Exposed: Harvard Study Omitted Evidence to Allege ExxonMobil ‘Misled’ Public on Climate
A recent report from Harvard researchers accusing ExxonMobil of misleading the public on climate change was based on an incomplete sampling of data collected by Greenpeace, according to a review by Energy In Depth. The Harvard report accused the company of producing research that affirmed human contributions to climate change, and then using newspaper advertorials to deny or sow doubt around climate-related science.
The study’s authors, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, announced the findings of their study in a column in the New York Times, in which they claimed that “81 percent of [ExxonMobil’s] climate change advertorials in one way or another expressed doubt.” The advertorials were taken from a database compiled and maintained by Greenpeace, an anti-fossil fuel group with its own anti-Exxon campaign. Critically, we found that this database omits dozens of climate-related advertorials run by the company that, had they been counted by Oreskes and Supran, would have severely weakened their case.
EID’s own review of the company’s New York Times advertorials reveals a dramatically different picture than what the Harvard authors claim to have found. EID’s random sample of the company’s relevant advertorials shows that the overwhelming majority – greater than 90 percent – affirm or otherwise strongly point to the fact that global warming is happening and humans are contributing to it.
EID’s review further shows that the researchers mischaracterized several advertorials as sowing doubt on climate science, even though the spots themselves described how the company planned to manage risks associated with climate change.
The Supran/Oreskes study concluded that ExxonMobil’s internal documents and research on climate change, “published from 1977 to 2014, were in line with the scientific thinking of the time.” Where they fault the company is in its communications to the public, which they claim sought to sow doubt about the existence of climate change 80 percent of the time.
But their sample of public documents is small – 36 “advertorials” published in the New York Times between 1989 and 2004. According to Supran, “These are op-ed styled advertisements that the company took out for 29 years, every Thursday in the bottom right corner of the op-ed page of the New York Times.”
But there are a number of problems with this. The first and most obvious: ExxonMobil was formed in late 1999, 10 years after the earliest of the advertorials referenced by the study was published. In fact, of the 36 advertorials rated by Supran and Oreskes, only 11 belonged to ExxonMobil – the other 25 were published by Mobil (a different company from Exxon, remember) before the merger. Remove the Mobil submissions from the mix, and the universe of applicable advertorials is reduced by a 70 percent.
Indeed, study author Geoffrey Supran even misled reporters when he said a 1997 Mobil advertorial, one that strongly questioned the certainty of climate change, was written by Exxon – even though the advertorial prominently features Mobil’s logo and makes no mention of Exxon.
Read the entire article by Spencer Walrath at Energy in Depth, it’s quite a detailed analysis and well worth your time.