What’s particularly maddening about this problem is the simplicity of its flip side, a crystal-clear snapshot of the way Naomi Oreskes, with her Merchants of Doubt co-author Erik Conway, supposedly exposed how public confusion over climate science results from organized campaigns designed to create confusion and delay political action, a tactic previously employed in efforts to deny the reality of acid rain, ozone depletion, and the link between tobacco and cancer, tactics now used in some cases by the same people who deny the reality of global warming. But in my November 18, 2017 blog post, I used Conway’s own words to show how the timeline of Oreskes’ so-called discovery of her ‘tobacco industry-connected’ critics fell apart, and the problems don’t stop there. Conway’s account of his collaboration with Oreskes on this ‘tobacco industry-connected climate scientists’ matter doesn’t offer a clearer picture of why atmospheric physicist Dr S Fred Singer was seemingly “the most dangerous man on the planet”, it begs for deeper investigation of why and how this portrayal of him coalesced in the first place.
What makes this such a maddening exercise is the tediousness of assembling the actual picture from parts of that simplistic snapshot. It’s comprised of 5 large areas:
1. Oreskes’ narrative and Conway’s
These details are not in dispute: Oreskes’ paper was published in Science on December 3, 2004; it was met with criticism; on October 5, 2005, her book review of Chris Mooney’s “Republican War on Science” was published in Science, and within it she suggested that particular climate scientists who were skeptical of man-caused global warming had ties to the tobacco industry; Oreskes met Erik Conway at some point in time; and he alerted her to the way at least one of her Science paper critics had also questioned the work of an ozone layer depletion scientist.
Conway’s 2015 interview details here are accurate, except for the hazy last one:
1:25 point: Naomi and I met at a meeting in Germany … in 2004, during the summer….
1:54 point: …later that summer, she started doing the work, unknown to me, that became her 2004, her December 2004 paper in Science… 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?” … and kind of started a long conversation about that organized effort that I had discovered in my atmospheric science history research…
2:40 point: … then, probably 2006 … 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 … and then we knew we had a story to tell.
So, according to Conway, at some point after December 2004, potentially into 2005, he contacted Oreskes to describe how he knew of Dr S Fred Singer’s criticism of atmospheric chemistry scientist Dr F Sherwood Rowland, and she subsequently discovered the ‘tobacco industry connection’ of Dr Singer and others …
…probably 2006, I forget the times now …
Conway mentions her ‘discovery’ in his own 2008 “Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History” this way:
Naomi Oreskes inadvertent initiation of a conflict with climate change disinformation specialists in 2004 unearthed some unique resources, which she graciously shared.
2. Oreskes claims about being criticized for the content of her December 2004 Science paper:
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 …
Notice the boldfaced “we” and her immediate change to “I” there. She was speaking about her October 7 2005 Science review of Chris Mooney’s book containing those tobacco connection references, thus her ‘connection discovery’ could not have occurred in 2006, it had to have happened by the latest in September 2005 if not earlier. Oreskes also went on to say that it was this book review which prompted the Science editor to request …
7:47 point: “We need more documentation of what you’re talking about”, so I wrote a memo that turned into a 17 page memo with chapter and verse references, citations, all the evidence on where this information was coming from, and when I had finished writing that memo, two things happened: I got a phone call from Don Kennedy thanking me, and wanting to talk more about what I had learned, and I had also realized that what I had written was the seeds of what ultimately became a book chapter, so I realized there was a story in this.
3. How it’s proven that Oreskes ‘discovery’ took place prior to October 2005, via one particular presentation’s text:
- At an October 7th-8th, 2005 Stanford University workshop organized by Robert Proctor titled “Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance,” Oreskes presented a talk titled “Deny, Deny, Deny: How to Sow Confusion over Climate Change.”
- At Erik Conway’s own website page for his Articles and Reviews, he lists this same presentation with his name attached, albeit with its chapter inclusion within Robert Proctor’s 2008 book.
- Within the footnotes of an interview published in 2008 of Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate scientist Richard C. J. Somerville, the above Oreskes-Conway presentation is noted as having the alternative title of “How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War.”
At a PDF file draft dated 16 October 2007 for this presentation, authored by Oreskes and Conway and later also published elsewhere under its alternative title, its endnote #1 clearly says, “This paper was first presented at the conference “Agnotology: The Cultural Production of Ignorance,” Stanford University, October 7-8, 2005.”
4. Oreskes’ central theme about ‘tobacco industry-connected critics of hers is one she held early on:
Regarding the 16 October 2007-dated “How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War” draft, it is 39 pages long in its main text, and its first eight pages are devoted to a setup about the settled science of man-caused global warming before it dives into the topic of the George C Marshall Institute, which is described as being opposed to the idea of global warming. Then, following other pages about the Marshall institute’s history unrelated to environmental issues, it is described as having an association with the tobacco industry, followed in short order with a note about Dr S Fred Singer’s association to it. Just six pages after that, it brings up Dr Singer’s position on second-hand cigarette smoke.
Point being, if this paper was presented at the October 2005 Stanford workshop minus any reference to Dr Singer’s ties to the Marshall Institute and its ties to the tobacco industry, Oreskes would be saying nothing remotely damaging about either the Marshall Institute or Dr Singer. The paper’s entire thrust is summed up in its page 29 comparison of ‘global warming denial’ to the denial of evidence that smoking causes cancer:
… the similarity in these positions is no coincidence. The same tactics, and in some cases even the same individuals, have been responsible for both.
5. Conway’s bit about Dr Singer “attacking” Dr F Sherwood Rowland is a key item in her heroic accounts of what led her on her current path:
Above the point where this Oreskes/Conway presentation/paper referred to Dr Singer’s position on second-hand smoke is a mention of ozone layer scientist Dr Sherwood Rowland, referencing Dr Singer’s protest about the certainty of Rowland’s conclusions about the ozone layer. That’s arguably “Dr Singer’s attack” of Rowland which Oreskes says (more than once ) she was alerted to by Erik Conway. A few pages prior to that, Dr Singer is described as a member of the White House Office of Science and Technology Acid Rain Panel who criticized the idea of acid rain. Who was the source of that bit?
57 F. Sherwood Rowland, personal interview, September 7, 2005.
56 Mooney, The Republican War, 41-43.
Mooney’s hardcover book was published one week before the “personal interview” of Dr Rowland took place. Coincidence?
Many additional questions arise out of these 5 situations and the way they tie together. What would have prompted a personal interview of Dr Rowland days after Mooney’s book came out, in direct reference to the specific acid rain topic referenced in Mooney’s book? Was it a ‘connect-the-dots’ combination of the tip from Erik Conway about his own knowledge of Dr Singer criticizing Dr Rowland, combined with the Rowland-Singer-George C. Marshall connection seen elsewhere in Mooney’s book? Since Oreskes shows sole authorship in her CV* [Author’s 1/3/19 added note: her CV apparently vanished from that UCDavis page after this post was put online, but it is preserved at this Internet Archive link] of the “Deny, Deny, Deny” version of the paper presented at the October 2005 Stanford workshop, while including Erik Conway as co-author of the above October 2007 “Victim of the Cold War” draft version, what actual input did Conway have in this paper and when did he have it? Was he little more than a theatrical device to give her the appearance of ‘accidentally connecting the dots’ on who Dr Singer was, much the way Ross Gelbspan’s invitation to co-author a newspaper article supposedly led him to accidentally discover the ‘industry corruption’ of skeptic climate scientists?
Astute readers who have perused more of the above “Deny, Deny, Deny / Victim of the Cold War” draft’s full context have probably already spotted another problem within it which begs for even more questions. Immediately after the disclosure about the paper first being presented at the October 2005 Stanford workshop, whose name do we see? Ross Gelbspan. Who was cited for in endnote #55 regarding the presentation’s/paper’s accusations about Dr Singer’s assorted ‘challenges?’ Chris Mooney and Ross Gelbspan, with particular reference to page 34 in Gelbspan’s 1997 book quoting the set of ‘leaked Western Fuels memos’ which, as I’ve noted at this blog on several occasions, are not only not where Oreskes claimed they were archived, they are also the core evidence for the accusation about Dr Singer, Dr Patrick Michaels, and others conspiring with industry people to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” …. the actual situation of which Dr Singer had zero association with, and which overall is an accusation built on a foundation of sand.
Who does Chris Mooney cite in his “Republican War on Science” for the industry corruption of Dr Patrick Michaels? Ross Gelbspan, along with an old Scott Allen Boston Globe article. This article link has most of the piece behind a pay wall, and Greenpeace’s scan of it seems to be non-functioning this week, so I will have to show, via my own computer notes, what the words were that Chris Mooney felt compelled to leave out of his end note on Dr Michaels:
But Kalee Kreider of Ozone Action, the group that released information about the energy industry ties of Michaels and another witness, said the issue is that Congress is giving industry-backed research as much weight as independent science…. Robert Balling of Arizona State University, who has received more than $200,000 from coal and oil interests, according to the December issue of Harper’s. The article, by former Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan, argues that Balling, Michaels and a few other industry-backed scientists “have become interchangeable hood ornaments on a high-powered engine of disinformation.”
But there’s more, opening a window into why Eric Conway would have any animosity about Dr Singer in the first place. Recall that in his own interview narrative about his introduction to Oreskes, which I transcribed in part 1, he said he had archive info about “organized efforts” he wasn’t using in his then-upcoming “Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History” book. Google Books’ search results show Conway mentioning Dr Singer’s name at least 10 times, with its early mentions regarding Dr Singer’s axing of a satellite system (which Dr Singer much later defended here, paragraphs 4-6), its ‘unseen-in-this-preview’ at least shows Conway referring to Dr Singer’s position about ozone depletion in the middle section, and the ending part of his book criticized Dr Singer’s environmental positions. In his book’s conclusion, who did Conway cite regarding assertions about powerful corporations and weak reporters, and who did he cite regarding assertions about the funding of “disinformation campaigns” and the ideological motives of people like Dr Singer? Mooney / Gelbspan, and the Union of Concerned Scientists / Myanna Lahsen. The UCS report not only cites Ross Gelbspan’s “HeatIsOnline” website twice, it also thanks Oreskes, Conway and Kert Davies. That Kert Davies. Meanwhile, Myanna Lahsen unapologetically noted in her PhD dissertation how Ross Gelbspan coached her on how to interview people.
Go through enough of this material in considerable depth, and it becomes evident that these people want everyone to believe Dr Singer is the most dangerous man on the planet. Was it because he was so influential that he actually blockaded government action which would have otherwise saved us from deadly environmental consequences? After all, EPA declared second-hand smoke to be a class A carcinogen, Dr Sherwood Rowland was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the ozone layer, and Al Gore and the collective IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on man-caused global warming. But the EPA finding was overturned in Federal court, the ozone hole won’t be disappearing anytime in the near future, and even with the unrefuted rise in CO2 levels, skeptic climate scientists point out in vast detail how surface temperatures haven’t significantly warmed for around two decades.
Is it not plausible that instead of a situation existing where scientists – in some cases the same scientist – use identical tactics behind cancerous second-hand smoke and ozone depletion denial to sow disinformation over climate science which delays political action, that we instead have – in some cases – the same small clique of enviro-activists (none of whom possessing science expertise to prove Dr Singer’s atmospheric assessments are disinformation) attempting to prop up unsupportable political agendas through the use of character assassination disinformation?