One of the chief academics behind a climate campaign targeting ExxonMobil failed to mention substantive critiques of his research on the company while testifying to a human rights group in the Philippines.
Geoffrey Supran, an academic who co-authored a Harvard study in 2017 accusing Exxon of duping people about global warming, told a Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights panel in August about the company’s “ecosystem of influence.” He had an opportunity during his hour-long testimony to disclose research poking holes in his theory, but he stayed mum.
Members of the commission questioned Supran about elements of his presentation, with Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana asking, “What has Exxon said about your research. Did they comment on it?” His response was brief and to the point: “To my knowledge, they [ExxonMobil] have published two statements criticizing my work.”
Supran neglected to mention Prof. Kimberly Neuendorf’s withering criticisms of his work. He and lead researcher Naomi Oreskes relied on a series of invalid research methods to determine Exxon used ads to cast doubt on climate change, according to Neuendorf, a researcher at Cleveland State University with 40 years’ experience conducting content analysis
She created the research method Oreskes and Supran used for their analysis, which Neuendorf believes was not performed to the correct specifications. The ads Supran cited in his 2017 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.
Both Oreskes and Supran relied on 36 advertorials published between 1989 and 2004, according to researcher from Energy in Depth’s Spencer Walrath, who also 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 mirrored Walrath’s findings in an analysis of Oreskes’ work. “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 in March, adding that Oreskes and Supran violated that tenet when they used themselves as coders. (RELATED: Academic Slams Activist For Using Dodgy Science To Clobber Exxon)
“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. Supran’s decision not to disclose this material information could have ramifications for Exxon.
The commission is a semi-legal entity that can determine whether fossil fuel companies are responsible for climate impacts that violate Filipinos’ basic rights to life, water, food, sanitation, adequate housing and self-determination. Commissioners can’t impose financial penalties or send people to jail, but their determinations can lead to tougher regulations or put pressure on companies to cut their emissions and move away from extracting, selling and using fossil fuels.
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