Speaking Up for Scientists Who Receive Death Threats

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | June 15, 2012, 2:59 pm EDT
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“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.


Posted in: Global Warming, Scientific Integrity Tags: ,

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  • Tom Rossi

    I think you all know that you are working for the greater good. Like a child afraid of the needle that carries the polio vaccine, some people will not accept reality and curse the doctor. Of course, I always wonder if death threats are from wackos or political operatives. Either way, let the research and the data be your guide, as you have in the past. Our grandchildren will thank you.

  • Tim

    It saddens me that your work now requires a certain degree of bravery to complete. While I understand the frustration and difficulty in coming to terms with the often grave and overwhelming findings that you uncover, there is no excuse for the hate advocated in these anonymous and bizarre assaults. I want you to always keep in mind that there is a whole legion of individuals who are proud to be alive in a time in which scientists of such a high caliber, shed light on the universe and climate to lengths never before thought possible. When I am confronted with time tables of necessary emission reductions from qualified scientists, I am not consumed with a sensation of resistance, but one of complete gratitude for the dedicated mind that brought these road maps to fruition.

  • Sarah Rupp

    I think it’s important to show support for these scientists in the wake of the death threats they receive from right-wing nutcases who have no idea what’s going going on in the world. Even though the only way to really stop climate change is through the destruction of systems of capitalism, the research scientists do to show our planet’s turmoil could potentially radicalize people concerned with the world’s future.

  • Thank you, climate scientists, for your commitment to reporting the truth. The threats you are receiving are from people who are either disturbed by the truth, have monetary incentives to reject the truth, or are too close minded to change. On behalf of those of us who want to work together towards a sustainable future for this planet, thank you for shedding light on the challenges we must overcome to get there.

  • MPO

    Today’s problems are complex and are connected to the previous thousands of years as well as to what each of us did yesterday. Dealing with all of the possibilities and working to identify causes and solutions is an enormous undertaking. Thank you all for working to try and improve our today and make sure we have healthy tomorrows. Remember empty wagons make the most noise. We want you to also hear from people who thank you for researching and reporting all that you discover. Most of us would rather be part of the solution and not ignorant of the problem. Thank you.

  • Pat Wiles

    I agree, what a nice idea. Too often we just complain about horrible, vile activities without offering something positive for people to do.

    I certainly stand in awe of the scientists who stare down the attacks on the blogs, in Congress, and in the media. This is what happens when you mess with special interests–they try to take you down. Maybe these scientists should look at the silver lining, which is that their research is extremely relevant to our collective future.

    To the scientists: Thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you do to make this world a better place. So much of what we have today is due to science and technology. May it thrive, and may scientists be shielded from abuse.

  • teresa

    What a cool article, or statement, to write. As I am quite concerned for my children’s future and those of any possible grand-children I hope to one day have, I believe I will take you up on your offer to pass along a thank you to a climate scientist, and send a proper note of gratitude.

    And thank you to you, too.

  • Jeff MacLeod

    I’d like to say thank you to the scientists who remain in the front lines against the anti-science war by those close minded individuals in the main stream media and politics. You bring new insights into the world around us and strive to make the world a better place for us all through understanding of the environment we live in. Unfortunately there are those that are bent on pure self monetary gain and will do anything, even gain subjects by using intimidation and brainwashing techniques based on personal religious or political beliefs. I’ve been standing along side you as are many others. Please continue what you’re doing.

  • Naomi

    Thank you for all that you do on our behalf and for the wildlife, air, water, and environment. It is disgusting what the climate deniers and big polluters and their political minions do to try to further their agendas and destruction.

    May God bless you all and keep you safe from the wretched, selfish, ignorant, and greedy deniers and polluters.

  • It’s time for reasonable people of the world to stand up and support our scientists and other public servants. We’ll do so the right way – with civility, respect and truthful discourse.

    It’s our responsibility to stand with our scientists so they do not have to face these “Serengati Strategy” attacks alone – like Dr. Mann described in his recent book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”.

    You are no longer alone – we stand with you, always.

    To our scientists, I sincerely thank you, and applaud you, for your service to the citizens of our planet.

  • Bruce Neely

    I can’t even begin to tell you all the reasons I appreciate the scientific community, so suffice it to say that I could not bear existing in a world where I couldn’t ask a question about the universe and expect an engaged scientist to have, if not an answer, at least a hypothesis! Thank you thank you thank you………

  • It is a shame that some attack climate scientists because they find the solutions to climate change inconvenient to their financial or political world view. The research from these climate scientists will inform our elected leaders, health officials, and military and is critical for national security and economic competitiveness.

    Turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to those that send hate messages because they are not the ones that will be involved in the discussion. Keep doing your great work and know that there are many out here who will support and defend you in time of need.

    Thank you for your continued courage.

  • The more we work together, the more we spread awareness, the more we wipe out ignorance. Deniers will be in the minority. Thank you for your efforts.


  • Michele

    You know that your work is real and relevant when small minded people feel the need to threaten you!

    All I can say is THANK YOU for the work you do! I hope that you and your families stay safe from the fanatics who would seek to do you harm.

  • Carolyn Hart

    Well put. We don’t thank any of our public servants enough. Teachers, doctors, lawyers…well maybe not lawyers.

    But thank you, scientists, for sticking your necks out and publishing and talking about your research even when some people don’t like it. You may be the object of their aggression, but you’re heroes in our hearts because of it.

    Carolyn Hart
    Washington, DC

  • Cynthia McTyre

    I am so grateful for the work our scientists do to improve our world and our lives. Many thanks! And may you stay safe from the words and actions of the ignorant and the evil.

  • I will gladly send my thanks along to scientists, climate and otherwise, who have to deal with such disgusting behavior.

    You scientists didn’t sign up to be human targets; you enlisted in the effort to understand the world and humanity’s perversely complex relationship with it. Your combination of training, dedication, perseverance, and sense of wonder about our surroundings sets a very high standard for all of us. Whether we non-scientists act like it or not, please know that there are many among us who deeply appreciate what you do.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.