Willie Wei-Hock Soon, an aerospace engineer and a part-time employee at the Solar and Stellar Physics (SSP) Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is better known in some quarters as a rather vocal critic of the prevailing scientific consensus that human activity is a significant contributor to climate change. He does does not deny that global warning is happening, but rather has argued that most of it is caused by solar variation.
For example …
- Here is his testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. July 29, 2003 where he makes that precise argument.
- and here is an article in The Harvard Crimson that reports him taking this stance.
So does he have a credible case with data to back it up?
In a word “no”, and alas the problem here is that because he is a “scientist” the observation that his claim is unfounded gets ignored and he is happily cited as an authority by many politicians who oppose climate change legislation.
Follow the Money
What has now come to light is the motivation Mr Soon has had for taking this rather odd stance. The UK’s Guardian reports …
Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, received a total of $1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show.
According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal.
Did he declare any of this funding within the papers that he has submitted to various journals over the years? Nope, and that is a gross violation of their ethical standards, because such funding creates a huge conflict of interest.
What is interesting is that not only is his entire source for funding the fossil fuel lobby, but that he was also the go-to guy whenever the prevailing climate change consensus needed to be muddied up a bit …
with his Harvard-Smithsonian credentials, was a sought after commodity. He was cited admiringly by Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who famously called global warming a hoax. He was called to testify when Republicans in the Kansas state legislature tried to block measures promoting wind and solar power. The Heartland Institute, a hub of climate denial, gave Soon a courage award.
Astrophysicist for Sale
It is quite frankly appalling that he permitted himself to be available to the highest bidder and would willingly promote whatever they needed him to promote.
From 2005, Southern Company gave Soon nearly $410,000. In return, Soon promised to publish research about the sun’s influence on climate change in leading journals, and to deliver lectures about his theories at national and international events, according to the correspondence.
The funding would lead to “active participations by this PI (principal investigator) of this research proposal in all national and international forums interested in promoting the basic understanding of solar variability and climate change”, Soon wrote in a report to Southern Company.
In 2012, Soon told Southern Company its grants had supported publications on polar bears, temperature changes in the Arctic and China, and rainfall patterns in the Indian monsoon.
ExxonMobil gave $335,000 but stopped funding Soon in 2010, according to the documents. The astrophysicist reportedly received $274,000 from the main oil lobby, the American Petroleum Institute, and $230,000 from the Charles G Koch Foundation. He received an additional $324,000 in anonymous donations through a trust used by the Kochs and other conservative donors, the documents showed.
This guy was essentially being paid we write peer-reviewed science papers that contained the required degree of spin.
So lets be clear about all this …
- receiving corporate sponsorship or funding from various groups is acceptable … but hiding that fact is not
- an aerospace engineer pretending to be a climatologist is also not exactly ethical either.