A university has criticized conservative media for a serious misrepresentation of one of its academics that sparked a torrent of abuse from climate science deniers.
As revealed by DeSmogBlog, Rochester Institute of Technology assistant professor Lawrence Torcello received hundreds of e-mails after conservative media incorrectly claimed he had called for climate skeptics to be jailed.
Torcello wrote an article for The Conversation website arguing there was “good reason to consider” that “the funding of climate denial” was morally and criminally negligent.
But conservative media, including FoxNation, The Drudge Report, Breitbart and The Daily Caller, incorrectly claimed that Torcello had either called for contrarian scientists to be jailed or for Americans who did not accept the evidence for human-caused climate change to be imprisoned. Climate skeptic blogger Anthony Watts also encouraged readers to complain to the university.
In a followup statement, the university said:
The search for truth is the animating force of a university, and it behooves those who support open and respectful discussion of controversial issues to get the facts right. Recently the views expressed by a member of our community, Professor Lawrence Torcello, have been misrepresented by some in the media. The misrepresentation follows a pattern similar to other incidents of misrepresentation involving academics that work on topics related to climate change.
The statement encouraged people to read Torcello’s original story in The Conversation rather than rely on the misrepresentations. The statement added:
The Institute wishes to acknowledge, with Professor Torcello, that a strong scientific consensus exists in support of anthropogenic global warming.
Torcello told DeSmogBlog by e-mail that he “applauded” his university for defending academic freedom:
Acknowledging the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change is important for any respectable university to do. Honest discourse requires that we concede a scientific consensus when one exists, even if we wish to challenge it. I would like to see the kind of strong and open support my university has shown me become the standard practice for other universities faced with similar situations of harassment when faculty write on politically charged topics.
He said the hate campaign has shown him that “those seeking to distort the findings of climate science are equally willing to distort philosophical and political argument with blatant acts of dishonesty”.
The recent disinformation campaign surrounding my work mirrors the larger disinformation campaign surrounding climate science.
It is a sad matter that all the distortions of my work have come from conservative media outlets and bloggers, just as those who deny the scientific consensus on climate change tend to be conservatives. It shouldn’t be the case that one’s political affiliation prevents one from engaging with science or philosophical argument honestly.
Torcello added he hoped that “authentic conservatives” could find a way to “take ideological control back from the loud fringe,” which he said was making it “nearly impossible” for reasonable public discourse to take place.