gratitude.

So I’ll start: Thank you, Phil Jones and other researchers, for devoting your life’s work to understanding the world around us. Thank you for spending countless hours analyzing data and writing up research results. Thank you for challenging your colleagues’ ideas to get closer to the truth. Thank you for not getting discouraged when you hit dead ends along the way. Thank you for creating knowledge that empowers us to improve the world around us. We simply cannot meet the challenge of climate change without you.

Please join me, and leave your thanks in the comments section below. And tell us where we’re from. I’ll then share this post with some of the scientists that have been subjected to attacks. You can also spread the love at the I Heart Climate Scientists Facebook page.

If you’d prefer to send a handwritten card, address it to me at UCS, 1800 K Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006 and I’ll pass it along to a climate scientist we work with.