ExxonMobil’s mad science

Without ExxonMobil’s lead scientist, Haroon Kheshgi, there would be no Willie Soon. And I don’t mean that Willie Soon wouldn’t have been born. I’m referring to the scientific Ponzi scheme that Soon got in on back in 2003 when attempting to prove that the Earth is heating up because of the Sun. I feel a tiny bit bad for Willie Soon. I think he’ll be looked back on as nothing more than a red herring, or perhaps a “false alarm,” at best. The real villains have yet to be unveiled, although I think their time has come (Rex Tillerson – I’m talking to you).

Ever since the Inside Climate News investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate change research broke in September, ExxonMobil VP, Ken Cohen has been posting and referring to the same 10 page list of ExxonMobil peer-reviewed scientific publications as “proof” of his employer’s honest attempt at fighting climate change. He does this without mentioning where this list came from. I was going through the list a few weeks ago and realized that it actually comes directly from Haroon Kheshgi’s CV. I began looking for mention of him on environmentalists websites, and oddly enough, Kheshgi doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar as the scientific sell-out that he is. He’s not even mentioned on the Skeptical Science website except in a reader’s comment. After reading through Kheshgi’s peer-reviewed papers, several chapters he wrote in books which attempt to cast doubt on anthropogenic global warming, and numerous underhanded and undermining comments he’s made while taking part in truly important reports like those of the (early) IPCC, I can say with confidence that we all missed the proverbial forest for the trees

So why would Ken Cohen loop Haroon Kheshgi into a controversy which will undoubtedly become a “game changer” for the fossil fuel industry? My guess is that Cohen has no idea what’s on that publication list. He must lack even the most fundamental knowledge of ExxonMobil’s scientific research because he just keeps referring to that list, which belongs to Kheshgi, without bothering to ask anyone at ExxonMobil what’s been going on with their science since the 1980’s. It honestly makes me wonder who has been directing Kheshgi’s work.

There is a major disconnect here that goes beyond “plausible deniability.” Interesting to note that it was around the time of Kheshgi’s leap into “subversive science” that the American Petroleum Institute and ExxonMobil et al were laying out “tobacco-industry-esque” plans to use scientists and the media against the public’s desire to fight climate change. The 8 page memo, which can be read here, is so damning that it’s only matched by the previously leaked ExxonMobil documents.

I went through Kheshgi’s ten page list of ExxonMobil publications and categorized the subject matter and, more importantly, the intended purpose of each paper or item, putting them into the next 5 categories (below). For examples of Kheshgi’s work for each category, I’ve numbered them PR 1-53 for Peer-Reviewed Publications which are the first 5 pages of the list, and AP 1-51 for Additional Publications which are the last 5 five pages of the list which will be linked in green throughout this post if you wish to refer to it. I could go through each of the 104 items and categorize them, but I’ll leave that to someone else:

Category 1. Undermining Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick and the earliest climate reconstruction work (paleoclimatology): Kheshgi, like all of us, is a product of the times he lived in. In 1993, the earliest groundbreaking research into using proxy data to understand current climate changes was published by Raymond Bradley and Philip Jones. That same year, Kheshgi published PR 5 which was aimed at discrediting Bradley and Jones’ work and paleoclimatology, in general. This would later become known as the Hockey Stick Controversy when Michael Mann began working with Bradley and other scientists on tree ring analysis, ice core samples, and other proxy data in order to better understand how the 20th and 21st century (modern) climate had radically been changed by the burning of fossil fuels.

In addition to PR 5, some examples of Kheshgi’s attempt to create uncertainty about the very early climate science and discredit and undermine Mann, Bradley, and the “Hockey Stick” are PR 13, PR 18, and AP 2.

Here’s where we take a detour to something really weird.

If you go to the list of Kheshgi’s publications, and look to PR 13 at the bottom of the first page, you will see this:

13. Kheshgi, H.S. and Lapenis, A. G., 1996. Estimating the uncertainty of zonal paleotemperature averages. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 3: 221-237.

I’m going to try and explain something really strange here. The thing is, the article which Kheshgi lists (above) on his CV, which is on the list that ExxonMobil’s Ken Cohen is distributing all over the place, which has been cited (by Kheshgi) in other books and numerous other publications DOES NOT EXIST. Anywhere. I went so far as to request that the actual, physical 29 year old journal, called Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology be dug out of a university warehouse (I had to wait a week for it) so I could match it up with what the publisher told me was all they could see online (which is in the screenshot below). So if you go to that page, in that issue, you’ll find this:

That Russian paleo article (in the photo above) which does appear in the journal can be found here, where I’ve marked it up.  But Kheshgi doesn’t ever refer to or mention this “Russian paleotemperature” article on his CV publication list – he’s disowned it or something and in its place, he lists, “Estimating the uncertainty of zonal paleotemperature averages,” which is what should be in that photo above. This list, which ExxonMobil uses as the sum of its scientific achievements, and which was updated in October 2015, and which originates from Kheshgi’s CV, should not be this inaccurate, particularly given the subject matter and how quickly this gang of thieves are to attack legitimate climate scientists for any thing they can cook up. And the paper which does not exist from 1996 and which should be in the Palaeo journal (above) and which Kheshgi lists as, “Estimating the uncertainty of zonal paleotemperature averages,” is, however, cited and referred to in a book Kheshgi and his friends wrote to deny the science of climate change in 2007. You’d think that if there was, somehow, an honest mistake here, he’d have figured it out in the 10 years between a wonky paper and this book, right?
kheshgi book cover

And so, even though the Palaeo paper and his argument are non-existent, Kheshgi still cites it and uses it in his writing throughout his climate denying book of 2007 and particularly in his chapter, Chapter 4:

Kheshgi chapter 4 header

Chapter 4, in this case, and the entire book, in general, are all about denying and questioning the science of climate change. Kheshgi’s fatally and inherently flawed chapter, in which he cites himself inappropriately and incorrectly:
Kheshgi book citation #13

manages to squeeze in the word, “uncertainty” over 40 times in ten pages (excluding his reference list pages). And in case someone wasn’t getting the main point he was trying to indelicately drive home, Kheshgi says:

“Although climate models may be (or can be made to be) consistent with climate records, they still might not contain all the key phenomena that have determined past climate change. In this way, the use of multiple climate models can underestimate uncertainty.”

In the world of science and research, these additions and omissions and generalized screw ups are simply unacceptable and downright dishonest, to put it kindly. To put it less gently,  had Raymond Bradley, Jim Hansen, Michael Mann and the legitimate climate scientists that Kheshgi and his colleagues tried to ruin throughout that time period (and continue to harass even now) done anything even approximating such shenanigans, they’d be before congressional hearings. Or should I say “more” congressional hearings. So why isn’t Kheshgi (along with his partner in crime, Lapenis) held, in any way, accountable? If James Inhofe wasn’t so busy cashing all his fossil fuel industry checks, he’d have more time and energy to be up in arms about such serious scientific fraud. That paper, which is, or is not, PR 13, was apparently funded by American taxpayers via the good old US Department of Energy. Who among us would consciously choose to have our money spent on such underhandedness?
Kheshgi DOE grant

In fact, this whole line of attack was essentially debunked and item PR 18 on his list is a response and new attack (with Schlesinger helping Kheshgi and Lapenis out) in a different journal (called Climatic Change) intent on maligning Mann, Bradley and the use of proxy data. If you are interested in reading my marked up copy of just the Abstract to PR 18, click here.

Keep in mind that this was a very controversial time for scientists. The fossil fuel industry was viciously attacking legitimate climate scientists, like James Hansen, Michael Mann, Ben Santer and Raymond Bradley and making their lives a living hell with false accusations and personal smear campaigns that have, in many ways, probably scarred them for life. They were subpoenaed, harassed, sued, and stigmatized. Lives were ruined. And Kheshgi doesn’t seem to give much of a damn. In fact, he’s fueling the fire under his fellow scientists non-stop. His virtual entire body of work has been centered around creating doubt about the science and chipping away at what is known, while altering the direction and tone of climate science at every opportunity he gets. Willie Soon could only dream about doing such long term damage.

Category 2. Geoengineer our way out of climate catastrophe by doing things like dumping TONS of soda ash every year into the oceans to raise their alkalinity levels. This would “force” the oceans to absorb more CO² from the atmosphere. This is quite possibly one of the worst ideas ever thought up by humans: PR 6, PR 8, PR 10, PR 35, PR 42, AP 9, AP 13, AP 23

Category 3. Carbon Capture and Storage (does not work, by the way): PR 32, PR 42, PR 48, PR 49, AP 27, AP 28, AP 29, AP 34, AP 48

Category 4. Manufacture doubt and magnify the “perception” of uncertainty about the science of human-caused climate change: PR 4, PR 7, PR 9, PR 12, PR 14, PR 15, PR 16, PR 21, PR 25, PR 33, AP 4, AP 5, AP 6, AP 7, AP 10.

Category 5. Natural gas (fracking) is the solution to climate change: PR 31, AP 12.

Despite what Ken Cohen keeps parroting, ExxonMobil’s scientific research was a) not mainstream, except when it was attacking the mainstream literally non-stop, and b) it definitely and absolutely was NOT helpful. If Cohen can just stop drinking the Kool Aid for a moment and actually ask someone who understands his list, he’ll change his tune, I promise.

Here’s the bottom line: The overarching goal of Kheshgi’s research papers and, in fact, his entire career, has been to alter the direction of, do harm to, or, at the very least, slow down the progress of, legitimate climate science. His papers got published because his strategy, with the exception of the badly-received paleoclimate/proxy data attacks, was incredibly subtle, nuanced, complicated, and diabolically conceived. Somehow, Kheshgi managed to work his way into the IPCC, inserting his contrived uncertainty and fake doubt throughout the IPCC’s reports whenever he had the opportunity. In this way, he and others like him quite likely watered down both the science and the message by making real, hard-working scientists, who already feel uncomfortable stating things in absolutes and in “certainties,” appear to be waffling and full of trepidation and doubt about things that shouldn’t have even been “on the table” at this point. The papers, reports, committees, working groups, and assorted mess of the UN’s IPCC is extremely difficult to encapsulate and summarize, especially here on my blog. I’ve provided an example of Kheshgi’s direct oily “footprint” or, as he’d call it, “signal,” in one of the early Working Group (Working Group 1, which is also referred to as “WG1”) reports. The report, which he was a big part of, is almost 600 pages. I’ve taken one chapter out of it, Chapter 8, which Kheshgi was especially involved in, and (slightly) marked it up and you can read it here.  Although his “work” (PR 5 and PR 7) is referenced in Chapter 8, several other papers are also referenced in other chapters in this IPCC report. I’ve highlighted (in the beginning of the chapter and at the very end) a clear “signal” from Kheshgi which should not have been there. Keep in mind that the report I’ve linked to is from 1995…and at that point in the process, ExxonMobil already had clear and compelling climate models of their own which laid out that a) humans have caused the climate to warm up and b) it is going to be very dangerous, very soon. Given the intermittent waffling and overly-delicate tone of Chapter 8, it is crystal clear to see that ExxonMobil got their money’s worth. And considering that this was at the beginning of the process, in many truly fundamental, and foundational reports, you can see that Kheshgi’s “signal” has drowned out what should never have become decades of uncertainties, heaped on doubt, layered upon indecision. What should have been happening was that we began weaning ourselves off fossil fuels which should go without saying.

Instead of working to save ourselves from extinction, at worst, and widespread devastation and misery, at least, Kheshgi et al redirected the entire discussion to scientists being on the defensive, having to prove, re-prove, prove again, re-proving and re-stating that proof, and going over each DAMN word ad infinitum until – poof! We’ve run the clock out.

How does such underhandedness exist, and even persist? It’s been simple to achieve up until recently. Kheshgi and his colleagues have managed to exploit a “gap,” or firewall, of sorts, in research/academia. It’s not unlike a thin membrane between the general public (who would be pissed off if they knew what ExxonMobil’s scientists were up to) and the actual scientific community. And when I say “scientific community” I’m not referring to nitwits like Christopher Monckton, but to people like Willie Soon. Real scientists don’t “mix much” with the general public when it comes to discussing their work. Peer-reviewed literature, and the process that accompanies it, were, and are, often inaccessible and somewhat of a mystery to the general public. The end products, or, as Willie Soon called them, “deliverables,” are safely behind and within “paywalls” (unless you are part of a research community and then you have unlimited access) and sometimes languish in quite obscure journals. For example, if the average (non-scientific) person saw this title (which is number PR 25 on the ExxonMobil Publication List):

Kheshgi, H.S. and White, B.S. 2001: Testing Distributed Parameter Hypotheses for the Detection of Climate Change. Journal of Climate 14, 3464-3481.

You might think they’re working on something good, or at least benign, right? Journal of Climate sounds legit. How bad could this be? If you Googled it, you’d get to something like this:

Kheshgi write up 1

You might stop there, or you might read the Abstract and wonder what the heck this paper was about. This paper, by the way, is not behind a paywall, so you can actually read it here.

One thing you should look at, in general, are the number of citations, which means that a paper was referred to, or used, elsewhere. In this case, it’s 9 citations which is pathetic. It means that this isn’t a) good work, b) worthwhile, or c) not reliable. One notable exception to this “rule” involves the type of citation, or who is doing the citing. In the case of climate change denying scientists and paid climate change deniers, they WILL refer to, and cite each other a lot. They lean heavily on any one of them who can publish something anywhere above a message board, building off each other, which is why they even bother to get published in the first place (a scientific Ponzi scheme). Chances are that you won’t easily find free and accessible versions of most of the articles on the ExxonMobil list (with the exception of the IPCC stuff). That situation is changing, however, with open access journals coming online. It’s gotten a lot better, but not fast enough.

Let’s get back to article PR 25. The really fundamentally disturbing premise of THIS paper, especially considering that Kheshgi was working with the IPCC before, during and after this was published, is that he’s questioning whether human-caused climate change even exists. You have to wonder what the hell the IPCC “good guys” do in their off time. They definitely don’t “vet” their reviewers and participants, that’s for sure.

This paper is an example of Kheshgi creating doubt about the existence of climate change and basically trying to undermine Ben Santer and every well-established methodology and analysis. It’s sort of the “inverse” of cherry picking, with him setting up very narrow and inappropriate conditions, timelines, parameters, and “definitions,” to create an amplified sense of uncertainty about the very question, or possibility of, human caused climate change. He is essentially maligning climate models, which he does repeatedly in his work. The irony here is that ExxonMobil’s climate models were spot on about what fossil fuel use was doing to the environment as early as the 1970’s. And, Kheshgi, who is part of the UN’s IPCC, is deliberately attempting to undermine the science. In general, you can read a paper’s Abstract, Introduction and Conclusion if you want to cut to the “chase,” and in the case of this paper, pay particular attention to the Conclusion.

Okay, so what’s the big deal, anyway? This guy, Haroon Kheshgi, even admits that he WORKS for ExxonMobil, so what can we expect, right? However, there are so many onion layers of “wrong” just past that assumption.

First, the United Nations IPCC is a goner. The whole thing is a write off. I’m not even kidding. It’s infiltrated, polluted and utterly devoid of an original idea, testicles, resolve, jurisdiction, every thing of value, every saving grace. If the IPCC was going to actually do anything, other than have meetings, waste paper, and thump their collective chests, they would have done so decades ago, when it mattered. At this point, the bloated and ridiculous thing is just getting in the way. Note to future creators of governing bodies: DO NOT include the exact same people in your organization that you are supposed to be regulating and controlling. Duh.

Second, potential RICO Act prosecutors, New York Attorney General investigators, etc. need to, and absolutely MUST, do the science. And if they are unable to do the science themselves, they need to find someone who can. And NOT someone who works in the fossil fuel industry. As ridiculously unnecessary as that seems to have to say, this is exactly what keeps happening. The facts, regardless of what Ken Cohen keeps prattling on about, are that a) ExxonMobil knew the dangers of burning fossil fuels – and with great accuracy, before most other scientists did. They hid what they knew, then they not ONLY funded professional denier organizations here and abroad, but, as I’ve proven, their own scientists went so, so far down the rabbit hole of greed and just plain evil that people like Kheshgi continue to concoct every manner of sabotage on the actual science, subverting any (potentially) positive bit of progress. ExxonMobil not only paid other people, like Willie Soon, to manufacture doubt, but their own scientists succeeded, in part, at re-writing the science in their own rotten, fetid “image,” and, along the way, they distorted each and every sentence, definition, law of nature, and bit of evidence, that they possibly could.

Perhaps Ken Cohen and his boss, Rex Tillerson, are just too stupid to know what those 104 ExxonMobil Contributed Publications actually mean, but I absolutely guarantee, with 100% certainty, that Haroon Kheshgi understands.



  1. Wow, thanks so much for the time and effort you put into researching and writing this! Just want you to know it did not go unappreciated. Wish there were more who were at least willing to study the issue which, all will soon see, is the existential crisis of all time.


  2. Thanks — very well researched and written! I wish there were good news for a change, but science doesn’t care what I wish. Every bit of recent climate news shows that we’ve fallen further down the rabbit hole from the representative government we were taught about in civics class (“of the people, by the people, and for the people”) into a dystopia in which corporate profits take priority over people’s welfare — or even survival. Since our Titanic seems to be only 100 yards from the iceberg, it may not matter who is captain, but my vote for Bernie next year will be at least a symbolic protest against the rapid dying of the light.

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