Feldzug des Rockefeller Family Fund gegen ExxonMobil: Ganz sicher kein Interessenskonflikt?

Eine Klimaklagewelle schwappt über den Globus. Unter anderem werfen Aktivisten der Firma ExxonMobil vor, über die Gefahren des Klimawandels getäuscht zu haben. Wenn es um Klimaaktivismus geht, ist Naomi Oreskes stets ganz vorne mit dabei. Mit religiösem Eifer versucht sie für die Alarmseite zu punkten. So publizierte sie im August 2017 zusammen mit Geoffrey Supran eine Attacke gegen ExxonMobil, und zwar nicht einfach in irgendeinem Blog, sondern getarnt als akademischer Artikel im Fachblatt Environmental Research Letters:

Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014)
This paper assesses whether ExxonMobil Corporation has in the past misled the general public about climate change. We present an empirical document-by-document textual content analysis and comparison of 187 climate change communications from ExxonMobil, including peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications, internal company documents, and paid, editorial-style advertisements (‘advertorials’) in The New York Times. We examine whether these communications sent consistent messages about the state of climate science and its implications—specifically, we compare their positions on climate change as real, human-caused, serious, and solvable. In all four cases, we find that as documents become more publicly accessible, they increasingly communicate doubt. This discrepancy is most pronounced between advertorials and all other documents. For example, accounting for expressions of reasonable doubt, 83% of peer-reviewed papers and 80% of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12% of advertorials do so, with 81% instead expressing doubt. We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science—by way of its scientists’ academic publications—but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public. Our content analysis also examines ExxonMobil’s discussion of the risks of stranded fossil fuel assets. We find the topic discussed and sometimes quantified in 24 documents of various types, but absent from advertorials. Finally, based on the available documents, we outline ExxonMobil’s strategic approach to climate change research and communication, which helps to contextualize our findings.

Der Artikel erschien im Open Access-Format, kann also kostenfrei als pdf heruntergeladen werden. Die Publikationsgebühr muss also irgendjemand bezahlt haben. Wir schauen dazu in die Acknowledgements:

This research was supported by Harvard University Faculty Development Funds and by the Rockefeller Family Fund. The authors have no other relevant financial ties and declare no conflicts of interest.

Ein Teil des Geldes für Studie und/oder Publikationsgebühr stammt vom Rockefeller Family Fund. Die Rockefellers sind ursprünglich durch Öl zu Milliardären geworden. Die Nachkommen haben eine 180-Gradwende hingelegt und kämpfen nun als Aktivisten gegen die fossilen Energieträger. Psychologisch ein interessanter Fall. Die Autoren erklären zudem, sie hätten keine Interessenskonflikte. Nun ja, das ist schwer zu glauben, hat sich Oreskes doch voll und ganz der grünen Aktivistenlinie verschrieben.

Wäre das Paper in einem Journal der Nature-Gruppe erschienen, wäre diese Erklärung sicher angefochten worden. Die Nature Fachpublikationsgruppe hat nämlich die ethischen Daumenschrauben etwas fester angezogen. Autoren von Fachartikeln müssen nun noch genauer ihre persönlichen Verflechungen angeben:

Nature journals tighten rules on non-financial conflicts

Authors will be asked to declare any interests that might cloud objectivity.

What makes a conflict of interest in science? Definitions differ, but broadly agree on one thing: an influence that can cloud a researcher’s objectivity. For some people, that influence can be money. But there are other influences that can interfere, such as institutional loyalty, personal beliefs and ambition.

Nature and the other Nature Research journals (including the Nature research and reviews journals, Nature Communications, Scientific Reports, Scientific Data, the Nature Partner Journals and the Communications journals) are taking into account some of these non-financial sources of possible tension and conflict. From February, authors of research articles, reviews, commentaries and research analyses will be asked (and expected) to disclose them (see go.nature.com/2ddg12z).

Weiterlesen auf nature.com.

Was gehört alles dazu? Nature erläutert dies auf einer gesonderten Webseite explizit:

For the purposes of this policy, competing interests are defined as financial and non-financial interests that could directly undermine, or be perceived to undermine the objectivity, integrity and value of a publication, through a potential influence on the judgements and actions of authors with regard to objective data presentation, analysis and interpretation.

[...] Non-financial competing interests:

Non-financial competing interests can take different forms, including personal or professional relations with organizations and individuals. We would encourage authors and referees to declare any unpaid roles or relationships that might have a bearing on the publication process. Examples of non-financial competing interests include (but are not limited to):

  • Unpaid membership in a government or non-governmental organization
  • Unpaid membership in an advocacy or lobbying organization
  • Unpaid advisory position in a commercial organization
  • Writing or consulting for an educational company
  • Acting as an expert witness

Unter dem Hintergrund von Oreskes langjähriger Aktivistenrolle muss man schon etwas schmunzeln, dass sie eigene Interessenskonflikte ausschließt. Natürlich ist auch ExxonMobil diese Diskrepanz nicht verborgen geblieben. Im Jahr 2017 schrieb die Firma an die New York Times, nachdem dort ein Beitrag von Supran und Oreskes erschienen war:

To the editor:

In an opinion piece describing a biased and inaccurate study on ExxonMobil’s history of climate research (“What ExxonMobil Didn’t Say About Climate Change,” August 23, 2017), Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran allege that ExxonMobil executives conspired to mislead the public. The authors know a thing or two about misleading readers – both about the nature of our communications and by failing to disclose their own conflicts of interest. Ms. Oreskes has helped orchestrate a concerted, five-year effort by a group of activists to attack the company’s reputation, and Mr. Supran has a long involvement in the anti-fossil fuel movement. Don’t take our word for it. The New York Times exposed the anti-Exxon effort in several articles last year that outlined agenda items for this group’s meetings, including “establish[ing] in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm,” and discussing ways “to delegitimize [ExxonMobil] as a political actor.”

The study – and the campaign against our company – has been paid for by the Rockefeller Family Fund, whose president, David Kaiser, acknowledged in an NPR interview that he wants the company to pay billions in reparations. Let me be clear. Our statements about the risk of climate change have always been consistent with our understanding of climate science. Period. In their study, Ms. Oreskes and Mr. Supran actually acknowledge that earlier allegations that ExxonMobil hid its climate science research were wrong. So they’ve now shifted to a new thesis by admitting that our research was accurate and even contributed to climate science, but erroneously alleging other statements were misleading.

I’ll leave it to your readers to figure out the twisted logic of an allegation that we misled on climate change while advancing climate science at the same time. Perhaps Ms. Oreskes and Mr. Supran don’t believe your readers are sophisticated enough to pick up on that contradiction. After all, their own study argued our scientific data are “highly technical, intellectually inaccessible for laypersons, and of little interest to the general public or policymakers.” Meanwhile, ExxonMobil will continue to focus our efforts on providing the energy the world needs, while simultaneously addressing the risk of climate change by reducing our emissions, helping consumers reduce theirs, and advancing research to find new low-emissions technologies for the future.

Sincerely,
Suzanne M. McCarron
Exxon Mobil Corporation

Im März 2018 veröffentlichte ExxonMobil zudem eine detaillierte Analyse des Aktivistenpapers. Kimberly Neuendorf schlussfolgert darin (pdf hier):

Conclusions
The above analysis documents the numerous fundamental and fatal flaws in the study’s content analysis. In short, the content analysis is unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable. Accordingly, S&O provide no scientific support for either a discrepancy among ExxonMobil’s climate change communications, or a claim that ExxonMobil misled the public.