Here’s news sure to shock everyone: Willie Soon, a prominent academic, researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and climate change denier, received more than $1.2 million from lobbying groups, oil billionaires, and the energy industry to fund his work.
Look folks, it’s the Andrew Wakefield moment for the Climate Change Deniers.
Over the last 14 years, Soon has been a pronounced critic of climate change, and differs from the scientific establishment in that he doesn’t accept that all greenhouse gases since the industrial age could change the climate. Rather, he contends that climate is driven by the sun.
However, new documents prove that Soon may actually believe that climate is driven by cash, instead. Over fourteen years, the loud climate denier received a total of $1.25 million dollars from ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and the American Petroleum Institution, which is a shell for the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers.
The biggest funder by far was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest providers of electricity. They rely almost exclusively on coal.
So, who wants to start the pool for how long it takes our resident trolls to bring up Climategate? Or pretend that because the climate’s been changing over 4.5 billion years, that means man can’t possibly be changing it now (one of the stupidest non-sequiturs I’ve ever heard, mind you)?
This is important because our Modern Galileo here is actually a rare species in academia. Because he has Harvard-Smithsonian credentials, he was a hot commodity for the far right, and has been cited by fools across right-wing politics, like Senator James Inhofe. Inhofe is a denier, you’ll recall, and referred to climate change as a hoax. Soon also testified when Republicans in Kansas tried to block legislature promoting wind and solar power. The Heartland Institute, another climate change denying institute, gave him a “courage ward,” presumably attached to his latest hundred thousand dollar grant from the API, since courage is cheap when you have cash.
Kert Davies, a former Greenpeace researcher who filed the original freedom of information requests that got the documents, asked “The question here is really: ‘What did API, Exxon Mobil, Southern Company and Charles Koch see in Willie Soon? What did they get for $1m-plus.’ Did they simply hope he was on to research that would disprove the consensus? Or was it too enticing to be able to basically buy the nameplate Harvard-Smithsonian?”
I’m betting the latter, because they bought him good. ExxonMobile gave $335,000, but stopped funding in 2010. He received $274,000 from the main oil lobby, the API, and $230,000 from the Charles G Koch Foundation. The astrophysicist also netted an additional $324,000 in anonymous donations, filtered through a trust that’s used by the Kochs and other conservative donors, and nearly $410,000 from 2005, given by Southern Company.
In exchange for the 2005 donation, Soon promised to publish research about the sun’s influence on climate change in leading journals, and to give lectures about his theories at national and international events. Come 2012, Soon told Southern Company that, by way of is grants, it’d supported publications regarding polar bears, temperature changes in the Arctic and China, and rainfall patterns in the Indian monsoon.
Davies noted that the company was “paying him to write peer-reviewed science and that relationship was not acknowledged in the peer-reviewed literature. These proposals and contracts show debatable interventions in science literally on the behalf of Southern Company and the Kochs.” Greenpeace also accused Soon of improperly concealing his funding sources for a more recent article, which is in direct violation of the journal’s conflict of interest guidelines.
In the past, Soon has denied his connections to the industry. In 2013, he told the Boston Globe that “No amount of money can influence what I have to say and write, especially on my scientific quest to understand how climate works, all by itself.”
There’s a huge difference between “no amount of money” and “over a million dollars in Koch Money,” but hey, I’m sure Isaac Newton took Koch money, too.
The real interesting thing is that, despite having a Harvard-Smithsonian email and badge, he didn’t actually work at the Institute. Like most scientists there, he got money from an outside source. Per the Guardian (via Raw Story):
As is common among Harvard-Smithsonian scientists, Soon is not on a salary. He receives his compensation from outside grant money, said Christine Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Center for Astrophysics.
The Center for Astrophysics does not require scientists to disclose their funding sources. But Pulliam acknowleged that Soon had failed to meet disclosure requirements of some of the journals that published his research. “Soon should have followed those policies,” she said.
Harvard said Soon operated outside of the university – even though he carries a Harvard ID and uses a Harvard email address.
“Willie Soon is a Smithsonian staff researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a collaboration of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” a Harvard spokesman, Jeff Neal, said.
“There is no record of Soon having applied for or having been granted funds that were or are administered by the University. Soon is not an employee of Harvard.”
Both Harvard and the Smithsonian acknowledge that the climate is changing because of rising levels of greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human activities.
Pulliam cast Soon’s association with the institutions as an issue of academic freedom: “Academic freedom is critically important. The Smithsonian stands by the process by which the research results of all of its scholars are peer reviewed and vetted by other scientists. This is the way that the scientific process works. The funding entities, regardless of their affiliation, have no influence on the research.”
In a report to Southern Company, Soon noted that his funding from 2005 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.”
Verily, a modern Alfred Wegner.