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photo of Naomi Oreskes Naomi Oreskes
Department of History, 0104
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive MC 0104
La Jolla, California, 92093-0104
noreskes AT ucsd.edu
Phone: (858) 246-0561
*Photo credit to: Matthew Perkins, Australian Broadcasting Commission, Local, Sydney, Australia, May 2011

Biography

Naomi Oreskes is Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, Adjunct Professor of Geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and an internationally renowned historian of science and author.  Having started her career as a geologist, received her B.S. (1st class Honours) from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London, and then worked for three years as an exploration geologist in the Australian outback.  She returned to the United States to receive an inter-disciplinary Ph.D. in geological research and history of science from Stanford  University, in 1990.  Professor Oreskes has lectured widely in diverse venues ranging from the Madison, Wisconsin Civics Club to the Air Force Research Laboratory, and has won numerous prizes, including, most recently the 2011 Climate Change Communicator of the Year.

Professor Oreskes has a long-standing interest in understanding the establishment of scientific consensus and the role and character of scientific dissent. Her early work examined the 20th century transformation of earth science, in The Rejection Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science (Oxford, 1999) and Plate Tectonics: An Insider's History of the Modern Theory of the Earth (Westview, 2001). She has also written on the under-acknowledged role of women in science, discussed in the prize-winning paper "Objectivity or heroism? On the invisibility of women in science" (OSIRIS 11 (1996): 87-113); and on the role of numerical simulation models in establishing knowledge about inaccessible natural phenomena (Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences," Science 263 (1994): 641-646).

For the past decade, Professor Oreskes has primarily been interested in the problem of anthropogenic climate change.  Her 2004 essay "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change" (Science 306: 1686) has been widely cited, both in the United States and abroad, including in the Royal Society's publication, "A Guide to Facts and Fictions about Climate Change," in the Academy-award winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, and in Ian McEwan's novel, Solar.  Her opinion pieces have appeared in The Times (London), The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Nature, Science, The New Statesman, Frankfuter Allegemeine, and elsewhere. Her 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming, co-authored with Erik M. Conway, was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Time Book Prize.

Her current research projects include completion of a book on the history of Cold War Oceanography, Science on a Mission: American Oceanography in the Cold War and Beyond (Chicago, forthcoming), and Assessing Assessments: A Historical and Philosophical Study of Scientific Assessments for Environmental Policy in the Late 20th Century, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Recent Publications

Current Research

I. Assessing Assessments: A Historical and Philosophical Study of Scientific
Assessments for Environmental Policy in the late 20th Century
Co-PIs Professors Michael Oppenheimer (Princeton) and Dale Jamieson (NYU)

In recent years, large-scale, organized and formalized assessments of the state of scientific knowledge have become an important part of the scientific and policy landscape, particularly in the earth and environmental sciences.  Structured assessments have played a major role in discussions of acid rain, ozone depletion, and global warming; they have also engaged large numbers of scientists and cost a great deal of money.  The human and financial resources devoted over the past twenty-one years to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, runs into hundreds of thousands of man-hours and tens of millions of dollars of direct expenses. This project, funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to assess these assessments: to explore their internal dynamics and understand how the scientists involved make the judgments they do.  

While a number of scholars have studied assessment processes from policy and social perspectives, most of their work has focused on how assessments influence (or fail to influence) public policy.  However, if assessments are presumed to provide a robust basis for policy, then it is important to understand them better. How do scientists assess their colleagues’ research, evaluate its reliability, understand its limits and degrees of uncertainty, and come to consensus (or not)?  How do scientists respond to the subtle or overt pressures that arise when they know that the world is watching? What factors in the process may lead to systematic bias, error, or distortion?  The presumption that assessments should influence policy assumes that the quality and skill of these assessments is high, but that assumption has rarely been closely examined. Understanding the internal dynamics of the assessment process puts us in a better position to judge the quality of any particular assessment, as well as to suggest potential means of improvement of this important, but understudied, form of scientific activity.

II.  Science on a Mission: American Oceanography in the Cold War and Beyond
Several years ago I spent a few months talking with earth scientists about what they considered the most important discoveries and advances in their field in the second half of the twentieth century.    There turned out to be fairly broad agreement about what these were: the development of plate tectonics, the discovery of sea-floor hydrothermal vents and their biotic communities, and the modeling of ocean circulation.  Each of these was a major scientific advance—an increase in our stabilized knowledge about the natural world.   Even more, each of these answered a question that had long perplexed earth scientists, but which they had been previously unable to answer, primarily for lack of access to the deep sea.  It quickly became clear that the source of that access was crucial to the story of how these discoveries got made—how questions that had been on the scientific agenda for decades—even centuries—were finally answered.   And access to the deep sea was crucial for the prosecution of the Cold War. 

Science on a Mission, to be published by University of Chicago Press, explores the political conditions of the Cold War that both made this work possible—by providing previously unavailable motivation, justification, and resources—and also created substantial difficulties.  The book considers how scientists took advantage of the opportunities while overcoming the difficulties, negotiating the complex Cold War political environment to understand the complex natural marine environment.  Finally, the book explores how the Cold War focus enabled scientists to answer many questions, but left other questions not merely unanswered, but unposed, creating domains of ignorance whose impacts continue to affect us.  We live with the legacies of past choices, legacies that involved not merely delays in learning, but historically recognizable, and socially consequential, losses.

III.  Transforming Technologies
(With Erik M. Conway)
In 1992 world leaders (including U.S. President George H.W. Bush) signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change promising to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference” in the climate system. Today that interference is underway, and the dangers are apparent.  Record breaking heat waves and fires in Russia.  Catastrophic floods killing and displacing millions in Pakistan. Floods in Queensland that the global reinsurance company, Munich Re, estimates may be the most costly natural disaster in Australian history.  Millions of acres of productive farmland being deliberately flooded in the United States to save cities.  Preventing further climate change requires a transformation of our energy-production systems.  This is a daunting thought.  And yet, major technological transformations have occurred in the past, sometimes remarkably quickly.  Erik Conway and I are currently preparing a proposal for a new book on the history of technological transformations, a history that may help guide us through the crucial task ahead.

Major Honors

  • Climate Change Communicator of the Year, George Washington University Center for Climate Change Communication, 2011
  • James Shea Award of the  National Association of Geoscience Teachers, 2011
  • Francis Bacon Award in the history of science and technology, Francis Bacon Foundation and Caltech, 2009
  • UCSD Chancellors Associates Faculty Excellence Award for Community Service, 2008
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow, 2007
  • George Sarton Award Lecture, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2004
  • American Philosophical Society, Sabbatical Fellowship, 2001-2002
  • National Science Foundation Young Investigator, 1994-1999.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Fellowship for University Teachers, 1993-94
  • Society of Economic Geologists, Lindgren Prize 1993
  • Ritter Memorial Fellowship in History of Marine Sciences, 1994

Expert Testimony

  • U.S. Senate, Committee on Environment and Public Works, Washington, D.C., December 6, 2006, http://epw.senate.gov/epwmultimedia/epw120606.ram
  • U.S Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, “Developing a Repository Safety Strategy
    With Special Attention to Model Validation” Washington, D.C., September 14,  1999. http://www.nwtrb.gov/meetings/990914.pdf.
  • California State Senate, Select Committee on Government Oversight, Sacramento, California., 31 January 2001, Hearings on Gender Equity in the University of California

Selected Publications

Books and Edited Volumes

  • Oreskes, Naomi, in prep.  Science on a Mission: American Oceanography in the Cold War and Beyond, under contract to University of Chicago Press.
  • Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway, 2010, paperback 2011, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.  (New York: Bloomsbury Press.)
  • Whipple, Chris et al. (fourteen additional authors), 2007.  Models in Environmental Regulatory Decision Making (Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences- National Research Council, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology), 287 pp.
     On line at  http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11972
  • Oreskes, Naomi, ed., with Homer E. Le Grand, 2001.  Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth (Boulder: Westview Press), paperback edition February 2003. 
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 1999.  The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science (New York: Oxford University Press).
  • Oreskes, Naomi and James R. Fleming, eds. 2000.  “Perspectives on Geophysics,” Special Issue of Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 31B, September 2000.

Scholarly Book Chapters and Articles

  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2011. “Working with Uncertainty: ‘Unitisation and Renegotiation’ as a Model for Science and Environmental Policy,” in The Politics of Science Advice.  Edited by Justus Lentsch and Peter Weingart, pp. 36-53.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2010.  “My facts are better than your facts: Spreading good news about global warming.” in How Well Do Facts Travel? Edited by Mary S. Morgan and Peter Howlett, Cambridge University Press, pp. 135-166.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2007, “The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we’re not wrong?” Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren, edited by Joseph F. C. DiMento and Pamela Doughman, MIT Press, pp. 65-99.
  • Oreskes, Naomi and Kenneth Belitz, 2001.  “Philosophical Issues in Model Assessment,” in Model Validation: Perspectives in Hydrological Science, edited by M.G. Anderson and P.D. Bates (London: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.), pp. 23-41.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2011.  “Metaphors of warfare and the lessons of history:  Time to revisit a carbon tax?” Climatic Change, 104: 223-230.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, Leonard Smith and David Stainforth, 201o.  “Adaptation to global warming: Do climate models tell us what we need to know?” Philosophy of Science, 77 (December 2010): 1012-1028
  • Oreskes, Naomi 2010.  “Science, Technology, and Free Enterprise.” Centaurus 52: 297-310.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2004. “The scientific consensus on climate change,” Science 306: 1686.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2004. “Science and public policy: What’s proof got to do with it?,” Environmental Science and Policy 7 (5): 369-383. 
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 1998. “Evaluation (not validation) of quantitative models,” Environmental Health Perspectives 106 (supp. 6): 1453-1460.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 1996.  “Objectivity or heroism? On the invisibility of women in science,” OSIRIS 11: 87-113.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, Kristin Shrader-Frechette and Kenneth Belitz, 1994. “Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences,” Science 263: 641-646.

 Selected Popular Articles and Opinion Pieces 

 Selected Papers and Essays

  • Oreskes, Naomi and Einaudi, M.T., 1990. “Origin of LREE-enriched hematite breccias at the Olympic Dam, Cu-U-Au-Ag deposit, Roxby Downs, South Australia,” Economic Geology, vol. 85, no. 1, p. 1-28.
  • Oreskes, Naomi and Einaudi, M.T., 1992. “Origin of hydrothermal fluids at Olympic Dam: Preliminary results from fluid inclusions and stable isotopes,” Economic Geology, vol. 87, no. 1, p. 64-90.
  • Hitzman, M.W., Oreskes, Naomi, and Einaudi, M.T., 1992. “Geologic characteristics and tectonic setting of Proterozoic Fe-REE deposits,” Precambrian Research, vol. 58, p. 241-287.
  • Rhodes, A.L., Oreskes, Naomi, and Sheets, Sossity, 1999. “Geology and REE geochemistry of the magnetite deposits at El Laco, Chile.” Economic Geology Special Publication No. 7: Geology and Ore Deposits of the Central Andes, pp. 299-332.
  • Rhodes, A.L., and Oreskes, Naomi, 1999. “Oxygen isotope composition of magnetite deposits at El Laco, Chile: Evidence of formation from isotopically heavy fluids,” Economic Geology Special Publication No. 7: Geology and Ore Deposits of the Central Andes, pp. 333-351.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, Erik M. Conway, and Matt Shindell, 2008. "From Chicken Litttle to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge,"Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38 (I): 109-152.
  • Wang, Zuoyue and Naomi Oreskes 2008. "History of Science and American Science Policy," ISIS 99 (2):365-373.
  • Oreskes, Naomi, 2008. "The Devil is in the (Historical) Details: Continental Drift as a Case of Normatively Appropriate Consensus?" Perspectives in Science 16 (2): 253-264.
  • Aronova, Elena, Karen Baker, and Naomi Oreskes, 2010. "From the International Geophysical year through the International Biological Program to LTER: Big science and big data in biology, 1957-present." Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 40 (2): 182-224.

Popular Articles/Op-Ed

Awards, Honors, Fellowships and Professional Activities (selected)

  • Francis Bacon Award in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Francis Bacon Foundation and Caltech, 2009
  • UCSD Chancellors Associates Faculty Excellence Award for Community Service, 2008
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Teacher of the Year-- Finalist, 2008
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow, 2007
  • 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.
  • Consultant U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Workshop , “Principles and Operational Strategies for Repository Staging Systems,” September 2001.
  • Consultant U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, September 1999.
  • Consultant U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lead Model Validation Project, 1996-1997.

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