‘Doubt Mongering’: Academic Whines After Experts Thrash His Anti-Oil Research

Chris White | Energy Reporter

An academic known for espousing anti-oil sentiment complained after researchers tore apart a report he published in February, supposedly proving ExxonMobil hid climate change knowledge.

Exxon is using “expert-for-hire doubt mongering” to refute evidence showing the company spent decades hiding global warming information, according to Geoffrey Supran, who co-wrote an analysis of the oil producer’s climate record. He was responding to one of the world’s foremost content analysis experts who thrashed his work for being unreliable and bias.

“We fully stand by our conclusions,” he told Law360 reporters in an interview earlier this month. Exxon advertisements from years ago downplayed the effect global warming has on the company’s financials, Supran and Harvard University History Professor Naomi Oreskes claimed in August.

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Oreskes relied on a series of invalid research methods to determine Exxon used ads to cast doubt on climate change, Cleveland State University researcher Kimberly Neuendorf, who has 40 years’ experience conducting content analysis, said in a March 1 report critiquing Supran’s work.

“In light of these significant errors and omissions, the conclusions reached by S&O are not sound and should not be relied upon,” Neuendorf wrote of Oreskes’ report showing Exxon used advertisements to gloss over internal records on global warming. She also criticized the two academics for not maintaining a degree of objectivity in their analysis.

“To maintain objectivity, content analysis coding ought to be conducted by coders who are at arm’s-length with regard to the research,” she noted, adding Oreskes and Supran violated that tenet when they used themselves as coders.

“Their prior statements about climate change and Exxon Mobil Corporation (including Oreskes’ (2015b) tweet, ‘Did Exxon deliberately mislead the public on climate change? Hello. Of course they did!’) reveal biases against ExxonMobil,” Neuendorf added. Her colleagues rave about her objective look at the data, even though Exxon in part funded the bulk of her analysis.

Oreskes analysis initially received favorable coverage from Reuters and The New York Times, among several other outlets. Some media slowly began taking notice of several significant problems with the methods and tools Oreskes and colleague Geoffrey Supran used to draw her conclusion.

Exxon referenced Neuendorf’s critique during a court hearing earlier this month, addressing lawsuits Oakland, San Francisco and other California cities leveled against the company’s climate record.

“Naomi Oreskes … had long been maligning the speech of Texas’s energy sector as deceptive and has published a so-called study of ExxonMobil’s Texas-based speech that purports to confirm its misleading nature,” Exxon’s Texas state court filing said. “That ‘study’ was later unmasked as a biased, results-driven endeavor to provide the patina of academic legitimacy to a corrupt enterprise.”

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