Sociology Professor Draws Limbaugh's Ire

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

University of Oregon professor Kari Norgaard had the honor last week of taking part in a panel discussion in London at a prestigious meeting of scientists on the subject of climate change.

But upon her return, she found her name on Rush Limbaugh's lips, her university e-mail stuffed with hundreds of hateful messages and the UO itself under attack in the blogosphere for "Stalinesque" changes to its website.

"Maybe they'll soon go from being called The Mighty Ducks to 'The Mighty Schmucks,' " one of the bloggers wrote.

The subject of the bloggers' ire appears to have sprung from an inaccurate description of Norgaard's work that appeared in a UO news release.

It said: "Resistance at individual and societal levels must be recognized and treated before real action can be taken to effectively address threats facing the planet from human- caused contributions to climate change."

Norgaard's study, which she is working on with professor Robert Brulle at Drexel University in Philadelphia, actually suggested that societal resistance to the idea of climate change should be recognized and addressed through "dialogue," Brulle said.

But bloggers seized on the words "and treated" in the UO news release, and spread a mushrooming and false story that Norgaard had delivered a paper in London that called climate skeptics "sick" or "mentally ill" and in need of "psychoactive drugs."

"This is a complete perversion of the whole intellectual project that's going on," Brulle said. "It's an absolute, utter distortion."

Limbaugh extrapolated about Norgaard further on his website: "This is the kind of person that Obama would hire," he said. "This the kind of person Obama has hired. This is the kind of thinking that Obama believes and sponsors.

"It's what he believes. It's what he was taught."

Norgaard said Tuesday that she found nothing on the critical websites or in the e-mail messages to which she could respond.

"I don't think this is a space where there's a real public discourse," she said. "It's obvious to me that people aren't interested in what I actually have to say.

"These are personal attacks.a... If you're interested in my work, read it. It's OK to disagree about things, but do so in an honest way and don't attack people personally."

Norgaard is the author of "Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life," a book published a year ago by MIT Press.

In recent years, a half-dozen or so researchers have experienced the kind of Web-based campaigns that Norgaard is seeing this week, said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mann said he was an early target of climate change skeptics after former Vice President Al Gore used Mann's dramatic graph in the documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth." It showed steady temperatures for 1,000 years and then a sharp uptick in global temperatures at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Mann also was named in the so-called Climate gate incident, in which hackers published e-mail threads and suggested that climate scientists were massaging the facts and misleading the public. …