Naomi Oreskes: 2011 Climate Change Communicator of the Year

It is a great pleasure and honor to nominate Dr. Naomi Oreskes for the award of 2011 Climate Change Communicator of the Year from the Center for Climate Change Communication. We have known Dr. Oreskes for a number of years, and she is one of the elite communicators on this very important topic. We are confident that she is eminently qualified for this award.

Dr. Oreskes has had a history of communicating the science and the history of climate change to the general public. She has also demonstrated a deep grasp of the scientific basis for findings of a “discernible human influence” on global climate. Dr. Oreskes is uniquely positioned as a science communicator given her understanding of both the physical processes which are in action in the changing climate system, and the historical evolution of the scientific, political, social, and economic narratives in which climate change research is embedded.

While Dr. Oreskes has long been an effective communicator, this year marked a unique increase in her activities. She was lead author on a seminal book entitled Merchants of Doubt, which disclosed how a small number of scientists worked at the behest of industrial partners to delay social action on smoking, acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change. In a fascinating detective story, she was able to identify a common “playbook” of messaging – and messengers – that resurfaced continuously in the U.S. as these four issues received political and public attention. After publication of Merchants of Doubt, Dr. Oreskes launched a very effective communications tour, which included speaking engagements around the world. Through her work, she has made clear to a wide audience that a relatively small organization of powerful individuals and corporations has effectively disseminated doubt (rather than knowledge) in pursuit of their own ideological agenda. The impact of Dr. Oreskes’s work cannot be overestimated.

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Oreskes’s efforts have led to the defense of her colleagues in the face of fierce opposition from non-academic sources. Dr. Oreskes’s chronicles have clearly articulated the tribulations that one of us (Ben Santer) underwent in the late 1990s in connection with his work as an author of the IPCC Second Assessment report. She also defended the other nominator (John Abraham) against sharp and personal attacks this past year.

In summary, working climate scientists have come to view Dr. Oreskes as their champion. Her fearless work – often performed in the face of threats of legal action – has helped to expose the non-scientific pressures climate scientists have encountered during the course of their research. Her courage and persistence in communicating climate science to the wider public have made her a living legend amongst her colleagues. While we are uncomfortable using such strong language to describe a colleague, it is fully warranted in this case. We have no reservations in providing our strongest support for this nomination, for a colleague who exhausts superlatives.

Nominated by:

Dr. John Abraham
University of St. Thomas Lawrence

Dr. Benjamin Santer
Livermore National Laboratory

Naomi Oreskes (2nd Nomination)

I am pleased to nominate science historian and author Naomi Oreskes for the 2011 “Climate Change Communicator of the Year” award from the George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Dr. Oreskes has demonstrated a unique ability to bridge the communications gaps that frequently inhibit effective exchanges among the climate science, climate policy, and lay public communities. Oreskes is a co-author of the 2010 book, “Merchants of Doubt,” characterized by the Christian Science Monitor as “exhaustively researched and documented.” The June 2010 CSM review added that this “might be one of the most important books of the year.”

Even prior to writing “Merchants” with co-author Eric Conway, Oreskes broke important new ground in climate science research and understanding by analyzing hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject. She found that none of these articles contested the established scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change acknowledged by the international science community, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and organizations such as the U.S.’s National Academy of Sciences and its international counterparts.

Particularly deserving of mention in the context of the George Mason “4C” award is Oreskes’s commitment to carrying her message beyond the confines of her professional academic and scientific peers and into the broader community. A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, Oreskes has delivered expert testimony to national bodies such as the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, and also to state bodies such as the California State Senate’s Select Committee on Government Oversight.

But it is perhaps her extensive experience in mass media presentations that most establishes her qualifications for the “4C” award as climate change communicator of the year. This list could go on for some time, but her interaction with the press has included:

  • WGBH Television
  • Voice of America
  • Hawaii Public Radio
  • Wisconsin Public Radio
  • BBC World Service
  • KPBS radio, San Diego
  • WNYC Radio
  • The Bob Edwards Radio, Satellite Radio

In addition, Dr. Oreskes’ historical studies of climate science have been widely cited in major print media outlets, such as The Economist, The New Yorker, USA Today, Parade, The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Scientist, United Press International, Politiken (Copenhagen), Corriere della Sera (Italy), The Irish Times, Reuters, and The Guardian and The Times (both London). Former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, in his full-length documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth,” also pointed to Oreskes’ research. Her “American Denial of Global Warming” YouTube video has received more than 180,000 views, and she has recorded numerous podcasts with journalists and others, further illustrating her comfort in working with “new media,” an important criterion for selection.

Naomi Oreskes will make an outstanding award winner for the George Mason “4C” program. I hope she will get serious recognition for an award she so richly deserves.

Nominated by:
Sunshine Menezes, Ph.D., Executive Director, Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting
Graduate School of Oceanography,
University of Rhode Island