Normally, I ignore David Appell who runs a blog called Quark Soup where he spends a good portion of his time hyperbloviating about things that make him upset. A lot of the time, that’s me and the readers of WUWT. I long ago decided he’s just not worth anyone’s serious consideration. The numbers he gets on his blog demonstrate that he just isn’t an effective communicator, which is sad, because his chosen profession is as a science writer. He lists several science magazine publications on his website. My policy to mostly ignore him changed recently with one over the top headline.
Lately Mr. Appell has been hitting WUWT comments with his favorite M.O., which is to write baiting missives and demand attention to his viewpoint, demand we agree with his viewpoint, and when we don’t, to keep pushing the same premise again and again, ignoring what anyone else says about it. Finally when he doesn’t get his way, he’ll run off to his blog and make a blog in the vein of faux outrage, telling the world how terrible we here at WUWT are. He’s done this about half a dozen times. I’m used to it. In fact, I even predicted it in comments. Like I said, normally I ignore him when he posts angry missives on QS, but I’ll make an exception, just this once.
What he did on Friday was a true thinking outside of the box demonstration that not only does he have no class, he has no scruples either; he brought my deceased mother into the debate.
Yep, he made up a headline claiming that I deny the existence of my own mother. How rude. You can read his desperate cry for attention, archived here.
Now I’ve had far worse things said about me (scroll down to corrections), so in this regard, Appell is pretty much an amateur. I’ve been insulted by professionals.
But from my viewpoint, this particular entry crossed a line, and Mr. Appell, who has almost 100 comments here at WUWT going back to 2008, is no longer welcome here. Feel free to disagree with me and this blog all you want, but when you start dragging my family into it, even in some sort of satirical jest, that isn’t something I’ll accept from someone who was a guest in my home on the Internet, nor do I have to. If you were in my physical home when you made that comment, I’d show you the door.
So what got Appell into this over the top frothing? He’s upset that I didn’t take the recent news of death threat claims against climate scientists seriously enough for his taste in his litany of comments on WUWT here.
My position was that I have yet to see any substantiated credible death threats to climate scientists. I’ve seen lots of taunts, I’ve seen some ugly, foul, and hateful language, and I’ve seen lots of news stories talking about these things. I don’t deny they have been covered by the press, but I haven’t seen anything rise to the level of significant concern. More on that in a bit.
* A caveat, I’m probably over-experienced when it comes to death threats. Having spent 25 years in newspaper, TV, and radio newsrooms, I’ve seen dozens. I’ve taken phone calls, I’ve read letters, I’ve seen death threat and hate email that follows when somebody or some organization has been reported on in the news in less than glowing terms. So, one could say that I’m far more experienced with the subject than Mr. Appell is, having direct hands-on experience with the issue.
The recent death threat row started in Canberra Australia in June 2011 over a story about “30 Australian climate scientists get death threats”. The Australian ABC reported on it here:
I read that story when it first came out, initially, I was concerned, but then I saw this ending sentence:
The Australian Federal Police says it is aware of the issue, but there is no investigation underway.
That was a cue for me, because in all the time I’ve been in the media and seen the threats we got, only once did we call the police to investigate. That was the one person dumb enough to sign his name to it. Later, he backed down saying it was a “joke”. We didn’t press charges, as he was just another ranter and TV stations and public figures must endure these things at a higher level of tolerance than the general public.
So when the Australian police didn’t even bother to start an investigation, I wasn’t concerned that there was anything credible there.
Despite that, the story went like wildfire, Googling phrases “climate scientist” and “death threats” yields about 35,000 results. Some of those results are related to previous episodes from Climategate in Dec 2009 where Ben Santer, Tom Wigley and others apparently got some nasty email. Problem is, they didn’t/couldn’t share it. In the ABC article on Wigley, they state,
He is unable to reveal the details of the threats, as they are now being investigated by the FBI and UK police.
Well that sounds credible, but like the Climategate investigation itself, we’ve heard nothing more about it. So it seems to have evaporated as an issue. There’s been no follow-on public announcements about investigations, no arrests from the FBI or other police units. I figure if the FBI took it seriously, we’d have heard more about it. If I’m in error, somebody please leave a note in comments.
So again, we have a lot of excitement and arm waving and angry blog missives about the issue, but no substance in the long term.
That result is pretty much my entire lifetime experience with death threats as a member of the media. Not one person I’ve worked with that has ever gotten a death threat or threat of any kind has had it acted upon, nor have we ever had a police investigation that brought anything to light that elevated these things from rant level to concern level where some action or arrest is required. People get mad, they blow off steam by writing stupid anonymous letters, and they send it, often later regretting it. We’ve come to expect this in the media. It comes with the territory.
I found it even more difficult to get worked up over these emails in Australia when I learned about some of them from Jo Nova, who pointed out that some of them had been released, but without anything beyond the body of text. Here’s part of her post:
To a climate scientist, *swearing* equals a Death Threat (no wonder these guys can’t predict the weather)
Wait for it, some death threat emails have been released. Number eight is positively sinister with intent (shield your children):
Now several of the abusive emails have been published on a blog by environmental writer Graham Readfearn, after the scientists agreed to release the poison pen letters.
“If we see you continue, we will get extremely organised and precise against you. We will not do so if you rightfully argue against our points from a science view. But we will if you choose to stray into attacks on us as people or as a movement. The institution and funders that support you will find the attention concerning.”
God forbid, imagine a member of the public imploring a scientist to argue with science instead of slurs. Well I’ll be!
How chilling does it get? These scientists must get hundreds of emails a week. Here are the worst two Sunanda Creagh could find:
…several correspondents had a more chilling message for the scientists.
“Just do your science or you will end up collateral damage in the war, GET IT,” reads one email.
“If we see you continue, we will get extremely organised and precise against you,” reads another.
Obviously we need to protect our scientists against this unreasonable intrusion on their right to issue baseless propaganda and unsubstantiated smears. Imagine the threat of members of the public getting “precise” in their arguments? How dare they?!
The rest of the emails released by Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a climate scientist at the University of Queensland, were unbecoming, rude, and full of four letter words. (I strongly advise skeptics not to swear in emails.)
When I read Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was involved, then read the body of the emails he claims are “death threats”, I was doubly not worried. Generally, for something to qualify as an actual death threat, it must actually contain the word “death” or some variance such as “kill” or “murder”. Searching the email bodies posted doesn’t find those words.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is well known for being overly excitable when it comes to climate debate, I had first hand experience with him in Brisbane where he interrupted our presentation, hogging the micropone and demanding to be heard over all others.
So, given the way he behaves, I didn’t see much credibility in his claims, especially when the “death threats” don’t actually contain the word.
And it gets worse. It turned out the June death threats in Australia were stale:
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…
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.
Meanwhile, without checking into that, Appell is getting more upset that I’m not getting alarmed about his original comment which was:
“It is stunning to see essentially no condemnation of the death threats here, ……”
Many commenters pointed out that the article was about PNAS equating FOIA requests to death threats in an NYT interview, and had nothing to do with any actual death threats made. Undeterred by facts, Appell kept at it, becoming more and more “outraged”, which is his style, then he builds up enough responses to blog about it. Basically, he quote mines with language grenades.
I suggested in comments that he show some credible examples. Other commenters kept asking for the same. He kept ignoring that call, and his posts got snipped, with the message to look upstream in the thread, that some action was required on his part to show credible examples. I pointed out that we have not seen any actual emails like we have in Climategate where they could be verified. We have only second and third hand reports.
And predictably, he wrote an interim post, shown below, calling us all demented:
He finally posted a list of what he called evidence: a series of news articles.
Submitted on 2011/07/13 at 9:34 pm
The death threats against climate scientists have been widely acknowledged by several of them and reported on by many journalists. The Guardian, in particular, has seen them. One scientist had a dead animal dumped on their doorstep, according to ABC News. Some of the threats have been reported to the FBI.
It is pernicious, obnoxious, and dangerous for people here, especially Anthony Watts, to claim that these threats exist do not exist. It is of a kind, and only a step from being complicit.
Well, as any lawyer can tell you, news articles aren’t the same as physical evidence. I’d seen these before, and Appell is keen in his latest post to point out the top link from the recent Guardian story:
If you scan that article, you’ll read a bunch of ugly juvenile rants that are something that looks like the same person authored a majority of them, but once again the key words “death, kill, murder, execute, etc” just aren’t there.
Note to David Appell: a death threat must actually contain the words. Otherwise it is just annoying capitalized hate mail rant with cuss words, like the kind I get here at WUWT every week and put in the bit bucket. It seems Appell’s entire outrage is predicated upon his conflation of rude emails to death threats. In his blog post here, he even goes so far as to contradict himself:
…he won’t even allow evidence of death threats against scientists to be posted in the comments of his blog,
Point taken Mr. Appell. Rude threatening emails in this article you highlight are not death threats, especially when they don’t contain the key words. Your argument morphed from death threat, to threatening emails.
So Appell threw up a straw man argument in comments on a story about “FOIA being equated to death threats”, complains that I’m not upset enough, sends “evidence” that doesn’t contain any actual death threats, just foul language, and then claims I’m denying that the death threats exist and makes up a headline that I “deny the existence of my own mother”.
And this guy writes for major science magazines? Stay classy, David Appell, but do it somewhere else other than WUWT.
For the record, I deplore hate mail, death threats, and threats of violence, no matter who might be saying it, and always will. Nobody should have to put up with these to do their job and I wouldn’t wish them on anybody. I hope the day never comes when a credible death threat is delivered, much less acted upon. Any such credible threats should get the full measure of the law.
And as a final note, one issue that Appell got upset about (that he tried to post on WUWT) got snipped because it was from a LaRouche Youth Movement supporter who held up a rope noose saying “Welcome to Australia” during a speech by Hans Schellnhuber. It was ugly, tasteless, stupid, and full of bad imagery, but again missing the key words that define a death threat. Even so, some in the media (and many in the alarmosphere) are calling it a “death threat” and trying to paint it as being launched by skeptics. For the record, neither I nor anyone who publishes here associate themselves with the Larouche people, and I denounce their actions. I don’t think you’ll find a single mainstream climate skeptic who would say any different.
There are several key words and topics we don’t cover here, such as Chemtrails, HAARP, and yes Larouche rants among others. I don’t want to give these Larouche people any exposure more than I need to make this point. By policy, we don’t post such videos and I won’t even link this one here. That’s not denying the existence of it, as Appell claims, but only exercising responsible journalism by not spreading obviously staged publicity stunts by the Larouche people. If you really want to watch the video, Google “David Appell, Quark Soup, and Death threat video”, and you’ll find the Larouche video on his blog, along with a second video.
But, here’s the key point that Appell and a bunch of other people miss. By Appell’s posting of a second video by the Larouche people, he blows his own case, saying “Here the perpetrator actually brags about his threat:”
I go back to my original issue with why I didn’t get upset back in June:
The Australian Federal Police says it is aware of the issue, but there is no investigation underway.
Yet here on Appell’s blog, we have the very Larouche fellow who held up the noose, narrating a video he produced about the incident after the fact. Clearly, it was a publicity stunt, and if it was as actual death threat, actionable under Australian law, don’t you think the guy would be in the slammer rather than narrating propaganda videos afterwards?
If the police don’t consider it a credible death threat, making no arrests, the only explanation for the constant beating of the drum by Appell and others is that the issue has propaganda value to paint skeptics with a broad brush.
Jo Nova and Willis Eschenbach sum up that problem well in Throwing the Hate Crime Grenade