Victory in Fighting Harassment of US Climate Scientists

The US is the only country where climate scientists face "organized harassment" against their work in the form of hate mail, hostile information requests and even death threats from well-funded global warming skeptics, reports InsideClimate News.

InsideClimate News contacted climate scientists in Europe, Canada and Japan – their opinion is that harassment is confined solely to the US.

There is "no systematic attempt by a political camp" to target climate scientists in Germany. "I get the odd critical email from a skeptic, but would not classify anything as personally aggressive. Very different from the U.S. scene," Jochem Marotzke, managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, told InsideCliimate News. 

Many scientists have become afraid to speak their minds about their research results. Another bad side effect of the adverse publicity that often comes with it, is that it turns average citizens who are on the fence about climate change into doubters.

Attacks have been so harsh and so feverish toward the science of climate change, that President Obama’s utterance of the phrase "climate change" during his nomination acceptance at the Democratic Convention, felt like a breakthrough.

A recent court ruling in Virginia gives some protection to the US climate science community – it allows universities to refuse information requests for scholarly communications and personal emails of climate scientists.

Global warming skeptics, often driven and supported by fossil fuel industries, are desperately trying to create another Climategate to distract an increasingly aware US public from the fundamental truth that global warming isn’t a figment of their imagination.

Back in 2009, Climategate successfully derailed the Copenhagen Climate Summit, when the world was at the critical precipice of joining together to address climate change. A Yale study will soon be published that shows ClimateGate tipped the scale, causing 13% of Americans to question climate change and distrust scientists.

Recent attacks are led by the American Tradition Institute. In May, a memo was uncovered that reveals their national campaign to turn American public opinion against solar and wind energy and President Obama’s energy agenda. 

The primary focus of their recent attacks continues to be Michael Mann, who was at the center of the Climategate scandal. He is director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University and a former professor at the University of Virginia. 

Detractors are trying to prove that Mann and his colleagues are overstating the human influence on global warming.

But this week, their attempts to get their hands on his emails and other documents were thwarted by the Virginia court ruling.

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By Joe Romm, Climate Progress 

Today a Virginia judge ruled that the University of Virginia (UVA) doesn’t have to release the emails of climate scientists like Michael Mann to the anti-science American Tradition Institute (ATI).

The anti-science crowd knows that they can’t win on the science. Indeed they seem to have written off smart people entirely. But like someone addicted to cigarettes, they have been trying to reproduce the high from the massive Climategate exercise in smoke blowing.

To do that, the deniers need fresh emails to razzle dazzle the gullible so they won’t see the climate change that is all around them.

The good news is that ATI doesn’t get to read climate scientists’ emails. Here is what climatologist Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, wrote on his Facebook page:

"Breaking: A victory for science! ATI loses ATI/UVa FOIA case. Judge issues final order. Affirms the university’s right to withhold scholarly communications and finds that the documents and personal emails of mine demanded by ATI were indeed protected as the university had contended.

I am gratified for the hard work and vigorous defense provided by the university to protect scholarly communications and raw materials of scholarship. Fortunately Virginia has a strong exemption in the public records act that protects research and scholarly endeavors. The judge ruled that the exemption under Virginia’s public records protecting information in furtherance of research on scientific and scholarly issues applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work."

This finding is a potentially important precedent, as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientists through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences.

How extreme is ATI? Last year they were singled out for criticism by the traditionally staid American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS Board issued a statement on “Personal Attacks on Climate Scientists”:

"We are deeply concerned by the extent and nature of personal attacks on climate scientists. Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public."

The accompanying news release makes clear who the Board was talking about. To quote from that release:

"The American Tradition Institute (ATI) has asked the University of Virginia to turn over thousands of e-mails and documents written by Michael E. Mann, a former U-Va. professor and a prominent climate scientist. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a climate change skeptic, demanded many of the same documents last year in an effort to determine if Mann had somehow defrauded taxpayers in obtaining research grants. ATI also has sued NASA to disclose records detailing climate scientist James Hansen’s compliance with federal ethics and disclosure rules."

It’s good to see that razzle dazzle doesn’t always trump common sense in the court room.

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JOE ROMM is a Fellow at American Progress and is the editor of Climate Progress. His update on the Virginia court case is reprinted from that blog.

Read the InsideClimate News article about why US climate scientists are harassed while those in other countries aren’t:

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