Merchants of Consensus: A Public Battle Against Exxon

42 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2017

Date Written: August 31, 2017


This paper disputes the findings of Supran and Oreskes (2017). They assessed 187 climate change communications of ExxonMobil Corporation (Exxon) between 1977-2014 using textual content analysis to evaluate discrepancies regarding climate change science concerns or doubts as relayed to staff or shareholders versus advertorials to the public. They used a social sciences weighting method to assess the continuity of messaging between internal and external corporate communications of Exxon. Their objective was to determine whether Exxon was misleading the public and shareholders on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), especially in advertorials as to how far they strayed from “four key points of understanding about AGW – that it is real, human-caused, serious and solvable.” This author argues that Supran and Oreskes (2017) study is invalid in the absence of vital scientific definitional frameworks of what constitutes climate change and reference to scientific observations in the time-frame studied. Advertorial messages cannot be fairly judged in the absence of some social, historical and investment market context which make up the ‘merchants of consensus.’ This paper critiques the methodology and lack of relevant context of Supran and Oreskes work; it is not a defense of Exxon or any industry.

Keywords: anthropogenic global warming, climate change, ExxonMobil, disinformation, content analysis, climate communication, Advertorial, UNPRI, climate risk disclosure

Suggested Citation

Stirling, Michelle, Merchants of Consensus: A Public Battle Against Exxon (August 31, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

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