Dr. Wei-Hock 'Willie' Soon took payments from Kochs, Southern Co., ExxonMobil; Peddled discredited scientific global warming theory...
By Brad Friedman on 2/23/2015, 7:39pm PT  

Uh oh. Shall we call it "DenierGate"?

For years, top climate science deniers, such as Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), have been citing a handful of folks like Dr. Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon for their willingness to dispute the central thesis of global warming, as shared by the overwhelming consensus of world climatologists.

Now, however, according to documents published over the weekend by the New York Times, it appears that Soon has been accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars (out of some $1.2 million he's received, in fact) from the fossil fuel industry --- including at least $409,000 from coal giant Southern Company and $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Soon was also paid hundreds of thousands by ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, the Kochs' Donors Trust and others for his reports and appearances.

While some of those payments were previously known, it appears that Soon failed to disclose many of these extraordinary conflicts of interest when publishing his scientific papers concerning discredited global warming theories and when serving as an "expert" witness at Congressional hearings.

"At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure," the Times reports, "and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work."

Soon is often incorrectly identified as a "Harvard astrophysicist" when appearing on right-wing news outlets, even though he is an aerospace engineer with "little formal training in climatology," according to the paper. His part-time employers at The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are, to say the least, not at all happy about Soon's very serious apparent ethical breaches...

From the Times report over the weekend:

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.

The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
Environmentalists have long questioned Dr. Soon's work, and his acceptance of funding from the fossil-fuel industry was previously known. But the full extent of the links was not; the documents show that corporate contributions were tied to specific papers and were not disclosed, as required by modern standards of publishing.

The documents were obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by Greenpeace and Climate Investigations Center and shared with the New York Times and other outlets.

For those not familiar with the way science works, failing to disclose such conflicts is a huge no-no, a very serious ethical breach when publishing scientific reports. Any such potential conflicts or payments must be disclosed within the report at the time papers are submitted.

Soon's employers, according to the Times, are now very concerned about the new findings, and it sounds like the good doctors will likely soon be out of a job with them...

Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, acknowledged on Friday that Dr. Soon had violated the disclosure standards of some journals.

"I think that's inappropriate behavior," Dr. Alcock said. "This frankly becomes a personnel matter, which we have to handle with Dr. Soon internally."

Dr. Soon is employed by the Smithsonian Institution, which jointly sponsors the astrophysics center with Harvard.

"I am aware of the situation with Willie Soon, and I'm very concerned about it," W. John Kress, interim under secretary for science at the Smithsonian in Washington, said on Friday. "We are checking into this ourselves."

Soon's discredited theory

"Though he has little formal training in climatology," the Times explains, "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."

Gavin A. Schmidt, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the central division of NASA which studies climate science, described Soon's work as "almost pointless," as the sun has been found to account "for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming and that greenhouse gases produced by human activity explained most of it."

The theory that increased solar activity --- or, solar variability --- is to blame for climate change has been repeatedly investigated by climate scientists and repeatedly debunked as an explanation for global warming which, to date, has only been found to match increases in man-made carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere.

Take a look, for example, at this recent, must-see clip of Koch-funded climate scientist Dr. Richard Muller of the University of California's Berkley Earth Surface Temperature Project (BEST)...

Seriously, if you haven't watched the clip above, you should. It's short, sweet and devastating.

Muller was formerly a global warming skeptic himself, at least until his BEST was unable to find what they had previously suspected. Then, unlike Soon, he had the intellectual honesty to admit he had been completely wrong.

In the clip above, posted last month by Climate Crock's Peter Sinclair, Muller specifically debunks the theory that Soon has been peddling (for dollars!): the claim that the sun is responsible for the recent increased warming of the Earth that has alarmed the vast majority of the global scientific community.

After collecting the largest data sample ever used for such a study, Muller explains, "in the end, we got a nice curve, a curve that showed the temperature --- and it was rising!"

BEST tried to match the rise in temperature with every known scientific theory to explain it. The only one that matched the curve "smack on" was CO2.

"We also added in solar variability," he says in the video above. "We tried this in many different ways. We tried the straight sun spot record, running averages of the sun spot record, the IPCC [the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] function of solar intensity, we tried all of them. They didn't contribute" to the evidence of global warming, says Muller.

"I was flabbergasted. Not only was global warming real, and roughly consistent with what the previous groups had said, but the match to carbon dioxide --- and the fact that solar variability was not responsible --- enabled us to rule out the primary alternative theory."

'Scientists that cannot be challenged'

In responding to the new revelations about Soon, Dr. Michael Mann, author of the famous "Hockey Stick" graph tying the increase in global temperatures to the sharp rise in atmospheric CO2, told Science Blog's Greg Laden that Soon was key in the early response to his work by deniers such as Sen. Inhofe.

"Soon (as amply documented in my book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars") was instrumental in the early attacks on the Hockey Stick by James Inhofe and other fossil fuel industry-funded politicians. Now we know for certain that his efforts were a quid pro quo with special interests looking to discredit my work as a means of calling into question the reality and threat of climate change."

After Republican climate deniers like Inhofe were no longer able to cite guys like the convert Muller anymore, the bought-and-paid-for work of aerospace engineer Soon was often prominently highlighted in the attempt to undermine climate science on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

"In a Senate debate last month," the Times notes in its weekend exposé, "Mr. Inhofe pointed to a poster with photos of scientists questioning the climate-change consensus, including Dr. Soon. 'These are scientists that cannot be challenged,' the senator said."

In the past, Soon has vigorously denied that payments from the fossil fuel industry have influenced his work in any way. Neither he, Inhofe, nor representatives of the several fossil fuel groups who reportedly paid Soon for his work, responded to the Times request for comment on the newly-published documents detailing the undisclosed payments.

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