Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher

Mar 4, 2015

Image credit: Pete Marovich

By Justin Gillis and John Schwartz

For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.


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24 comments on “Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher

  • @OP link – Though often described on conservative news programs as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” Dr. Soon is not an astrophysicist and has never been employed by Harvard. He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering. He has received little federal research money over the past decade and is thus responsible for bringing in his own funds, including his salary.

    Though he has little formal training in climatology, Dr. Soon has for years published papers trying to show that variations in the sun’s energy can explain most recent global warming. His thesis is that human activity has played a relatively small role in causing climate change.

    Just another posturing stooge engineer with no idea about climatology, who is being quoted wearing a false badge of “authority”!

    Many experts in the field say that Dr. Soon uses out-of-date data, publishes spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change.

    Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a NASA division that studies climate change, said that the sun had probably accounted for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming and that greenhouse gases produced by human activity explained most of it.

    “The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless,” Dr. Schmidt said.

    The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, whose scientists focus largely on understanding distant stars and galaxies, routinely distances itself from Dr. Soon’s findings. The Smithsonian has also published a statement accepting the scientific consensus on climate change.

    Funding from some of the usual suspects who have been increasing their stealth factory recently!

    Dr. Soon also received at least $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. (Mr. Koch’s fortune derives partly from oil refining.) However, other companies and industry groups that once supported Dr. Soon, including Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute, appear to have eliminated their grants to him in recent years.

    As the oil-industry contributions fell, Dr. Soon started receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars through DonorsTrust, an organization based in Alexandria, Va., that accepts money from donors who wish to remain anonymous, then funnels it to various conservative causes.

    Some of the journals need to sort out their checking procedures – and to make an example of this deception artist!

    Dr. Oreskes, the Harvard science historian, said that academic institutions and scientific journals had been too lax in recent decades in ferreting out dubious research created to serve a corporate agenda.

    “I think universities desperately need to look more closely at this issue,” Dr. Oreskes said. She added that Dr. Soon’s papers omitting disclosure of his corporate funding should be retracted by the journals that published them.

    Congress also should be investigating his testimony to them!

    He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.



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  • 4
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I would have called him a whore but shill works too…

    Mr.Soon (and other whores… I mean shills like him) is a disgrace to the profession of science. Through his choices, he has relinquished the privilege to be called a scientist. And if Mr. Soon has children, he’s also contributing to help jeopardize the future of his own progeny… in exchange for money… which is simply disgusting.



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  • Thank you Alan4Discussion comprehensive as always, keep hammering those nails in. It’s amazing how often these guys have little training in the fields they are debating. There is a character in Catch 22 who is an incompetent account, so incompetent in fact that he was in enormous demand – I think this guys fits nicely into that category.



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  • Some of the journals need to sort out their checking procedures – and to make an example of this deception artist!

    agreed. peer review needs to be stepped up to take into account there is an increasing incentive to publish bad science and any articles published that have failed to meet ethical standards should be withdrawn.

    When people refer to these brave mavericks that make up the 5% of scientists who doubt AGW we need to remind them that each one is or should be under investigation to find out why they fail to address the mountain of evidence built up over the decades.

    In this day and age there is no excuse for scientific non-concensus on any subject so broadly studied. Every time I hear the argument 95% of scientists can’t be wrong my tail goes spiky that such arguments are being used. The correct argument is 95% of scientists are unlikely to be liars but human nature dictates 5% are likely to sell their honour when the buyer has the oil industry underwriting

    History will treat scientists like this the way it treats those brave few scientists who stood up for the humble tobacco industry



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  • In this day and age there is no excuse for scientific non-concensus on any subject so broadly studied.

    In brief consensus has only occurred because of the confluence in the data. The confluence I think is ultimately more important, and is what we should be communicating.



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  • On another thread, Alan4discussion commented:
    “Big Oil on emissions and climate change in 2012

    Below are some quotes from the big four oil companies’ websites:

    Exxon: “Rising greenhouse gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems.”

    Shell: “…CO2 emissions must be reduced to avoid serious climate change. To manage CO2, governments and industry must work together. Government action is needed and we support an international framework that puts a price on CO2, encouraging the use of all CO2-reducing technologies.”

    BP: “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warming of the climate system is happening and is caused mainly by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Results from models assessed by the IPCC suggest that to stand a reasonable chance of limiting warming to no more than 2˚C, global emissions should peak before 2020 and be cut by between 50-85% by 2050.”

    Chevron: “At Chevron, we recognize and share the concerns of governments and the public about climate change. The use of fossil fuels to meet the world’s energy needs is a contributor to an increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs)—mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane—in the Earth’s atmosphere. There is a widespread view that this increase is leading to climate change, with adverse effects on the environment.”

    These companies no longer easily fit the stereotype of “Merchants of Doubt”, at least when it comes to the basic science of climate change.”

    Crank scientists like Wei-Hock Soon are loosing credibility even with the big corporate interests that pay them. The crucial factor is time. How quickly can promising alternative carbon-neutral energy sources, especially solar, displace the fossil fuel infrastructure already in place on a global scale. If humankind defers to the status quo for much longer before ramping up a proactive international consensus to address the crisis with well-financed comprehensive projects…Well, easier said than done.



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  • Below are some quotes from the big four oil companies’ websites:

    Shell, Exxon, Chevron and BP, if they were serious, as distinct from being forced to put the quotes you cite on their web pages, would go into volutary liquidation and force the world the find alternative energies. If I saw on their web page, that by 2025,

    we four all companies are going to stop pumping oil and in the mean time, we are going to divert all of our economic resources to becoming the leader supplies of renewable energy for the planet.

    At that moment, they would have some respect.



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  • David R Allen Mar 7, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Shell, Exxon, Chevron and BP, if they were serious, as distinct from being forced to put the quotes you cite on their web pages, would go into volutary liquidation and force the world the find alternative energies. If I saw on their web page, that by 2025,

    While they see alternative energy as new business opportunities, one initial response was to think that some of their expiring oil wells could be profitably operated for carbon capture when burning coal!!!



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  • These companies no longer easily fit the stereotype of “Merchants of Doubt”, at least when it comes to the basic science of climate change.”

    and how much of this is because of the Bad PR as a result of “Merchants of Doubt”?

    Crank scientists like Wei-Hock Soon are loosing credibility even with the big corporate interests that pay them.

    In-spite of the big corporate interests that pay them. Which also begs the simple question – why are they paying them?

    The crucial factor is time. How quickly can promising alternative
    carbon-neutral energy sources, especially solar, displace the fossil
    fuel infrastructure already in place on a global scale. If humankind
    defers to the status quo for much longer before ramping up a proactive
    international consensus to address the crisis with well-financed
    comprehensive projects…Well, easier said than done.

    Melvin, for one this is already happening which is why one of the biggest solar in Australia farms has just received planning approval in my area it alone is being designed to meet 1/4 of our carbon emission cuts (however this is not enough because of out piddling targets) none the less this was not invested in out of Altruism it is being invested in because it now make more economic sense than building another coal plant. Any cursory glance at what has been happening in the alternatives market shows a massive reduction in costs and all with no long term consequences. Coal is now coughing up blood. Hopefully oil will soon follow. International consensus may not ultimately be necessary it may well soon just make financial sense to move over to the alternatives.

    The general feel of your argument seems to be the arch of many (I am not saying you here let me be clear) who in the past have disagreed with science out of a bias against changing the status quo, then having been consistently shot down by a barrage of fact are now holding onto the last inkling of their biases by suggesting we should go slow so as to not ruin the economy in the transition. I’m not sure if you fit into this category or not but that has been the arch of many of my friends and workmates. On of my staunchest anti-green capitalist relatives has just installed a crap load of solar PV on their house – why because the payoff time is now so short that they will save a bundle in no time and have free power. I think you’ll find the economies that embrace the new technologies early will be the leaders into the future when they have built up grids of alternative energy which they have paid off they will shift into a mode of maintenance only which will be far cheaper than having to continually dig out fossil fuels.

    In my country this attitude is particularly worrying because we have hitched ourselves to a mineral resources wagon and are very slack when it comes to investment in ideas and putting them to market as finished products. The thinking you seem to be promoting here concerns me because I’m certain in the next 8 years our coal and natural gas will be worth nothing and when it dries up will will have no alternative income to compensate. Time to act is now and embrace the inevitable change and invest in all our futures, it makes every sort of sense. We can help it along by being as positive and constructive as possible. You may however just be playing devils advocate and exercising cautious optimism in which case you have my apologies if I have caused offence.



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  • The thinking you seem to be promoting here concerns me because I’m certain in the next 8 years our coal and natural gas will be worth nothing and when it dries up will will have no alternative income to compensate. Time to act is now and embrace the inevitable change and invest in all our futures, it makes every sort of sense. We can help it along by being as positive and constructive as possible. You may however just be playing devils advocate and exercising cautious optimism in which case you have my apologies if I have caused offence.

    The question of how long it will take to change out fossil fuel power with carbon-neutral energy sources is crucial and certainly independent of what you or I think. I conjecture or roughly estimate that significant progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions can be made before 2050 and that the problem should be substantively resolved by 2100.

    If you are “certain that in the next 8 years [our] coal and natural gas will be worth nothing,” you should consider taking out short positions in industry-related stocks: an investor who borrows shares of stock from a broker and sells them on the open market is said to have a short position in the stock. The investor must eventually return the borrowed stock by buying it back from the open market. If the stock falls in price, the investor buys it for less than he or she sold it, thus making a profit. Based on certain knowledge of the these commodities sinking to zero value within 8 years, you should easily acquire through short sales all of the fungible assets in Austrailia within a few years.



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  • I conjecture or roughly estimate that significant progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions can be made before 2050 and that the problem should be substantively resolved by 2100.

    We should have begun in 1990 when the problem was identified and had completed the transformation by 2025. That’s what the science indicated if we didn’t want to suffer any adverse effect. The fact that we have procrastinated, delayed, committed crimes against future humanity by not acting immediately, or acting now, will be recorded by future historians, (if any of us survive to write a history) as the most stupid thing homo sapiens have done in the 1.6 million years since they have been on the planet. To put the entire planet at risk, knowingly, for the sake of monetary profit is voluntary genocide.

    Maybe that’s why alien species refuse to let us know they are out there. They’re probably watching our TV news and thinking, “No way are we going anywhere near those suicidal idiots.” There’s probably a force field out around the Keiper belt with signs saying, “Danger, danger Will Robinson.”



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  • (I) estimate that significant progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions can be made before 2050 and that the problem should be substantively resolved by 2100.

    Melvin, I explained to you earlier that we don’t have decades to act and we can’t “remediate” the problem away. David is correct to say we only have a decade to act, and that won’t fix the problem completely.

    Science indicates immediate action is imperative, at any financial cost, to ameliorate the risk of catastrophic climate change. Right wing denialism will evaporate one believer at a time, and meanwhile delay is highly profitable to fossil fuel investors.
    Solutions are now available.

    See
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/carbon-crash-solar-dawn-deutsche-bank-on-why-solar-has-already-won-51105 and
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/saudi-power-giant-sees-solar-taking-on-base-load-fossil-fuels-57218



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  • If I had any spare money at the moment I would be investing in making my own home greener and taking myself as far away from fossil fuels as possible. PV solar is next (saving now for that), Electric vehicle next -they I agree are some time of being affordable, however I’m buying myself an electric bike this year to toddle off to work and save on fuel. Unfortunately I’m only a teacher and supporting a family on a single income and do not have sufficient disposable income to spend big.

    Our county is selling Coal and Natural gas madly to China, China is investing heavily in the alternatives, pretty soon they will no longer need our oil or natural gas, what happens to us then?



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  • David makes incisive observations that evoke a central question: Why did international governments, economies and populations do so little to convert to clean energy after we learned around 1990 of the emerging threats of global warming driven by increasing anthropogenic co2 emissions from fossil fuel energy sources?

    Obviously, it took several years for the new science to form a decisive consensus potentially persuasive to the public and arguably a couple of decades thereafter for melting ice caps, rising temperatures and sea levels, patterns of severe storms, flooding and droughts to reach a critical mass sufficient to convince the public of serious danger.

    Still the vast majority of the world’s people put “Climate Change” way down on their priority list of concerns for understandable reasons. People will look out the window and if the weather seems fine, they are content to take what today gives and defer the promises of tomorrow. Families have to live in the here and now. Standards of living, indeed life itself depends on energy consumption; or more precisely, because populations, especially poor populations are growing rapidly, growing economies and raising standards of living for everyone depend on consuming more and more energy.

    Cutting to the chase I believe monstrous population growth in the 20th and 21st centuries is the wellspring of the problem. Though I usually refrain from historical counterfactuals, it is relatively easy to imagine a scenario where world population had stabilized at zero growth between 1960 and 1990 at between 3 and 4 billion. Over the past 25 years, imagine how much easier it would have been to reach global consensus and mobilize a far better educated and prosperous international community to address climate change.

    Instead we live in a world where population grew by 3 billion between 1960 and 2000. From 3 billion to 6 billion in 2000, our species will over-breed another 4 to 5 billion by 2100 flooding the planet with a majority-poor population between 10 and 11 billion. Imagine how “easy” it will be to prevent the poor from burning any fossil fuel they can lay their hands on to cook their food, heat their homes, provide transportation, or fire up the engines of their economies. These billions are not going to sit on their hands and starve in the dark waiting for piddling government subsidies to provide photo-voltaic panels for roofing their shacks and tenements.

    Few people on the thread (I applaud Alan) have made the connection that we are committing “suicide” on many different fronts by over-breeding our scorched-earth species into a miserable corner if not into extinction.



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  • My answers two of the questions Melvin raised.

    Why did international governments, economies and populations do so little to convert to clean energy after we learned around 1990…

    The world was going to act on global warming in the 1990’s, just as they did with chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone hole. A highly funded campaign employing guns for hire “scientists” using the template model employed by the tobacco industry stopped the world from acting, and continues to hinder and delay action. The tobacco industry realized that you don’t have to prove anything, you only have to raise doubt in the mind of governments and authorities and they will become paralyzed and won’t act. The most explicit expose of this crime against humanity is detailed in the book, Merchant’s of Doubt. You are not qualified to comment on global warming until you have read this book, especially if you are a denier. Money, muscle, spin doctors and corrupt people will always win out in the short term over the rational and ethical. The problem is with global warming, that it may hit a tipping point and rapidly go out of control. The rational and ethical may not be able to save us.

    Still the vast majority of the world’s people put “Climate Change” way down on their priority list of concerns for understandable reasons. People will look out the window and if the weather seems fine, they are content to take what today gives and defer the promises of tomorrow. Families have to live in the here and now.

    This is our evolutionary heritage. Homo Sapiens are probably in the top ten most successful of animal species that have ever existed on this planet along with the likes of trilobites and dinosaurs. (Both now extinct). Homo sapiens are brilliantly adapted omnivores and left at the hunter and gather point in our evolution would have continued to have a successful career. Homo sapiens are very well adapted at dealing with the needs of today, and maybe a week or a month into the future, but they have no concept of making a decision today, that will have a beneficial effect for some future homo sapiens 50 or 100 years in the future. We are incapable of comprehending this issue.

    We are also limited in our brain from dealing with numbers of humans above around 120. A few related tribes. More than that, we loose the concept. We make decisions at the 120 level, not the 9-12 billion level. Tragedy of the Commons again. We can’t and won’t act for some future greater good if it costs us some disadvantage today.

    “We can’t change from fossil fuel because someone will loose money.”

    “If we turn off fossil fuels, how will I drive my V8 truck and power my air conditioner all day.” etc ad infinitum.

    Melvin touches on the true problem briefly towards the end. Is the problem burning fossil fuels causing an adverse greenhouse effect, or is it too many people burning fossil fuel? How much fossil fuel could homo sapiens burn if the population of the world was capped at 1 billion people? This is the real problem. There is not one environmental problem on this planet that isn’t directly, or indirectly caused by too many locust on the planet. And there is no Planet B.

    Finally, if things really do go bad in the future due to global warming, I hope their is enough civilization and law still intact, to charge global warming deniers at all levels at Nuremberg with crimes against humanity.



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  • Melvin,

    I hope I still catch you on this been too busy the last couple of days to check properly the threads.

    I think we can all find common ground with you on population – with the caveat that most of the worlds population is in places where their per capita population is tiny and and their consumption and therefore impact on climate change has been and is likely to continue to be negligible. But to some extent you are right India and China are both economies that are expanding rapidly. In the case of China at least though they are also doing something about developing greener industries and buying up emerging technologies, and may well end up positioning themselves to leaders in the new energy economy or even just becoming energy self sufficient which would screw over my country royally as we make enormous amounts of money selling them our carbon at the moments (but perhaps not for much longer).

    I apologise if I misrepresent you but you seem to be doing (or saying) anything to dodge the issue of acting on this now. Obviously (or as far as I know) you are in little position to do more than act or vote locally on the issue (as am I). But I emplore you to look into the real options we all have a sphere of influence around us both here and in the third world.

    The third world don’t have to sit on their hands waiting for government subsidies to get power they are to a great extent already acting on this far quicker than many in the west are. For most rural villagers it is far cheaper to install PV for example and a few batteries, bio gas systems for cooking and generation of power than to hook up to a local grid, if one exists or to dam their local water source or flood their land to be hooked up to a grid or have western countries exploit them for their oil or coal. They already run on the smell of an oily rag, and increasingly they don’t need the oily rag. Here are some examples of biogas systems to name just one simple and effective technology here and here and another here and yet another here. We in the west are mostly just letting bacteria in a sewerage treatment plants vent all that methane straight into the atmosphere, we should be capturing it and generating electricity off it particularly as this is one source of night time power to even out drops from solar pv. There are many such solutions being employed, they work and they are cheaper than the alternative which is wrecking the climate – which will unduly effect the third world by the way. The choice you seem to be giving them – starve while waiting for the West to supply them with alternative energy is a false one. They are already employing many alternative energy systems, and the real choice is as they gear up invest in technologies that have a future or starve to death as climate change reeks havoc with their crops and homes.



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