Masthead for The Mercury of Pottstown, PA. Graphic: The Mercury

By Aaron Huertas
9 July 2013

(The Mercury) – The Mercury has published two opinion pieces in recent months that attack Pennsylvania State University climate researcher Michael Mann. Columnist Gil Spencer and contributor Steve Goreham both conveyed misinformation about climate science, but I find their personal attacks directed at Dr. Mann most troubling.

I refer to commentators like Spencer and Goreham as “climate contrarians.” Their understandable enthusiasm for the energy we get from burning fossil fuels prevents them from accepting the overwhelming scientific evidence that burning such fuels comes with many downsides, including climate change.

Dr. Mann is best-known for two papers he and his colleagues produced in the late 1990s. They found that modern, human-induced climate change is occurring much more rapidly than past, natural changes to the climate.

Climate contrarians decided to respond by smearing Dr. Mann. For the past 15 years, they haven’t let up, even as other scientists have confirmed and extended his original findings and even as evidence has piled up from thousands of other scientific studies that heat-trapping emissions from burning coal and gas — and destroying tropical forests - are altering our climate.

We could well do without these insulting attacks on Dr. Mann and other climate researchers. On other issues, such as lead exposure and childhood brain development, and vaccine safety, attacks on scientists have largely and rightly been rejected as outside the realm of reasonable discourse.

But Dr. Mann’s case stands out both for the vileness of the attacks he has faced and the significant amount of time and resources elected officials have wasted going after him.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas used his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee not to debate national energy policy, but to hold hearings designed to attack Dr. Mann.

In Virginia, state courts rejected a request by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a vocal critic of climate change science, to comb through all of Dr. Mann’s personal correspondence during his time at the University of Virginia.

In 2009, an anonymous hacker (or hackers) stole emails from Mann and other scientists. Climate contrarian groups, many funded by the fossil-fuel industry, misrepresented their contents to try to undermine scientists’ credibility.

Some of those same groups have taken out radio and newspaper advertisements in Pennsylvania that attack Dr. Mann, and they’ve bused people in to protest his speaking engagements.

Dr. Mann regularly receives hate emails, some of them prompted by fossil-fuel funded groups that post his email address online. Some of the emails threaten his family.

As Dr. Mann chronicles in his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, someone sent him an envelope of white powder in the mail, intending to mimic a chemical attack such as ricin or anthrax.

Thankfully, the powder was innocuous.

The harassment, however, is not. It’s deeply offensive.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Mann on several occasions. He commands significant respect for his work as a scientist and public educator. He’s also shown leadership in helping other scientists respond to baseless attacks. [more]

Attacks on climate researchers distract from real issue

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