Academic Slams Activist For Using Dodgy Science To Clobber Exxon

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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An expert in content analysis slammed academic Naomi Oreskes Thursday for using sketchy and biased methods to show ExxonMobil purposely misled people about climate change.

Oreskes relied on a series of invalid research methods to determine Exxon used ads to cast doubt on climate change, according to Kimberly Neuendorf, a researcher at Cleveland State University with 40 years’ experience conducting content analysis. She created the research method Oreskes used for her analysis, which Neuendorf believes was not performed to her specifications.

“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 in an analysis of Oreskes’ report showing Exxon used advertisements to gloss over internal records on global warming.

Oreskes, a professor of history at Harvard University, published the analysis in August 2017, which received favorable coverage from Reuters and The New York Times, among several dozen other outlets. Some outlets slowly began taking notice of several significant problems with the methods and tools Oreskes and her colleague, Geoffrey Supran, used to draw her conclusion.

Energy in Depth’s Spencer Walrath, for one, reviewed the ads Oreskes’ used in her research, all of which appeared in TheNYT throughout the 1990s, and found that more than 90 percent of them acknowledge that climate change was caused in part by human action. Bloomberg posed similar questions about their research.


Walrath, whose research group lobbies on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, also found that the ads cited in their report were predominantly from Mobil before the company merged with Exxon in 1999, meaning Oreskes and Supran compared the research of one company with the advertorials of another.

They relied on 36 advertorials published between 1989 and 2004, Walrath noted. He noted that Exxon was formed in late 1999, nearly a decade after the first advertorial was published. Only 11 of the 36 advertorials belonged to ExxonMobil, while the other 25 were exclusively published before the merger.

Neuendorf, who was paid by Exxon for her content analysis, made similar observations – but she suggested that Oreskes was not an objective enough in her research to make any sound judgements.

“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 that 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 said.

Tweets espousing anti-oil and environmentalist sentiment are the least of their academic transgressions. Both Oreskes and Supran have a long history of supporting an attorney general-led crusade against Exxon.


In fact, TheNYT cited in May 2016 that Oreskes was one of the original architects of the anti-Exxon campaign, which officially kicked-off during a climate conference in California in 2012. Attorney Generals Eric Schneiderman of New York and Maura Healey of Massachusetts have been at the forefront of the attorneys general-led crusade to bring Exxon to heel.

Oreskes has been described as an anti-oil acolyte, however, Neuendorf’s colleagues generally agreed that her academic pedigree is beyond reproach and void of political bias.

Tom Johnson, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, for instance, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Neuendorf is one of the preeminent scholars in the field document analysis.

“She literally wrote the book on content analysis and has an invaluable website connected to the page,” Johnson said without weighing in on the report she conducted for Exxon. “She has conducted numerous content analyses. I would put her among the top three trusted sources on this topic.”

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