ExxonMobil’s bid to discredit researchers who’ve documented the colossal fossil’s massive efforts to foster climate denial and confusion has only ended up confirming the original critique, authors Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes argue in a recent commentary in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
“Thanks in part to his feedback, we can now conclude with even greater confidence that Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil Corporation have all, variously, misled the public,” they write, referring to the pushback they’ve received from ExxonMobil Vice President Vijay Swarup. “By the early 1980s, more than a decade before Mobil launched a vast advertising campaign to attack climate science and its implications, they were already explicitly aware of the potential for their products to cause dangerous global warming.”
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Swarup’s response was also based in part on content provided by a hired researcher, but fails to disclose that connection, Supran and Oreskes add. “This is a case in point of what we argue is misleading behaviour documented in our original study.”
The two researchers recap and respond to Swarup’s comments, beginning with his claim that their analysis “assessed only a small subset of available advertorials” produced by Mobil or ExxonMobil. They respond that only a small subset of the material was actually relevant to their study, since only about 4% of the companies’ total advertorial content dealt with anthropogenic global warming. After they published their study, Supran and Oreskes say they became aware of additional material, including ads that Swarup had flagged. The results of that review “strengthen our original finding: we now conclude with even greater confidence that Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil Corp. misled the public.”
And when Swarup refers to a critique of the original study by Cleveland State University communications professor Kimberly Neuendorf, he fails to disclose that ExxonMobil commissioned the “white paper”, and it was never subject to peer review. “In that sense, it is a clear example of a product defence strategy,” they write. “ExxonMobil Corp. has subsequently used Neuendorf’s report to falsely claim in a private memo to Members of European Parliament that our work has been refuted. They have made the same false claim in press releases and as part of a three-year, ongoing social media campaign.”
Through it all, “Swarup does not deny that Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil Corp. all variously had early knowledge that their products have the potential to cause dangerous global warming,” Supran and Oreskes add. “Nor does he deny that, simultaneously and/or subsequently, Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil Corp. all variously promoted doubt about climate science and its implications in order to delay action. In fact, Swarup does not challenge any of our findings about the 187 documents analyzed in our original study.”
The colossal fossil “cannot challenge these observations,” they say, “because they are verified by thousands of pages of documented evidence.”