IMAGINE coming in to work and opening your inbox to read an email asking you to “kill yourself” before another note reads “I hope someone puts a bullet between your eyes”.
How about another email where the sender describes themselves as a “one man swat team” telling you to “back the F*** off” or they will “smack the living sh** out of you”.
Another emailer says “I'd kill you in a second if given the chance” and another writes that you have been “blacklisted” and that “your children and family will know because we know where you live… expect us at your door to say hello.”
This is not an imaginary scenario, but is instead a sample from the inbox of climate scientist Professor Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia in the UK, as revealed following a Freedom of Information request released this week.
Professor Jones wasn't alone in the halls of his university. The FOI reveals how a presumably US-based emailer warned that if Professor Edward Acton, the university's vice-chancellor, was to ever travel to America that “we will have plans for you as well. If you bring your family, all the merrier.” The Professor was also reminded of the emailer's Second Amendment rights to carry a gun.
All the emails are date between November 2009 and February 2010, the period immediately after thousands of emails were unlawfully taken from the university. Climate science deniers, commentators and bloggers claimed the “climategate” emails proved human-caused climate change was a hoax, but several high-level independent inquiries found the integrity of the science was intact and that the emails had been taken out of context and misrepresented.
Remarkably, the examples used here (the full release is here on a pdf) are not the worst, nor are they the nastiest.
This latest release of emails from UEA provide an insight - whether we want it or not - of the campaign of intimidation against Professor Jones which at one point, caused him to consider suicide.
The climate sceptic blog Bishop Hill was equally disgusted at the most recent release of emails, suggesting that “there are several messages in there that seem to me to be criminal”.
They are of course only the latest piece of evidence of a hateful campaign of intimidation and abuse being waged against climate scientists across the world - as the likes of Michael Mann and Kerry Emanuel would testify, as would staff at a number of Australian universities.
In the pages of the Murdoch-owned The Australian newspaper, commentators and journalists have editorialised this issue in recent weeks to suggest the threats in Australia are overblown.
In one recent story, the newspaper's editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell even went as far as to claim that he, too, had received death threats about climate change. “These climate scientists need to harden up,” he told one of his own reporters, who presumably didn't ask his boss for any evidence.
But even if Chris Mitchell has received abuse over his newspaper's warped coverage of climate science, the point is that climate scientists such as Phil Jones are not editors of newspapers. They are scientists. Chris Mitchell chose to be part of the public discourse and is engaged in it daily. Professor Phil Jones didn't.
What is now clear is that climate scientists around the world are being subjected to a vicious and hate-filled campaign of intimidation. These are people who have chosen to devote their lives to enabling the world to understand how the planet works and the risks of artificially changing the composition of its atmosphere and oceans.
The focus of journalists and commentators so far has been on the content of the emails and on the scientists on the receiving end.
The situation mirrors that of “climategate” where almost three years of police investigations have so far failed to reveal who orchestrated the unlawful hacking and release of the files.
Yet while we know the names of the some of the scientists being targeted and harassed (and we also know the bloggers and think-tank staff who alert the hateful trolls and enable this behaviour, such as CFACT's Marc Morano's habit of publishing scientist's email addresses), we are always spared the identities of those who are responsible for compiling the hate and then clicking the “send” button.
Isn't it now time the nature of the inquiry turned to the campaign's perpetrators, rather than the victims?