Did Naomi Oreskes formulate her ‘climate scientists corrupted by tobacco / fossil fuel industries’ idea before she was ‘told’ about those scientists’ existence?

Global warming issue. 3 talking points. It’s just this simple:

  • the science is settled
  • the fossil fuel industry pays ‘skeptic climate scientist shills’ to lie that it isn’t settled
  • ignore those skeptics because of the two above points

Regardless of which angles of the ‘crooked skeptics’ accusation that objective investigators choose to examine, the moment they start pulling on loose threads in those angles, that’s when the bigger fabric starts coming apart, to the point where it looks like it will never be stitched back together neatly. One really big loose thread is “Merchants of Doubt” book author / documentary movie star Naomi Oreskes’ alleged happenstance foray into the global warming issue which supposedly led to her ‘discovery odyssey’ concerning the ‘corruption of skeptic scientists,’ and she supplies many more loose threads to pull in her apparently faulty narratives about her role in the issue. This post details one more problem to throw onto Oreskes’ latter threadbare pile.

Whether it’s Oreskes narrative featuring Dr Ben Santer (where her “Merchants of Doubt” co-author Erik Conway is relegated to little more than incidental status), or if it’s the one prominently featuring time-traveler Conway (with no mention of Santer at all), the overall story is that she was a science historian who was curious about the extent of the ‘scientific consensus’ concerning man-caused global warming in relation to the history of oceanography. She undertook her own study of the ‘consensus’ and presented her results in a single slide within her February 2004 “Consensus in Science: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong?” presentation, and the enormous response from the audience on that single slide further prompted her to turn it into a paper she submitted to Science magazine, which published it in December 2004. Immediately afterward – according to her narratives – she was viciously, personally ‘attacked’ for her “truth” of finding no papers that countered the idea of man-caused global warming, while having no idea who her ‘attackers’ were or what their motivations were. Soon afterward, she was also alerted – depending on which of her inconsistent narratives are read – by either Conway or Santer about who the ‘attackers’ of her Science paper were and how these ‘attackers’ — Surprise! — seemed to operate out of the tobacco industry’s old playbook on using disinformation tactics to deceive the public into believing global warming science was still unsettled.

In short, without the alerts from either Conway or Santer – depending on which of her inconsistent narratives are read – Oreskes would have been clueless to the notion that scientists might be skewed by industry influence into spreading disinformation. Bam – consensus paper, bam – attackers attack the paper, bam – she learns her attackers, Dr S Fred Singer for example, (*ahem* Fred Singer) have conflicts of interest which clearly undermines the integrity of their global warming viewpoints — a straight line process directly resulting in her “Merchants of Doubt” book.

Except, there’s apparently a problem with that timeline. It’s found right inside her own Harvard 2020 curriculum vitae, page 9 under the “Scholarly Products: Journal Articles” heading:

Science and public policy: What’s proof got to do with it?” It’s a paper that predates her December 2004 Science paper.

Her paper was one of several in the October 2004 Volume 7 journal issue of Environmental Science & Policy which addressed the ‘uproar’ in the pro-global warming community over Bjørn Lomborg’s 2001 book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist.” Editor Roger Pielke Jr additionally noted in his introduction how her contribution to the collection of articles arose out of her and others’ participation in a 2002 symposium over the Lomborg ‘controversy.’ Oreskes’ Harvard CV places the date of her participation at February 2003 which is corroborated by a January ’03 newsletter announcement of the event.

Set aside all the discussion about Lomborg, though. The problem with Oreskes’ bam-bam-bam timeline about when she formulated her ideas about skeptic climate scientists having conflicts of interest are seen in key statements within her October 2004 ES&P paper.

First, we have the following on PDF / print pg pg 372:

If there is no consensus of experts—as was the case among earth scientists about moving continents before the late 1960s—then we have a case for more research. If there is a consensus of expertsas there is today over the reality of anthropogenic climate change (Oreskes, 2004)—then we have a case for moving forward with relevant action.
PDF pg 383: Oreskes, N., 2004. Consensus in Science: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong? AAAS George Sarton Memorial Lecture. Seattle, Washington, February.

Oreskes, a person with exactly zero specific education in climate science and no demonstrable expertise in the field of climate science declares outright that there is a scientific consensus for man-caused global warming, and her source for that is her own survey of climate science papers that is seen, not within a recognized science journal paper that, but is instead in just her own single slide which underwent no peer review. The acute irony is how she criticized Bjørn Lomborg’s book several years later as having many sources that weren’t seen in “refereed scientific literature.”

That doesn’t look good. The following on PDF pgs 380-381 in her October 2004 ES&P paper looks worse – the boldface / red color highlighting is my addition:

Expertise can of course be compromised and even bought outright, so we also need to ask: what are the non-epistemic interests of the experts? How might they be affecting the scientific results? … The recent growth of corporate sponsorship of scientific research on university campuses has raised the question of how financial interests are currently shaping not merely the subject of scientific research, but also the outcomes. An obvious and well-studied area is tobacco research … the tobacco industry has tried to generate uncertainty over the issue of second-hand smoke by directly sponsoring scientific studies whose purpose is to destabilize the existing consensus. These studies are far more likely to find no evidence of ill effect than studies not funded by the tobacco industry. …

To which Oreskes emphasizes just a sentence later ….

The critical point here is not that the fact the research was funded by industry, because all science is funded by some institution,group, or individual, and it’s not clear that industrial patronage is intrinsically more problematic than support from a prince, a foundation, an armed service, or a government agency. Rather, the issue is that the research is supported by a sponsor who wants a particular result—a particular epistemic outcome—and the researchers know in advance what that outcome is, producing an explicit conflict of interest, which undermines the integrity of the research performed.

See what just happened there? Everybody knows cigarette smoking is harmful, and she just told you there’s a scientific consensus on the harm of man-caused global warming, therefore any so-called expert displaying any kind of fossil fuel industry conflict of interest association is someone you …. well, obviously don’t have to listen to.

  • the science is settled
  • the fossil fuel industry pays ‘skeptic climate scientist shills’ to lie that it isn’t settled
  • ignore those skeptics because of the two above points

Look again, though, at the first bit I excerpted from her ES&P paper — she doesn’t speak about cigarette smoking in general, but instead about secondhand smoke specifically. Back in 2003-’04, who was the most famous person questioning the EPA over its designating secondhand smoke as a Class A carcinogen when science conclusions didn’t justify that label? Dr S Fred Singer. The August 2004 Wikipedia page for him noted his alleged “conflict of interest” along with a jab about how his viewpoints weren’t in scientific literature. Where does the External Link near the bottom of that Wikipedia page for “Disinfopedia” take readers? To an Internet Archive page for the “Disinfopedia” website, which first tries to portray Dr Singer as a shill for the tobacco industry, and then falsely portrays him as being on the payroll of the oil industry. (I dissected the fatal faults about the ‘oil industry consulting’ accusation here; the tobacco industry accusation here; meanwhile, click on “http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=S._Fred_Singer” and where does that old link automatically default to now? Sheldon Rampton’s SourceWatch pages, which I detailed as being only one degree separated from Ross Gelbspan in several posts here, including one detailing how Rampton worked at Wikipedia as an editor)

Naomi Oreskes is a professor of history, where one of the basic requirements should be that a person holding that title is very adept at deep, thorough research. Is it plausible that even after being tapped for a lengthy focuses discussion at an annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science regarding a prominent global warming book and subsequently writing a 12½ page paper on that topic, that she would still have never heard of the name Fred Singer, enough so that it was a surprise to her via alerts to her by Erik Conway or Ben Santer – depending on which of her inconsistent narratives are read – that Dr Singer was one of the main critics of her Dec ’04 Science paper on “consensus”?

One more question arises out of all of that. Dr Singer once famously said, ironically back in September 2004, consensus is not science and science is not about consensusscience is not a show of hands.

….. and Lord Christopher Monckton has more recently characterized the worthlessness of a “consensus” as:

… “argumentum ad populum” … is rightly regarded as unacceptable because the consensus view — and whatever “science” the consensus opinion is founded upon — may or may not be correct, and the mere fact that there is a consensus tells us nothing about the correctness of the consensus opinion or of the rationale behind that opinion. … science is not done by consensus.

It appears that her initial claim to fame is fundamentally based a total lack of understanding about the way the Scientific Method works; her dismissal of scientists based on outright guilt-by-association – while never even making the effort to examine their science-based viewpoints or even having the climate science expertise to do – so seems to indicate a serious level of anti-intellectual thinking on her part.

That leads, of course, to an overarching question, one that congressional investigators should explore, or that defendant lawyers in the current 20+ global warming lawsuits should examine:

Was her entry into, and role in, the global warming issue just a series of pure random luck events, or are none of those actually narratives true?