Why Would A Climate Scientist Need A Quick Course In Legal Self-Defense?

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Ben Santer answered his doorbell one evening and was greeted by a dead rat on his doorstep and a stream of obscenities from a car speeding away. Katharine Hayhoe has been called a “Nazi bitch whore climatebecile” and received e-mails mentioning her child and a guillotine. Michael Mann has opened mail only to watch white powder fall out and a group of Australian researchers had to be relocated to a secure facility after an onslaught of vandalism and threats of sexual violence against their children. What do all of these people have in common besides being subjected to brutal harassment? They all study climate science.

While the nature of the work that climate scientists do isn’t so very different from a biologists studying bird migration or an astronomer investigating how stars form, climate scientists have been singled out for personal and professional attacks because of the political and social ramifications of their findings.

As a sign of the times, The American Geophysical Union, which represents 62,000 Earth, atmospheric, and space scientists is for the first time partnering with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund to offer legal counseling sessions at its annual meeting next month.


Many of the attacks on climate scientists are more sophisticated than dead rats and obscenities. Scientists who once only had to make sure their data was clean now have to deal with nuisance lawsuits and onerous or excessive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Michael Mann, who directs Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center and is the creator of the “hockey-stick” graph, which illustrates the recent spike in global temperatures, has been the target of legal battles for years. He has been investigated by Penn after his email was hacked during so-called “climategate” and in 2010 was accused of defrauding Virginia taxpayers while he was a faculty member at the University of Virginia. Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli demanded access to every document relating to his research during that time. Mann has never been convicted of any wrong-doing.

“It’s an issue few researchers contemplate as they prepare for a career in science,” Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York and founder of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund told The Daily Climate. “When you get your degrees in science, you have no understanding of how the legal system works. Such naivety is often exploited to slow down the scientific process.”

In a refreshing turn of events, a New Zealand group dedicated to downplaying the existence of climate change was recently ordered to pay around $90,000 in court fees for bringing a “faulty” lawsuit that had sought to invalidate data that proved the country’s temperatures were on the rise.