Psychologist Dan Kahan works closely with climatologists and was on first-name basis with some of the Scared Scientists. The Yale Professor says they’ve been at risk of abduction for years, and recent tragic events were virtually waiting to happen.
“The [climate] community has always been an open invitation to a certain kind of sicko, who gets off on playing Jedi mind games with unarmed opponents.”
Kahan often has to teach a climate scientist the rudiments of urban safety from scratch.
“They’re amazed to learn that they don’t have to get in the car with anyone they don’t know, no matter how much candy he offers them.”
In the crash course Not Being Kidnapped 101, Prof. Kahan stresses that checking credentials isn’t enough; you then have to make a judgement call based on the information.
“Wallet Inspector, Bra Patrol, Crown Prince of Nigeria—these are not things,” he says, exasperated. “They’re just bogus concatenations of words!
“Climate negotiator, climate change psychologist, climate economist, climate ethicist—now these are people you can safely get in a car with. Legitimate, credible professions.
“The trick, as so often in life, is to know the difference.”
But for a certain demographic that may be easier said than done.
“Stranger Danger is a no-brainer for—quote-unquote—’normals’ like you and me,” he says. “But spare a thought for the special folk who congenitally lack that little voice, the one that whispers, ‘hang on, something’s not quite right here.’ Call it adaptive paranoia, spider sense, street smarts, whatever you like—climatologists are notoriously deficient in this department, even by academic standards. Which is saying a lot.
“Skepticism,” he adds. “Call it skepticism.”
If one good thing has emerged from the horrible crime perpetrated on the Scared Scientists, Kahan argues, it’s that people are now talking about the issues surrounding and facing developmentally special folk. He sees this as an opportunity to bust some stereotypes.
Kahan points to the 1988 classic Rain Man as a milestone in popular awareness. But he also regrets a number of misconceptions the film has spawned.
“Raymond, the character brought to life by Dustin Hoffman, is an unrepresentative case. He ticks all the boxes—too many boxes, if anything. In statistical ‘real life,’ syndromes like autism hardly ever come as an all-or-nothing package deal.”
For example, says Kahan, some of the most socially-retarded climate scientists he knows also have no discernible talent for numbers.
“Some of these guys can’t even use Excel.”
It’s yet another reason to fear for the Scared Scientists’ well-being in captivity.
Acting Federal Police Commissioner Michael Phelan appeared on Australian talkback radio today to justify why the Hate Crimes Unit hasn’t been brought in on the case of the Scared Scientists. The decision has raised community eyebrows but Phalen said it had the backing of leading hate criminologists.
“The fact is, there’s no evidence the scientists were targeted for their beliefs,” he explained.
Mr Phelan reminded reporters that the Australian community had coexisted with climate scientists for years. Notwithstanding the occasional rude email—”rarer than you might predict, all things considered”—Aussies had exhibited all the lazy tolerance for which they’re world-famous, basically allowing the climatological community to practice in peace.
Australian climate scientists distrust the general public, Commissioner Phelan acknowledged.
“You’d expect a bit more animosity, but in fact it’s been one of the great multicultural success stories.
“Historically, the two groups just ignore each other,” he said.
“This is not to deny that things occasionally get physical. But statistically, normal Australians are more likely to be attacked by climate scientists than the other way round.”
Such events are vastly underreported, explained the Commissioner, because Aussies are brought up not to “dob” someone “in” for slapping them unless they use backhand. Assaults may even go unnoticed by the victims themselves, he suggested.
“We think as many as a hundred Australians every year, who believe they had crumbs on their shirt or a misaligned tie, were actually being ‘attacked’ by a climate scientist.”
Nor did Mr Phelan shy away from the well-known fact that climate scientists distrust ordinary Australians.
“I won’t pretend our climatologists don’t feel a certain sense of betrayal—which is regrettable, but needs to be understood in the context of a couple of frightening events in the past.”
Scientists Down Under still bear the mental scars of a 2010 incident in which a known conservative with a history of free-market opinions was seen to reach into his pocket.
In a quirky twist nobody could have anticipated, he wasn’t actually going for an assault rifle at all. (According to some reports the man wasn’t even armed.) Understandably, though, mass panic had already broken out by the time anyone noticed the man was “just” waving a legal document.
The individual is understood to have left the dinner party voluntarily.
Security at the Australian National University was quickly upgraded as a result of what scientists were calling the Goulburn Massacre, or simply The Brandishing. (See ANU Professor Will Steffen’s disturbing account of a suspected copycat attack here.)
Five years on, the fear is still raw, and has seeped into everything Australian climate scientists say and do, even if they weren’t there at the time.
As psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky points out, seepage is thermodynamically irreversible. We can therefore expect the trauma to start fading only when the affected cohort retires. Until then the sight of a conservative or a legal document may be all it takes to trigger Mexican waves of cold sweat and flashbacks throughout the Australian climate world.
“It’s like they say,” adds Lewandowsky. “Science heals one funeral at a time.”