Who Are Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran?
Naomi Oreskes is a professor at Harvard University, and has long been involved in the broader activist campaign to prosecute oil companies for alleged climate fraud, particularly under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. She’s the author of Merchants of Doubt, a book published in 2010 that alleges the oil and gas industry sought to undermine and discredit the science of climate change. Oreskes was also responsible for helping Rick Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) write articles intended for academic journals that would attribute GHGs and climate impacts to specific companies. Oreskes also sits on the board of CAI, which organized the now infamous 2012 La Jolla Conference with the Union of Concerned Scientists, where participants strategized how Congress, state attorneys general and private attorneys could link energy companies to the tobacco industry and prosecute them under state or federal law. The New York Times credits Oreskes with conceiving the conference.
Geoffrey Supran is a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, working alongside Naomi Oreskes. Supran is a leader in the fossil fuel divestment movement and helped organize a campaign to push the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to stop accepting funding from ExxonMobil. Supran has openly declared his anti-ExxonMobil bias, including his hope that someone “engineers Exxon out of business.” Supran, along with Oreskes, signed on to amicus briefs filed to advocate on behalf of the municipalities suing fossil fuel companies for climate change. Supran has also served as an “expert witness” for the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights where he testified on his research into ExxonMobil’s climate science and speech, during which he omitted key facts about the expert criticism his work has received. In March 2019, Supran testified on that same research before the European Union Parliament. In April 2015, he penned an op-ed in The Guardian pushing for MIT and other universities to cut financial ties with fossil fuel companies. As a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Supran sat on the school’s climate advisory committee, which unsuccessfully called on the university to address alleged disinformation by fossil fuel companies about climate change. He proclaims that, during his time as a student at MIT, he “co-led” the fossil fuel divestment movement as a part of Fossil Free MIT, and organized a divestment sit-in lasting 116 days.
Errors in the Oreskes/Supran ‘Climate Change Communications’ Report
In 2017, Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran co-authored Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977-2014), a study that alleged ExxonMobil misled the public on climate change. The paper accused ExxonMobil of producing research that affirmed human contributions to climate change, but subsequently published newspaper advertorials in the New York Times that denied or sowed doubt around that same climate-related science. Oreskes and Supran announced their findings 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.”
An EID review of the advertorials found that the Harvard researchers frequently graded statements acknowledging climate change as “doubt” and confused ExxonMobil’s opposition to specific climate policies with a rejection of climate science in general. For example, in a 2001 advertorial, ExxonMobil wrote about “the growing recognition that most governments cannot meet the politically chosen [Kyoto] targets without resorting to economy-wrecking measures.” Oreskes and Supran graded that statement as expressing doubt about man-made global warming, even though it makes no mention of climate science and was merely establishing a position on a proposed policy based on economic costs.