Oreskes’ Oracular Orifice

Naomi Oreskes interview hilites B Series 14 wide.gif

A new paper, Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications (1977–2014) by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, published 23 August 2017,

“..assesses whether ExxonMobil Corporation has in the past misled the general public about climate change, [presents] an empirical document-by-document textual content analysis and comparison of 187 climate change communications from ExxonMobil … [examines] whether these communications sent consistent messages about the state of climate science and its implications—specifically, we compare their positions on climate change as real, human-caused, serious, and solvable. …we find that as documents become more publicly accessible, they increasingly communicate doubt… We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science—by way of its scientists’ academic publications—but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public…”

It’s published in Environmental Research Letters and it begins:

1.Introduction

In 2016, Attorneys General of 17 US states and territories announced that they ‘are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations’ into whether ExxonMobil Corporation and other fossil fuel companies may have violated, variously, racketeering, consumer protection, or investor protection statutes through their communications regarding anthropogenic global warming (AGW) … As part of a probe that began in 2015, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued multiple subpoenas to ExxonMobil under the state’s Martin Act and alleged that the company’s accounting of climate risk ‘may be a sham’. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is simultaneously investigating ExxonMobil, stating, ‘Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be held accountable’. US Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker has said that he is investigating ExxonMobil for potentially violating the territory’s anti-racketeering law Also in 2016, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began a federal investigation into whether ExxonMobil appropriately discloses the business risks of AGW, and how it values its assets and reserves.

We offer no view on the legal issues raised by ongoing investigations.

Like fuck we don’t. We just choose to open our peer-reviewed scientific article with a full description of the accusations of criminal behaviour currently aimed at the subject of our objective scientific investigation. Environmental Research demands no less.

‘Read all of these documents and make up your own mind,’ ExxonMobil has challenged. This paper takes up that challenge by analyzing the materials highlighted by the company, and comparing them with other publicly available ExxonMobil communications on AGW. The issue at stake is whether the corporation misled consumers, shareholders and/or the general public by making public statements that cast doubt on climate science and its implications, and which were at odds with available scientific information and with what the company knew. We stress that the question is not whether ExxonMobil ‘suppressed climate change research,’ but rather how they communicated about it.

In other words, Supran and Oreskes are not going to risk libel actions by making unsubstantiated claims about scientific malpractice, but are going to limit themselves to pointing out that ExxonMobil didn’t say the same thing to the New York Times as they said to their investors or to customers at the pump. I mean, revealing the horrifying fact that a major oil company has not said everything it knew about global warming to the bloke filling his tank is worth a scientific article, isn’t it?

Not if the article is full of shit it isn’t.

Let’s skip to 2. Method:

We adapt and combine the methodologies used to quantify the consensus on AGW by Oreskes and Cook et al with the content analysis methodologies used to characterize media communications of AGW by Feldman et al and Elsasser and Dunlap.

2.1 Document position

Research has shown that four key points of understanding about AGW—that it is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable—are important predictors of the public’s perceived issue seriousness, affective issue involvement, support for climate policies, and political activism. These four elements have also been found to underpin most narratives of AGW skepticism and denial (namely ‘it’s not happening’, ‘it’s not us’, ‘it’s not serious’, and ‘it’s too hard’). We therefore use, a priori, these recognized elements as axes along which to characterize ExxonMobil’s positions on AGW in its communications; positions on each of these elements form the primary codes in our content analysis.

And here is their Table 2, providing “definitions of the … points used to code levels of acknowledgment of AGW as (1) real and human-caused, (2) serious, and (3) solvable, respectively.”

I’ve inserted my own numeration in brackets to aid understanding. Documents were coded with respect to each of the above three statements about AGW numbered above as either “acknowledge,” “no position” or “doubt.” Here are their definitions. My own opinion, as a typical climate sceptic, is added in square brackets:

Table 2.
Definitions of the Endorsement, Impact, and Solvable Points used to code levels of acknowledgment of AGW as real and human-caused, serious, and solvable, respectively.

(1) AGW as Real and Human-Caused
(1.1) ‘Acknowledge’

Explicitly supports position that humans are the primary cause of global warming (with quantification) [No]
Explicitly supports position that humans are the primary cause of global warming (without quantification) or refers to anthropogenic global warming as a known fact [No to first part, Yes to second]
Implicitly supports position that humans are the primary cause of global warming. e.g. research assumes greenhouse gas emissions cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause [No]
Implicitly supports position that humans are the primary cause of global warming by referring to a consensus of the scientific community [No]

(1.2) ‘No position’
Does not address the cause of global warming [No]

(1.3) ‘Doubt’
Expresses position that the reality of recent global warming is uncertain/undefined, namely ‘it’s not happening ‘[Yes to first part, No to second]
Expresses position that the human contribution to recent global warming is uncertain/undefined, namely ‘it’s not us’ [Yes to first part, No to second]

(2) AGW as Serious
(2.1) ‘Acknowledge’

Acknowledges and/or articulates known or predicted negative impacts of global warming e.g. geophysical, economic, socio-political [Yes]

(2.2) ‘No position’

Does not address the negative impacts of global warming (beyond generic references to climate change as a ‘risk’) [No]

(2.3) ‘Doubt’
Expresses position that the reality of negative impacts of global warming is uncertain/undefined/exaggerated, namely ‘it’s not bad’ [Yes/No/Don’t Know]

(3) AGW as Solvable
(no 3.1or 3.2)
(3.3) ‘Doubt’
Expresses position that the difficulties of mitigating global warming are potentially insurmountable and/or exceed the benefits, namely ‘it’s too hard’ [Yes and/or Yes]

____

Note that I sometimes agree, and sometimes disagree with Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes on their definitions of climate negationism, and sometimes I both agree and disagree, but that I am never neutral.

e.g. I both “acknowledge and/or articulate known or predicted negative impacts of global warming e.g. geophysical, economic, socio-political” while at the same time I don’t agree that I “don’t address the negative impacts of global warming (beyond generic references to climate change as a ‘risk.’)”

Two explanations offer themselves: either I am insane, or Oreskes and her epigone are a couple of incompetent numbskulls who wouldn’t recognise a logical argument or a Venn diagram if it hit them in the oracular orifice.

Their categories are incomplete, inconsistent and incoherent. They are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. It is perfectly possible to answer yes and no to the same point, so it is perfectly possible for the authors to put their papers in any old bin they like.

Note that we haven’t yet examined whether the article establishes that ExxonMobil did or didn’t fake its communications. All we’ve established is that the basic tools (Cook et al) used are not up to the job. But the fact that Cook et al are basic tools and not up to the job is hardly news.

Throughout the article the authors refer to AGW. The A means anthropogenic, i.e. human-caused, yet the authors talk of: “…doubts the scientific evidence that AGW is real and human-caused..” say: “..in documents published on or before 1995, we exempt expressions of doubt that AGW is human-caused.” and “…when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) first concluded that AGW is real and human-caused…” and “Positions on AGW as real and human-caused vary significantly across document categories (p < 3.7 × 10−133, Fisher's exact test, FET; see table S3, supplementary information, for details and all probability values)..”

Forget Fisher’s exact test. The authors are talking bollocks. If there’s an A before the GW then the GW is real and human-caused, by all the rules of rational discourse accepted since Aristotle, whether or not p < 3.7 × 10−133. This is about the meaning of words for Gaia's sake.

Have I read the whole article with the care required of a scientific paper? Of course I haven’t. But I did read this:

To characterize each document, we read its abstract, introduction, and conclusion, and either skim or read thoroughly the rest as necessary.

Did you get that? Naomi and her coauthor haven’t actually read the articles they’re discussing. They skimmed them. And they say so. A PhD student who admitted she hadn’t read the the articles she was writing about would be in trouble. But hey, this is only the Professor of History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. Who gives a toss about academic standards when the planet is in danger, not to mention the Chair of Planetary Sciences?

21 thoughts on “Oreskes’ Oracular Orifice

  1. Naomi attempts to hide her banality behind an overall approach that would creep out an Aufseherinnen.

    Her analytical skills are inspired by interpreting the “floats like a duck” scene by Monty Python as to how a serious bit of research should be undertaken.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oreskes and her epigone are a couple of incompetent numbskulls who wouldn’t recognise a logical argument or a Venn diagram if it hit them in the mush.

    Maybe not, but I’d love to be the logical argument or Venn diagram.

    Nevertheless, Geoff, as pugnacious as these Wars Of Oppugnment can get (especially in single pugilism against the most repugnant impugneress of the Scientific Method ever shat from Shaitan’s cloaca) it’s important to maintain a scholarly tone.

    I recommend, therefore, an urgent tweak in the phrasing from “hit them in the mush” to “hit them in the oracular orifice.”

    Note that this does not change the underlying science in any major way.

    [Done. Thanks Brad]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To the many sexually-traumatized readers who’ve emailed me for counselling to get “Oreskes’… orifice” out of their minds, let me offer the reassurance that Geoff probably didn’t mean anything meatal by it. In fact, you may be focusing on the wrong word in the phrase.

    I suspect-slash-hope-to-God that my co-skeptic was just making an erudite allusion to one of the more colorful episodes in the future of the human race, which occurs in 2024, say the latest futurians:

    Drawing heavily on the principles of the Delphi Technique, Naomi Oreskes changes the scientific method to the Delphi Technique.

    Not for nothing has she been called the Goracle of Delphi.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The paper is daft because it is based on an ideological binary argument.

    Research has shown that four key points of understanding about AGW—that it is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable…. These four elements have also been found to underpin most narratives of AGW skepticism and denial (namely ‘it’s not happening’, ‘it’s not us’, ‘it’s not serious’, and ‘it’s too hard’).

    “Research” has not shown that ! It is equally possible that “AGW is real, human-caused, not serious, and currently insoluble”.

    Exxon’s position is then fully vindicated.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Beth. The Delphic cavern, of prognostic fame was, it is now believed, powered by natural gas. Much of academia today, however, would prefer to be powered by Ra or Aeolus

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Naomi Oreskes is main (but not only) reason I informed Harvard’s major gifts office two years ago (which has been relentlessly hounding me for many years now) that even though I have three Harvard degrees, they should not bother to fly down to visit, will not buy them lunch ever again, and will not contribute another penny until after she is gone. Sommers managed to rid Harvard of black studies bigot Cornell West. (Harvard’s gain, Princeton’s loss– and now 17 Princeton leftist student organizations are demanding segregated dorms and classes to protect themselves from ‘white racism’, all supported by Cornell West). Somebody needs to do the same to Oreskes despite (both) having tenure.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Now I’ve calmed down a bit I think I can see where we’ve all gone wrong in our criticisms of the Cook/Oreskes methodology, including Richard Tol and others who’ve pointed out the flaws in using a bunch of untrained, biassed activists to make judgements on poorly defined criteria about classifying articles they haven’t read into logical categories which are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. All that’s poor stuff, and would get them sacked from any job that involved writing words of more than two syllables, but it’s not the main thing.

    The main thing is that you can’t do it, not even if the definitions were watertight, the researchers were competent, and they actually read the articles they analysed. It’s just the most blatant example of the recurrent problem with climate science: You can’t get there from here. You can’t tell what a scientists thinks, or believes, or agrees about, from the abstract of an article.

    Oreskes has made the momentous discovery that Exxon’s advertising copy is not written in the same way as its scientific articles. It’s news to her, because she and Cook and their acolytes have made a nice career out of confusing the two.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Brad
    I spent years of my youth studying opinions. I suspected at the time that there were more interesting things, but I didn’t know what the were. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If only we were born with a rear view mirror…

    This article by Oreskes and her cicisbeo looks to me like it was written to be used in evidence in some future court case. In which case the lawyer for Exxon will ask the lawyer for the plaintiff: “So Professor Oreskes read all these documents poduced by my client?”

    “No Your Honour, she skimmed through them.”

    Judge: “Case dismissed.”

    There’s an article about the Supran & Oreskes article by Nuccitelli at
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/aug/23/harvard-scientists-took-exxons-challenge-found-it-using-the-tobacco-playbook

    Like

  9. My comment spectacularly missed the point. Sorry. In the last couple of days I’ve wasted many years of my youth at scienceblogs trying to explain to Dr Jeff Harvey why one of his comments (“when it comes to the [climate-change] opinions of bloggers like X versus the world’s leading Y, I go with the consensus every time”) disqualified him from the profession of science. I also had several CliScep threads open for reference. I got them mixed up and somehow convinced myself that you were praising Cook’s COC by lenient damnation. Disregard.

    Like

  10. That rear view mirror – history’s chequered history, R.G. Collingwood, ‘The Idea
    of History, sees it as a subjective task,hmm… identifying with the past actor,
    re-enacting past experience in his own mind. Karl Popper argues the critical
    method of studying the logic of the situation of the actor. Serf’s think go with
    the contextual:

    Context’s the thing whereby
    we may unearth the problem
    situation of the king (and troops.)
    Situation analysis is able ter
    transcend the myopia
    of point of view and the
    opacity of time and space

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Clive Best’s comment @ 04 Sep 17 at 9:40 am I believe misses the mark. The full sentence from the article is

    Research has shown that four key points of understanding about AGW—that it is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable—are important predictors of the public’s perceived issue seriousness, affective issue involvement, support for climate policies, and political activism [62–66].

    The understanding does not have to be a correct one. For instance, the Jehovah Witness Sect developing an “understanding” that Armageddon would occur in 1975. This certainly affected their activities in the lead up to the momentous moment. Non-believers may have been a little worried, shrugged their shoulders, or thought the whole idea ridiculous. So similar studies on the prophecy of Armageddon 1975 would show similar results to those quoted for AGW beliefs in references 62-66. But the statement that AGW is “real, human-caused, serious, and solvable” – repeated five times in the article – indicates something about the activists understanding of complex issues.
    AGW is real” is not a proper scientific statement, as it is not quantified. Given that the impacts on surface temperatures can muffled and delayed nearly indefinitely by natural factors, or swallowed by the oceans, the belief can be independent of any evidence for decades to come.
    AGW is human-caused”, is saying “Human-caused global warming is human-caused”. It is a tautology that tells us nothing about the real world.
    AGW is serious” is an opinion. It may be a very widely-held opinion, with many articles written with confirming evidence, and many concerned people attending massive conferences where it is discussed. But without clear evidence for emerging net adverse consequences, the opinion is largely unsubstantiated.
    AGW is solvable” could be whether it is theoretically solvable, given the technology and policies being implemented. It can also be whether it is politically solvable, getting actual policies to reduce emissions fully implemented. If the “solution” is the partial reduction of global emissions to a level commensurate with 2C of warming, then COP21 in Paris shows that AGW is a long way from being solvable, with no actual solution in sight. Whereas the 2C limit requires global emissions to be lower in 2030 than in 2015, and falling rapidly, fully implemented policies would still see emissions higher in 2030 than in 2015 and still increasing.

    Like

  12. Pingback: Supran and Oreskes on ExxonMobils Communication of Climate Change | ManicBeancounter

  13. Developing on my previous post on Supran and Oreskes I suggest (in my latest post) that the method of analysis used was flawed for at least three reasons.
    First is that the underlying quality and clarity of results and relevancy of each paper is ignored. What matters to Supran and Oreskes is the language used.
    Second is that ExxonMobil’s papers are not the only research on whether “AGW is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable”. The authors could also take into account the much wider body of papers out there within the broad areas covered by the mantra.
    Third, if the totality of the research – whether ExxonMobil’s or the totality of climate research – does not amount to a strong case for anthropogenic global warming being a serious global problem, and nor having a workable solution, why should they promote politicized delusions?

    What is also important, is how a major successful company like ExxonMobil would view the case for policy if it were presented as a major strategic project for the Board’s approval. It is something that the supporters of “climate consensus” should learn from. But that would mean questioning their unquestionable beliefs about the world.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s