Bloomington, IN—Prominent thinker Naomi Oreskes has come to the defence of Rajendra Pachauri, describing the embattled climate guru as a “consummate gentleman” who never cupped her tits, forcibly tongued her or groped any part of her ass in an eight-year-plus collaboration on environmental policy.
On February 17 Dr Pachauri, then chairman of the IPCC and director general of the Delhi-based think tank TERI, learned that his emails, SMS and WhatsApp messages had been hacked out of context by unidentified conservatives. The resulting text tells the story of one ‘Meri Jaan,’ a 29-year-old research assistant who wastes a year and a half of company time deflecting the attentions of her superior instead of doing real work.
(According to legal experts who’ve spoken to CliScep, Meri Jaan is Hindi for ‘Jane Doe’—a supposed victim who lacks the integrity to put her own name to a complaint.)
This body of correspondence, whose authenticity Pachauri has consistently denied, fuelled allegations that the 75-year-old has a history of molesting entry-level employees.
In a standing-room-only lecture yesterday, Naomi Oreskes joined the growing pantheon of intellectuals who’ve vouched for Pachauri—and questioned the credibility of the women accusing him.
The Harvard academic, who describes herself as “half scientist, half historian, half novelist,” addressed a capacity crowd of students, faculty and the science press on IU’s Bloomington campus last night. But there were few complaints when she ditched a prepared speech on the logic of discovery for a panegyric on the moral and professional habits of the former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change frontman.
“I’ve held my tongue too long. People needed to hear that,” she said this morning of the impromptu two-hour digression.
Oreskes and her co-author Erik M. Conway will always be associated in the popular mind with the Byzantine, dystopian—and often laugh-out-loud silly—alternate world imagined in their genre-defining cli-fi novel, The Merchants of Doubt.
In the real universe, though, it’s her impeccable credentials as a feminist that make Professor Oreskes’ vote of confidence such a gift to Pachauri’s cause, say observers of the so-called “TataGate” scandal that has India’s gossipy capital all atwitter.
Not that Oreskes herself is any stranger to workplace fondling. As she reminded the students, faculty and science press gathered in IU’s historic Franklin Hall, she was once a freshly-minted geologist in the lawless, testosterone-drunk mines beneath Western Australia. That’s where she learned “what men do with their hands when they can’t see you [and you can’t see them].”
When she finally returned to the Earth’s surface five years later, two things had changed, perhaps forever: “the climate, and my faith in the male capacity for self-control.”
Oreskes’ eyes had barely readjusted to sunlight, however, when a colleague introduced her to Rajendra Pachauri, a man she quickly likened to “an atmospheric faith-healer in his charismatic and erotic prime.” But if she was worried about becoming a mere lust object, she needn’t have been. Pachauri—who by chance had forgotten his wedding ring—barely looked twice at the chalk-white, half-blind rock geek all day.
“I figured he was gay,” shrugged Oreskes, in one of the evening’s best lines.
Nonetheless, their first meeting was the start of a partnership she described as “long, fruitful and completely asexual.”
Regarding Dr Pachauri’s notoriety as a hands-on employer—so to speak—Oreskes merely joked that he couldn’t keep his work ethic to himself either.
“Everyone at TERI is expected to show just as much dedication,” Oreskes explained. “Arrive a few minutes late and you’ll be greeted with a dry ‘good afternoon.’ Do it several days in a row and you’ll receive an e-mail from the director-general reminding you of the values of hard work and discipline.
“And his staff love him for it,” she continued. “Pachauri was a hero to his employees long before the rest of the world took note. Although he begged them to call him by his name, he was always ‘Sir,’ even when he wasn’t in the room.”
Did Oreskes follow suit, inquired one audience member?
“Are you kidding? [Pachauri] and I have always been on ‘Sanjay’ terms,” she said, referring to the nickname he prefers in intellectual circles.
“It’s hard to say this without sounding elitist…” Oreskes continued, but took another question before she could complete the thought.
Oreskes said she had seen for herself the reports filed against Dr Pachauri by a number of young women, and remarked on what she called “striking similarities between [sic] them.”
“Science is like crime,” she explained, “in pretty much every way imaginable. And just like scientists, police are acutely aware that one report means nothing.
“A single complaint—to paraphrase Sanjay—belongs in the dustbin,” she quipped. “But more than one? With the same elements, the same accusations… the same body parts, in many cases? Well, we have a saying in the science world: two is a coincidence; three is a modus operandi.”
The conclusion was inescapable, said Oreskes, who also lectures in logic. “These young [women] were coached.”
While taking no pleasure in the serious nature of the alleged crimes, Oreskes admitted to “taking some pleasure” in this new and compelling evidence of the existence of a denier playbook, seeing it as the clearest vindication of the ‘merchants of doubt’ hypothesis to date.
Asked what could have turned the former ‘Fifth-Floor Girls’ against their beloved director, Prof Oreskes refused to speculate but said it was obviously a simple case of jealously.
“It’s important to realize that they’re now, 29? 30?,” she explained. “I think it’s important that journalists especially need to understand, busty young interns are people like everybody else. They get lonely, they crave attention and especially bimbos who have been very attractive in their earlier period of life and I think sometimes it’s hard for them when they start to lose their looks so I think we’ve seen that phenomenon here.”
Oreskes believes “untold numbers of serious people” in the climate intelligentsia would have no hesitation in speaking out in solidarity with Pachauri, a heroic organizer to whom they owe not only their sense of mission but, in most cases, the existence of their jobs.