Professor Lawrence Torcello teaches philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, yet he's in the middle of a raging Internet debate over climate change.
"I've heard repeatedly claims that I am a Nazi, a fascist, also that climate science is a lie straight from the Jews," Torcello said.
It all started on March 13. Torcello published a blog post on the website, The Conversation, titled, "Is misinformation about the climate criminally negligent?" The essay criticizes well-funded, organized efforts to deny global warming. Torcello suggests people behind those efforts should be held criminally responsible.
"The people I'm talking about are those who are purposefully attempting to cover up the very robust well documented scientific consensus that exists on climate change," Torcello said.
Well-known websites posted articles about Torcello's essay. Breitbart's headline said, "US Philosophy Professor: Jail "Denialist" Climate Scientists for Criminal Negligence." The Daily Caller's headline said, "US professor demands imprisonment for climate-change deniers."
"Which is ridiculous and absurd and not what I said at all," Torcello said.
Since then, Torcello estimates he has received a total of 700 letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages. Most of them are highly critical. Some are laced with profanity and abusive language. Some people called for RIT to fire him.
"It is a campaign of vilification and hatred," Torcello said. "This is exactly mirroring what has happened to climate scientists in the past and this kind of organized effort is what I was talking about."
RIT stands by Torcello and agrees with him that his essay has been mischaracterized. In a statement, the college said, "The Institute wishes to acknowledge, with Professor Torcello, that a strong scientific consensus exists in support of anthropogenic global warming. Otherwise, RIT takes no official position on the views independently expressed by its faculty members in the course of their research."
President William Destler called on people to respectfully discuss issues.
Torcello, as a philosophy professor, said he relishes a good argument. But he said the backlash to his piece was something else.
"I wrote something that made some people very uncomfortable, who probably rightfully so, assumed I was talking about them and swung into action to make sure that nobody actually got to hear what my message was," Torcello said.
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