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The Oreskes/Supran Climate Spin Cycle

Who Are Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran?

Naomi Oreskes is a professor at Harvard University, and has long been involved in the broader activist campaign to prosecute oil companies for alleged climate fraud, particularly under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. She’s the author of Merchants of Doubt, a book published in 2010 that alleges the oil and gas industry sought to undermine and discredit the science of climate change. Oreskes was also responsible for helping Rick Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) write articles intended for academic journals that would attribute GHGs and climate impacts to specific companies. Oreskes also sits on the board of CAI, which organized the now infamous 2012 La Jolla Conference with the Union of Concerned Scientists, where participants strategized how Congress, state attorneys general and private attorneys could link energy companies to the tobacco industry and prosecute them under state or federal law. The New York Times credits Oreskes with conceiving the conference.

Geoffrey Supran is a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, working alongside Naomi Oreskes. Supran is a leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement and helped organize a campaign to push the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to stop accepting funding from ExxonMobil. Supran has openly declared his anti-ExxonMobil bias, including his hope that someone “engineers Exxon out of business.” Supran, along with Oreskes, signed on to amicus briefs filed to advocate on behalf of the municipalities suing fossil fuel companies for climate change. Supran has also served as an “expert witness” for the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights where he testified on his research into ExxonMobil’s climate science and speech, during which he omitted key facts about the expert criticism his work has received. In March 2019, Supran testified on that same research before the European Union Parliament. In April 2015, he penned an op-ed in The Guardian pushing for MIT and other universities to cut financial ties with fossil fuel companies. As a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Supran sat on the school’s climate advisory committee, which unsuccessfully called on the university to address alleged disinformation by fossil fuel companies about climate change. He proclaims that, during his time as a student at MIT, he “co-led” the fossil fuel divestment movement as a part of Fossil Free MIT, and organized a divestment sit-in lasting 116 days.

Errors in the Oreskes/Supran ‘Climate Change Communications’ Report

In 2017, Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran co-authored Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977-2014), a study that alleged ExxonMobil misled the public on climate change. The paper accused ExxonMobil of producing research that affirmed human contributions to climate change, but subsequently published newspaper advertorials in the New York Times that denied or sowed doubt around that same climate-related science. Oreskes and Supran announced their findings in a column in the New York Times, in which they claimed that “81 percent of [ExxonMobil’s] climate change advertorials in one way or another expressed doubt.”

While Oreskes and Supran are more than willing to share the results of their study at every opportunity, they refuse to acknowledge the key flaws of their study:

  1. Expert deemed study ‘unreliable, invalid, biased.’ Professor Kimberly Neuendorf, Ph.D., whose research Oreskes and Supran proclaimed to follow in their study, rebutted the authors’ conclusion based on “a variety of fundamental errors in their analysis.” Neuendorf wrote that Oreskes and Supran’s data analysis is “unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable,” adding that there was “no scientific support” for their findings.
  2. Sourced ‘Data’ from Greenpeace. Oreskes and Supran obtained the documents for their study from a database maintained by the anti-fossil fuel group Greenpeace, instead of seeking out the original source material. Greenpeace has faced lawsuits from Resolute Forest Products and Energy Transfer Partners (operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline), alleging that the organization has engaged in “eco-terrorism, racketeering and other crimes.” Greenpeace was forced to admit that it engages in “hyperbole,” “heated rhetoric,” and “non-verifiable statements of subjective opinion.” The Oreskes/Supran study makes no mention of this.
  3. Incomplete and Misrepresented Data. To draw their study’s main conclusions, Supran and Oreskes relied on an incomplete collection of advertorials, mischaracterized documents that acknowledged climate change as being an example of climate denial, and compared Exxon’s research with Mobil’s “advertorials” before the companies merged into ExxonMobil.

    ExxonMobil was formed in late 1999, 10 years after the earliest of the advertorials referenced in the Oreskes/Supran study was published. Remove the Mobil submissions, and the universe of applicable advertorials is reduced by 70 percent. Oreskes and Supran also omitted relevant ExxonMobil advertorials affirming the science of climate change that were actually included in the biased Greenpeace database.

    An EID review of the advertorials found that the Harvard researchers frequently graded statements acknowledging climate change as “doubt” and confused ExxonMobil’s opposition to specific climate policies with a rejection of climate science in general. For example, in a 2001 advertorial, ExxonMobil wrote about “the growing recognition that most governments cannot meet the politically chosen [Kyoto] targets without resorting to economy-wrecking measures.” Oreskes and Supran graded that statement as expressing doubt about man-made global warming, even though it makes no mention of climate science and was merely establishing a position on a proposed policy based on economic costs.

  4. Bankrolled by Anti-Exxon Campaigners. The Oreskes/Supran report was partially funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund, which is funding a multi-year smear campaign against ExxonMobil. The Rockefeller Family Fund – along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – financed the work of InsideClimate News and the Columbia School of Journalism, both of whom produced stories in 2015 that helped spark the #ExxonKnew Despite denials from both InsideClimate News and Columbia University that their donors had any input over their reporting, the Rockefeller Family Fund’s Lee Wasserman admitted to paying for the stories that attacked ExxonMobil.

More Information

The post The Oreskes/Supran Climate Spin Cycle appeared first on EID Climate – A Project of IPAA.

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