Climate Change Denying Scientist Received more than $1 Million from Oil, Gas and Coal Industries

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon (photo: Ken Caldeira, Twitter)

When conservatives have argued climate change is not a human-produced problem, they often have exalted the work of scientist Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who has said changes with the sun are really behind global warming.


But now it has been disclosed that Soon’s research has been funded—by more than $1 million—by oil and gas interests often blamed for generating greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. It has been no secret that Soon had financial ties to the fossil fuel industry, but the extent and depth of those relationships had not been known until now.


In documents obtained by Greenpeace through the Freedom of Information Act, it was revealed that, over the last 14 years, Soon received support from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute and a foundation run by the conservative Koch brothers.


He has also received substantial financial backing from Southern Company, which has made enormous investments in coal-burning power plants and lobbying efforts to fight federal greenhouse-gas regulations. Another of his benefactors has been DonorsTrust, a firm that channels money from anonymous donors to conservative organizations.


Soon did not disclose this financial backing while publishing numerous scientific papers, which would indicate he was trying to hide this obvious conflict of interest.


“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,” Justin Gillis and John Schwartz wrote at The New York Times. “He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress” to also argue that humans were not responsible for climate change.


For years, energy interests have taken the lead from the tobacco industry in using tactics that “have employed a strategy of creating the appearance of scientific doubt, usually with the help of ostensibly independent researchers who accept industry funding,” wrote Gillis and Schwartz.


“The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” Harvard science historian and author Naomi Oreskes told the Times. “Willie Soon is playing a role in a certain kind of political theater.”


Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, which is funded by foundations trying to mitigate climate change risks, told the newspaper that the documents expose “the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.”


The disclosure may get Soon in trouble with his employer.


“I am aware of the situation with Willie Soon, and I’m very concerned about it,” W. John Kress, interim undersecretary for science at the Smithsonian Institution, told the Times. “We are checking into this ourselves.”


The Smithsonian, which is a co-sponsor with Harvard of its astrophysics center, employs Soon on a part-time, non-salaried basis to work at the center as staff researcher. Though he has a doctorate in aerospace engineering, he is not an astrophysicist and has had little formal training in climatology, according to the Times.


Charles R. Alcock, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s director, labeled the hidden corporate funding a violation of conflict-of-interest disclosure standards used by the journals that published Soon’s work.


“I think that’s inappropriate behavior,” Alcock told the Times. “This frankly becomes a personnel matter, which we have to handle with Dr. Soon internally.”


The Center “routinely distances itself from Dr. Soon’s findings,” and the Smithsonian, Soon’s employer, is on record as accepting the scientific community’s consensus about climate change, said the Times.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher (by Justin Gillis and John Schwartz, New York Times)

Work Of Prominent Climate Change Denier Was Funded By Energy Industry (by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian)

Funding That Climate Researcher Failed to Disclose (New York Times)

Of 10,885 Peer-Reviewed Articles on Climate Change in 2013, Only 2 Question Human Involvement (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Climate Change Denial Gets Billions in Dark Money from Conservative Groups (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Scientists Denying Human-Caused Climate Change Fade from Existence…Except in the Media (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


anonamouse 9 years ago
@CGG: No, it's not. Dr. Soon is a heretic. He must be burned at the stake to prevent his dangerous ideas from spreading: This is about upholding the sanctity of Settled Science and the Immaculate Consensus.
Wayne Clemon 9 years ago
and pro climate change scientists are funded by governments that are looking to collect huge carbon tax revenues
RICH 9 years ago
Soon is a hero for exposing the climate lies of liberal morons! He should receive even more millions for saving us from alarmist drivel! Not to worry you alarmist imbeciles, there are the end of the world cults you can join and DRINK THE KOOL-AID!
CGG 9 years ago
Isn't it possible to consider the matter of this man's positions solely on the basis of his scientific methods? Again, does the funding of funded research necessarily mean such grave suspicion of results?
Van 9 years ago
So it turns out that climate denial is a hoax. Kind of ironic.

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