To be Credible, you must Keep Your Story Straight, Pt 1

My prior blog post detailed a particular set of ‘narrative derailment’ problems surrounding Naomi Oreskes, who was in the news a few weeks ago regarding her consultation with New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about the “Exxon Knew” story before a climate news outlet broke out the story. That’s a troublesome situation. But her overall situation worsens through an apparent inability to keep her stories straight on what led her to discover skeptic climate scientists were ‘industry-corrupted.’ Today, part 1 on her being attacked by US Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).

The setup here is quite basic: At the start of her career, Oreskes was a geologist, then she transitioned to being a history professor. A 2003 invitation to speak at a prestigious lecture series prompted her to gather information to create a slide detailing the amount of scientific agreement about catastrophic man-caused global warming, and the reaction to the slide is what prompted her to write and submit her “Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” paper to the Science journal, which published it on December 3, 2004.

Aside: Oreskes said the following about her lecture (from the 3:10 to 3:33 point of this 2015 video interview): “The title of the talk was: “Consensus in Science: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong.” … if consensus is our marker for scientific agreement, we know that’s a social category, not in an epistemological category, how do we think about the connection or disconnection between the social definition and the epistemological definition? That’s what it’s really about. It wasn’t about climate science.” I haven’t yet located the transcript of her initial lecture, but there is this 2007 version having the identical title …. which appears to have material either all about climate science or points offered to support the idea of a consensus about the certainty of man-caused global warming.

According to Oreskes and others who repeat her narrative, she started getting attacked right after the publication of her Science paper.

Continuing with the 2015 video interview I linked to above (starting at the 6:47 point), Oreskes tells more about those attacks, leading up to this at the 7:32 point:

The weirdest day of my whole life, practically, was the day when I got a phone call from a reporter in Tulsa Oklahoma who said to me, “Are you aware of the fact that Senator James Inhofe is attacking you?” ……

He read to me from this speech that this Inhofe was making, and it was part what we all are very familiar with now, that I was part of the global conspiracy, the scientific conspiracy to bring down global capitalism. And I remember thinking, “Conspiracy? Scientists are not that organized.”

This is not just an isolated account of she says happened when her paper came out. From this 2011 Australian interview (full text here):

…the US senator, James Inhofe, a senator from Oklahoma, has threatened to indict climate scientists for conspiracy to lie to congress, and accused them of being part of a conspiracy to bring down global capitalism, to which I respond, scientists should be so organized!

From a 2014 New York Times interview (full text here):

It ignited a firestorm. I started getting hate mail. Letters arrived at my university demanding I be fired. At the same time, Al Gore talked about my paper in “An Inconvenient Truth.” Suddenly, I was a hero to the left because of Al Gore and a demon to the right because I was now part of the conspiracy to bring down capitalism.

Aside: Gore’s movie was released to the public in late May 2006, almost one and a half years after the publication of Oreskes’ paper.

Then there is this Canadian interview from just a couple of months ago which has a finer, albeit troublesome detail to it:

“One of the weirdest days of my life,” she said, “was when I got a phone call from a reporter at the Tulsa Register, and he said, ‘Did you know that Senator James Inhofe made a speech attacking you?'”

The troubles begin with the newspaper name. First, there is and was no “Tulsa Register” (confirmed by both a person at the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, and a longtime reporter at the Tulsa World who knew of no such paper being absorbed into his) but we can let that slide as being a faulty memory from a decade+ ago. Second, would a reporter anywhere feel inclined to warn someone about a political attack, or would they be more likely asking for a response to use in a story about the situation? So far, I can’t find any local Tulsa stories characterizing this Inhofe-Oreskes situation as an “attack.” Third, assuming the phone call did take place, there seems to be a potential problem on just when it took place.

Much like wanting to see the infamous leaked memo phrase “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” in its full context, I wanted to see this so-called attack by Senator Inhofe on Naomi Oreskes. I thought a basic search of her quite unique name, Inhofe’s unique last name, and some combination of the words global conspiracy / global capitalism ought to turn it right up. Intensive searching seems to be what’s needed to get to the bottom of this, and a clear picture is not what the result is.

One September 2006 transcription I found of a speech made by Inhofe outside of Washington was headlined “US Senator Inhofe Claims Global Warming is a UN Conspiracy.” No mention of Oreskes within that one, however. But in my effort to confirm that, I ran across a piece from July 25, 2006 where Inhofe is described as ‘targeting’ Oreskes:

The new target: Naomi Oreskes who last week found her research used as a foil by some lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to try and discredit the widely-accepted and growing view that there is a broad scientific consensus on the evidence of human-caused global warming caused by rising carbon dioxide emissions.

After Ms. Oreskes published a guest column in the Los Angeles Times accusing the House of misrepresenting her work, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Majority Staff went on the offensive/defensive …..

…it must also be noted that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is chaired by Sen. James Inhofe…

So, that involves Inhofe staff members reacting not directly to Oreskes’ paper itself, but to her defense of it in an op-ed. Inhofe’s staff wrote about her paper’s methodology; they did not call her a Communist or say she wanted to tear down global capitalism. It is plausible that a reporter might have at least called Oreskes to ask her opinion of that material – but remember, this material is from the summer of 2006, and Oreskes’ paper was published in December 2004.

Another search result I found had a bit about anti-capitalism, in Inhofe’s July 28, 2003 speech (full text here) – “…follow the science to the facts. Reject approaches designed not to solve an environmental problem, but to satisfy the ever-growing demand of environmental groups for money and power and other extremists who simply don’t like capitalism, free-markets, and freedom.” But it dates back nearly year and a half before Oreskes wrote her Science paper.

An April 7 2005 Inhofe speech, just four months after the publication of Oreskes’ paper, mentioned her directly:

Consider Dr. Naomi Oreskes, who wrote in the Washington Post last December: “We need to stop repeating nonsense about the uncertainty of global warming and start talking seriously about the right approach to address it.” Global warming, then, is no longer an issue for scientific debate. It appears to have soared into the realm of metaphysics, reaching the status of revealed truth.

And that’s all the Senator said about her – a jab at her article‘s soaring rhetoric, minus any accusation of her being a Marxist-type.

Oreskes’ own words on the matter in her “Merchants of Doubt” book says this on page 264:

… we have been attacked, too, including by Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.95

For that endnote #95, what’s her source? No less than the same “Pillar” speech by Inhofe I noted above – the one missing the bit about her being an anti-capitalist person. Or less politely, a Communist.

However, we also have Oreskes’ own words within a United Press International report dated Dec 20, 2004, seventeen days after the publication of her Science paper (preserved at this page), where she said the following:

Not that the Oreskes paper will end the debate about a consensus. To the contrary, it has started its own round of uncivil discourse on the Internet and in the blogosphere. One critic called her a Stalinist, she said. …….

“The fact that guy called me a Stalinist shows that he’s a little desperate,” Oreskes said. “He doesn’t have the facts on his side, so he’s resorting to name-calling. That’s a very old and dishonorable trick in American history, right? If you don’t agree with somebody, you accuse them of being a communist.”

Further compounding the overall problem is the following, from the 2015 interview video I started out with, where at the 22:26 point Oreskes describes critics’ tactics against her side,

… taking your work out of context, misrepresenting it, claiming you said things that you never actually said. The most recent one I’ve experienced is being accused of defamation for saying something I never actually even said.

Shouldn’t it instead be Senator Inhofe making that statement?

Friends and enemies alike will agree on this truism: when a whistle-blower tells the story of what led them to dig into a problem, the public will forgive a memory lapse or two on long-ago small details. But when the story starts to look like a composite fabrication designed to make the whistle-blower appear heroic, the “whistle-blower” status vanishes, and the public then begins to wonder what other parts of the story will fall apart, too.

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Up next in Pt 2: Ms Oreskes also seems to have a timeline problem.