Historian Naomi Oreskes fails in historical research

By Ron Arnold (from his blog Left exposed)

Naomi Oreskes Warps History

Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes is best known to climate realists by her 2010 book,Merchants of Doubt and its scurrilous demonization of climate skeptics as paid hacks parroting the fossil-fuel industry’s self-serving opposition to the “consensus view” of man-made climate catastrophe, but that screed doesn’t reveal the flaws in her work. [See this review of Merchants of Doubt by Dr. S. Fred Singer.]

A short, obscure, error-riddled essay titled, “My Science is Better than Your Science,” that she wrote in 2011 is more significant. It was a chapter in a book titled, How Well Do Facts Travel? The Dissemination of Reliable Knowledge, and examined the 1991 origin of the “skeptics are paid industry shills” narrative supposedly found in a legendary set of “leaked Western Fuels memos.”

That short chapter is important because Oreskes totally misinterprets the “memos” as Big Coal’s plan for a vast national campaign with paid climate scientists that created the lasting public doubt about global warming. That’s the very same interpretation repeated endlessly by climate alarmists including Al Gore, Ross Gelbspan (1997’s The Heat Is On), Canadian public relations flak James Hoggan ’s attack website DeSmogBlog, and many others.

Appallingly, nobody in this parade of critics did any fact checking of the memos, not even historian Naomi Oreskes, which is a serious lapse for a historian. In fact, Oreskes and the others were using a garbled conglomeration of nearly a dozen different memos from different sources that were collected by Greenpeace and posted unsorted and in no rational order on one of its websites – because they never checked who they really came from.

Critics had no idea what they were looking at in the hundred-or-so pages of “Western Fuels memos.” They simply took the pieces that made skeptics look the worst and patched them together into an assumption-laden fairy-tale, historian Oreskes most unseemly of all.

Had Oreskes, the renowned Harvard Professor of the History of Science, bothered to interview any of the clearly identified sources of the “Western Fuels memos,” she would have discovered that less than one-third of the jumbled “memos” involved Western Fuels Association at all.

It’s ironic that the “Western Fuels memos” became known as “Orders from Big Coal” because Western Fuels Association is actually just the opposite of what the alarmist critics thought: It’s a small, not-for-profit, member-owned co-op serving 24 consumer-owned rural and small municipal electric cooperatives and other public power systems from Wyoming to Kansas. Oreskes never mentions that, probably because she never researched her sources well enough to know it.

Read the entire essay here, it is well worth your time. – Anthony


79 thoughts on “Historian Naomi Oreskes fails in historical research

  1. Again we see that emphasis on selling the message, rather than presenting the science.
    I am getting tired of public relations people mouthing on about climate change. It is getting worse, like that communications prof from George Mason Uni, trying to influence the Federal Government with a message that is scientifically unproven to be correct.
    Time for a few more gutsy scientists to speak up?.

    • But do you guys not see the larger implication here? In the early ’90s Gore et al. knew they couldn’t fight back on the science, so they needed a different angle to prompt the public not to listen to skeptic scientists. Stephen Schneider made the comparison of such skeptics to paid tobacco shill ‘experts’ in 1992 ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Schneider-tobacco-1992.jpg ). I detailed the history of the ‘alleged’ Western Fuels “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” leaked memo phrase here ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/?p=1480 ) — as noted in Ron Arnold’s piece above, Oreskes devoted a whole 2010 book chapter to those WFA docs as a “smoking gun” indictment of skeptic scientists’ guilt, she also based her widely cited 2008 PowerPoint presentation on it ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Oreskes07ppt.jpg ). Gore said alarmist book author Ross Gelbspan discovered the memo set with that phrase in it, but Gore quoted from the set years before Gelbspan first mentioned it. Then in 2008, Gore said the phrase was from Exxon, not Western Fuels (29:20 point here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1Do9vut6tc#t=1748s ).

      The overriding point here is huge: the one bit of evidence Gore, Gelbspan and Oreskes claim as being part of a sinister public relations campaign was NEVER part of that campaign, and was not evidence of any kind of a “Big Tobacco”-like industry directive for skeptic climate scientists to follow. If Gore, Gelbspan and Oreskes knew this from the start, but pushed the accusation anyway knowing it wasn’t true, in order to maliciously destroy the character of skeptic scientists, would this not be an epic form of libel/slander? The ultimate question is, what did these three know about those Western Fuels documents and when did they know it? As late as 2012, Oreskes herself saw them as a weapon ( http://gelbspanfiles.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Oreskes-WFA-docs-2012-911×1024.jpg ) to use in RICO-style legal action.

    • Well get ready for it to get much worse.

      A recent news story ran about the seminar that Hillary Clinton gave to eight year old children at a school in California, wherein she asked on the T&V record, for their thoughts about climate change and what they thought Trump was gong to do regarding that.

      The only positive thing about this shameless episode is that Hillary Clinton finally got to speak to an audience of her peers.

      These rug rats are a decade removed from having to worry about Presidential campaigns, and Hillary’s two terms in the White House will be past history, long before they need to stop playing with their finger toys, and pay attention.

      So batten down the hatches and nail the shutters closed.


    • So anyway, I was readin’ about how HIllary just snaps her finger and commands “Gum!” and then Huma just hops to and fetches the same (Google: “nina burleigh meet huma abedin”), which got me reflectin’ about how when Hillary and Huma were toolin’ around in the “Scooby-Doo”, it was Huma who had to place all those orders for their flatulence-normative bean-burritos with an e-coli side, because Hillary had been livin’ in the pampered hive-bubble so long that she not only didn’t even know how to place an order at Chipolte, but she didn’t even know about the fine points of turnin’ up her nose at the tip-jar so as to stiff the coolie-trash, herdling-nobody kids behind the counter, not to mention, for that matter, HIllary not knowing how to work a door-knob, even, except on a play-for-pay basis. But I was most surprised, by all this, to learn that Hillary is a “gum-snapper”, since my prior, not-inconsequential experience with ladies of that persuasion, has been exclusively limited to car-hops on skates, and so, naturally, I was rather pleasantly pleased to learn that a former First-Lady, former carpetbagger Senator from New York, and former Secretary of State, currently under investigation by the FBI, shares their company.

      And, then, out of nowhere, Huma disappears! Down the memory-hole! Air-brushed out of Hillary-land! A “non-person” and that whole ball-of-wax, Orwellian evolution, and everything! AND NOBODY EVEN MENTIONS THE WHOLE DEAL!!!

      And what got me thinkin’ about all the above, was the discussion of Naomi Oreskes, in the top-side post. I mean, like, there was Naomi Klein–the “other Naomi”–with the Pope in her corner, and everything, for Pete’s (St.) sake!, poised to become the face of the Gaia-hustle–I mean, like, the reigning hive-queenbee, and all! And then, suddenly, the photo-genic Naomi Klein, with her fox-new-hot-babe good-looks, pulls a “Huma”, on us, and disappears, on everybody, at exactly the moment, the other, “other Naomi (Oreskes)” makes a flash-bang come-back!

      Hmmm…some deep-kimchi machinations gon’ on here, I’m thinkin’.

  2. This should be a sticky post for a few days… but it’s been so long I don’t see one that I suspect that after some WordPress update they are no longer possible.

  3. I am surprised you describe the great Ms Oreskes as a “historian”. In fact, she was originally trained as a geologist. I know because I was there.
    The baffling thing – at least to me – is how anyone trained as a geologist can possibly believe in anthropogenic global warming. It’s not just about studying the present facts using your background knowledge of earth sciences as a framework (which would be enough) – anyone geologically trained knows the climate has been changing for billions of years and always will, with significant temperature swings quite normal over time. Geologists with half a brain cell, therefore simply have to be skeptical about global warming – yet Ms Oreskes buys into it all hook, line and sinker. Bizarre,

    • ‘…how anyone trained as a geologist can possibly believe in anthropogenic global warming…’

      Answer: Oreskes wants to keep her nice job at Harvard.

      Oreskes’ study on consensus was flawed. The claim of ‘consensus’ rests almost entirely on an inaccurate and outdated single page comment in the journal Science entitled The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (Oreskes 2004).

      Benny Peiser conducted a search of peer-reviewed literature on the ISI Web of Science database between 1993 and 2003. Peiser’s research demonstrated that several of the abstracts confounded Oreskes’ assertion of unanimity by explicitly rejecting or casting doubt upon the notion that human activities are the main drivers of the observed warming over the last 50 years. Although Peiser later withdrew his rejecting of the consensus, there is no scientific consensus on the causes of the last 150 years of global warming amongst scientists. There is, instead, a continuing distortion of the statistics representing scientific research and opinion.

      You cannot report the views of climatologists only (who generally have a vested interest) yet leave out the greater fields under which climate science is a subset such as earth history and solar science. If you include earth history (geology, etc.) and solar scientists etc, the figures about ‘consensus’ become tiny.

      Take for example the idea that global warming creates more deserts. Climatologists are naturally assumed to best answer such a question. They go and gather lots of data, project models, debate, discuss etc, yet do they bother to consult the past geological record?

      The geological record indicates warm periods correspond to less deserts, which is not mentioned in the subsequent climatologist reports. An example is the drying of Africa during the onset of glacial (cooler) periods, which led to reduced rainforests and more savannah, and the consequent evolution of an upright ape on the savannah – the hominid line (us). But according to the IPCC, Africa does the opposite and is projected to get drier overall with projected warming, which means we should not exist.

    • I agree. I was also trained as a geologist and I don’t buy into AGW but all, and I mean all, the geologists that I know, do. I think it is because they all have an environmentalist slant. I also think that many of them know where the grant money comes from. I teach my students that in geology we are learning how to read the rock record. Yes the climate always changes and always will. James Croll gave us the mechanism – it’s the cyclic change of Earth’s orbit around the Sun due to gravitational forces from other bodies on our planet. Now all our textbooks have been updated to include a chapter on climate change due to humans. The environmentalists have snuck into our venerable field of study.

    • Hi Ian,
      I also find myself baffled by how anyone trained as a geologist can possibly believe in anthropogenic global warming; but more amazing is the number of Geologists I know who are quick to become heated by a dose of healthy scepticism. Maybe it’s the modern indoctrination that passes for tertiary education today, but I know a few practicing geologists who like to wring their hands about gullible warming (and the anthropocene epoch we’re supposedly inhabiting now).
      My background is in geology and this is to my mind mutually exclusive of belief in gullible warming.
      Prof Ian Plimer sums it up better than I can in the introduction to ‘Heaven and Earth’.

    • Lest we all get caught up in topical global warming minutia again, global warming rhetoric is not about science – there is no science in the CAWG argument – it is about political posturing with the left always looking for ways to advance their subversive and insidious ways. They think they have a way in “Climate Change”, and in fear of losing this one too, they keep pounding away with lies.

    • But History is easier. To quote From Alan Bennets ‘History Boys’ is is just ‘One f—king thing after another’.

    • Ian
      You are confusing education with intelligence. They are two separate things. Then there is the need to make a buck.

    • Just because someone has gone through the training doesn’t mean that they had the intellectual capacity to understand it well in the first place. That’s how you end up with degreed geologists working as science historians and degreed physicists running cartoonist websites.

      Even the most liberal of my geology professors never proclaimed an ounce of alarmism over AGW, nor did the students. In fact, their views all seemed skeptical in some regards, and alarmism was often mocked in classes. A chemistry professor I had, that often ranted about how climate science was running amok, was the one that peeked my interest in researching the politics of climate science.

    • I’m a geologist and I agree with your statements. Rocks record billions of years of history and events that are difficult for those with no geology background to comprehend. The anthropogenic represents such a small part of the geologic time scale as to be insignificant…except to the CAGW activists. I grew up in the Great Lakes area–south shore of Lake Superior–and it wasn’t until I studied geology that I understood how those grooves in the rocks got there…glacial striations from the thousands of feet of glacial ice moving across them during the last Ice Age.

    • We also know that there is no correlation between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature.

    • “The baffling thing …” True, that. Using the Phanerozoic as a temporal perspective yields a very different view than the paltry few centuries that Mann regards as “paleo..”

    • The two most well known critics of the GHG scare in France are:
      – Claude Allègre (geophysicist), author of “L’Imposture climatique”
      – Vincent Courtillot (geophysicist)

    • Marxist Ms Oreskes studied geology in order to infect it , politicize it with Marxism?

  4. “I know what I know. Don’t try to confuse me with the facts.”
    Seriously, there is a pervasive an pernicious problem in the process.
    Cherry-picking ‘evidence’ that supports a predetermined narrative never leads to the truth.

  5. Thank you Ron (Arnold) for such clear and revealing words. It shows real effort, razor sharp analysis and a fine style of writing. It is much appreciated.


  6. It certainly isn’t history that she’s interested in, but a highly-selective, skewed version of it in order to spew her hateful, anti-fossil fuel anti-skeptic Greenie viewpoint.

  7. Do people actually buy her books? I know little about her but the snippets of her rantings are sufficient to dismiss anything she says. As a non-PC person , the lowering of her and her friends (slowly) into the ocean would be music to my ears.
    I would pay for the CD

  8. Cant resist it even if the moderator objects. Naomi clearly not just a pretty face?

  9. It’s interesting. We have postmodern scholars who are very good at wordsmithing. But the instinct to do so has been around for all of recorded history.

    “The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill.” wiki

    Oreskes, good postmodern scholar that she is, has indeed made a mountain of a mole hill. She didn’t quite spin her conspiracy from whole cloth, but she came close. I blame Jacques Derrida.

  10. https://www.westernfuels.org/

    The Western Fuels website makes it pretty clear what they are.

    You really have to wonder who listens to Orestes and their ilk.

    There seems to be a common problem that nobody checks their facts anymore in an era when fact checking has become trivially easy.

    It is sad that a “historian of science” gets both her history and her science wrong.

  11. Most university Earth science departments have swallowed the CAGW meme hook, line, and hockey stick going on 25 years now. I was continually amazed during my undergraduate years as to how the really, really smart people went from hypothesis to conclusion without wasting any of their valuable time actually verifying their claim. CAGW functions as a tautology without contradiction. Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all the sheeple.

    • Most university profs. have hardly experienced professional life outside their ivory towers. They’re so afraid of being out of touch with their field that they just jump to participate.

    • “Earth Science” is not the same as Geology. Not even close. Earth Science merges from a more “holistic approach” in modern pedagoguery. It also makes room for post-modern thought and offers perspectives that a more empirical view refuses. It permits post-normal science to emerge. That is a summary statment of drivel I’ve read over the last few decades. If you want to worry yourselves seriously, forget climate change and look into the application of “somatic marker theory” in education.

    • If you don’t accept CAGW, how dare you get the benefits of penicillin?

      Science: love it or leave it.

      Nationalism is ugly and retarded and for the low information voters of the right (picture Sheldon Cooper’s mother, or Howard’s father in law). But science nationalism is intelligent. It’s advanced.

      Real academics are actually dumber than the Big Bang Theory characters.

    • Focusing on this article in particular shows:
      (1) Her professional incompetence is well-established, deeply rooted, and unlikely to ever be corrected
      (2) The article itself is a condensed vignette of her flawed thinking processes
      (3) She is more adept at rhetoric (the art of persuading people of something that ain’t necessarily so) than logic (the science of logically connecting data into syllogisms to prove a proposition)
      (4) she is effectively uncritical (read: ‘gullible’) when confronted with statements she can use to support her predetermined position, and
      (5) therefore unlikely to accept contrary statements regardless of their veracity.
      She is evidently less interested in learning the truth than in being shown to be ‘right’.

  12. Thanks to Ron Arnold for exposing Oreske.

    However, perhaps the worse condemnation of a person and their work comes from those who they purport to support.

    Tom Wigley was a key figure in the entire AGW deception. He took over the Climatic research Unit at East Anglia and mentored those who later were central to the corruption exposed by the leaked emails. This occurred under Wigley’s replacement and student Phil Jones. He was also central in the deception about pre-industrial CO2 levels with a 1983 paper in “Climatic Change”.

    When you read all the emails you see he is the ‘grandfather’ figure they approach to resolve issues. He is the eminence gris behind the entire deception.

    Here is his pungent comment on Oreske.

    “Analyses like these by people who don’t know the field are useless. A good example is Naomi Oreskes work.”



    • “Analyses like these by people who don’t know the field are useless. A good example is Naomi Oreskes work.” by Tom Wigley.

      This should be quoted more frequently.

  13. Given what Ron wrote in his essay, it seems to me that Naomi Oreskes is a writer, not a reader.To write fiction, one doesn’t need to read anything. Factual writing takes a little research, unless it’s a 1st person descriptive narrative, and even then, Elizabeth Loftus might dispute the resulting account.
    It just occurred to me that Naomi Oreskes is probably on the short list of Science Advisors for Hillary Clinton. Oreskes is a Harvard prof whose science supports H. Clinton’s agenda, and Hillary would look absolutely stunning in press conferences featuring the two of them. (I am NOT poking fun at N. Oreskes looks. I will not do that. The pols are always looking for ways to boost the appeal of their image – especially Ms. Clinton – and so I think Oreskes would have a good shot at Science Advisor. I believe H. Clinton or her staff is that calculating that they’d pick a Malthusian CAGW cheerleader that makes the boss look good in every way.)

  14. Has anybody researched and published how deeply Greenpeace is involved in the misrepresentation of science and establishing and promoting the meme across the board that modern economy is antithetical to the health of the planet. After all it was fossil fuels that “saved the whale” not some bearded green loons For the sake of transparency it would also be nice to know from whence the $100’s of millions of dollars come from to fuel their anti human rants.

  15. Oreskes is obviously ugly as heck and lonely and bitter, she convinces women they are better off childless and on their own.

    She is a fringe nutbag who only has a following because she tacked her baggage onto “climate change” in order to be “relevant”.

  16. This hilarious analysis is from RealClimate

    At least three careful ice core studies have shown that CO2 starts to rise about 800 years (600-1000 years) after Antarctic temperature during glacial terminations. These terminations are pronounced warming periods that mark the ends of the ice ages that happen every 100,000 years or so.

    Does this prove that CO2 doesn’t cause global warming? The answer is no.

    The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend. The other 4200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data.

    Or, the other 4200 years of warming could, in fact, have been caused by the same unmentioned thing that caused the first 800 years of warming. And I believe Ockham’s razor would demand us to presume THAT over presuming some new facet of warming began 800 years later, and the original facet that caused the first 800 years then switched itself off.

    • When I’ve pointed out that in the last 5000 years there have been 3 warming periods that were even stronger than the current one.
      When I asked what caused these other warm periods, the activists universally admit that they don’t know. They then proclaim that it doesn’t matter because we know that CO2 is causing the current warming.
      And how do we know?
      Obviously, the models have proven it.

  17. She was trained at Harvard is the clue phrase. It takes training, intelligence, curiosity, and critical thinking to become educated.

    • That’s not helpful. It makes you sound like a jerk – I hope it was an anomaly.

  18. What was it they used to say in the old Soviet Union?

    The future is fixed, it’s the past that keeps changing.

    Oreskes is in good company.

  19. “Merchants of Doubt” was an attempt to explain the total lack of public interest in climate, by creating bogeymen promoting the malaise. This means that without public support, new territory has to be established by the environmental movement to implement authoritarian rules shoved on the people. We shall see how far they get before there is a reaction that will be unpleasant for them. Essentially, nothing interesting is going on with climate, the whole issue is irrelevant, and people know it. People don’t care about models and predictions. They react to reality. The reality is more of the same for the climate.

  20. “Research”?
    We don’t need no stinking research.
    Climatology thrives for lack of research.
    If the activists actually researched the material they would be out of work.
    Unprecedented warming,just like 3 other periods in our short temperature records.
    Unprecedented …weather just like grandma described…
    The “data” horrendously massaged, removes the medieval warm period and the roman era from historic temperatures..

    Naomi has to be incapable of research or she would not be printing the rubbish pedalled in her name.
    My understanding of history is what caused me to doubt the Al Gore BS, the examination of the science came second.
    Well I say”the science” but I must concede,science supporting the Consensus cause is mighty hard to find.
    When we finally shut down this mass hysteria,the study of our climate will probably have to be reset to the work of Hubert Lamb.

    • Lunatic. Her book Merchants of Doubt essentially claims three dead scientists (Seitz, Jastrow & Nierenberg) hypnotized tens of thousands of living scientists to doubt catastrophic man-made global warming. She should see a psychiatrist or an exorcist. Her ignorance of science and incompetence in history are minor issues compared to mental health.

  21. Here is a quote from Oreskes in a talk in Perth (oz) in 2012:

    “Denial of AGW,” apparently, “is not about the science and never has been about it. It is based on a faulty premise; that environmentalism is an enemy of free-market capitalism. We should not wait until it is too late to act and to solve the AGW problem.”

    (the bolding is mine)

    Well, no. Absolutely not. No. Totally failing to grasp reality. For this poor guy, burdened with a Ph.D. in geology, and growing up in a labour-voting family in UK, it’s ALL about the science. As it is for many of those who hang out at WUWT. (that is, pre-Blair labour of course)

    And for most of the right-wing contingent who base scepticism on a philosophical stance, I think it’s that political agendas dressed up as environmentalism are the enemy of free-market capitalism. They are also the enemy of democracy and any form of government and economy that has evolved in a democratic environment.

    It’s very clever, this way of setting up your enemies as straw men so you can knock them over, and it probably goes over well with the general public. It probably inoculates them against any kind of rebuttal of cli-sci factoids. Very clever. And very hard to counter with scientific arguments. That’s why these people are winning. They’ve managed to paint scientific debate as a thoughtcrime.

    The short article the quote came from (quite anti alarmist and a good 3-minute read) is here:

    I had come across her published work on the Olympic Dam copper-gold-uranium-rare-earth mine in South Australia before, and wondered how she managed to go from doing real science into being a professor of History of Science and a climate activist. BTW Olympic Dam is the largest underground mine in the world, with a total resource of about 9 billion tonnes; it has the largest single uranium resource and among the top three resources of both copper and gold. The rare earths are light and they mostly produce lanthanum. It’s also very enigmatic and its origin is a matter of debate. She also did some good work on the El Laco iron deposits in Chile, which are even more enigmatic than the Olympic Dam orebody.

    It’s just so hard to visualize someone who is obviously very bright and capable of doing real research, getting so taken in by what are obviously rather weak climate-science arguments. And it’s even harder to visualize it for geologists, who actually learned about the earth’s history; who can’t fail to be aware that the “climate” has been up and down like a toilet seat, especially during the current ice age (this point already made by others further up the thread). How do you convince yourself that natural climate change suddenly stopped in 1970?

    I think that I’m not so much angry at the betrayal of reason, as sad at the waste of an intellect.

  22. Appallingly, nobody in this parade of critics did any fact checking of the memos, not even historian Naomi Oreskes, which is a serious lapse for a historian.

    The fallacy named ‘the rakes progress’.

    Naomi hyperventilating.

  23. And can’t historical ‘scholarly’ articles be retracted? Surely something more than a blog post would seem appropriate.

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