Are you a climate academic?
Stefan Lewandowsky on all you ever wanted to know about the Scared Scientists but were afraid to ask because you didn’t want to know.
Q I worked briefly with [Scared Scientist’s name withheld] and the abduction of the octet has brought up certain… emotions. What if I talk to a trauma counselor at the University and they think I’m nuts? —Logic Bloke
A Mr Bloke,
Nobody is going to judge you! There’s no “right” way to respond to incidents like this, psychologically speaking.
Debilitating grief, constant white-knuckle panic, recurrent ideation about pain and death that crowds out everything else, an all-consuming dread, feelings of paralytic anxiety—these are all normal, healthy reactions.
But you don’t have to go through them alone. As someone who’s experienced them all since breakfast, I can assure you it helps to vent.
So don’t be shy. For once in your climate career, this is no time for scientific reticence!
Q Professor Lewandowski (sic), could you settle a faculty bet: as day 4 of the crisis dawns, is there any unhealthy or ‘incorrect’ way to feel? —ExCapitalistWoman, Sydney
A Ms Woman,
Panic is a deeply personal journey. Your amygdalae, adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system are different from the next person’s, so why should you drop your bundle exactly the same way?
We each have our own timetable for not getting through events like this.
What’s important is that you give in to terror on your own terms—nobody else’s.
When life gets traumatic the only ‘wrong‘ way to respond is denial. This week’s news is a case in point.
If you ever feel you’re coping well as the kidnapping crisis unfolds, that’s what we call a major red flag. Call your doctor or counselor as a matter of urgency. They can help you get back on track, or put you in contact with someone who can.
But there’s a limited time window, so act while the trauma is still acute.
Q Dear Dr (sic) Lewandowsky, police here in Australia keep assuring us they have “no credible information” about an elevated threat [of further abductions] to us [climate scientists]. Why don’t I find this comforting? —Professor_Planet, Melbourne
A Because you’re smart. Too smart to fall for the cognitive illusion that uncertainty is your friend. Au contraire, Professor—as colleagues and I formally elucidate in Lewandowsky’s Uncertainty Principle, it’s your enemy. “No credible information?” When you hear those words, it’s time to totally pack death. In your pants. For all we know science traffickers are casing your house as we speak. They know where you live. They know where your children go to school.
They may be few but all it takes is one lapse, one unguarded moment, one security hole.
Q You’ve been eluding persecutors your entire career. What practical advice would you give us to make it through this period of heightened risk, alive and unkidnapped? —A/Prof AndThenTheresEvidence, Sydney
A A/Prof Evidence,
1. In a siege situation—which is the apt model for the plight Australian climate researchers have found themselves in since the disappearance of 8 of their number—the golden imperative is not to fall asleep, even for a moment.
Caffeine is of course the mainstay of siege survival, but don’t fall into the common trap of assuming it has to be ingested in coffee form!
Caffeine tablets, available in Australia under such brands as Nō-Dōz and Nō-Dōz Plus, are an excellent means of delivery and preferable to the dangerous ritual of coffee-making. By stocking up at your local chemist you can spare yourself a trip to the kitchen—or killchen as I like to call it (no pun intended). The open plan and doorless entry to many modern kitchens makes scientists an easy target for denialist hitmen while the kettle boils.
Pseudoephedrine-based cold and rhinorrhea medications can keep you awake through that 3rd night in a row, when you’ll probably begin to find caffeine alone doesn’t do the trick. But steer clear of so-called nighttime relief formulas! These contain a second active ingredient that can make you drowsy—and your enemies would like nothing better, would they?
Over-the-counter alertness aids are great, and will always be the first-line bread and butter of siege smartness, but they can only take you so far. When the time comes to step your vigilance up to the next chemical level, I know a guy.
I’m not going to talk about this here. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll hook you up. Please use ‘crank’ as the subject line (so if anyone snoops, it’ll look like ordinary hate mail).
2. Cowering in terror is a bit like real estate: it’s about location, location, location.
Always bear in mind what I call the feng shui of fear. Sit or stand with your back to a wall, preferably double-brick, with a clear eyeline to all the room’s entry and exit points. Ideally there should be no windows, but if the room has one, make sure you’re looking at it!
Don’t hide in your bedroom—but if you do, prop your mattress against the door. The sight of a comfy bed practically sets you up for failure when you’re trying to push through that critical 96-hour mark.
3. Use safety in numbers; think zebras on the Serengeti, Mormons in a bad neighborhood or mainstream scientists in the literature.
One technique that’s kept me alive and inviolate thus far is to find a fellow climate psychologist and literally stick to them, back to back, using double-sided tape. The entities who are after me tend to think twice before messing with a baseball-bat dual-wielding Beast With Two Fronts.
Q If the Scared Scientists are alive and in wifi range we can assume they’re reading Climate Nuremberg regularly. Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for them? —Matthew England’s mum, Perth
A Dear colleagues, I can’t even begin to imagine the despair and agony you must be in right now because, as you probably know, I’m severely empathically-challenged.
However, I hope you are remembering your WMDs: What Would McGyver Do? Resourceful captives are successful captives.
• Bed sheets, towels and bandages can be used as ropes.
• A toothbrush, plastic ruler or other handheld item with Mohs’ hardness less than ~3.0 can be ground to a razor-sharp edge on the concrete floor of your cell.
• Finally, for the ladies: poison! Are your captors heavy smokers? Perfect. Simply ‘palm’ one cigarette a day, every day, and in a couple of weeks you will have secretly stockpiled a virtual chemical weapons plant. Next, beg for a cup of water—agreeing to perform whatever sexual favours it takes—but instead of drinking it to slake your maddening thirst, use it to concentrate the nicotine from the stolen death-sticks. Et voilà: a literally lethal solution.
With all these technologies available, you should have no trouble killing yourselves.
Most failures to achieve suicide are due not to a lack of means, but a lack of courage. And according to cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] the best way to avoid pussying out of committing something is to view it in perspective, by considering the consequences of omission: sure, taking your own lives might feel like a big step now (especially to cloistered hysterics like you) but would you rather be thrown, fully conscious, into the debating pits?
I didn’t think so.
Q Could you talk a bit about the backstory behind this science-trafficking industry? I’m afraid to wikipedia it. —Bicuriouser, Sydney
A Thank you for your bicuriosity. We’ve all heard of science-trafficking cartels, but little is known about these crime syndicates apart from their main activities, operational structure and history.
The science slavers of fin-de-siècle Europe plied their grisly wares to the rogue government sector at first, recalls Lewandowsky.
And to understand history we need to understand the past.
So let us nibble on Proust’s madeleine and go back… way back… to the late 1990s.
It is the late 1990s.
A climate-scientific revolution is sweeping the world, and everyone wants in: free world and slave alike.
(Using words, ordinary words, I have begun to paint a pixel-perfect picture of the universe as it was two decades ago.)
There is an explosion in human comprehension of the atmosphere, and the world’s top countries—like Australia—are riding it for all it’s worth. But inevitably, the bonanza attracts the bottom-feeders too.
No self-respecting pariah state wants to miss out. As everyone in charge of a military junta, sub-Saharan war-hole or Slav kleptocracy knows, a regime’s survival depends on having better climate science than the dystopia next door.
And it’s not just a matter of regional swaggering rights! All over the world, the climate issue is making and breaking demagogues domestically.
After all, climate denial is a purely Anglophone phenomenon (as it always will be). Everyone else is fully aware that the science is going to come true one day, sooner than anyone expects, like a thief in the night, in all its gory glory—so unless you can offer your long-suffering subjects the two Ps (prediction and protection), they’ll soon start itching for the yoke of a more scientifically-credible dictator. There is no mistaking the mood of the mob: invest in the science, or there’s a lamp-post with your name written on it. Upside down.
So you need to build up your own rogue nation’s climate capabilities while officially disavowing, wink wink, the possession of a climate-science program. That means you’ll need an underground knowledge mine. And a knowledge mine needs a steady supply of kidnapped academics to toil away at the coal-face of ignorance under the watchful whip of an MBA from Mola Ram Management College.
But where can you get cohort after cohort of cheap PhD-educated labor, completely off the books? From ex-Soviet smugglers, obviously. From gangs with the firepower and experience to supply that particular, burgeoning demand.
And the rest is crime history.
Falling into the clutches of science traffickers, therefore, is not a death sentence per se—and this has become a source of much confusion and false hope for relatives of the Scared Scientists, so it deserves a digression here.
Science slaves (as victims of the trade are known) have been sold into lives of indentured brainwork under a variety of masters, from Kims to Ayatollahs, some of whom are believed to treat their investments almost humanely.
It’s certainly not an ideal predicament. They’ll never see the sun set over the Sydney Harbour Bridge from a Vaucluse balcony again; they’ll never work another eight-month year; they’re expected to get more science done, on a lower version of Windows, than ever before; and nobody will ever acknowledge how clever they are. Not properly. Their opponents will never again see their names in the peer-reviewed literature.
“But at least she’s alive,” as the brother of one Scared Scientist remarked when I told him who’d abducted them.
“And where there’s life there’s hope.”
I have little time for such wishful thinking.
Listen: there’s not a scrap of evidence—not one scintilla—that whoever enslaved the Aussie Eight is taking them to the knowledge mines. (We don’t even know the destination of the freighter they’re aboard.)
Why is it so hard for people to accept that their child, sibling or parent is destined for the debating pits—from whence no mainstream scientist ever returns—and that there’s nothing anyone can do about it?
Oh, right. Because they love them.
This article is not a substitute for a professional mental illness support site such as ThisWayUp, ShapingTomorrowsWorld or MoodGym.
Professor Lewandowsky has no personal experience with mental health.
Readers of Hindu and Buddhist faith are advised that suicide is only a short-term fix.