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May 10, 2012

'You overpaid, overeducated parasite': ANU climate scientist emails

Abusive emails and accounts of threatening behaviour towards climate research staff have been released by ANU following an FOI request. Graham Readfearn reveals what they say.

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Abusive emails and accounts of threatening behaviour towards climate research staff have been released by the Australian National University, following a Freedom of Information request.

The Canberra-based university has decided not to appeal against a Privacy Commissioner’s finding that 11 documents unearthed through a FOI request should be released.

The FOI application, lodged by Sydney-based climate sceptic blogger Simon Turnill, requested any records of threatening or abusive correspondence sent to six named scientists between January and June 2011. ANU originally blocked the request, which came after a Canberra Times article reported that more than 30 climate scientists at universities across Australia had been subjected to a sustained hate campaign.

The names of staff members and names of the people sending the correspondence have been blacked out by the university, which said the release of the documents risked ANU staff suffering further abuse.

Crikey revealed earlier this week that staff at ANU’s Climate Institute were moved to more secure premises in April 2010, some eight months before the period covered by the FOI request. That decision came after two incidents where “aggressive” members of the public had entered institute premises.

Australia’s chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb told Crikey that he hoped scientists would “not be silenced” by the email attacks. Chubb, a former Vice-Chancellor at ANU who decided to move staff to more secure premises, told Crikey: “I had anxious staff — made anxious by some of this stuff — and I feel I had a duty of care to them.”

One email released is a report from one ANU staff member to another, describing an incident at a university-run public engagement event shortly after staff were moved.

The email recounts the words of an ANU staff member who was present at a table where a climate sceptic had become frustrated by an earlier speech given by a climate scientist. It reads:

“Moreover, before he left, he came to the Fri dinner and showed other participants his gun licence and explained to them how good a sniper he is. Because he didn’t attend day 2 he will not be allowed to attend the final day. I will be notifying security to be on hand in case he turns up and causes a problem.”


In another email, a correspondent writes:

“What a fckn load of pseudo scaremongering turd… at youd expect from someone sucking of the tit of the public sow.. coz of he had to make money in the private sector he’d be fcked.. You’ll be pleased to know willie boy all of us ‘stupid ignorant’ australians out there came on the radio after you went and panned the fck out of you and your idiotic toilet.”

The email appears to be referring to an appearance on a radio show by Professor Will Steffen, the director of the ANU’s Climate Institute. The email concludes:

“yuppie turds the lot of ya..why dont ya all fck off to yr beloved europe where their economies are fckd because of stupid schemes like yours and leave us to run this great country as it should be.”


Another email calls its recipient an “overpaid over educated parasite” and calls the scientist a “leech”.

This isn’t how scientists and the public should speak to each other, says Australia’s chief scientist. “I have said in multiple speeches that there’s a need for a more reasonable and civilised debate from both sides about what is a very important topic,” Chubb told Crikey. “There should be no abuse at all in this debate because it’s too important. We don’t need the sort of scaremongering stuff, particularly of the kind put out by the Heartland Institute recently.”

Chubb was referring to a billboard advertising campaign by US free market think-tank the Heartland institute, in which it used a picture of the so-called Unabomber Ted Kaczynski beside the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?”

The advert was used to attract attention to Heartland’s upcoming climate sceptic conference in Chicago, which has three Australian organisations — the Australian Libertarian Society, the Carbon Sense Coalition and the new Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance — among its sponsors.

Chubb added: “My message to the scientists is to not be silenced. It is important that they get their message out there. I hope scientists continue to put the line carefully and ethically and seriously and that any alternative views can be debated by those that know what they are talking about.”

An ANU statement released with the emails said the university had been advised the release of the emails “would lead to an increased risk of harassment” and it had declined the FOI request on these grounds.

“ANU has a duty of care to its staff and students and we note the finding of the Privacy Commissioner: ‘In my view there is a risk that the release of the documents could lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel ,” said the statement.

“However we have chosen not to appeal the decision of the Commissioner and are releasing the documents with information removed that would identify those sending or receiving the emails, as per the Commissioner’s decision.”

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44 thoughts on “‘You overpaid, overeducated parasite’: ANU climate scientist emails

  1. Matthew of Canberra

    Just repeating a comment I left at PP – I cannot believe that the national debate on a policy question of such staggering impact has now descended into “I don’t find your death threat claims convincing”.

    Anything to prevent actual debate, it seems.

    I don’t doubt that any climate scientist with a public profile will have received unpleasant communications, possibly including threats. When some berk posted the email address of the wrong andy pitman over on andrew bolt’s blot back in 2010, the owner of that address had apparently received enough nasty messages that within 12 hours he was threatening legal action if it didn’t stop.

    I don’t need proof to believe that people in the public eye who speak on divisive issues will receive threats. I know enough about human nature and the natural distribution of intelligence and perspective, and I’ve spent enough time on blog sites to know that road rage is rife on the internet. People say things without concern for their impact, things which they’d never say in person.

    PZ Myers used to make a point of publishing the hate-mail he got – complete with headers. Thats another option, I guess.

    I very much doubt if the emails that were published were complete. Normal Human Beings don’t keep that stuff, because they don’t regard themselves as being in a long-term ideological media battle.

    The problem here is that maybe the people who do have example emails would be better off keeping quiet about it. I suspect that revealing them will just fan the flames even more. The one thing I we can absolutely expect, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that the usual haters will NOT turn around and say “ok, we were wrong, this is inappropriate and we demand that it stop”. That’s not how this game works.

    But I do wonder if perhaps crikey might like to contact some of the folks involved and perhaps consider ways that the threats could be made more public, in a way that doesn’t identify the senders or recipients. I think any communication from the universities should be more measured and coordinated than the last try. Hey – it might be useful to chuck in any threats made to stem cell researchers, or folks at ANSTO, or CSIRO’s GM crop researchers. Maybe make it a national “hug a scientist today” campaign, and make it ecumenical.

  2. Secret Squirrel

    My Two Bobs Worth!
    I am not a sceptic or denier but more a Millennium Bug survivor and first time blogger.
    Didn’t we change the name from the green house effect to climate change?
    and what happens in a green house?
     Is this the reason for the name change?
    So should we all buy shares in John Deere?
    mower sales tipped to sky rocket!
    and what about the sea?
    Isn’t the latest work on the coral species that it is now known that the coral in the south will be better off if the temperature rises?
    Should we start a campaign to use more carbon to save the rare southern coral? Because it is living at the bottom of it’s range?
    But the truth is there is no reason why we shouldn’t be running our cars on fuel we grow and working on sustainable living, absolutely!   

    And what’s all the controversy that the Government isn’t going to fund scientists that don’t  believe in their thinking or motives? What is new here!

    And another real question,  where are all the real Economists gone? 
    When I went to school big business was big business because it can pass on it’s costs!!! The lie of this decade is that the carbon tax is only  going to effect big business and for all of you who don’t agree, have a good look at your Power bill over the last few years?
    and the banks margin on the money they are lending you?
    and fuel prices? when I was younger there was a outcry if the price moved a cent, not the fluctuations we now see every week, Weren’t we tied to US barrel price?and when the dollar got better then conveniently to Singapore exchange?, what a load of bullshit, we are just getting ripped off?because it is big business and because they can!
    In the GFC most people lost money or didn’t make any? What about big business? I don’t think,
    Banks got another excuse to raise their margin and a Government Guarantee to boot,
    They then got rid of their higher risk loans, this is really great for small business and the economy long term? Yes they had to compete with the Governments record borrowings? Which doesn’t help!
    So in the next few weeks as this Small Business Tax (SBT) comes into effect, make sure you are thinking of the mums and dads who are the engine room of the economy, they are in the competitive environment! who can’t pass the costs on and will have to take a hit or go broke in the process of saving something?,stopping something? or is it just more plain old labour Government spending?  
    Malcolm what were you thinking? you would be Prime Minister now if you had of listened to you core voters.
    My Father a liberal voter all his life, rang his local member for the first time ever, just before Malcolm got the chop and said he would never vote liberal again if they supported the carbon tax or equivalent and along with thousands of other liberal voters, as they know this is only going to effect small business, not big business or the climate!
     It is not hard to see how conspiracies take off when Malcolm didn’t back down and isn’t he Goldman Sachs Australian man?
    And didn’t they have something to do with Dodgie loans in the US that caused the GFC?
    And don’t they have heaps of options on forests overseas to
    do deals with carbon credits, with who? and Malcolm what were you getting out of it? 
    and It was all for the climate and who’s children’s children?
    and you are still wondering why people are very  sceptical, not long after that millennium bug heist!
    Yes we should all be living more sustainable but surely not with another tax on Small business? 
    Are we not smarter than this? 
    Do you all want to have no choice but to work for big business and have no chance of having a go on your own?
    Not this little Duck!
    Wake up Australia! Wake up!


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