Tag Archives: Will Steffen

What else are the lesser outlets saying about Our Scared Scientists?

masthead the age index 2 bPsychologist 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.

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“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.

“At least three of them—that I know of—are half-way along the idiot savant spectrum.” masthead berliner zeitung 10810244,7038739,data,logo 2 b

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.”

A Tribute to Professor Steffen


Yesterday I was haunted to find a certain guest post gathering digital dust on Climate Nuremberg’s server.

Nobody can say why exactly we never published it, but perhaps the editorial team dismissed it as pedestrian, un-newsworthy, childishly written, or all of the above.

And it is. But it’s also eerie, for this reason: the piece came to us from Will Steffen. As you probably know, the Australian National University [ANU] Professor and seven scared colleagues are now missing, presumed destined for a fate worse than death in the underground debating pits.

We therefore print the following as a tribute to Australia’s own Gone Girls.

“An Awful Fright”
by Will Steffen (1947—?)

It was on a faculty canape night in the spring of 2011 that someone attempted to pass himself off as one of us. The interloper was impeccably academic in appearance, perhaps having learned from the failure of the Coochey plot in 2010—this time his attire gave no hint of the truth that he was a conservative.

But suspicions were aroused by an unguarded remark, which is said to have been, “So, how about them Knicks?”

Upon verification that the Knicks are neither [an] ice nor [a] field hockey [team], the rest of the room adopted a stance of defensive hostility to the infiltrator. I was proud of my staff: just a year ago, I thought, these people didn’t even know the basics of Stranger Danger theory.

Starved of the oxygen of politeness, and unequal to the strain of long silences, the unidentified male eventually resorted to, “So, how ’bout this weather?”

We had trained for this scenario.

Even the security staff knew enough science to prick up at the mention of “weather” (a topic no climate scientist would have studied enough to form an opinion on). They leaped into action.

“The individual is understood to have left voluntarily,” as I would phrase it the next day in a comforting mass email to ANU climate staff.

(They’re always individuals, aren’t they? What is it about denialism and individualism? Note to self: grant material here?)

Just to be safe, festivities adjourned to the state-of-the-art panic room the university had built for us, on my insistence, following the Coochey threats. But as you can imagine, there was little appetite for canapes now. I for one was too busy trying to steady my shaking hands with champagne substitute.

As adrenalin slowly returned to background titres over the following few days, I came to look back on the incident with some pride. Whoever was behind it had, in a real sense, flattered the ANU by targeting us for the second time in as many years.

We were obviously making some interest, or interests, nervous—the mark of all good science.


The events recounted above are considered the second-most audacious terrorist plot against climate scientists in Australian history, but are sure to be eclipsed by the abduction of the Scared Scientists. Professor Steffen must be proud of the attention he’s attracted—wherever he is now.

Scared Scientists Steffen

Professor Steffen would go on to achieve the rank of Scared Scientist (pictured), but he wrote this piece when he was a humble macroeconomist with a chemical-engineering doctorate who specialised in aversive tax therapy.

Scared Witless: The New Science Site that Gets the Communication Right

In a recent post we broke the news that a heroic band of scientists was finally making Australia proud. I’m talking about the Scared Scientists, of course.

Sadly, a number of readers have questioned whether it actually takes courage to have the courage to admit you’re scared of climate change.

Er, yes. Yes it does. The great medieval figure Edward “Ed” Stark explained this better than any science communicator could:

Bran thought about it.
‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.

Speaking of historical dramas, my thirteen-year-old thinks he’s getting the 300 box set for his birthday tomorrow. But I reckon he’ll be stoked when he opens his actual present: a donation in his name to the Scared Scientists!

(The ScS team has finally listened to the demands of ordinary climate mums and dads around the country and added a PayPal button on every single page of their site.)

Denialists are already chuckling at the small numbers of the Scared—and missing the point, as usual.

The Scientists may be just eight—for now—but as my teenager might say, “Are they not therefore so much the more fully sick than that pretty-boy Leonidas, who needed 299 mates to help him lose a fight? To a bunch of Bronze Age illiterates?”

With scientists increasingly convinced that climate change could be even more decisive for Western civilization than Thermopylae, the names of Flannery, Steffen, England, Perkins, Hughes, Ajani, Macreadie and Murray have already inscribed themselves in immortality.

Win or (god forbid) lose, we who survive will remember them.

Besides, standing up for the consensus has always been lonely work.

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