Dear Ben Santer

Dear Ben,

How was your trip to D.C.? Were you nervous when you testified before Congress about how ridiculous climate science in the public has become?

I read that you have been receiving threats to your family. What a world. Obviously, a few climate skeptics—and a few non-skeptics, too—have gone over the edge and slipped into lunacy. I think that anybody who has written you a threatening letter ought to be tracked down and slapped silly.

I don’t mean that metaphorically. If I could, I’d take turns sitting on your front porch with a shotgun loaded with buckshot. And if anybody else with a yellow Hummer tried to drop off a rat in your yard, I’d happily test that vehicle’s claim of being bulletproof.

Do you know a guy named Mike Adams? Criminology professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He writes about a lot of controversial stuff (feminism, homosexuality, etc.), the consequence being that he receives more death threats in his Inbox than spam.

Adams, who is a paid-in-full member of the NRA (me too), has a classy way of handling someone who writes him a threatening letter: he provides the idiot a list of his favorite guns and asks which of them the idiot would like to be shot with were he to actually carry out his threat. This either produces an immediate apology or dead silence. You might like to try it.

They said you now have bodyguards whenever you talk publicly. That is so cool. Do they have those little ear-thingys? You might be thinking that this extra protection is a pain in the ass, and it is. But just imagine the stories you’ll be able to tell when you are in your dotage!

Listen: don’t let the threats bug you too much. Some topics are designed to (as we used to be allowed to say) get people’s Irish up. Why, just the other day somebody called me a terrorist when I said that the theory of evolution was only 99%—and not 100%—true. I put his behavior down as more evidence that most of the human race is insane (a favorite saying of mine that you are welcome to use).

But you can understand, right? For example, I read that email in which you threatened to bounce your fists off Pat Michaels’s face. I know just how you feel about Pat. Last time I saw him he was wearing red tennis shoes—red!, I swear on my soul—with a suit. It took every drop of self control I had not to pounce on him and rip them off his feet.

Point is: I know how blood can boil. Some things are beyond toleration.

That damn Michaels won’t shut up: he says you’re wrong and he’s right. You say he’s wrong and you’re right. The public, for the most part, hasn’t the training to decide who’s got the stronger case and they end up siding with the guy who most closely matches their politics.

I can see how this can be infuriating. But you know, same thing happens to me. I type until my fingers bleed about how classical statistical practices (such as “data mining”) induce overconfidence and over-certainty in their users, but does anybody listen?

Actually, some do (mainly physicists), but many don’t (people whose careers or egos rest on highly desired prior results produced with the old methods). I haven’t threatened to kick anybody’s ass for not agreeing with me, though. Worst thing I’ve done is call them a cheeseball (or some other colorful nickname pulled from the stock I gathered when I worked for my Uncle Sam).

Want some advice? You don’t help yourself when you tell reporters who ask you about your threat that “I’m not surprised that things are said in the heat of the moment between professional colleagues. These things are taken out of context.”

Not the best dodge, that. Your email wasn’t written in the “heat of the moment.” It was, to point out the obvious, a written communication, expressing a considered opinion. It also wasn’t “taken out of context.” Oh, baby, was there plenty of context. Sure, it was stolen context, but what are you going to do?

You should have said, “We scientists are sensitive, temperamental creatures. We often want to pound one another.” That, brother, is truth.

Your pal,

Matt Briggs


  1. Hwan


    Hey Ben…don’t erase any emails. Uncle Sam might want to take a look at them when we have a regime change in November.

  2. bob

    Mr. Briggs:
    I have had a genuine respect for New Yorkers’ taste in business attire since I worked for a Manhattan based boss. Full length ties, long sleeve shirts, over-the-calf socks and such were things upon which he placed emphasis.

    The one question I never thought to ask him was, what color of sneaker is appropriate when wearing a suit?

    As always, I am appreciative of your ruminations, and look forward to reading Ben Santer’s Congressional testimony after I take my morning’s anti-acids.

  3. DAV

    Oh dear. I was threatened by a dead rat once. I mean it had fleeing fleas and all. I can understand Ben’s concern but I wouldn’t take insults hurled from a yellow Hummer to heart. If nothing else, the color should be a dead give-away about the owner’s personality on a number of fronts from aesthetics to demeanor.

    Completely off topic: how do I convince the Firefox spell checker that I live in the United States? It keeps insisting that “-or” endings should be “-our”

  4. Ray

    Those people are so PO-MO. They keep touting consensus as if you can determine reality by a taking a poll.

  5. Heidi D. Cline

    Oh Dear, those Climate Scientist are so sensitive. Almost like the climate.

    Maybe there is a small feedback loop involved? But it turned negative instead of positive? How sad for the Climate Scientists! Maybe a bit too much Dark Heat? Or Hidden Heat?

    Maybe it sufaced by convection in a not yet understood process. Not yet modelled in a fancy super duper computer with some secret code, and lost data.

  6. papertiger

    “Do they have those little ear-thingys?”

    Comic gold, baby.

  7. Doug M


    The classic sneaker / suit pairing would be black Chuck T’s with a grey suit. Collored Chuck Taylors, Nike, or Rebok are never acceptable. There are some itallian dress sneakers that might be acceptable.

  8. C’mon folks, Ben Santer is (he sez) a PhD! We all know that makes him right ! (or perhaps …… left?)

  9. Andrew

    GoFigure-Michaels has a PhD, too.

    You know, this “I’m receiving death threats” thing is, I must say, ironic, coming from the guy who wanted to beat up somebody he disagreed with…

  10. bob

    Doug M:

    “The classic sneaker / suit pairing would be black Chuck T’s with a grey suit.

    Thanks for your concern for my sartorial well-being. Until I read your comment, I had been completely clueless about Chuck T style sneakers. Google was a big help in finding pictures of Chuck T’s, and now I am all out of sorts because I have to wait until tomorrow before I can go sneaker shopping. Do you think kids in the neighborhood will think that a Social Security recipient will be cool with some rad sneakers?

    As an aside, I inquired via Google the style of Ben Stein’s sneakers, was disappointed that I could not find anything on his preferences. However, a lot of people seem to not like Mr Stein, and this may have something to do with his movie, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”

    Apparently, Stein doesn’t give evolution even a 99% chance and people went ballistic.

  11. Noblesse Oblige

    A lot of whining lately from Santer and the like. If I had tried to deceive readers of my paper [Int. J. Climatol. 28: 1703–1722 (2008), Fig 6] by showing my calculation of the standard deviation of model runs as compared to the Douglass et al standard error on the same graph so as to create the visual impression that they were much different statistics, I would expect death threats too.

  12. Jane K

    Thank you for the very humorous letter to Ben. Ben ought to consider his sorry self very fortunate. Think of how many lives this b4stard could have ruined if his political agenda had succeeded. If all he has are threats, he should be thankful for each and every one of them.

  13. Bernie

    Please tell me that you actually sent this to Dr. Santer.

  14. Jack

    I wish these ClimateGate scientists would stop whining already, especially Mann, Santer and that guy Gavin (it’s not worth my time to think of his last name and write it; just not worth it).

  15. miniTAX

    In the past Santer complained deniers cost him his marriage and now they cost him bodyguard money. What next, beef remains in his tofu steak ?
    Methink he protests too much.

  16. bubbagyro

    These guys threaten suicide even, to try to get sympathy. They are so low they could crawl under a snake. When CRUs Jones got double-dog dared to s*** or get off the pot and stop wasting everyone’s time with suicide threats, he changed his tune to “I’m so depressed, and I am SO sorry that I was caught buggering the data and robbing millions from the esteemed taxpayers in the UK.”

    Warm earthers are all mentally deranged, so suicide and depression are realities, I reckon.

  17. sylvain

    I guess he now understand what John Christy, Roy spencer, etc. actually have to live with for many years. How many skeptics have had their life threatens by warmist nuts over the last few years.

  18. anonymous skeptic

    email 1177534709:

    Dear Phil,

    I looked at some of the stuff on the Climate Audit web site. I’d really
    like to talk to a few of these “Auditors” in a dark alley.


  19. Matt

    You are giving us Physicists a bad name – people may begin to believe that we are in fact capable of stringing a few words together in a logical argument sort of way – back off mate, or the secret will be out.



  20. kim

    Foster unexpected kindnesses and undetectable violence to science.

  21. Billc

    Just found your site and did a quick scan. I am intrigued with your letter to Ben and your books. I wouldn’t have been so kind to Ben, even in a tongue in cheek letter. I’m adding your blog to my “weather” folder which includes all sorts of science, climate and statistics related sites.

  22. Joe

    DAV says:
    28 May 2010 at 10:59 am

    “[…]Completely off topic: how do I convince the Firefox spell checker that I live in the United States? It keeps insisting that “-or” endings should be “-our””

    The correct ending is “-our” – it’s not Firefox’s fault if Americans get it wrong all the time. In fact, I’d like to smash you in the face for even suggesting that it should be “-or”!!!

    But I won’t 😉

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