Sexist Internet Trolls Are Targeting Women Climate Scientists Now

A new study has found that climate scientists, especially those that are women, are facing increasing death threats and attacks online.

Almost three-quarters of climate scientists who appear in the media every month have experienced online abuse—and women are bearing the brunt of it, a new report found.

The report, hosted by pollster YouGov, surveyed nearly 500 climate scientists and found that 40 percent have experienced online abuse or harassment relating to their work on platforms like Twitter and Facebook—and that figure spikes dramatically for the climate scientists that speak out most, and, predictably, for women and people of color.  


Climate scientists have had their credibility and work attacked, received death threats, and witnessed even their family members being exposed to the vitriol. We found online abuse is common, and for many takes a mental and physical toll that inhibits climate discourse,” states a Global Witness report obtained by VICE News. “These trends present concerns for the global ability to act on climate change.” 

The fear is a chilling effect: online hate could inspire climate scientists to stay out of the public eye at a time when climate action is more urgent than ever. 

“There was a recent case where my male colleague and I were both doing outreach on the same topic because we had done some work together, and I was the only one getting the negative feedback and the comments,” Helene Muri, a climate scientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told VICE News. “It was like, ‘You should let the men do the work on this topic.’” Muri has contributed to reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations climate science arm. She’s also working on climate and environmental issues related to the Paris Agreement, including emission reduction options in the shipping sector, negative emissions technologies, and solar geo-engineering.

“One thing is the various types of name calling directed at me. That’s one thing that's a lot easier to brush off and move on with your life,” Muri said. “It’s of course worse when it's threats to my life, and it's very uncomfortable when people are contacting my family.”


Muri said she speaks to journalists about once per week on average, and there’s a noticeable spike in negative messages—via email, social media, comment sections, forums, and phone calls—following a media appearance.

For women, the attacks are also quite targeted. More than a third of affected women said their sex or gender have been brought up, compared to only three percent of men. Nearly a fifth of affected women have received threats of physical violence, and 13 percent of affected women have received threats of sexual violence.

Race also plays a factor. 

“Because I’m a brown man it's mostly racially charged,” environmental economist with the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change Shouro Dasgupta told VICE News. “The people who abuse, because they're unable to criticise our methodology or our research, they attack the only thing they can: gender, race, origin.” Dasgupta is a visiting senior fellow with the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. 

Online harassment and abuse is affecting climate scientists at work and beyond. Study findings show that more than one-fifth of scientists who are abused online “dread work,” and nearly half of them said the abuse has made them less productive. At the same time, more than half said the abuse has caused anxiety, and a fifth said it’s caused depression. 

“I’m a little bit more cautious, so I don’t jump on every opportunity that comes my way. I do say yes to things but I also have to gauge to see if it's the right timing,” Muri said. “I’m only human so I’m going to make sure I'm in the right mind frame to be able to deal with this type of negativity.”

In light of the hate, climate experts told VICE News that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter need to do a better job moderating the platforms. (This looks a little difficult in the months ahead: Elon Musk has basically gutted Twitter, laying off thousands of employees, including staff with the teams that handle global content moderation and that monitor hate speech and harassment.)

“Media companies need to take a more proactive approach. That’s not happening, which is a shame. It's disgusting that they are putting profit before anything else,” Dasgupta said. “If they can't do it, let the state do it. The authorities need to come down on this…But we’re not going to hide. We’re going to double down, talk more about it.”

“I do not want to discourage anyone, young scientists, PhD students in particular, who want to engage on a topic but are hesitant because they think they're just going to get hate,” Muri said. “There's a lot of upside towards climate communications. It's not all negative and it's an incredibly good feeling when you see you're getting through to someone.”