Oreskes’ Inability to Keep Her Mouth Shut & the Big Erik Conway Problem

In telling the tale of inadvertently discovering how skeptic climate scientists are corrupted, a person might be viewed as a hero or heroine, and it is understandably forgivable if the hero/heroine has a memory lapse about exactly when this event happened, or about minor narrative details surrounding it. But when the tale takes on an increasing appearance of being a fabrication designed to make the person look like a hero/heroine, unbiased objective thinkers will start to wonder why there would be any necessity for that kind of embellishment, and they might also wonder if there is something inherently wrong with the core of the tale.

I’ve already detailed in my July 26, 2016 blog post how Naomi Oreskes’ own written words fatally undermined the timeline of her repeated stories on how her then-future Merchants of Doubt co-author alerted her to critics of her 2004 Science paper. Now, contradictory spoken words from Oreskes and her co-author make that dicey tale incrementally worse.

First, via screencapture photo links, let’s recap the sequence of events Oreskes describes as happening after her December 2004 Science magazine paper on the scientific consensus for man-caused global warming was published:

  • she was verbally attacked for the content of her paper. Later, at an obscure academic conference, she was approached by Erik Conway during the Q & A time after her presentation about geophysicist Gordon J. F. MacDonald, and he alerted her to who one of her attackers was.
  • the attacker that Conway spoke of was a person who not only questioned the evidence of global warming, but also the evidence of ozone layer depletion; this obscure academic conference took place in Weilheim, Germany.
  • the conference where Conway and Oreskes were presenters took place in July 2004, which Oreskes’ own resume confirms.
  • Conway was thus alerting Oreskes to the of attackers of her Science paper who would not be mounting their attack until at least five months into the future.

Those are Oreskes’ words in text form. Now, let’s examine her spoken words via a 2015 audio interview about her Merchants of Doubt book/documentary movie (the Youtube links below will open up in separate tabs, return to this page to follow along in my transcripts). After explaining how she came to understand how solid the science was for man-caused global warming, she says:

5:24 point of this video: There was no debate about the reality of climate change. So I wrote a paper in 2004 that said that, and immediately I became the target of attacks. And it was those attacks, it was me actually becoming a victim of the merchants of doubt, which led me to try to figure out who are these people, why are they attacking me, why are they claiming there is no consensus … and it was that set of questions based on my own being attacked by these people, that led to the book and now the film Merchants of Doubt.

6:03 point, after the interviewer asks her what the nature of those initial attacks were: That I was a stalinist, that I was a communist, that I was attempting to suppress scientific debate, that I was part of a liberal conspiracy to bring down global capitalism ….

This narrative, by the way, was the apparent composite story problem I detailed in my July 19, 2016 blog post about Oreskes’ direct accusation about Senator Inhofe accusing her of these labels. Meanwhile, after the interviewer asks what her first steps were to counteract accusations where she had been called a communist, Oreskes says:

6:47 point: I wrote something for Science magazine in which I sort of, just kind of hinted at the early results that we- some of the things I was finding, that some of the people who were attacking me had previously worked for the tobacco industry

What was this newer “something” she wrote for Science after her paper on consensus? It was her October 7, 2005 book review of Chris Mooney’s “Republican War on Science” (meaning “science” in general, not against Science magazine. Full text here). Hard to miss her “hints” there about “people in the tobacco industry.” Now, continuing with the audio interview:

7:10 point: and Science magazine then started getting attacked, and one of the people who we ended up writing about Fred Singer, wrote a letter to the editor saying that what I was writing was nonsense …. Now in actual point of fact, I had said nothing about Fred Singer …

Yes, she did. Three times. Made doubly ironic by the unchanging photo of him for this Youtube audio interview. She just didn’t say outright that Dr Singer had worked for ‘Big Tobacco,’ but some people, particularly Al Gore’s followers, would do a connect-the-dots thing between him, the George C. Marshall Institute and Frederick “Reynolds Tobacco” Seitz.

Oreskes continued in the interview, noting how the editor of Science, wanting more information about this ‘Big Tobacco’ angle, was pleased with her “17 page memo with chapter and verse references and citations about evidence of where this is coming from.” Then, she said:

8:20 point: Around the same time I went to a conference on the history of meteorology, a conference who one of the people in the audience there was Erik Conway, who at the time, I did not know, and in the question and answer session, this issue came up, and afterwards over a beer Erik came up to me and said “Naomi, some of the people who are attacking you are the same people who attacked Sherry Rowland over the scientific evidence of the ozone hole …
9:07 point: And so Erik said, “Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of I’ll send you when I get home,” because this conference was in Germany. So a week or so later, Erik sent me a pile of documents, and they showed very, very clearly that what he said was true, that it was the exact same people, and very quickly we realized it was the same people who’d attacked me had attacked Sherry Rowland and had defended the tobacco industry, and so that’s when Erik and I started talking and began to think there was a story here to be told …

See what happened to Oreskes’ timeline from this interview, compared to what I detailed in my July 26, 2016 blog post? It went from the impossibility of Erik Conway alerting her to critics of her December 2004 Science paper five months in advance, to Erik alerting her to who her main critic was to her October 2005 Science review of Chris Mooney’s book fifteen months in advance of the situation.

In advance of the time where Oreskes and Conway first met at that July 2004 German conference, that is. Not only is the date corroborated for the conference literature itself regarding Conway’s attendance there, other people’s writings corroborate it.

To demonstrate that there is no doubt about the date, Conway’s spoken words confirm this, in this 2015 video interview:

1:25 point: Naomi and I met at a meeting in Germany, a history of meteorology meeting in 2004, during the summer. She was working on J Gordon MacDonald … and I was doing history of meteorology work….
1:54 point: And later that summer, she started doing the work, unknown to me, that became her 2004, her December 2004 paper in Science on how there’s this almost universal consensus among scientists about climate change. And then she came under kind of a vicious attack from an organized lobby and I called her up one day and said, “How could you not know that would happen?” She was very naive about that and kind of started a long conversation about that organized effort that I had discovered in my atmospheric science history research but really had no plans to do anything with …

Conway is speaking about his 2008 book, “Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History” (Oreskes also references his book beginning at the 38:38 point of this other audio interview and – 40:31 point there – the “things that he thought were interesting, but didn’t really fit in the book”). Meanwhile, in Conway’s interview here, things get far worse for Oreskes. Continuing with the line above starting at the 2:25 point:

… that organized effort that I had discovered in my atmospheric science history research but really had no plans to do anything with, and she really didn’t either, she was trying to finish some other work, and then, probably 2006, I forget the times now, she discovered the same folks who had been involved in kind of organizing climate change denial in the Unites States had also been involved in the tobacco lobby, involved in the tobacco institutes specifically which handed out money to researchers in the United States who would do science that raised questions about whether tobacco smoke was harmful
3:08 point: … and then we knew we had a story to tell.

Numerically summarized in sequence, Oreskes says that…

  1. She wrote a paper for Science magazine in December 2004
  2. She was immediately attacked as a communist
  3. She wrote “something” additional for Science, which was her October 7, 2005 book review where she “hinted” that the people attacking her “had previously worked for the tobacco industry
  4. She later attended a German conference where she first met Erik Conway, who, over a beer in the Q&A session, informed her that one of her attackers had also attacked a prominent ozone layer scientist
  5. Conway sent her his unused research material a week after the conference, and the two of them realized these attackers of the ozone scientist and of her, had defended the tobacco industry, and this was a major story to tell

The timeline is December 2004 – October 2005 – to some point after a obscure German science conference took place, which from her narrative, could have occurred anywhere from late 2005 to some time into 2006. Conway’s sequence works out this way:

  1. He met Oreskes at an obscure German science conference which was held in July 2004
  2. She wrote her December 2004 paper on the scientific consensus for man-caused global warming
  3. She came under a vicious attack “from an organized lobby” at some time after that
  4. He called her up one day afterward and said, “How could you not know that would happen?”
  5. They talked and he told her of the “organized effort” he had discovered that was criticizing a renowned ozone scientist
  6. And sometime afterward, perhaps in 2006, Oreskes discovered the ‘organized effort against ozone science’ which Conway had found were also the same people who were “organizing climate change denial” and were involved “involved in the tobacco institutes

The irrefutable fact of this situation is that there is no way for Oreskes to move the dates of when her Science paper was published, or when her review of Chris Mooney’s book was published, or when Dr Singer started criticizing her work. And, her narrative does not align with Erik Conway’s. But is Conway’s version of this timeline without fault?

His bit about “probably 2006” regarding Oreskes’ ‘tobacco / fossil fuel industry’ connect-the-dots exercise is sketchy, but he apparently undermines that collective situation in a totally different manner, and that potentially huge problem will have to wait for a Part 2 blog post.

If Conway and Oreskes were placed under oath in courtroom appearances or in congressional hearing appearances, would their narratives be forced to line up right? That’s a good question.

At a rock-bottom level, this question must be asked: if a particular set of details is as damaging to Dr S Fred Singer as it is portrayed to be, why would there be any need whatsoever to embellish the situation surrounding it?