Scientists who become targets: Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist whose commitment to climate communication and public outreach has made her a prime target of anti-science groups.

Climate foes bothered Hayhoe for many years, but the personal attacks against her were amplified after an incident involving Georgia politician Newt Gingrich.

In 2007, Gingrich — at the time a Republican presidential contender — and biologist Terry Maple were writing a sequel to their book, A Contract with the Earth. Maple asked Hayhoe to write a chapter on climate change, requesting “a good opening chapter that lays out the facts on global climate change,” and “a sense of what needs to happen.” Hayhoe delivered the chapter in 2009 but, in late 2011, learned it was being dropped from the book because Gingrich wanted to appease voters who dispute the scientific consensus on climate change.

In December 2011, the Los Angeles Times published an article about the incident. Soon after, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh took aim at Hayhoe on his program and encouraged his listeners to harass her. Marc Morano, a former colleague of Limbaugh’s who frequently attacks climate science and scientists, vilified Hayhoe in a post on his blog, ClimateDepot, and published her email address so that his readers could send her hateful messages.

This was not the first hate mail Hayhoe ever received, but the messages that flooded her mailbox as a result of Gingrich and Morano’s actions were especially hostile. One email said, “You are nothing but a liar.” Another said, “Dumped from Gingrich’s book. Ha Ha Ha…See ya fraudster…get a real job, McDonald’s is hiring.” And, “Nazi Bitch Whore Climatebecile […] You stupid bitch, you are a mass murderer and will be convicted at the Reality TV Grand Jury in Nuremberg, Pennsylvania.”

Hayhoe says this was a watershed moment. She asked herself whether her work was worth the harassment. “I seriously considered, is it time to quit? Should I just pull my head back into the ivory tower and focus solely on research, or keep on going?” Hayhoe said. “It was a tough choice, but at the end of those weeks, I decided to keep on going.”

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