Monday, March 21, 2011

Tomorrow Belongs To Us

IT IS now becoming undeniably obvious that, while the “Embargo Alene” movement is spreading, so too is support in some very august quarters. First the bad news.

Of my last two comments on Fairfax opinion threads, the first was published but given the Drum treatment within the hour -- taken down and ground by SMH censors into nothingness. A subsequent comment this morning hailing columnist Warwick Macfadyen’s dad for realising that a nuclear reactor is exactly the same as a nuclear bomb did not even get that brief exposure.

Now the good news, which arrived via email from Dr Stephan Lewandowsky, serial Drum contributor, ferocious climate activist and professor of psychology at the University of Western Australian. His note of support is just lovely in its warmth and good fellowship. And while I will not be restored to the Drum’s roster of great minds until Jonathan Holmes busts open the door tonight, Stephan’s eager willingness to inform me of the deniers’ dirtiest little secret makes me realize that, even without the Drum, I am now a trusted and leading light on the Left.

There are only a pitiful few deniers, Stephan tells me, adding that they use multiple aliases to mount their anti-Gaia barrages. And most chilling of all, they are paid, presumably by Big Carbon, to work this dreadful mischief! “Bear in mind that a proportion of those comments is orchestrated,” he writes, “and for all we know there are only a handful of people with multiple electronic ‘personas’ each, who are paid to create disproportionate noise.”

You heard it from a professor, so don’t doubt that revelation for a second. Here is what I wrote to Stephan:

Dear Prof Lewandowsky,
We have never met, although we do share a background in the field of psychology, so I feel emboldened to ask for your professional advice. You see we have something in common: a passionate concern for averting the looming catastrophe of runaway climate change.

I recently began blogging, especially about climate change, and after a month my site was noticed. Noticed by the wrong people, sadly. Readers of Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt have swamped my site with genuinely abusive comments, many relating to my disability, which I find very hurtful.

So my question to you is this: How do you deal with monsters like this?

I have read and savoured every column you have published at Unleashed, and I have read the hateful comments that, even with an ABC moderator to vet them, still make it up on the site. The worst charge is that they simply do not take me seriously, which diminishes me in my humanity. I must confess that, after the latest round of abuse, I hugged my little cat and cried for an hour.

You have not only shrugged off that abuse, you have also survived the scorn and ridicule of your fellow West Australian Joanne Nova (I found that while googling your email address). It is a species of bravery I do not know if I can tap.

I'm a fragile woman and I thought my blog, Verdant Hopes, might be a force for good in the world. Instead it has made me a victim once again.

Any advice you could share would be appreciated.

Alene Composta

And here is what Stephan wrote in response:

Hi Alene, thanks for getting in touch. Yes, I know all about those abusive comments and it is brave for you to reveal as much personal detail as you do on your blog. Alas, for some people that is an invitation to rip into you and get a laugh out of that—they are like the school bullies whom no one really liked and who didn’t really have close friends, only followers.

I deal with those comments and actions largely by ignoring them. Wherever possible, I insert some of them into my talks to point out to the audience what sort of people are engaging in this assault on science and by what means they operate. Unfortunately, there presently is not much else that can be done about those comments.

As far as your blog is concerned, bear in mind that it is yours and that you can shut down any comment and run any moderation policy that you want. That still doesn’t make it easier to receive those hateful utterances in the first place, but at least it gives you some sense of control to shut them down. Bear in mind that a proportion of those comments is orchestrated and for all we know there are only a handful of people with multiple electronic “personas” each, who are paid to create disproportionate noise.

All the best, Stephan

Stephan Lewandowsky
Australian Professorial Fellow
School of Psychology
University of Western Australia
Crawley, W.A. 6009   AUSTRALIA

And that was not all the support Stephan has provided. In a follow-up email he writes:

Hi Alene, further to my earlier email, here are some more recommendations from a friend, John Cook of, to whom I mentioned your distress:

One is that saying by Gandhi, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". The fact that deniers are going to the trouble to attack her means she's making a difference. That may be scant comfort but there will always be people vehemently opposing action on climate change and the greater the perceived threat, the more intensely they attack. The other saying that comes to mind is "for evil to triumph, it only requires good people do nothing" - it's inevitable we invite attack if we campaign for climate change and try to make a difference. … deniers attack everyone indiscriminately from the lowly blogger to the most imminent climate scientists in the world. In fact, the level of attack that the climate scientists receive are the greatest - death threats, dead rats left on their door, legal harassment from conservative lawyers and ad hominem attack after ad hominem attack. No one is worthy of more respect than climate scientists who are the preeminent experts in the world, spending decades researching this stuff, and yet their name is mud to deniers. As all the science and evidence points to climate action, the only recourse deniers have is to attack the messenger.

On a practical level, I would recommend if possible that she changes the settings of her blog so registration is mandatory before people can post comments. Nothing cleans up a person's behaviour like the removal of anonymity. It also makes it easier to ban poorly behaved commenters and to enforce a strict moderation policy. Perhaps direct her to an example of a comments policy like - our level of discussion is of a fairly high quality thanks to plenty of moderation and compulsory registration.

Thanks, hope that helps,


Now I am worried. I have been finding dead rats on my doorstep for some time, even before I started blogging. I had believed (in my innocence) that they were Sparkles’ handiwork, but now I fear Big Carbon has been instructing its operatives to monitor my opinions and engage in pre-emptive intimidation.

I am going to scoop up Sparkles, crawl into the cupboard under the stairs and keep a low profile until Jonathan Holmes sets everything right tonight, comforting myself in the meantime with Stephan’s use of a single, beautiful and inspirational word, the one I have underlined:

“Unfortunately, there presently is not much else that can be done about those comments.”

But soon, Stephan, soon. We are at the very brink of gaining the undisputed upper hand, not to mention the might, moral authority and legal sanctions to make sure holders of the wrong opinions are silenced and, if we are genuinely caring, marked for re-eduction. Can any educated person doubt that those who espouse such views are suitable cases for treatment in the appropriate institutions?

That day is coming, and, for the greater good of our planet, it cannot arrive too soon.


  1. AC

    If I ever doubted your blog being an ingenious spoof, I apologise.

    There is no way in the world that anyone, and I mean ANYONE with a straight face can write what you write in the way you write it.

    Tips me lid to you lady keep it up!


  2. Hi Alene

    I agree ignore any nasty comments. People have a right to disagree but not to be nasty or rude.

    Check out Skeptical Science, I enjoy the site as the comments are nearly allways respectfull. George Monbiot has an interseting article about astroturfing:

    I often wonder has the internet replaced science??

  3. What am I missing here.... you email a climate scientist pretending to be a bit of a hopeless freak under attack of deniers, and he is polite, and even gets you some advice.

    This is a bit like getting access to a sporting event by pretending to be in a wheelchair, then after the event jumping out of your seat and saying "how gullible".

    Strange days indeed.

  4. What's an "imminent climate scientist?" Is it someone about to be ordinated into the Order of the Grand Wizards of GCM?