Naomi Oreskes

Naomi Oreskes Merchants of Doubt
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Naomi Oreskes, often wrongly tabbed as an expert on climate science, is a Harvard University professor of history and a climate catastrophe activist. Primarily known for her books denouncing climate skeptics, Oreskes was also a co-founder of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI). In 2012, Oreskes was instrumental in arranging a CAI workshop of legal experts that evolved in 2016 into a conspiracy by 17 state attorneys general to criminalize climate skepticism – also known as the failed #ExxonKnew campaign.

Oreskes revealed her part in pushing the “AGs United for Clean Power” in testimony before a panel at the Congressional Democratic Progressive Caucus in June 2016. Oreskes, who authored Merchants of Doubt, told the panel that she “was invited about a year or so ago to New York to speak to the staff” of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. She reported “mostly about the work we did in Merchants of Doubt – the history of misinformation and what our findings were,” according to The Daily Caller. Oreskes’ testimony revealed that Schneiderman had been conducting his inquisition against ExxonMobil long before reports surfaced alleging the company hid information related to global warming. Ironically, ExxonMobil contacted the AG and demonstrated that all its science had been published in peer review journals, and thus had always been available to the public. Schneiderman proceeded with his investigation anyway.

Oreskes told the panel that she had attended the caucus with “some colleagues from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which also involved the staff of attorney general offices.” Shortly following her June testimony to Congressional Democrats, targets of the campaign began filing lawsuits against the Attorneys General, alleging harassment and a violation of their First Amendment rights.

 

Background and History

Oreskes was born November 25, 1958, the daughter of Susan Eileen (Nagin), a teacher, and Irwin Oreskes, a professor. She received her Bachelor of Science in mining geology from the Royal School of Mines of Imperial College, University of London in 1981, and worked as a research assistant in the Geology Department and as a teaching assistant in the departments of Geology, Philosophy and Applied Earth Sciences at Stanford University starting in 1984. She received her PhD degree in the Graduate Special Program in Geological Research and History of Science at Stanford in 1990.

Oreskes has worked as a consultant for the United States Environmental Protection Agency and US National Academy of Sciences, and has also taught at Dartmouth, Harvard and New York University (NYU). She is the author of or has contributed to a number of essays and technical reports in economic geology and science history in addition to several books. Oreskes was the Provost of the Sixth College at the University of California, San Diego with a salary of $185,000. She became Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University in 2013, after 15 years at UC San Diego.

 

Controversies

Merchants of Doubt

Oreskes’ most scientifically literate critic, Dr. S. Fred Singer, gave her book, Merchants of Doubt, an extensive and scathing review. Dr. Singer, an atmospheric and space physicist, founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) and the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). He served as professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (1971–94); distinguished research professor at the Institute for Space Science and Technology, Gainesville, FL (1989–94); chief scientist, U.S. Department of Transportation (1987– 89); vice chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Oceans and Atmosphere (NACOA) (1981–86); deputy assistant administrator for policy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1970–71); deputy assistant secretary for water quality and research, U.S. Department of the Interior (1967– 70); founding dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences, University of Miami (1964–67); first director of the National Weather Satellite Service (1962–64); and director of the Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Maryland (1953–62).

Dr. Singer wrote, in part:

Professor Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California in San Diego, claims to be a science historian. One can readily demonstrate that she is neither a credible scientist nor a credible historian; the best evidence is right there in her recent book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, coauthored with Eric Conway. Her science is faulty; her historical procedures are thoroughly unprofessional. She is, however, an accomplished polemicist, who has found time for world lecture tours, promoting her book and her ideological views, while being paid by the citizens of California. Her book tries to smear four senior physicists – of whom I am the only surviving one. I view it as my obligation to defend the reputations of my late colleagues and good friends against her libelous charges.

Oreskes’ book was made into a 2015 movie of the same name. It was a failure at the box office, despite a massive push by all the major outlets in the mainstream media. The film made just $20,300 in its opening weekend, ranking it as number 314 all-time among documentary opening weekends in the United States. As of the summer of 2016, the movie ranks the number 305 all-time money-maker among U.S. documentaries, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, with just over $300,000.

The Phony ‘97% Consensus’

Oreskes’ studies on the much-repeated “97 percent consensus” agreement among scientists that the effects of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) require draconian political measures has brought her praise and scorn from equally well-qualified commentators. Physicist Norman Rogers commented in Naomi Oreskes, Conspiracy Queen,

Oreskes is the author of one of the silliest articles ever to appear in the journal Science. She claimed that she analyzed 928 peer-reviewed papers on global warming and 100% agreed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concerning global warming. If you go to the website of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) you can find hundreds of peer reviewed papers that disagree with the IPCC in one way or another.

Her obstinate work on the issue brought accusations of hypocrisy for her disregard of similar “consensus” tabulations on nuclear power and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods, as in Climate change historian Naomi Oreskes rejects consensus on nuclear energy, GMOs.

2004 Science Essay on ‘97% Consensus’

According to the book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, the most frequently cited source for a “consensus of scientists” is Oreskes’ a 2004 essay for the journal Science, in which she reported examining abstracts from 928 papers published in scientific journals in 1993 and 2003 she found using the keywords “global climate change.” Although not a scientist, she concluded 75 percent of the abstracts either implicitly or explicitly supported the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s view that human activities were responsible for most of the observed warming over the previous 50 years while none directly dissented.

Though Oreskes’ essay on “consensus” appeared in a “peer-reviewed scientific journal,” the essay itself was not peer-reviewed. It was an opinion piece, and the editors of Science did not ask to review her data or methodology. Oreskes’ opinion piece became the basis of her book, Merchants of Doubt — in which she falsely claimed scientists who doubt catastrophic human impact on the climate represent a tiny minority of  “deniers.” Her 2004 claims were repeated in former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and in his book with the same title.

According to the book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming:

It is now widely agreed Oreskes did not distinguish between articles that acknowledged or assumed some human impact on climate, however small, and articles that supported IPCC’s more specific claim that human emissions are responsible for more than 50 percent of the global warming observed during the past 50 years. The abstracts often are silent on the matter, and Oreskes apparently made no effort to go beyond those abstracts. Her definition of consensus also is silent on whether man-made climate change is dangerous or benign, a rather important point in the debate.

Oreskes’ literature review inexplicably overlooked hundreds of articles by prominent global warming skeptics including John Christy, Sherwood Idso, Richard Lindzen, and Patrick Michaels. More than 1,350 such articles (including articles published after Oreskes’ study was completed) are now identified in an online bibliography (PopularTechnology.net).

Oreskes’ methodology was flawed by assuming a nonscientist could determine the findings of scientific research by quickly reading abstracts of published papers. Indeed, even trained climate scientists are unable to do so because abstracts routinely do not accurately reflect their articles’ findings. According to In-Uck Park et al. in research published in Nature in 2014 (Park et al., 2014), abstracts routinely overstate or exaggerate research findings and contain claims that are irrelevant to the underlying research. The authors found “a mismatch between the claims made in the abstracts, and the strength of evidence for those claims based on a neutral analysis of the data, consistent with the occurrence of herding.” They note abstracts often are loaded with “keywords” to ensure they are picked up by search engines and thus cited by other researchers.

The authors note that Oreskes’ methodology is further flawed because it also surveyed the opinions and writings of “nonscientists who may write about climate, but are by no means experts on or even casually familiar with the science dealing with attribution – that is, attributing a specific climate effect (such as a temperature increase) to a specific cause (such as rising CO2 levels).”

Most articles simply reference or assume to be true the claims of IPCC and then go on to address a different topic, such as the effect of ambient temperature on the life-cycle of frogs, say, or correlations between temperature and outbreaks of influenza. Attribution is the issue the surveys ask about, but they ask people who have never studied the issue. The number of scientists actually knowledgeable about this aspect of the debate may be fewer than 100 in the world. Several are prominent skeptics (John Christy, Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels, and Roy Spencer, to name only four) and many others may be.

Monckton (2007) finds numerous other errors in Oreskes’ essay including her use of the search term “global climate change” instead of “climate change,” which resulted in her finding fewer than one-thirteenth of the estimated corpus of scientific papers on climate change over the stated period. Monckton also points out Oreskes never stated how many of the 928 abstracts she reviewed actually endorsed her limited definition of “consensus.”

 Medical researcher Klaus-Martin Schulte used the same database and search terms as Oreskes to examine papers published from 2004 to February 2007 and found fewer than half endorsed the “consensus” and only 7 percent did so explicitly (Schulte, 2008). 

 

Fear and Loathing of Fossil Fuels

The Daily Caller ridiculed Oreskes while also reviewing her book The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, in an article headlined, Globetrotting Harvard Prof Takes Break From Jet-Setting To Gripe About Climate Change Deniers. Editor Eric Owens, wrote:

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who flies around the world in pollutant-spewing jumbo jet airliners to proclaim that climate change is a terrible menace, has co-written another book warning about the planet’s dire environmental situation. “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future,” is a tale told with sound and fury by a historian living in the year 2393 who looks back on global collapse caused by global warming.

It’s not clear when Oreskes will take her next lengthy flight, but in her lengthy curriculum vitae, she outlines with a scholar’s specificity her penchant to fly around the globe routinely. Truly, Oreskes has been an airline’s very best friend for years now. With a carbon footprint most climate change deniers could only rub their hands together deviously and dream about, she has spoken in a slew of American cities and at countless campuses domestically.

Abroad, her environmental work has taken her on emission-emitting trips far and wide. Just since June 2008 (this was written in July 2014) Oreskes has visited Norway, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland — just to name a few places.

 

Historian Oreskes’ Failed Historical Research

Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes is best known to climate realists for her 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt and its scurrilous demonization of climate skeptics. Oreskes’ short, obscure essay titled, “My Science is Better than Your Science,” continues the characterization of skeptics as paid hacks of the fossil fuel industry. Written in 2011, her particular chapter in the book titled “How Well Do Facts Travel? The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge” examined the 1991 origin of the “skeptics are paid industry shills” narrative purportedly found in “leaked Western Fuels memos.”

In this chapter, Oreskes misinterprets these internal “memos” as Big Coal’s plan for a vast national campaign to raise public climate change skepticism with paid climate scientists. This same interpretation has been echoed by many other climate alarmists including Al Gore, Ross Gelbspan (1997’s The Heat Is On), and Canadian public relations flak James Hoggan’s attack website DeSmogBlog.

Naomi Oreskes, along with her alarmist colleagues, failed to verify the truth behind these memos. Oreskes was actually using a garbled conglomeration of nearly a dozen different memos from different sources. Collected by Greenpeace, these memos were posted randomly and without a logical order. Oreskes and her peers used the most incriminated memos to create the hole-ridden and damaging anti-skeptic narrative out of the roughly one hundred pages of the “Western Fuels memos.”

Had Oreskes, the renowned Harvard Professor of the History of Science, interviewed any of the sources of the “Western Fuels memos,” she would have discovered that less than one-third of the jumbled “memos” involved Western Fuels Association.

The “Western Fuels memos” became known as the “Orders from Big Coal” despite the fact that the Western Fuels Association is actually a small, not-for-profit, member-owned co-op serving 24 consumer-owned rural and small municipal electric cooperatives and other public power systems from Wyoming to Kansas. Oreskes fails to mentions this in her her essay.

Read the entire essay here.

 

Oreskes’ Brainchild: The Search and Destroy Workshop

Naomi Oreskes conceived the idea for the Attorneys General United for Clean Power with a number of alarmist colleagues in mind. Oreskes’ exact vision is best captured in the 36-page climate document titled, “Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control: Summary of the Workshop on Climate Accountability, Public Opinion, and Legal Strategies.” The official account of a two-day conference on climate change influentials held years earlier in 2012, the book details greens leaders exploring potential stratagems for the destruction of fossil fuel companies. The event has become known as “The Search and Destroy Workshop” and the document as “The Search and Destroy Handbook”, by climate realists. These quotes from the Handbook are illuminating:

The workshop was conceived by Naomi Oreskes of the University of California−San Diego [since removed to Harvard University], Peter C. Frumhoff and Angela Ledford Anderson of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, and Lewis M. Branscomb of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.” (p. 2)

The Union of Concerned Scientists (2014 Assets: $46,515,215): a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt advocacy organization incorporated in Washington, D.C. September 19, 1973 and reincorporated in Cambridge, Massachusetts June 6, 1994. It was informally founded but not incorporated in 1969 as an anti-Vietnam War protest group by students and faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A long 1968 “Founding Document” centered on the complaint, “Through its actions in Vietnam, our government has shaken our confidence in its ability to make wise and humane decisions.” UCS continues to condemn the American military on all points. It supports numerous far-left causes such as unilateral reduction in U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles, opposes the vast majority of American foreign policy decisions, opposes pesticides and genetically engineered foods, opposes capitalism and actively promotes opposition to fossil fuel producers.

The Climate Accountability Institute (2014 Assets: $31,579): a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt strategy organization incorporated September 1, 2011 in Snowmass, Colorado and domiciled in a residence near the town. The three original directors were Snowmass-based climate mitigation consultant Richard Heede, Harvard history Professor Naomi Oreskes, and self-described “environmental visionary” Sally Ranney of Colorado. In 2015, Oreskes left the board of directors and became an advisor, along with a newly added advisor, climate professor Michael Mann, inventor of the “hockey stick” climate graph. Oreskes had published a book a year earlier, in 2010, titled, Merchants of Doubt; How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, which appears to have provided the template for the Search and Destroy Workshop. Stanton Glantz, a scientist who had obtained a huge settlement from a tobacco lawsuit in earlier years was a key source for the book and a key participant of the Workshop.

The RICO tactic was first mentioned as an anti-fossil fuel weapon early in the two-day Workshop by participating attorney Richard Ayres, a co-founder and current trustee of the wealthy Natural Resources Defense Council.

RICO is the 1978 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Title 18 U.S. Code Chapter 96), enacted by Congress to control mob criminal activity. RICO is a useful law for handling organized crime on a national level but has been used to strangle public debate and bankrupt companies whose products or ideology run counter to the particular group’s intent. It can also be used as a framework for civil lawsuits to obtain large amounts of money through massive settlements. Their future success of RICO cases was improved after the 1994 tobacco case State of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota v. Philip Morris et al. The judge proved the RICO law to be valuable not only for racketeering convictions but also for its subpoena power to find and weaponize internal documents. In the case of the tobacco industry, the court found documents that led to the fourth largest lawsuit money settlement in all of history. The participators in the Workshop discussed how to use this law:

Even if your ultimate goal might be to shut down a company, you still might be wise to start out by asking for compensation for injured parties . . . Richard Ayres, an experienced environmental attorney, suggested that the RICO Act, which had been used effectively against the tobacco industry, could similarly be used to bring a lawsuit against carbon producers. As Ayres noted, the RICO statute requires that a claimant establish the existence of a “criminal enterprise,” and at least two acts of racketeering (with at least one having occurred within the past four years). It is not even clear, he added, whether plaintiffs need to show they were actually harmed by the defendant’s actions. As Ayres put it, ‘RICO is not easy. It is certainly not a sure win. But such an action would effectively change the subject to the campaign of deception practiced by the coal, gas, and oil companies . . . We had the case where people said, ‘What if you screw up RICO?’ But no matter what the outcome, litigation can offer an opportunity to inform the public.” (p. 14)

 

Coordinating, Searching, and Destroying

 

Attributing Environmental Damage to Carbon Producers: Richard Heede, co-founder and director of the Climate Accountability Institute, presented a preview of a research project several years in the making, in which he has been quantifying the annual and cumulative global warming emissions attributable to each of the world’s major carbon producers…. Angela Anderson, director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted for instance that it could potentially be useful as part of a coordinated campaign to identify key climate ‘wrongdoers.’” (p. 18)

 

On November 20, 2015, Workshop participant Jim Hoggan’s DeSmogBlog, published the following:

[A] slew of advocacy groups have delivered 360,000 petition signatures to the U.S. Department of Justice, calling for a probe of petrochemical industry giant ExxonMobil’s history of funding climate change denial despite what the company knew about climate science. The groups, ranging from the [Rockefeller Brothers Fund-supported] 350.org, Food and Water Watch, The Nation, Sierra Club and others, have asked DOJ to investigate what ExxonMobil knew about climate change and when the company knew it, juxtaposing that insider knowledge, exposed by both InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, with the climate change denial campaign it funded both in the past and through to the present.

 

Fear of Failure

Dan Yankelovich, co-founder of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan group devoted to public opinion research and citizen education…explained, ‘I am concerned about so much emphasis on legal strategies. The point of departure is a confused, conflicted, inattentive public. Are legal strategies the most effective strategies? I believe they are important after the public agrees how to feel about an issue. Then you can sew it up legally.’ In the face of a confused, conflicted, and inattentive public, legal strategies can be a double-edged sword, he continued: ‘The more adversarial the discourse, the more minds are going to be closed.’ ” (p. 24)

Jim Hoggan advised, “It’s like that old adage that says, ‘Never get into a fight with a pig in public. The pig likes it. You both get dirty. And, after a while, people can’t tell the difference.’” (p. 24)

With this cynical attitude, the Workshop adjourned. Oreskes’ brainchild would take a few years to enter the fight and it appeared to be working – for a while.

Two libertarian litigators, David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman, have also founded a project called Free Speech in Science accusing the environmentalists of attacking climate skeptics’ constitutional rights. Grossman, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, pointed out that “You don’t normally choose a target first, based on their speech, and say you’re going to pursue all theories” available to attack that target.

Leaders of the Federalist Society, an alliance of conservative lawyers including Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, have penned lengthy attacks on Schneiderman and other attorneys general investigating Exxon. National Review, Reason, Powerline and others followed suit in defending the oil giant, as have members of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.

 

The Search and Destroy Workshop’s Funders

Donors were acknowledged on Page 2 of the Summary Document:  “This workshop was made possible by the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, and the Martin Johnson House at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.”

All grants were made in 2012 and paid solely  to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

  • Kann Rasmussen Foundation, $75,000
  • Mertz Gilmore Foundation, $25,000
  • Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment $500,000
  • In-kind donation of conference space: Martin Johnson House at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (p. 2)

Dollar amounts: Foundation Search databank and IRS Forms 990

The assets behind the Search and Destroy Workshop’s three sponsors is more than half a billion dollars, $601,443,379, according to 2013 Forms 990.

  • Kann Rasmussen Foundation $89,261,719;
  • Mertz Gilmore Foundation $125,045,056;
  • Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment $394,136,609.

Combined with the assets behind the many funders of all the Workshop’s participants, the financial clout represented here is many billions of influential dollars.