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Naomi Oreskes: fierce defender of climate change science – and scientists

Naomi Oreskes has become a leading voice in defense of the science underlying global warming and the scientists who are researching it.

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Naomi Oreskes, a historian who studies scientific findings and funding, was drawn into the emotional debate around global warming after she publicly stated that climate change is a settled scientific fact.

Will Parson/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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Postcard after postcard came addressed to Naomi Oreskes after she wrote her first book on how scientists study the movement of continents.

A groundswell of attention, perhaps? Not exactly. Her mother wrote them all, dashing off each postcard after finishing a chapter. Outside the worlds of science and academia, the book didn't attract much attention.

But 12 years later, the Manhattan-raised historian is traveling a much more public path, drawing both praise and condemnation. She's a fierce defender of scientists and a leader in the vanguard of those who strongly advocate that the world must acknowledge and deal with global warming.

"Professor Oreskes has turned vilified scientists into the heroes they deserve to be," says John Abraham, an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. She's performing a service regarding global warming by showing "how a few organized and influential people were able to confuse the country long after the science was settled," he says.

Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, acknowledges that she's trying to save the world. Earlier, though, her goal was simpler. She wanted to understand scientists by studying their past, in terms of both their findings and their funding.

"What difference does it make who pays for scientific research?" she says. "I'm interested in how scientists decide they have enough evidence to say they know something, and what difference it makes who pays for the work. We want science to be objective and neutral, but someone has to pay for it, and there's that old cliché about whoever pays the piper chooses the tune."

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