Cry for me, Willie Soon

And by "me" I mean all the children of future generations.

Willie Soon is a soft-money scientist at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has been producing highly questionable 'science' casting, for several years, faux light on the reality of the human caused process of global warming. It appears that most or all of Soon's funding came directly or indirectly from the fossil fuel industry or supporters of that industry. (See also John Mashy's comment below about tax breaks.) Recently the dung has struck the rotating blades and the nexus of denialist 'science,' fossil fuel funding, and Willie Soon has been brightly illuminated for all to see. Soon's activities have actually been known for quite some time. Indeed, one of the denialist arguments that this isn't really a story is the based on the assertion that this isn't really a new story. (Pro tip: something like this going on for years is a bigger, not smaller, story!) What is different this time is that mainstream media, currently undergoing a transition away from maintaining a false balance debate about climate change has started to get real, and the main main stream media outlet in the US, the New York Times, anointed the Soon story as a story.

Even though Soon is ensconced at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (which is more of a Smithsonian thing than a Harvard thing, but the links to Harvard are very real I am ashamed to admit) he recently made a public written statement about his situation and chose to convey that statement via the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is the infamous Libertarian 'think' tank that supported the tobacco industry in their bid to cover up the dangers of smoking, and that has been involved in a range of rather nefarious activities vis-a-vis climate change science denialism. Soon has been an affiliate of Heartland for some time now. Soon's statement reads:

In recent weeks I have been the target of attacks in the press by various radical environmental and politically motivated groups. This effort should be seen for what it is: a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher who may dare question in the slightest their fervently held orthodoxy of anthropogenic global warming.

Um, Imma let you finish reading the statement but first I want to comment on that first paragraph. The "radical" groups include Greenpeace, which I would argue is a radical group, but also, the New York Times, which I would regard as centrist, as well as a number of climate and environmental advocacy groups and individuals including mainstream scientists. What Soon calls an "orthodoxy" is actually a broadly held scientific consensus, like the "Germ Theory," and "Einsteinian Physics" and such. By "question in the slightest" he must mean, since he is speaking circumspectly of his own work, "radical contrarianism of the important findings of climate science." So, ladies and gentlemen, we see the magic of rhetoric at work. Soon is the radical, which is why he calls others radicals. OK, you may continue reading now.

I am saddened and appalled by this effort, not only because of the personal hurt it causes me and my family and friends, but also because of the damage it does to the integrity of the scientific process. I am willing to debate the substance of my research and competing views of climate change with anyone, anytime, anywhere. It is a shame that those who disagree with me resolutely decline all public debate and stoop instead to underhanded and unscientific ad hominem tactics.

Soon is famous for deflecting attempts to engage him in Q&A periods after the talks he gives. So forget about the debate. Soon is indeed being subjected to parallel attacks; scientists have been saying for years that his science sucks. That is not ad hominem. It is just that his science sucks. But also, his ethics are now being newly questioned, as he seems to have failed on numerous occasions to properly declare his industry funding. If accusing someone, copious evidence in hand, of ethical violations is ad hominem, then that is what it is. Soon's reference to ad hominem is misguided. People are saying "Your science sucks. And your ethics are questionable." The ad hominem fallacy would apply here only if people were saying "Your science sucks because your ethics suck." No, his science does not stand on its own. OK, sorry for the interruption. Back to the statement.

Let me be clear. I have never been motivated by financial gain to write any scientific paper, nor have I ever hidden grants or any other alleged conflict of interest. I have been a solar and stellar physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for a quarter of a century, during which time I have published numerous peer-reviewed, scholarly articles. The fact that my research has been supported in part by donations to the Smithsonian Institution from many sources, including some energy producers, has long been a matter of public record. In submitting my academic writings I have always complied with what I understood to be disclosure practices in my field generally, consistent with the level of disclosure made by many of my Smithsonian colleagues.

Whether or not Soon or any other author of a peer reviews paper is motivated by financial gain is irrelevant to the question of proper disclosure of funding. Who knows, he may be right. After all, it was just a million or so dollars, who would be motivated by that? That is a distraction. Do note his reference to grant money coming to him via the Smithsonian. We'll return to that later. I find his reference to "many" of his Smithsonian colleagues interesting as well.

If the standards for disclosure are to change, then let them change evenly. If a journal that has peer-reviewed and published my work concludes that additional disclosures are appropriate, I am happy to comply. I would ask only that other authors-on all sides of the debate-are also required to make similar disclosures. And I call on the media outlets that have so quickly repeated my attackers’ accusations to similarly look into the motivations of and disclosures that may or may not have been made by their preferred, IPCC-linked scientists.

Just to be clear, there really is no question that Soon failed to disclose funding sources in violation of journal policies and standard practice. I should note that his failure to disclose has been on the table for some time and at no point did he address that issue, as far as I know. I suspect that Soon's repeated references to "others" is a deluded hope that everyone should realize that everyone has been acting unethically and this will motivate everyone to back off. (See this interesting pot by Ugo Bardi on disclosure in science.)

I regret deeply that the attacks on me now appear to have spilled over onto other scientists who have dared to question the degree to which human activities might be causing dangerous global warming, a topic that ought rightly be the subject of rigorous open debate, not personal attack. I similarly regret the terrible message this pillorying sends young researchers about the costs of questioning widely accepted “truths.”

Actually, some of those people are not questioning human cause, but they are questioning the danger. But I digress.

There is indeed a message here to the young and upcoming researchers. Keep your ducks in a row when it comes to ethics and similar concerns. Otherwise, this is exactly the fight Soon says he is ready for. If you produce research that asks questions of a widely held consensus, more power to you! You may well be making an important contribution. But if your research is shown to be seriously wanting time and time again, you may want to refer to that old adage of unknown attribution about doing the same thing that does not work over and over again.

Finally, I thank all my many colleagues and friends who have bravely objected to this smear campaign on my behalf and I challenge all parties involved to focus on real scientific issues for the betterment of humanity.

This sentence really pisses me off. Willie Soon and his denialist colleagues in science and Congress have measurably stalled our collective action on climate change. How dare you play the victim, Willie Soon. You are one of the perpetrators of what could be defined, and some day will be defined, as a crime against future generations (though this isn't technically illegal, of course). The young pre-school age children of today will suffer more than they otherwise might have because of this delay. Shame on you. Don't tell us about the "betterment of humanity." Don't ask us to cry for you, Willie Soon. You are in a hole. You dug that hole, and got paid a million or two bucks along the way. You tossed our children under the bus, and now you are whinging about your own fate?

And now, for the last part of the statement:

Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Why is Willie Soon of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics releasing a statement indicating he is of that institution via the Heartland Institute, rather than from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics? I think it is very weird that he released a statement that he is not an industry shill through an organization that is an industry shill. Beyond that anything in his convoluted statement makes equal sense.

Note that in his statement, Soon throws the Smithsonian under the bus, or perhaps, drags the institution under his own bus, by reminding everyone that the grants actually came (he claims) to him from the Smithsonian, to which Big Fossil had made donations. Note also that Soon implies that failure to disclose is normal for his colleagues at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or perhaps, the Smithsonian in general. Wow. One can only imagine the conversations going on behind closed doors between Garden Street and Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA.

I strongly suspect that the only question that remains in the Willy Soon Gate affair is who is going down with Willie. We see the usual denialists lining up with him, and they are of no consequence. They have already crashed and burned. But we also see various so-called 'contrarians' choosing to jump in Willie's hole, or not, and I strongly recommend not.

More like this

The Willie Soon Story broke on Saturday night, having cloned off the front page of the Sunday New York Times into a few secondary sources. But we all saw it coming. Since then there has been quite a bit more written and there will be quite a bit more. The main thing I want to add to the…
A few days ago I suggested that Willie Soon's career may be taking a nose dive soon. I was right. Tomorrow's New York Times has a story that has as many leaks as an old canoe, so we can see it now in various outlets. The story is out and linked to below. Before going into detail I just want to…
Or so says Christine Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. And yet we discover that Soon's research was (partially) funded by Southern Company Services, with whom Soon had and agreement, signed by Smithsonian’s William J. Ford, contract and grant specialist;…
The Willie Soon Controversy There’s been a lot of talk about the Willie Soon Controversy. Bottom line: Soon was an author on a paper that failed to disclose his extensive funding by the petroleum industry and its friends (over a million dollars to date, I believe) as required. I don’t have time to…

One more ttime:
the Smithsonian is a 501(c)(3) public charity, which means that one way or another, every donation to Soon through it generated a tax deduction for somebody:
1) ExxonMobil or Southern directly
2) Charles Koch (who got the deduction when he put $ in C. G. Koch Foundation)
3) Somebody unknown, who funded Soon through the money laundry..

Does that bother anybody?

By John Mashey (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

People are saying “Your science sucks. And your ethics are questionable.” The ad hominem fallacy would apply here only if people were saying “Your science sucks because your ethics suck.”

Heartland has a Fallacy Generator in the basement. Whenever Soon or one of the other Heartland Experts says something that reasonable people are critical of, they plug a bunch of random information into the Fallacy Generator, it hums for a while, some lights blink, a horn blares, and it spits out a piece of paper that says "ad hominem!" or "affirming the consequent!". They then send that paper off to the media, who nod approvingly and swallow Soon's pronouncements like butter.

GregH: Heartland has a Fallacy Generator in the basement.

Really? I thought it was in the office of Heartland's president.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

the Smithsonian is a 501(c)(3) public charity, which means that one way or another, every donation to Soon through it generated a tax deduction for somebody

So that means that a donation to ANYONE through the Smithsonian generates a tax deduction for somebody. You don't get to pick and choose who gets the deduction and who doesn't, although it sounds like you'd like to.

@GregH : Can you show me one media outlet which has "swallowed Soon's pronouncements"? Most of the stuff I've seen is similar to Laden's tripe above, just trying to trash Soon.

Gee, it is almost as if Soon did not apply for the funding himself...

I am pretty sure those were personal grants, to Soon himself, which were just funneled through the Smithsonian.

The fact that my research has been supported in part by donations to the Smithsonian Institution from many sources, including some energy producers, has long been a matter of public record.

Assuming arguendo that Soon's version approximates reality, just what were the donations people at the Smithsonian who accepted these gifts thinking? To get a "donation" funneled to a specific researcher, you would have to put some rather serious strings on your donation. Which is possible, if you have a good enough lawyer (and I'm sure these donors do), but then why wouldn't somebody at the Smithsonian look at the attached conditions and ask whether the Smithsonian would really want it? Sooner or later, somebody is going to figure out just what happened, leaving a month or two's production of Massachusetts egg on the Smithsonian's face. And the fallout is likely to cost more than the overhead the Smithsonian was getting on these "donations".

Or maybe Soon is full of it, and these were grants, not donations. In which case the person taking the tax deduction would be the donor to the foundation in question, not the foundation themselves. (Standard disclaimer: IANAL.) This interpretation still stinks for the Smithsonian, though not as much as Soon's version.

Either way, I agree with Marco that these weren't really competitive grants.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Exactly. Grant money is routinely funneled to a specific researcher or project. Indeed, it is routinely granted for that purpose. Soon seems to be trying to get the reader to believe that various agencies gave money to the Smithsonian and then they doled it out among their researchers. I am pretty sure that is not how it went for the most part.

Soon’s reference to ad hominem is misguided. People are saying “Your science sucks. And your ethics are questionable.” The ad hominem fallacy would apply here only if people were saying “Your science sucks because your ethics suck.”

More specifically, people are saying "Soon's science sucks, and now that we know both where his funding is coming from and that he has a habit of trying to hide it by not disclosing it as required, it seems his science sucks not just because he's a poor researcher, but because the conclusions he makes are precisely what his funding sources desire, and his correspondence with his funding sources plus his hiding his funding sources strongly suggests he's doing this deliberately and dishonestly".

By anthrosciguy (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

People may be thinking that but they are not saying it too clearly because if not true it borders on libel. If true it needs to be known. So there is a bit of dancing around.

“(Pro tip: something like this going on for years is a bigger, not smaller, story!)”

Serial killer!? He's been doing it for years!

“I would ask only that other authors-on all sides of the debate-are also required to make similar disclosures.”

If I'm not mistaken, “other authors – on all sides of the debate – are” already “required to make similar disclosures.”

“And I call on the media outlets that have so quickly repeated my attackers’ accusations to similarly look into the motivations of and disclosures that may or may not have been made by their preferred, IPCC-linked scientists.”

Here, in a nutshell, we have the conspiracy: the (liberal) media colluding with corrupt, UN linked scientists to silence the valiant Galileo.

“I am saddened and appalled by this effort... also because of the damage it does to the integrity of the scientific process.”

The issue is that Soon himself, by not disclosing funding that would underline concerns about his scientific integrity, damaged the scientific process.

Soon wallows in victimization and abused innocence, while using innuendo to attack others and deflect attention from what he's done. In the predictable manner of climate septics he turns reality upside-down to produce the narrative that suits his (and his sponsors) needs. And they eat it up:

“The Heartland Institute portrayed Dr. Soon as a martyr.
‘He’s a brilliant and courageous scientist devoted entirely to pursuing scientific knowledge,’ the organization’s president, Joseph Bast, said this week in a statement. ‘His critics are all ethically challenged and mental midgets by comparison.’ ”
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/science/climate-change-researcher-wei…

(Soon is a mental giant whose ethics are beyond reproach.)

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Willie lacks traction hereabouts for two far worse reasona .

1. He's more than a bit of a bore.

2. He's an Associate Professor elsewhere--

the Universiity of Putra , in Borneo , to be exact.

Fossil fuel industry caught taking a page out of the tobacco playbook

Fossil fuel funded Willie Soon is just a pawn in the game of delaying climate action

"...as I [Dana Nuccitelli] detailed in my just-published book, climate contrarians like Soon simply aren’t held accountable for their bad science and failed climate predictions. This lack of accountability and disproportionate attention are serious problems.

The reason Soon can be treated as an expert is that he’s been able to publish climate-related research in peer-reviewed journals. To get bad science published in peer-reviewed journals, Soon has followed the same strategies as other climate contrarians with flawed research. He has submitted papers to relatively obscure, non-climate science journals, and he’s exploited “pal review” with friendly journal editors."

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/20…

Perhaps of interest:

Why We Doubt Scientific Findings
"We live in an age when science and technology permeate nearly every aspect of our lives. Yet scientific findings on everything from climate change to vaccines are increasingly under attack. A discussion about why reasonable people doubt science."

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-03-04/why-we-doubt-scientific-fi…

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 03 Mar 2015 #permalink

Come on, are you being serious here?

A) Just because you disagree with his conclusions does not make him wrong.
[That is true. But him being wrong makes him wrong. The role of the sun in changing surface temperatures has been carefully looked at and is well understood. Soon is very wrong. -gtl]

B) He was never funded by anybody but the Center and disclosed that fact in line with Center policies.
[That is an interesting version of events. The evidence shows otherwise. He was on soft money, which means the HSCA paid him zero, yet he got a salary. That came from grants. -gtl]

C) All climate researchers have at one point or another received funding directly or indirectly from the fossil fuel industry and (at least if indirectly) failed to disclose in an exactly similar manner.
[That is quite a claim. It is certainly bogus. -gtl]

D) Your readers deserve more respect than you give them by omitting that crucial fact.

[Actually, I respect my readers by not including bogus assertions. Your point is a diversion. Nice try. Failed. -gtl]

E) You have failed in your ethical responsibility as a journalist far more than Soon has, who as far as I can see is entirely without culpability in this matter
[This is how we recognize bully tactics. Accusation by way of projection. Also, what gave you the idea I am a journalist? It would be rather unethical for me to claim that I am, since I am not. I am a scientist who writes about science. -gtl]

Anybody affiliated or connected in any way to Greenpeace or Conservation international has, for example, a similar duty to disclose oil funding, since they get a significant chunk of money (far more than Soon ever got) from that source.

Princeton, Stanford and most other University's also accept money from these same people. If your secondary liability to disclose theory holds any water you need to hold anybody accountable anybody who receives money from any institution who also receives money from the anyone who could create a conflict. That's a ridiculous and impossible standard.

The fact he didn't draw a salary is irrelevant since he was never in a position to directly accept or deny grants.

The point is that Soon's funding was indirect, he was never in a position to vet his funding sources and only received a portion of any grant, the rest going to the institution to which he was affiliated.

What you are doing with this article is journalism, not science writing. That makes you a journalist. That makes it your responsibility to look at both sides.

If you want to disagree with Soon's science, disagreeing with his science should be enough. Leave the ad hominem on the playground.

Doug, this simply isn't the case. There are documents showing Soon's name as the eventual recipient of support being channeled to him from Big Fossil. The story that he just sat there at HSCA doing research and big fossil funding just happen to be channeled indirectly to him is an utter fiction.

I don't mean to spam, but I thought I would give an example, without disparaging the author involved of course.

Go to this site:
http://www.oilandgastechnology.net/health-safety-environment-news/gulf-…

Now go to the bottom of the list of funded consortia (I did this at random, but you might want to check the others).

Use the lead authors' name in a Google Scholar search.

The first item that pops up: http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/57/3/649.abstract

Click to expand "Author affiliations". You will find exactly the same situation as Soon finds himself in here. Why don't you hound this guy? Is it because you agree with him?

(I haven't read the paper and was just using this as an illustration of standard practice in these matters with no disparagement intended towards the author concerned or his ideas).

Doug, about the ICE journal paper. First, the "author affiliation" is not necessarily where disclosure happens. Rarely, in fact. Second, this paper was submitted over 15 years ago. Relatively strict disclosure rules have emerged largely over this time. Third, the way disclosure works is you follow the rules of the journal. That varies a lot, and in some cases, esp. a decade or two ago, there aren't any. In this case, Oxford's journal even today has no indication of disclosure rules, though they should. If they don't require discloure today I doubt a paper submitted over a decade and a half ago would be subject. Fourth, your connection via the other web site is tenuous at best. Fifth, if this is in fact a case of failure to disclose something that should be disclosed, then fine, send a note to Retraction Watch or the journal and complain. That researchers other than Willie Soon have failed to disclose what they should does not mean that it is OK that he did.

More desperate attempts to wave away the evidence pointing to Soon's funding by vested interests.

They don't call them 'deniers' for nothing.

It's the same story every single time the nasty business of industry-sponsored contrarianism comes up. The refusal to admit the truth is absolute.

Wake up, Doug.

I think there are large expensive areas of scientific research that are ethically doubtful when we take stock of the knife- edge situation of humanity. Ebola was a close call due to neglect, but investment without finacial returns is always minimal.

By magnocrat (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

pinroot, you're kidding, right?

You need to turn off the fog machine and get yourself a fallacy generator! I hear they're all the rage nowadays.

Doug (#16): Anybody affiliated or connected in any way to Greenpeace or Conservation international has, for example, a similar duty to disclose oil funding, since they get a significant chunk of money (far more than Soon ever got) from that source.

Since you know that Greenpeace gets oil money, and also know the amount (at least approximately), it is safe to assume that they do disclose this information.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

Doug really just does not get it, but that is probably because he fell hook, line and sinker for the Heartland spin.

It is quite simple, Doug, Willie Soon applied for the funding. He received that funding. That this is then administrated by the Smithsonian does not take away that the grant is specifically for funding Willie Soon.

It is not like the Smithsonian received money and then decided Willie Soon would be a nice person to fund of that generous donation - it was earmarked to Willie Soon. Such a grant is understood in *every* scientific discipline as a personal grant that should be disclosed, especially if the funder has potential CoI with the work.

It might be worth explaining how grant funding works, as most people who have not had the opportunity to submit a grant, are probably unaware.

Generally, when an award (or a donation) is made, researchers cannot just get the money and put it in their personal account but it has to go through the Institution where they are physically located. One important reason being that the Institution also wants a slice of the pie to cover the expenses of hosting the research (space rental and facility maintenance, administration, etc.).

In practice, what happens is that the investigator writes the proposal (potentially including his or her own salary) that contains a "statement of work" and forwards it to an institution-level administrative office (often some variation of "Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP)". Here is the SI one: http://www.si.edu/osp/). The OSP act as the (only) delegate of the Institution authorized to negotiate with the sponsor and sign the grant contract, not the investigator. In essence a grant is a contract between a sponsor and an institution to complete the work proposed by an investigator (gifts are pretty much the same, but don't necessarily contain a binding statement of work).

I'm curious, does anyone know how complex Dr.Soon's lab was? You know, how much money does he have invested in instruments, equipment and such?

By citizenschallenge (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

I don't know the answer to that question, Citizen C, but given the kind of research he actually does I'd be surprised if there was a lab, per se.

There is a statement somewhere from one of the Smithsonian managers stating that Soon just uses the data of others (I can't find where, though - too many stories about this whole issue already), so he has no instruments, equipment or whatever else. I don't think he even ever goes to any observatories.

We The People Petition Titled:

Nominate Willard Anthony Watts as the next Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, will elect a new chair this year. The post is currently being filled by an interim chair following the resignation of Rajendra Pachauri.

The United States has currently nominated Dr. Christopher Field. We petition the current administration to withdraw his nomination and instead nominate Willard Anthony Watts.

Willard Anthony Watts is an American TV meteorologist who runs the blog Watts Up With That? which is billed as “The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change”. His understanding of the science and related policy issues make him a better choice for American Fossil Fuel interests.”

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/nominate-willard-anthony-watt…

Shorter URL:

http://wh.gov/ijHfm

Don’t expect too many votes, but 150 votes would at least make it visible in the current list of petitions.

By Everett F Sargent (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

No follow-up on how grants are made? Soon doesn't receive grant money in a black bag under the table at a restaurant from a guy wearing sunglasses. It goes through the institution, which vets all grants to proposals for conflicts of interest.

[Brian since the conflict of interest being discussed here happen after the grant is made and spent, it is not likely that happens. Harvard and Smithsonian may or may not have a time machine but this is not what it would be used for -gtl]

The grant money isn't "channeled" to Soon, it's channeled to a specific proposal, and the agreement isn't between Soon and the grantor, it is between the institution and the grantor.

[Grant money is not channeled to a proposal. There may be agreements all around. Hey, does the Heartland Institute have a new Talking Points about Grants for Morons out or something? gtl]

Greg, I've probably said this before, but: given what we all know is at stake, your patience and level-headedness are highly admirable and should serve as examples for the rest of us when we run into denialists.

“What is different this time is that mainstream media, currently undergoing a transition away from maintaining a false balance debate about climate change has started to get real, and the main main stream media outlet in the US, the New York Times, anointed the Soon story as a story.”

And if it hadn't been for Greenpeace, there wouldn't have been any story. And this isn't an isolated example. Today's Guardian has a story based on information from Greenpeace about the collusion between industrial polluters and governments to limit air pollution regulations in the EU:

“New limits on air pollution in Europe have been watered down because governments are allowing some of the worst polluters to help draw up the rules, according to a Greenpeace investigation.

As a result of ongoing lobbying, the proposed European Union standards on toxic emissions from coal plants will be less strict than in China, the green campaign group said.

Greenpeace analysed the backgrounds of hundreds of representatives who have been appointed by governments to sit on a key official group that is formulating new limits on air pollution across Europe.

It found that out of 352 members of the technical working group, 183 are either employed by the companies that are being regulated, or by lobby groups that represent those companies.”

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/05/industry-lobbyists-w…

It shouldn't be necessary to mention something like this, but after seeing how unreasonably Greenpeace was bashed here in conjunction with the Nazca scandal, and seeing how avidly long dead environmentalists jumped on board in fits of self-justification – once upon a time Greenpeace was a good, cuddly organization that protected whales, but now it's only out for the money – reminders of what Greenpeace does and how much good it continues to do seem needed.

Disclosure: I contribute to Greenpeace.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 04 Mar 2015 #permalink

Brian, I don't know if you have any experience with grants at all, but I have never ever experienced that there was a follow-up on my grants regarding potential CoI. I have received funding from industry for specific projects, and that funding was disclosed in the papers coming out of that research, but my department never checked this. This is just normal practice, if not even explicitly demanded by the journal.

It is also not true that the money is not channeled to Soon. The project proposals, which are part of the agreements, explicitly note where the money goes to. You will find that those explicitly mention that the money goes to the salary of Willie Soon (+ some other administrative costs). You will also find that the final agreements note that the funding provided may only be used for the purpose described in the proposal...which is paying Soon's salary. While the Smithsonian is the official administrator of the grant, they can't do anything with it that does not involve paying Soon (unless the grantor decides to allow this change).

I thought Willie Soon's science was irrelevant? Why is so much fuss being made over an irrelevant skeptic? Is it maybe because he's not so irrelevant?

[Jason, you have oversimplified the situation to the extent that makes me think you are doing that on purpose. Are you? Willie Soon's research is irrelevant science in that it utterly fails to advance knowledge and generally very wrong. But his testimony, which many have argued is bought and paid for by Big Fossil Money, before Congress, where he is dragged out as a "scientist" who questions global warming by, for example, Senator Snowball, is unfortunately relevant because in Washington the taxpayers have been thrown under the bus. Follow the money, Jason. Don't defend the guy who got millions of dollars to shape policy in Washington in the service of the people who own you. -gtl ]

By Jason Bravura (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

As objects of innocent merriment engendered by the social construction of science, it's hard to beat the deep, deep shock Progressives feel at Madison Avenue hiring scientists a generation before it became fashionable on Wall Street. and around the time Earth Day acquired an advertising agency..

By Russell Seitz (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

What an awful article, devoid of supporting facts and inclusive of a falsehood or two, as it is.

[Skidancin, your comment has no substance or supporting information, do you care to actually make an argument? ]

By Skidancin (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

"#3 Christopher Winter
Really? I thought it was in the office of Heartland’s president."

I think it's more a hive mind sort of thing.

By Douglas C Alder (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

You're admitting Soon is relevant to the debate, whether his testimony is sincere or paid for. Ten years ago I wasn't skeptical in the least, but over the years my skepticism has grown substantially, in part because of these very dedicated attacks on scientists identified as skeptics. Why don't we put all climate researchers under the microscope and investigate for funding bias? I don't believe for a second that funding bias is something that just happens among skeptic researchers.

Also, do you agree that science should be judged on merit, not on who funded it?

[Admitting? What does that mean? No, Soon is not relevent to "the debate" at all. Not even a little. First, there is no debate about the basic scientific facts. Second, as I stated very clearly, Soon and his denialist colleagues are relevant because they are used as tools in an intellectually corrupt Congress. They are not relevant to a scientific debate.

SO, attacking scientific work because it sucks has made you believe that the scientific work that sucks does not suck. I actually don't believe for a second that you actually think that.

And yes, I have said countless times as have others that scientific work should be judged on its merit. That is what has happened here. Also, ethics should be judged independently of the scientific work. That is also whas has happened here. Two things have happened here. I know, kinds makes your brain go all dizzy, doesn't it? -gtl]

By Jason Bravura (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

"Basic scientific facts" are things that can be shown to be incontrovertibly true, by evidence. Would you agree there are claims made by both sides that are NOT incontrovertibly true?

[I'm not going to discuss science with an anti science troll. I prefer to spend my energy discussing science with people who are truly interested in it. -gtl

Also, when you speak of distinguishing ethics from scientific work, Soon co-authored a research paper recently that was published in the journal Science Bulletin. Are you saying the paper should not have passed peer review, for the sole reason of alleged funding concealment?
[ Imma talk real slow here so I don't have to say it again. When you ask if the paper should not have passed peer review because Willie Soon's failure to disclosed as required by The Science Bulletin (JCAS) constituted a clear ethical violation, you are once again conflating the science with the ethics.

You probably don't know how peer review works, but the reviewers generally don't review things like disclosure or affiliation. So your question doesn't even make sense.

I don't have a strong opinion on whether the paper should have passed peer review. That may depend on the level of scholarship the journal requires. However, I find the paper to be seriously flawed.

But, that's how science works. Perhaps the Science Bulletin will publish a work refuting the paper in question.
-gtl]

Also, I would like your opinion on research funding in general... do you believe funding bias only happens among skeptic researchers? The general tone of the attacks is that Soon is producing research-to-order for fossil companies... is it possible that unskeptical researchers are also doing the same thing?

[Not very likely, no. First, we are not talking about funding bias but about disclosure, so that is a case by case matter. But when it comes to funding bias most legitimate climate science is funded by large government agencies with plenty of oversight, like NSF, other US agencies, and agencies in other countries. A fair amount of science in this area is not funded by grants so much as done by agencies that simply have staff scientists. The funding structure, oversight, and intention of funding for fake anti-science climate change denailism vs. real science are not parallel situations. I will not entertain further discussion on that matter, because I have no interest in taking about Heartland Institute talking points. -gtl]

If your intent is sincere, that you wish to eliminate influence peddling in climate research, shouldn't we put all climate researchers under the same microscope?

[ They are under the same microscope. The microscope is always there. Just happens that Willie Soon is the one who broke the rules. -gtl]

By Jason Bravura (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

1) Read the explanation of the mechanics of science vs anti-science and then sample the videos at Was Willie Soon Paid For Science...Or Anti-Science?"

2) Then there are lots of questions, in Willie Soon A Heartland Institute Star Since 2003: Was He Paid? If So, When And With Whose Money?

For many non-expert audiences, Soon gave many talks that were Gish Gallops of cherry-picked material ... that impressed that sort of audience. This is not what real scientists do.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 05 Mar 2015 #permalink

"Are you saying the paper should not have passed peer review, for the sole reason of alleged funding concealment?"

*my* argument would be that the paper should be retracted for violating the disclosure rules on multiple accounts, and not just by Willie Soon, unless the authors can show the journal explicitly allowed them to keep those potential CoI's hidden.

Also:
"Also, do you agree that science should be judged on merit, not on who funded it?"

One pervasive issue in science is trust. The "merits" include an implicit assumption we can trust the scientists in properly reporting all aspects of their study. The reason that disclosure rules have tightened over the last few decades is due to implicit and explicit biases in that reporting that has been revealed. There are now journals that take it yet another step further than Science Bulletin, not only demanding disclosure of the funding agency, but also disclosure whether that funding agency had any role whatsoever in the research itself. In the case of some of Soon's funding, in those journals he would thus have to indicate Southern Company paid for his research *and* (if I understand the agreements properly) indicate Southern Company approved the publication and provided input.

My understanding is that a paper has never been retraced solely on the basis of failure to disclose. I'm not sure if that is the proper response. But you have a good point about the additional considerations of complicity.

The petition mentioned in #31 has all of three signatures (as of a few minutes ago.) It will be interesting to see how the signature count swells — as I'm sure it will.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

There's also a petition to nominate Judith Curry to the IPCC chair. That one has 813 signatures.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

I'm thinking Anthony Watts is unaware of the petition or he'd have sent his readers there!

I think, based on his comments at "HotWhopper", that Everett Sargent is the originator of the A-Watts petition.

OT: This is interesting.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

There's a question of whether or not the public understands what it means for an article or report to be "peer reviewed" for a journal. Such review excludes egregious errors, up to the standards of the field and journal. Sometimes these are let through, too, depending upon the particular set of anonymous reviewers and how much time they have to devote to the subject. By no means does publication in a peer-reviewed journal in itself establish that the result represents the latest science on the subject.

The latter depends upon the article's reception in the field. Often and eventually there will be follow-on work. Sometimes a publication is worthy of a letter, and there is an informal protocol that the objecting individual contact the authors of the original article and try to work something out. Some of the best science (and statistics, my field) is done when the objector works with the original authors to develop a follow-on letter or article which answers the objector's question and breaks new ground. Sometimes the objector and the original authors can't see eye-to-eye and they just published the objector's letter with a response from the authors. Sometimes, as in some statistics journals, there are letters from many and these get rolled into "Commentary" with a rejoinder by the original authors who try to summarize and respond. Often, it's posssible the several letters each introduce new material to the discussion.

Let's take the case of a medical journal, like JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). They'll publish articles which advance the medical field, but they won't police the statistical procedures necessarily, which is why we continue to see significance tests and p-values in JAMA. Heck, geophysicists are known to publish a p-value or two. ;)

By Jan Galkowski (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

I should have also said that the objective of getting the Monckton-Soon-Legates-Briggs thing published in a "peer reviewed journal" may have been to be able to point to it in Congressional testimony, and exploit the lack of understanding on the public's part about this aspect of scientific peer review and publication.

By Jan Galkowski (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

Jan, yes, excellent insight. Publication in a peer reviewed journal does not mean the final word or even good science. It does mean that there has been a vetting process but the quality of that vetting process is something of a (non statistical bell curve) with a small number on one end not really having been vetted at all, and a ghost curve at the other end of papers that never got through but should have for one bad reason or another. The majority, we hope, get through after any necessary revisions and are better papers because of the process.

However, as you say,the bigger picture is even more important. Within the peer reviewed literature there will be commentary, counter argument, alternative results, etc. etc.

The process of becoming a scholar in a given field is in large part the process of becoming one with the literature in that area. You know where a given paper sits in relation to the other literature. You know no given paper stands on its own, but is part of a lineage. You need to keep current so that you know when an existing paper is being expanded on, added to, overthrown, discovered to be wanting, etc.

This is not something you just decide to go do and automatically do well. It is a skill (and knowledge base) that arises with great deal of concerted effort over many years.

“What is different this time is that mainstream media, currently undergoing a transition away from maintaining a false balance debate about climate change has started to get real...”

Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre

“This summer I am stepping down after 20 years of editing the Guardian. Over Christmas I tried to anticipate whether I would have any regrets once I no longer had the leadership of this extraordinary agent of reporting, argument, investigation, questioning and advocacy. Very few regrets, I thought, except this one: that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.

So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what – if we do nothing – is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community...

For the purposes of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the skeptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argument has moved on to the politics and economics.

The coming debate is about two things: what governments can do to attempt to regulate, or otherwise stave off, the now predictably terrifying consequences of global warming beyond 2C by the end of the century. And how we can prevent the states and corporations which own the planet’s remaining reserves of coal, gas and oil from ever being allowed to dig most of it up. We need to keep them in the ground.”
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/06/climate-change-guard…

Rusbridger briefly describes how the slow moving inevitability of climate change is at odds with journalistic perceptions of the news cycle, and therefore falls outside the fast pace of day-to-day breaking news journalism. Despite this limitation, The Guardian’s coverage of climate change (and other environmental issues) has been exemplary. I know of no other mainstream news source whose coverage has been so good and so thorough. And now Rusbridger concludes that The Guardian should have done even more. Consider making it part of your daily reading.
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/environment

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

Greg –

OT question concerning your list of categories. A couple of days ago the Danish Radio's morning program had a story about a specific example of climate change and evolutionary biology. During winter the fur of ermines changes to white to provide camouflage in the snow. Recent winters here have been very mild, and though we've had a lot of precipitation, we've had very little snow. Listeners were asked to report whether they had seen ermines, and to mention the color of their coats. This could be an example of climate change caused natural selection happening right before our eyes. Do you have any categories that focus specifically on the effects of climate change on plants and animals?

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 06 Mar 2015 #permalink

Willlie Soon is an awesome scientist in my opinion. I have listened to a number of his lectures and find his reasoning, his explanation of same, his insight and his persona remarkable.
Shame on you guys for the 5hit you are pedaling here. Someone up above said that you Laden (and also Doug) have engaged in much worse behaviour than Soon is alleged to have. And here it is ... you are feeding and feeding off the CAGW agenda/scam, and you are receiving plenty of money insodoing, keeping it going. What kind of idiots run this blog?
Astonishing.
And just to say that science/physics has its own solid foundation. Just because you are not a mainstream climate scientist, whatever one of those is, does not mean you don't understand what is going on and can figure the stuff out for yourself.

By Neil Jackson (not verified) on 13 Aug 2015 #permalink

Forgot to mention that the earth hasn't warmed for well over 18 years now. The expensive models haven't come close to predicting the climate and have been outperformed by a model you can perform on a calculator - Monckton/Soon et al.
When are you people gonna wake up?

By Neil Jackson (not verified) on 13 Aug 2015 #permalink

@Neil Jackson, #62:

"Earth hasn't warmed ...". False. And Tamino has dealth with the eternal search for a "pause": https://hypergeometric.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/desperate-for-a-pause/. Paraphrasing: If a Pause did not exist, it would be necessary for Deniers to invent one.

"On a calculator ...": Y'mean like James Hansen did in the late 1980s, not even only of climate, but human fossil fuel emissions? Or the one Arrhenius did in the very late 19th century?

CHERRY-PICKING .... One of the hallmarks of science denial, whether it's about climate or about vaccination.

By Jan Galkowski (not verified) on 15 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Neil Jackson (not verified)

"And just to say that science/physics has its own solid foundation. Just because you are not a mainstream climate scientist, whatever one of those is, does not mean you don’t understand what is going on and can figure the stuff out for yourself."

Indeed. As a non-climate scientist I have no problem seeing that Willie Soon deliberately hid direct funding sources (regardless of Doug's claims), and thereby violated disclosure rules of several journals. In my part of the scientific world this type of behaviour would get my papers retracted (deliberately hiding funding sources is a no-no), and with some strong leadership at my university likely also get me fired.

I already woke up to the antics of Soon and Monckton a loooong time ago. They could not even rebut the clear errors in their model outlined by Richardson et al, so instead just repeated claims their model really was just fine. And those who claim no warming of the earth in the last 18 years simply cannot rebut the observed warming in the ocean (where >90% of the excess energy goes), and thus just ignore it. Sadly, I very much doubt you will ever wake up to the facts. Too inconvenient.

Disclosure: I receive no funding whatsoever for any climate science research. I have, however, received funding from industry, and duly reported such funding in my research papers. As anyone who reports scientific research know they should.