ANU "death threat" emails released

FOI request

The ANU on Tuesday agreed to release the 11 emails which were the subject of my FOI request, redacted to maintain the privacy of the individuals concerned. LINK HERE to a ZIP file of the documents. The Australian reports on this here.

Analysis of the Documents

Seven out of the eleven documents contain no threats, and at worst contain mild abuse – these are documents 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10 and 11.

Document 1 discusses Svensmark and CLOUD, is generally polite, is signed “a concerned citizen” and the worst that can be said is that it says:

“Are you morally and ethically aware (awake) of your actions? ALSO please stop telling lies about sea level rises. It is so full of BS it is not funny it is insulting to anyone with enough intelligence to do simple research about sea level rises.”

Document 3 refers to Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery’s failed predictions and the government funding for climate alarmists. One paragraph refers to ANU scientists as “con men” and another reads:

“We have had enough! Sometime in the future your days of leeching off the tax payers of Australia will end and you will be looking for work in the employment office where you might find a real job and contribute to society in a positive way.”

This could be viewed as abuse, or alternatively merely strongly worded and passionate disagreement.

Document 4 refers to Will Steffen’s claim in the warmist Age that the climate debate is “infantile” and compares the certainty of climate armageddon to the certainty of gravity. ACM posted on this laughable article here. Another reader felt moved to write to ANU in generally polite terms. I see no abuse, again just strongly worded disagreement.

“It takes a tax-payer funded Professor to equate AGW to gravity. It must have taken years of education to be able to issue pronouncements like this eh? If Australian taxpayers were hoping to get a bit more than just bluster and name-calling from certain public servants, they’re bound to be asking for their money back soon.”

Document 6 is politely worded disagreement, following a Climate Commission report, and citing scientific papers that challenge the consensus. How the ANU construed this email as abuse or threats a mystery. Again, it seems as if challenging the consensus is by default “abuse” in the minds of the some.

Document 11 is an absolute PEACH and fell into the FoI because it was sent on the day after the “death threats” story broke in June 2011, and just prior to the FoI request being received. It is actually a critique on the ANU’s actions in bringing the issue to the attention of a sympathetic media rather than the proper authorities. Unfortunately, it calls out the ANU all too clearly, and, once again, passionate disagreement is therefore regarded as abuse by the ANU in determining which documents to provide.

Here is a sample of what the writer has to say:

“Death threats are intolerable and indefensible. Period.

So is the way that the ANU is thuggishly manipulating the demented expressions of a few sick people as a propaganda weapon to smear the entire sceptical community. Period.

The death threats obviously come from mentally diminished losers. That’s their excuse. Using it as an agitprop smear on rational scepticism coming from our nations most powerful university timed to incite mob outrage in this weekend’s Say Yes rally is malicious, pre-meditated and abominable abuse of authority and power. What’s ANU’s and the ABC’s excuse?

The Australian Federal Police said it had not been contacted by the university…”

Duh. Why did the ANU take this information to the ABC rather than the AFP? If the threats are credible, why didn’t someone at the university pick up the nearest phone and call for police help, ASAP. Instead of calling the AFP, the university organised a public relations campaign utilising the powers of our state-owned nation broadcaster to announce at the top of every hour for the last two days that climate skeptics in a concerted effort to stop the “release of climate data” and thwart public debate are issuing death threats to climate scientists.”

Couldn’t really put it better myself!

Document 10 is a record of a phone call in which the caller states a member of the climate science team is “uneducated, has never worked like the real people and receives handouts from all us taxpayers”. That’s it. Abuse? Perhaps, in its mildest form.

Document 9 is a one line email that states:

“Mate, that report is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever seen.”

Abuse or just disagreement? You decide.

Three (two) of the documents are crank abuse emails – the kind that our correspondent above refers to, peppered with bad spelling, swear words and offensive language. These are documents 2, 7 and 8, although documents 2 and 7 are identical in content, so I assume they are the same message.

One document contains a report of an alleged threat of violence which I discuss below. This was dated June 2010, well outside the six-month scope of the FoI request. By the way, that period was chosen because the news reports stated that the threats had been going on for six months, but had increased in the last few weeks (see later). It states (in full):

Looks like we’ve had our first serious threat of physical violence. It has come from a participant in [redacted] deliberative democracy project last weekend. One of the participants left early after he too exception to my talk about climate science. [redacted] exact words were: 

“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.” 

I think the final day is this weekend but I am not sure. Anyway, I’ve asked [redacted] to brief the VC and the head of security ASAP. The latter will determine whether this should go to the AFP or not.

But in the meantime, we should be careful about anyone we don’t know who approaches our offices. 

Let’s analyse this carefully. One participant “left early” after he took exception to a talk on climate science. People are entitled to do that if they disagree. Moving on to the “threat”, this is a third hand account of the actions of that participant at an earlier dinner. This can obviously be interpreted in a number of ways. Either you can view this as a veiled threat, as if the individual in question was actually hinting that he would use his skills to cause harm, or you can interpret it as someone having had a few shandies disagreeing with the consensus and making a joke about his marksmanship. Without any evidence of the manner or demeanour of the individual concerned, or the circumstances in which it the comment was made, the hearsay report above is worthless.


Let’s reread the ABC’s story on this (my emphasis):

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks.

In fact, it appears that the six most senior and well-known climate scientists at ANU received NO death threats in that six month period. Of the “large number” of emails allegedly received, the university only provided 11, only 2 contained anything other than mild abuse. The one “threat” was received over a year prior to the story, and its authenticity would vary substantially depending on the circumstances – an answer to that question we will never know. The remainder were innocuous and were expressing little more than passionate disagreement. And apparently there are no transcripts or records of the abusive phone calls referred to above, since the only phone message disclosed is relatively tame. Politicians will receive far worse every day, of that we can be sure.

ACM unreservedly condemns the sending of threats and abuse, particularly in the febrile atmosphere of the climate debate. However, we believe that high profile organisations, such as ANU, operating in that environment, should be very wary of making claims that may act to emotionalise the issue yet further. To claim that the above constitutes a “campaign of death threats” is stretching credibility.

Note: various bloggers have criticised (a) the fact that it took me 2 whole days to comment on this, and (b) nothing changes except that I am now part of the problem. As to (a), I have many other things in my life besides climate blogging, and it takes a back seat sometimes – there is nothing more to it than that, despite your fertile imaginations trying to think otherwise. As to (b), I believe that when claims such as these are made, organisations should be prepared to back it up with evidence. I am glad that the public can read these emails and can make up their own minds about the contents.

Canberra Times responds to ANU "death threats" story

Weak response

The (warmist) journalist who broke the ANU death threats story in the Canberra Times last June responds to the article in The Australian. Beeby is “surprised” that I dared make an FoI request, apparently. She claims the “death threats” were “irrefutable”. Sorry, the “trust us” line doesn’t work on me, nor on the Privacy Commissioner.

So it came as a surprise to learn last week that a Sydney climate blogger had made a freedom of information request to obtain examples of these emails from the Australian National University. The ANU initially refused to release the documents, and in response to a formal appeal by the blogger, the Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim was asked to a adjudicate. He is reported as ruling that 10 of the 11 emails sought under FoI ”do not contain threats to kill” and the other ”could be regarded as intimidating”. The emails in question pertain to one scientist, ANU Climate Change Institute director Professor Will Steffen.

How could she possibly know this without access to the emails? It isn’t stated in the FoI decision that they “pertain” solely to Steffen, so it appears the ANU are clearly happy to provide this information to a sympathetic journalist when it suits them, but are fighting every step of the way to prevent their release to me. Hypocrisy.

We eventually get to the point, namely, that according to Rosslyn Beeby, the single “threat” was made verbally to one of Steffen’s staff, and she won’t discuss it (I assume that this may relate to the infamous “11th document” from the FoI judgment):

He was among the group of 30 contacted by The Canberra Times, and revealed the worst threat he received – and we will not divulge it – was made verbally to one of his staff. It was the chilling nature of that threat – and the casual way in which it was made – that prompted the ANU to question its security arrangements. If they had not, they would have been guilty of ignoring staff safety requirements. (source)

And despite all this, there is still no explanation as to why the police were not involved if the threats were so serious. And no explanation as to why the ANU are so desperate to avoid releasing the emails. Show us the evidence – it’s very simple.

(h/t Tim Blair here)

Alan Jones interviews Simon on 2GB

Simon discusses the ANU “death threats” story and the freedom of information request with Alan Jones on 2GB.

See the previous stories on this subject:

The Freedom of Information appeal decision is here.

Warmist Graham Redfearn defends climate scientists


Step 1: offer up “scary scenarios” (quote Stephen Schneider) by exaggeration and embellishment;

Step 2: turn the debate into simple questions of black and white, believers and deniers, for example, with no shades of grey;

Step 3: tell the public to “trust us”; and finally,

Step 4: criticise and smear anyone who dares ask questions.

Sound familiar? It’s a summary of the warmist mantra.

Graham Redfearn, the warmist blogger, has defended climate scientists and rubbished the claims made in The Australian that the “death threats” story last June was overblown, calling it all “part of the denier spin cycle”.

Redfearn makes a number of claims, all of them easily rebutted.

Firstly he claims that the scope of the FoI request was limited to six individuals. It was, but it included Will Steffen and Andrew Glikson, the two highest profile climate scientists at ANU and by far the most likely target for death threats at that university.

He claims also it only focussed on ANU. That is correct, but the ANU was the first mentioned university in almost all the news reports from June last year. He also claims that none of the emails he published on his blog last year were from ANU. You can read them here – and none of them contain “death threats”. They contain abuse and offensive language, but not “threats to kill” in the proper sense of the phrase.

Just to be clear, “F off and die” is not a death threat. A death threat is “if you do/do not do x, I will kill you”.

Redfearn claims that whether death threats were actually received or not was a “red herring” and that it’s still a hate campaign. Fine. Let’s see an official release of these documents from the scientists concerned, not just selective leaks to sympathetic media organisations like Fairfax, ABC and Redfearn himself. Then the public can make up their own mind.

But when the ANU refuses to back up a media story, that we must assume it released itself, with the documentary evidence to confirm it, even when requested to through a proper Freedom of Information request, and continues to refuse to release the documents and is even considering yet a further appeal, then the public is entitled to be suspicious.

And the hypocrisy is breathtaking – the abuse hurled at “deniers” (even that term hints at Holocaust denial) is just as offensive, but there’s a deafening silence from the warmists about that.

Such emails of any kind are objectionable, have no place in civilised scientific debate, and are condemned by this blog without reservation, but are sadly part of public life, not only in climate science, but in many other areas as well – politics, for example. However, claiming that such emails constitute death threats (a serious criminal offence that carries hefty prison sentences), and then refusing to release the documents that evidence such claims, is unacceptable.

If there are genuine death threats, then they should be fully investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted and punished. But like everything else from the warmist side, we’re supposed to take it on trust.

It appears that the subtle but important distinctions at work here, like so many aspects of the climate debate, are utterly lost on rusted-on warmists like Redfearn.

ANU threats not reported to police – The Australian

FOI request

UPDATE: Scan of article on page 3 of today’s Australian is here.

Following the freedom of information request story which made page 1 of The Australian yesterday, Christian Kerr and Lanai Vasek write a further story today, confirming that the Australian National University made no complaint to the police, despite alleging a vicious campaign of hatred against climate scientists.

As I said in my original post on this back in June 2011:

Last time I checked, which was about thirty seconds ago, making threats to kill in the ACT was a criminal offence, thanks to section 30 of the Crimes Act (ACT) 1900, and punishable by a maximum of ten years imprisonment. A similar provision for threats to kill via a postal service or carriage service appears in the Schedule to the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995, with a similar punishment.

So one has to ask why no action was taken by the university, given these were allegedly such serious crimes?

Police not told of ‘threats’ to ANU climate scientists

AUSTRALIAN National University authorities did not ask police to investigate alleged death threats against climate scientists, despite decrying a “totally outrageous” campaign against their staff.

The Australian yesterday revealed Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim had debunked claims of death threats in 11 emails sent to university staff.

The Australian Federal Police division responsible for law enforcement in Canberra, ACT Policing, said it was not contacted by the university over the matter. “As no complaint has been received, no investigation has taken place,” a spokesman said.

Fairfax Media and the ABC reported last June that ANU climate researchers had been subjected to a vicious and unrelenting campaign that included death threats.

At the time of the reports, vice-chancellor Ian Young denounced what he called intolerable threats against his scientists.

“These are issues where we should have a logical public debate and it’s completely intolerable that people be subjected to this sort of abuse and to threats like this,” he said. “I think it is totally outrageous.”

The university yesterday refused to say why no complaint was lodged with the police.

“Climate change staff approached university management about verbal and written harassment,” a spokesman said. “The university acted to move them to more secure offices.”

Mr Pilgrim, who was called in to adjudicate on a Freedom of Information request over the emails, found 10 of them did “not contain threats of harm against the recipients or the ANU”.

“I consider the danger to life or physical safety in this case to be only a possibility, not a real chance,” he said of the 11th email, an account of an exchange that occurred at an off-campus event sponsored by members of the university’s Climate Change Institute and other bodies. (source)

This confirms my own enquiries with ACT Police that no complaint had been filed.

"ANU death threat claims debunked" – The Australian

FOI request

UPDATE 6: Jo Nova writes here.

UPDATE 5: Scan of The Australian article is now here.

UPDATE 4: Catallaxy Files writes here.

UPDATE 3: James Delingpole writes here.

UPDATE 2: Anthony Watts posts on this here.

UPDATE 1: Andrew Bolt comments here.

Christian Kerr at The Australian reports on my ongoing efforts to obtain, from the Australian National University, copies of emails to climate scientists containing death threats, and a recent Privacy Commissioner ruling that shows that none of the documents produced contain such threats:

Climate scientists’ claims of email death threats go up in smoke

CLAIMS that some of Australia’s leading climate change scientists were subjected to death threats as part of a vicious and unrelenting email campaign have been debunked by the Privacy Commissioner.

Timothy Pilgrim was called in to adjudicate on a Freedom of Information application in relation to Fairfax and ABC reports last June alleging that Australian National University climate change researchers were facing the ongoing campaign and had been moved to “more secure buildings” following explicit threats.

In a six-page ruling made last week, Mr Pilgrim found that 10 of 11 documents, all emails, “do not contain threats to kill” and the other “could be regarded as intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat”.

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, who was the ANU’s vice-chancellor at the time, last night admitted he did not have any recollection of reading the emails before relocating the university’s researchers. “I don’t believe I did,” Professor Chubb told The Australian.

Instead, he said he had responded “as a responsible employer”.

“I had a bunch of concerned staff and they thought they should be moved to a more secure place so I moved them,” he said.

“With hindsight, we can say nobody chased them down. What do you do?”

The FOI application was lodged by Sydney climate blogger Simon Turnill. It requested the release of “emails, transcript of telephone calls or messages that contained abuse, threats to kill and/or threats of harm to the recipient” sent to six staff members of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute. His request resulted in the discovery of the 11 documents.

The university refused to release the documents, citing a clause in the Freedom of Information Act that exempts documents that “would, or could reasonably be expected to … endanger the life or physical safety of any person” from disclosure.

Mr Turnill appealed against the decision.

In response to the appeal, Mr Pilgrim found 10 documents did not contain threats to kill or threats of harm.

Mr Pilgrim said of the 11th, a further email offering an account of an exchange that occurred at an off-campus event sponsored by members of the Climate Change Institute and other bodies: “I consider the danger to life or physical safety in this case to be only a possibility, not a real chance.” 

By way of background, in June 2011, there was a flurry of media reports regarding the receipt of alleged “death threats” at the ANU and other universities. The story was the splash in the Canberra Times on 4 June. Furthermore, for example, here in Australia the ABC reported:

Death threats sent to top climate scientists

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks. (source)

The story made it around the world, with the UK Guardian reporting:

Australian climate scientists receive death threats

A number of Australia’s leading climate scientists have been moved into safer accommodation after receiving death threats, in a further escalation of the country’s increasingly febrile carbon price debate.

The revelation of the death threats follows a week of bitter exchanges between the government and the opposition in the wake of a pro-carbon price TV advert featuring actor Cate Blanchett.

The Australia National University (ANU) in Canberra said that it has moved a number of its climate scientists to a secure facility after they received a large number of threatening emails and phone calls.

Ian Young, ANU’s vice-chancellor, told ABC national radio that the threats had worsened in recent weeks.

“Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time,” he said.

“These are issues where we should have a logical public debate and it’s completely intolerable that people be subjected to this sort of abuse and to threats like this.

“I think it is totally outrageous and the vast majority of Australians would think it is totally unacceptable for anybody in society to be subjected to this sort of behaviour.”

Young said that scientists had been threatened with assault if they were identified in the street. Among those targeted is Prof Will Steffen, ANU’s climate institute director. (source)

The Nature blog ran the story as well:

Australian climate scientists face death threats

Leading climate scientists in Australia are being subjected to an escalating campaign of death threats and abusive phone calls, as the country’s government edges closer to introducing a price on carbon.

A number of Australia’s highest profile climate scientists have been moved into secure buildings following the recent spate of threats, including at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, as well as other universities in New South Wales and Queensland. Some economists and policy experts have also been relocated after being targeted.

ANU vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young told ABC News that the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks. “Obviously climate research is an emotive issue at the present time,” he said. “These are issues where we should have a logical public debate and it’s completely intolerable that people be subjected to this sort of abuse and to threats like this.”

Scientists targeted include Will Steffen, director of ANU’s climate change institute. (source)

As a result of these news items, on 5 June 2011 I submitted an application for the documents in question under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The request stated that I required copies of  the following:

Emails or telephone calls or messages to members of the Climate Change Institute containing abuse, threats to kill and/or threats of harm to the recipient

and sent to any of six senior members of the ANU’s Climate Change Institute within the previous six months.

On 4 August 2011, the ANU sent a decision letter in which they stated that 11 documents meeting the above criteria had been found, but all of them were exempt from disclosure under two grounds, firstly, that of privacy, and secondly, that disclosure may “endanger the life or physical safety of any person”.

This immediately struck me as odd. Naturally, personal information could easily be redacted from emails, and secondly, how could such disclosure of the content of previously sent emails possibly cause further danger to life or physical safety? I did not see any point in referring the matter for internal review at ANU, and therefore lodged an appeal directly with the Information Commissioner. The grounds for appeal were stated thus:

The request for information regarded alleged “death threats” sent to members of the Australian National University climate change department. This story was reported widely in the media (e.g. including at the ABC – news/2011-06-04/death-threats-sent-to-top-climate-scientists/2745536, Herald Sun – scientists-suffer-death-threats/story-e6frf7jo-1226069173816, Sydney Morning Herald – climate-change/death-threats-to-scientists-20110604-1fm4i.html).

I contacted the ACT police media office about this matter and they confirmed no complaint had been received and therefore no action in respect of the alleged threats had been taken.

The reasons for this review are as follows:

1. The ANU claims that disclosing the material would result in “unreasonable disclosure of personal information”, despite the fact that such information could easily be redacted from the e-mails. Such a ground should not prevent the disclosure of the substance of the e-mails.

2. The ANU further claims that disclosing the material would “endanger the life or physical safety of any person.” This is clearly nonsensical. The disclosure of the e-mails has no bearing on the threats contained therein, and cannot possibly further endanger life or physical safety of those concerned.

3. The ANU apply both exclusions to every document. It appears that this decision is therefore arbitrary and there has been no attempt to apply the exclusions on a case by case basis.

Given that no complaint was made to the police, the suspicion must arise that the e-mails contained abuse, but, importantly, no “threat to kill” within the meaning of the criminal law. That suspicion would also extend to the fact the ANU would now be reluctant to disclose the materials, since it would reveal that the stories reported in the media were exaggerated and overblown.

Given that the ANU themselves were content for the story to be provided to the media, it is wholly unconscionable for them now to refuse access to the materials on which those media reports were based, whether they are supportive of such media reports or otherwise. 

Finally, after a long wait, on 26 April 2012, the Privacy Commissioner ruled in my favour. The decision is available here. In respect of danger to life, the Commissioner wrote:

15. The question is how release of the documents could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any person. In other words, the question is whether release of the documents could be expected to create the risk, not whether the documents reflect an existing credible threat. Even if the threats were highly credible, the question would be how release of the documents would add to the expected threat.

16. In my view, there is a risk that release of the documents could lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel or expressed through social media. However, there is no evidence to suggest disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to, endanger the life or physical safety of any person.

17. Therefore I consider that the 11 documents are not exempt under s 37(1)(c).

In respect of privacy issues, he wrote:

21. I agree that the documents in their entirety contain information and/or opinions about individuals—both those sending and receiving the documents. However, the scope of material that the applicant is seeking in this review excludes information that would make the identity of the individuals sending or receiving the emails reasonably identifiable. Without identifying information, such as names, phone numbers and email addresses, I do not consider the material within the scope of the review is personal information. In my opinion the identity of the senders and recipients of the emails would not be apparent or reasonably ascertainable from the remaining information in the documents. Therefore the 11 documents without information identifying individuals are not exempt under s 47F.

The ANU have still refused to release the documents, pending a possible appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I fully intend to contest this appeal if necessary.

Furthermore, enquiries to the ACT Police last week confirm that since the threats were allegedly received, no complaint had been received from the University, and therefore no investigation has ever taken place.


ANU death threats story "goes cold"

Story gone cold

The Daily Telegraph has picked up on the fact that this was a non-story all along, designed to distract attention from the real issues at hand :

CLAIMS prominent climate change scientists had recently received death threats have been revealed as an opportunistic ploy, with the Australian National University admitting that they occurred up to five years ago.

Only two of ANU’s climate change scientists allegedly received death threats, the first in a letter posted in 2006-2007 and the other an offhand remark made in person 12 months ago.

Neither was officially reported to ACT Police or Australian Federal Police, despite such crimes carrying a 10-year prison sentence.

The outdated threats raised question marks over the timing of their release to the public, with claims they were aired last week to draw sympathy to scientists and their climate change cause.

The university denied it was creating a ruse, maintaining the initial report, in the Fairfax-owned Canberra Times last week, failed to indicate when the threats were made.Reports also suggested the threats had forced the ANU to lock away its climate change scientists and policy advisers in a high-security complex. The Daily Telegraph has discovered the nine scientists and staff in question were merely given keyless swipe cards – routine security measures taken last year. (source)

Also read Tim Blair on the subject here, where he reveals that the emails quoted in the press yesterday had been kicking around since early 2010. Geez.

UPDATE: Watts Up With That on the Aussie issue here.

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