Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science. She became Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University in 2013, after 15 years as Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego. She has worked on studies of geophysics, environmental issues such as global warming, and the history of science. In 2010, Oreskes co-authored Merchants of Doubt which identified some parallels between the climate change debate and earlier public controversies.
Oreskes received her BSc degree in Mining Geology from the Royal School of Mines of Imperial College, University of London in 1981, and worked as a Research Assistant in the Geology Department and as a Teaching Assistant in the departments of Geology, Philosophy and Applied Earth Sciences at Stanford University starting in 1984. She received her PhD degree in the Graduate Special Program in Geological Research and History of Science at Stanford in 1990. She received a National Science Foundation's Young Investigator Award in 1994.
She has worked as a consultant for the United States Environmental Protection Agency and U.S National Academy of Sciences, and has also taught at Dartmouth, Harvard and New York University (NYU). She is also a member of the History of Science Society. She is the author or has contributed to a number of essays and technical reports in economic geology and science history in addition to several books:
- The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science, Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-511733-6
- Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth, Edited with Homer Le Grand, Westview Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8133-4132-9
- Perspectives on Geophysics, Special Issue of Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 31B, Oreskes, Naomi and James R. Fleming, eds., 2000.
- Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Bloomsbury Press, 2010
- Co-authored with Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Daedalus Winter 2013 issue
Scientific methods and model validation
In 1999 she participated as a consultant to the US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board for developing a repository safety strategy for the Yucca Mountain project, with special attention to model validation.
Science and society essay
In the essay she reported an analysis of “928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 and published in the ISI database with the keywords ‘global climate change’”. The essay stated the analysis was to test the hypothesis that the drafting of reports and statements by societies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, American Association for the Advancement of Science and National Academy of Sciences might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions on anthropogenic climate change. After the analysis, she concluded that 75 percent of the examined abstracts either explicitly or implicitly backed the consensus view, while none directly dissented from it. The essay received a great deal of media attention from around the world and has been cited by many prominent persons such as Al Gore in the movie An Inconvenient Truth.
In 2007, Oreskes expanded her analysis, stating that approximately 20 percent of abstracts explicitly endorsed the consensus on climate change that: "Earth's climate is being affected by human activities". In addition, 55 percent of abstracts "implicitly" endorsed the consensus by engaging in research to characterize the ongoing and/or future impact of climate change (50 percent of abstracts) or to mitigate predicted changes (5 percent). The remaining 25 percent focused on either paleoclimate (10%) or developing measurement techniques (15%); Oreskes did not classify these as taking a position on contemporary global climate change.
Merchants of Doubt
Merchants of Doubt is a 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Oreskes and Conway, both American historians of science, identify some remarkable parallels between the climate change debate and earlier controversies over tobacco smoking, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. They argue that spreading doubt and confusion was the basic strategy of those opposing action in each case. In particular, Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, and a few other contrarian scientists joined forces with conservative think tanks and private corporations to challenge the scientific consensus on many contemporary issues.
The Marshall Institute has been critical of the book, but most other reviewers received it favorably. One reviewer said that Merchants of Doubt is exhaustively researched and documented, and may be one of the most important books of 2010. Another reviewer saw the book as his choice for best science book of the year.
Selected awards, honors, and fellowships
- George Sarton Award Lecture, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2004
- American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship, 2001-2002.
- National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, 1994-1999.
- National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for University Teachers, 1993-94.
- Society of Economic Geologists Lindgren Prize for outstanding work by a young scientist, 1993.
- Ritter Memorial Fellowship in History of Marine Sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1994.
- Listed, Who's Who in American Science and Engineering, Who's Who in the West.
- "People: Naomi Oreskes". Harvard University. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
- Steketee, Mike (November 20, 2010). "Some sceptics make it a habit to be wrong". The Australian. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "Publications". UCSD. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- Some Like It Hot! Bill McKibben May 9, 2013 New York Review of Books
- Oreskes, Naomi; Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Kenneth Belitz (1994). "Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences". Science 263 (5147): 641–646. doi:10.1126/science.263.5147.641. ISSN 0036-8075. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
- Oreskes, Naomi; et al. (1994-02-04). "Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences, JSTOR archive, OreskesetalModels.pdf". http://courses.washington.edu/ess408/. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
- US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (1999-09-14). "Developing a repository safety strategy with special attention to model validation". US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
- Oreskes, Naomi (December 3, 2004). "Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change". Science 306 (5702): 1686. doi:10.1126/science.1103618. PMID 15576594. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- Oreskes, Naomi (January 21, 2005). "Beyond the Ivory Tower, The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change (including corrections)". Science. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "Exchange of letters to Science" (PDF). Science 308: 952–954. May 13, 2005. Archived from the original on April 12, 2010. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- Oreskes, Naomi (2007). "The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we’re not wrong?" (PDF). In DiMento, Joseph F.; Doughman, Pamela. Climate Change. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-04241-X.
- Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (2010). Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury Press, p. 6.
- McKie, Robin (August 8, 2010). "Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway". The Guardian. Retrieved march 14, 2012.
- "Historian Of Science, Naomi Oreskes, Presents AAAS Award Lecture on Topic of Proof and Consensus in Science" (Press release). University of California. February 11, 2004. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "Historian of Science Awarded 2002 American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship". History of Science Society. August 13, 2001. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "Award Abstract #9357888 NSF Young Investigator". National Science Foundation. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "The Scientific Consensus on Global Warming: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong?". Environmental Science Seminar Series. American Meteorological Society. June 20, 2007. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "Waldemar Lindgren Award". Society of Economic Geologists. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- "Ritter Memorial Fellowship". Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved March 14, 2012.