Great Oreskes Lecture Updates State of Climate Change Denial

Polls show that between one-third and one-half of Americans still believe that there is “no solid” evidence of global warming, or that if warming is happening it can be attributed to natural variability. Others believe that scientists are still debating the point. Scientist and renowned historian Naomi Oreskes describes her investigation into the reasons for such widespread mistrust and misunderstanding of scientific consensus and probes the history of organized campaigns designed to create public doubt and confusion about science.

*Thanks JM for the tip.


ZOG, I’d be open to seeing something (anything, almost) from you or Paul S/G showing that Oreskes analysis is faulty, particularly wrt the disinformation campaign of Exxon being effective. And/or, I’d be happy to look at something you provide showing that she’s an extreme lefty looney who uses her credentials as cover. When others have denigrated Tim Ball’s contributions (usually with reference to his publication record and dates and specialization) as a scholar, you have put up a mild defense. Be fair and support your denigration of Oreskes – want to compare and contrast her record with Ball’s?

BTW, the whole point of my comment to which you responded was to say that $15 million is more than enough to ‘do propaganda’. Your comments regarding Oreskes (and Suzuki and Mann, for that matter), given that you think she’s wrong, suggest that you think it doesn’t take much money to affect public perceptions.

I should also point out that arguing from authority is perfectly acceptable in certain situations (as in, “because I am your mother & I say so!!!”, or when one person clearly has done the research and another has not - or won’t cite it openly).

The undeniable conclusion from Ms Oreskes’ historical timeline is that no one stepped up to deny the science until regulations were proposed. She quite correctly nails the whole denial machine as political ideology, not science – which is why neither Paul G/S nor anyone else is able to trot out a supportable shred of scientific evidence or research that contradicts the basic physics of GHGs. These folks at the Marshall Institute are latter-day McCarthy’s.

It is also interesting to me that she so precisely identifies the reason that trolls have taken to calling us left-wing whackos, commies, etc etc etc, and characterize the measures proposed to help third world and developing economies to convert to clean energy as a “socialist wealth re-distribution plot.” Fear of creeping communism, paranoia over increased government regulation – it all attracts people like our resident trolls who see conspiracies lurking behind every tree.

I didn’t notice anything in the lecture that promoted any political agenda at all, in spite of some rather hysterical claims to the contrary.

Fern Mackenzie

It matters little to me whether you take me seriously Steve.

Is spite of your claim, your only argument is to appeal to authority, which is why you can not tolerate the fact that I see the issue much differently.

Exxon has figuratively spent pennies on propaganda. Neither you, Oreskes, nor anyone else has shown how these “pennies” have magically been such potent propaganda.

Repeating the claim that Exxon is the main cause that 1/3 to 1/2 of the public is “confused” does not make it true. And no one here has ever published a valid study demonstrating it to be true.

The real “broken record” is the unsupported Exxon claims too many here regurgitate on a regular basis.

But you know what Paul? Oreskes doesn’t claim that it’s all down to Exxon. Money doesn’t enter into it. Just forget Exxon for the moment. Oreskes’ point is that political ideologues who are terrified of anything that smacks of socialism are the ones denying AGW, not scientists. It doesn’t take a lot of money to convince people just out of the Cold War that somebody is trying to subvert American sovereignty and impose a socialist world order. All you have to do is introduce a small shadow of a doubt, and then niggle away.

Fern Mackenzie

Now you’re simply changing the goalposts Femack.

It doesn’t take a lot of money to convince people just out of the Cold War that somebody is trying to subvert American sovereignty and impose a socialist world order. All you have to do is introduce a small shadow of a doubt, and then niggle away.

Yeah? Says you? Says Oreskes? Based on what?

Oreskes does the tired old dance of trotting out Exxon, the Marshall Institute, Singer and second hand smoke and concludes this has paralyzed the American public. No solid data, no solid research, nothing backs up her contentions.

And exactly what backs up yours?

Fern Mackenzie

You’re changing the goalposts again Femack.

Oreskes and plenty of others have made the claim that Exxon has had a large effect on public attitudes regarding AGW. It is up to her, and others to provide evidence for their assertion.

Endlessly chanting the mantra that Exxon is responsible does not make it true.

My views on the matter are informed (I believe) by common sense. Massive amounts (in the tens of billions at least) are spent on advertising in North America every year. Yet Oreskes and others want us to magically believe that a few million dollars a year from Exxon somehow has a massive effect on the public’s attitudes towards AGW.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. We are constantly immersed in advertising, news, and opinions. Exxon’s literal pennies is not even a drop in the bucket in the tidal wave of information we the public are subjected to every year.

So where is the statistical evidence backing up your beliefs Femack? And please, no hand waving mumbo jumbo.

The lecture does not claim that Exxon is solely responsible. Dr Oreskes points out that the people who have been generating some of the most basic and most repeated anti-AGW PR are free-market right wingers (ie, anti-socialists). There’s a willing audience for that message in the US. Should this come as any surprise? It doesn’t to me. Admitting that AGW is something that we have to deal with cooperatively as a planet undermines the whole laissez-faire philosophy. This is completely unacceptable to republican ideology.

Whether Exxon has paid for the confusion or not isn’t really the issue. Just look at who gains from addressing AGW and who gains from ignoring it. It’s that simple.

Fern Mackenzie

My name is Fern Mackenzie. Please address me accordingly.

And you are …?

Paul S/G have you ever seen the infamous API memo where the oil industry outlined exactly how they were going to change the public’s perception of AGW?

You should read it then you might stop making your stupid erroneous statements. You just show how ignorant of the whole area you are with the nonsense you post on this and other blogs.

The only thing that didn’t work out for the oil industry was that they had to spend a bit more money than they originally budgeted. It’s because of idiots like you spreading your incestuous lies and misinformation for nothing that makes it so cheap for Exxon et al.

You should bill them on a per word basis (note I didn’t say on a per fact basis since you would still get nothing).

The memo can be found at:

Ian Forrester

That’s it? One memo?

Really, that’s it Ian?

Again, that is not evidence that the oil industry actually was able to dramatically influence public attitudes on AGW.

So you’re saying the oil industry spent a few more pennies attempting to influence public opinion. That still does not support your contention in any manner that the oil industry actually accomplished this.

If this whole Exxon thing was a court case, the judges and lawyers involved would be rolling on the floor laughing about now. The jury would be in hysterics too.

Why don’t you look in a mirror and describe what you see? You are a disgusting person who is helping put millions of peoples’ lives at risk. Does that make you feel proud and important?

Good grief you, ZOG and ROB are the most worthless people I have ever had to deal with. No wonder you hide your identities. You must be embarrassed to let people know who you really are. Why not step out of the closet so we can all get a good laugh because you are just a laughing stock compared to the people you denigrate with your insults and put downs.

Ian Forrester

Paul S/G please read up on what an ad hominem comment is. I have just told everyone that you are one despicable person for your insulting behaviour on this blog. That does not constitute an ad hom comment.

I keep hoping that you will wake up one day and repent but I think that I might have to wait a long time.

People like you never behave in a proper manner because you were never taught how to behave in public when you were young. Is that why you hide your identity, frightened that friends and family will see what a disgusting person you are?

Now there were no ad homs there only a truthful description of your behaviour. If you get fed up being told what a disgusting person you are you know exactly what to do to prevent it, GROW UP.

Ian Forrester

Is that why you hide your identity, frightened that friends and family will see what a disgusting person you are?

How can I take you seriously when you have such a glaring spelling error in your post? Get a dictionary!

Paul, for the nth time, please just simply provide some support for your assertion that it takes more money. You told me before that it’s only in this little corner of the blogosphere that people believe the kind of thing that Oreskes says. Help break the chains of my ignorance and provide a freaking link.

I’m still waiting for a freakin’ link demonstrating how a few million bucks a year (less then a penny per citizen per year) can so dramatically influence public opinion. It’s never been provided, proven or documented.

Since Oreskes and others here and elsewhere make their Exxon assertions solely based on their opinions, that is how I am responding also. My opinions on the matter however, are logical and common sensical.

Paul G/S, this is the first time in a long time that you’ve said something new. (Small celebration.) You now seem to admit that there is a conventional wisdom on this issue, but assert that it’s not based on anything. If you really are open-minded about this, I can try to dig up something for you. Shall I try to cost out the fur/blood commercials (‘I’d rather be naked than wear fur’, etc)? Should I look into the history on tobacco literature to find evidence of the effect of tobacco’s misinformation campaign? How much was spent telling people that getting circumsized could help prevent AIDS? How much did the movie Bambi cost, or the Disney film of lemmings jumping off a cliff? How much did it cost to bring a killer whale into captivity? How much did Jaws cost? Or Lomborg’s book? How much did it cost to send Colin Powell in front of the UN to lie about US intelligence? How much did it cost to delete the truth? How much does swiftboating cost or how much did Kerry’s purple hearts cost? How much does a rewrite of the bible cost, or a translation of another text into English? How much did the US Dept of Interior pay Woody Guthrie to help them get dust bowlers to move out West? Would any of these be convincing for you? Give me a hint of what would convince you. I don’t want to link to pictures showing the Earth is round just so you’ll say those photos are fake.

is off to you. Keep the faith.

And before all of you trolls out there take that for confirmation that acceptance of the evidence for AGW is some kind of religious faith, follow the science

Fern Mackenzie

I mean what I just wrote. But I’m curious about something: you’re unimpressed with the Oreskes lecture but it didn’t cost much (far less than a penny per person), so what’s bugging you about it? It couldn’t possibly have an effect, right? For that matter, why are you responding at all? You’re writing for free (0 cents per citizen) so you can’t possibly have a chance of changing anyone’s mind.

What are you getting at Steve? Oreskes appears hung up on the Marshall Institute, Fred Singer, and second hand smoke. Why?

To me, she is simply recounting the hoary urban legend about Exxon’s trail of pennies and their black magic like effect on public opinion. No evidence is ever offered (except for the trail of pennies) to support this belief of hers and others.

So why does a highly educated person such as Oreskes continue propagating this myth?

What I’m getting at is that you should have little motivation to complain about Oreskes (given that her efforts are poorly funded relative to your chosen scale) and even less motivation to comment since you’re completely unfunded (right?). That’s not complicated. It follows rather simply from your stated position. You think it’s silly of people to complain about ‘cheap’ Exxon et al’s propaganda efforts; yet here you spend a lot of time complaining about someone else (Desmog or Oreskes) propagating ‘a myth’ despite it costing significantly less than $15 million. Seems hypocritical of you.

As for why Oreskes does what she does I can think of two scenarios. First, she agrees with you that you can’t change public perceptions unless you spend ($15 million times … a lot?), so she thinks it is a myth. If this is true then why would she ‘propagate this myth’ given that her funding is less. She should also realise that she is impotent to ‘propagate this myth’. So that’s probably not true. On the other hand, there’s the obvious explanation that she believes she’s right.

Give an example of propaganda that was well-enough funded to have an effect, Paul. Then we can cost it out per citizen.

The “amount spent of propaganda” is figuratively speaking, mere pennies. About enough for 3 minutes of Super Bowl ads.

Oreskes simply regurgitates the urban myth that the pennies spent by Exxon on “propaganda” have a black magic effect of confusing tens, if not hundreds of millions of people. No research or study of any credibility is cited by her.

She trots out the dead horse of second hand smoke in a grand effort at hand waving but fails miserably with that example too.

The only “broken record” is those endlessly chanting this hoary olde shibboleth in the hope that repetition might make it true.

I don’t recall Oreskes spending any time at all talking about Exxon or money. She does, however, speak for the first half of her lecture about the decades of research that support the science of AGW. She cites specific sources and research, contrary to your claim that she cites “No research or study of any credibility.” She spends the second half of the lecture talking about the ideological basis of denial in anti-communism during the cold war period.

Did you even listen to the lecture?

Fern Mackenzie

The money was not used on Super Bowl ads, nor was it spread out amongst the citizens of the United States.
It was/is PR money.
$15 million could send Singer on quite a speaking tour I would say…
It could also sponsor a huge amount of astroturfing…mmm?

Incidentally, the dead from second hand smoke are not horses…they are called people.

Paul G/S never really deals with the fact that Orskes traces the source of the denial machine not back to Exxon but to a think tank established to support the SDI – people ideologically driven to oppose government regulation and intervention in free enterprise, perceived to be “creeping socialism”. This is why the same people have been involved in denying the harmful effects of tobacco, CFC’s etc., and now AGW. They are preying on the fears of the Cold War generation that the commies haven’t really gone away, and are working to acheive their ends through the UN.

A world-wide conspiracy to enslave the USA in some kind of socialist world order under the UN (after all, the IPCC is a UN organization!) is more plausible to them than the possibility that thousands of scientists who have been researching global warming for decades – a century – might actually be right. Now THAT’s goofy.

Fern Mackenzie

The irony is, the more they delay progress by fighting this “commie threat”, the more likely there will be government regulation and intervention to combat the results of Climate Change.

Mother Earth is not paying the least bit of attention these people!

1) As a reminder, Naomi did a BSc at Royal School of Mines of Imperial College (often considered the M.I.T. of UK), followed by a Geosciences/History of Science PhD at Stanford.

At the risk of stating the obvious (there are clearly some ignoranti babbling here) both of these are topnotch schools, both are especially well-known for close ties to business and government, and dummies and left-wing kooks are not particularly in evidence. In any case, Naomi is neither.

You can see Naomi’s profile:

2) Naomi has long had an interest in scientific controversies; I enjoyed her book “The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and method in American Earth Science,” which discussed a real, long-running controversy, and was meticulously researched.

3) She got interested in the current topic of her talk, because:

a) She did a AAAS invited talk on how we know about climate change, which led to the the famous 2004 paper on consensus. Originally, when she and her students looked at the abstracts, they expected to find more real arguments early, and less later [i.e., akin to the arguments over plate tectonics, which lasted decades], and were then a bit surprised to find that in science, the argument was already over in 1993.

b) However, that paper made her “The Wicked With of the West” in certain people’s eyes, and they started attacking her professionally and sometimes even personally, but as usual, not by publishing credible counter-arguments but via blogs and sometimes threatening letters. Search Singer’s SEPP blog for Oreskes, for example. The latest was the laughable Monckton / Schulte / Ferguson / Morano attack discussed earlier here.

c) All this had gotten her interested in why the public perception of scientific controversy so mismatched the reality in science, (because the strength of mismatch is relatively rare in the history of science) and she got interested (as a historian) in backtracking where denialism came from. Some very interesting material led to George C. Marshall Insitute and its history & offshoots, and it is *clear* that this got started for ideology, not for ExxonMobil, but people later picked up funding wherever they could, including ExxonMobil.

4) I heard an earlier version of this talk at Stanford about a year ago, which had much less material on climate science history [it was for an audience of climate scientists, after all], and much more on the George C. Marshall Institute. Beyond that, I can say:

- she has a *lot* more material
- and it is very carefully researched
- so, the video is the tip of the iceberg

Richard -

Nice. The Oreskes video is a very informative and worth watching!

Here is the Revelle piece she mentions in Time magazine-
May 28, 1956 time/ magazine/ article/ 0,9171,937403,00.html

A link to the her presentation at UCSD - The American Denial of Global Warming