Fossil-fuel company’s communications about anthropogenic climate change found misleading

In the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters researchers from Harvard University have reported on the application of content analysis methodologies to quantify ExxonMobile’s communications about anthropogenic climate change.  This is the first empirical assessment of ExxonMobil’s private and public statements using quantitative methodologies of consensus measurement and content analysis.

Results of ExxonMobil content analysis
Percentage of documents taking overall position on AGW as (a) real and human-caused, (b) serious, and (c) solvable. Green denotes acknowledge – red denotes doubt.

The source material analyzed comprises 187 public and private ExxonMobile documents from 1977–2014 including 32 internal documents published by InsideClimateNews and others; 53 articles labeled by ExxonMobil ‘Peer-Reviewed Publications’; 48 documents labeled ‘Additional Publications’; 36 Mobil/ExxonMobil advertorials related to climate change in the New York Times; and 18 other publicly available ExxonMobil communications–mostly non-peer-reviewed materials. The methodologies used by the researchers have been used in previous academic research to quantify the positions of an entity or community on a particular scientific question across multiple document classes.

The researchers concluded that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science in its scientists’ academic publications, but that its advertorials, in contrast, promoted doubt about anthropogenic climate change. The analysis found that 83% of peer-reviewed papers and 80% of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, but 81% of advertorials expressed doubt about anthropogenic climate change and only 12% acknowledge it. In addition the analysis revealed that the risks of stranded fossil fuel assets were discussed in 24 documents, but were absent from advertorials.

Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, 23 August 2017, Environmental Research Letters, Volume 12, Number 8