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article imageOp-Ed: Scientist who is the darling of climate change deniers feels heat

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 4, 2015 in Environment
A scientist who is the darling of climate change deniers is feeling the heat after it was discovered that he has accepted $1.3 million in funding from private interest groups, including Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries.
Wei Hock "Willie" Soon defended his practices earlier this week against a mountain of criticism, but noted he will be "happy to comply," in providing all the necessary additional disclosure requirements from the science journals that published his work, Science Recorder reports. Soon is in hot water because he stands accused of violating the ethical publishing standards of his publishers when he failed to declare potential conflicts of interests in his papers.
Soon, an aerospace engineer and a part-time researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has kept mum since the scandal broke, but finally issued a statement Monday in which he claimed his work was being unfairly attacked by the media. He also claimed his critics were acting as part of "various radical environmental and politically motivated groups."
Soon gets into a heated discussion regarding his corporate benefactors.
Soon gets into a heated discussion regarding his corporate benefactors.
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"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 on global warming," Soon said.
The Harvard-Smithsonian Institution for Astrophysics is currently investigating him, in order to determine whether he has violated any ethical standards in his research, Science Recorder states.
Soon's statement was issued by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which is defiantly denying the scientific consensus on climate change. A spokesman for the Institute said that Soon would not be taking questions from the press.
In fact, the Institute admires Soon so much that it awarded him the "Courage in Defense of Science Award," The Washington Post reports. Soon has rebutted the overwhelming scientific consensus about man-made climate change in front of the Kansas state legislature, and he is highly regarded by the snowball-tossing James Inhofe (R-Okla), who says that climate change is a hoax, and that Soon is his evidence. "These are scientists that cannot be challenged," he said in a stern voice last month.
Public scrutiny has prompted the Smithsonian to note that it doesn't pay Soon, even though the aeronautics engineer is employed as a "part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory," Desmogblog reports.
"Dr. Soon pursues external sources to fund his research activity," the Smithsonian said in a statement.
What's shocking about this is that Soon has accepted over $1.2 million in funding from the fossil-fuel industry, both the Washington Post and The New York Times note, but did not disclose that conflict of interest in at least 11 papers he has published since 2008, and in at least eight of these cases, he has likely violated ethical guidelines of the journals in which his work was published.
Desmogblog notes that since 2001, Soon has solicited over $1.5 million from fossil fuel companies and conservative foundations.
Among the companies that have funded him? Besides Exxon and the Charles G. Koch Foundation, there's the American Petroleum Institute, and the coal electricity generating Southern Company, and the Donors Trust, which have all provided funding.
Courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act, Greenpeace decided to do a bit of digging on the funding that Soon has received and their information is illuminating.
Their findings?
• The oil and electric utility industry (coal) has provided more than $1.3 million of Soon’s total funding since 2001. Every new grant that he has received since 2002 has come from either oil and coal interests or from the Donor's Trust, a secretive “Dark Money ATM” that the Koch brothers and other wealthy elites use to obscure their contributions to controversial sources.
• In 2007, he wrote an Ecological Complexity article on polar bears and Arctic ice. The paper was not peer-reviewed, and the funding for the paper was provided by ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Largely considered to be "junk science," neither the scientist or his corporate benefactors have ever acknowledged the extent, dollar figures or timing of the grants provided.
• More funding from the Koch brothers. In 2010, he received an additional grant of $65,000, and that was followed up in Feb. 2013 with an additional $55,000 from the Kochs for his work from 2010-2012.
• Then there’s the aforementioned Southern Company, which gave him two previously unknown grants that totaled $230,000. The company also provided and additional $120,000 for his work from 2011-2012.
• Greenpeace also found that the American Petroleum Institute has been funding Soon since the mid-1990s, and, at the same time he was also receiving funds from Mobil, Texaco, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which is a research and lobby shop funded by electric utilities.
In his statement, Soon had this to say:
"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."
In the interest of fairness and in an effort to find an environmental organization that would support Soon, Digital Journal turned to the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), which claims "It's voice can be heard relentlessly infusing the environmental debate with a balanced perspective on environmental stewardship."
CFACT stands by their man, trumpeting in one headline: "Dr. Willie Soon stands up to climate witch hunt."
This is where the tired cliché "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," comes to mind because CFACT also has its hands in the money jar, Think Progress reports. The monetary fuel for CFACT has been provided by ExxonMobil, to the tune of at least $542,000. Chevron has provided $60,000, and Scaife Family Foundations has tossed in $1,280,000 and all of these companies are tied to wealth from Gulf Oil and steel interests.
The outcome of these revelations remains to be seen, but some members of the Democratic party have now proposed measures that would require scientists to reveal in-depth information about their funding sources, Science Recorder notes. This has been criticized by a number of mainstream climate scientists also, because they have had to deal with ongoing media misrepresentation of the climate crisis for years, as well as the "Climategate" controversy that followed leaked emails in 2009. These emails were quote mined by scores of climate deniers. An international committee found no evidence of either data manipulation or fraud.
Sadly, as long as big oil, the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, and the seemingly unending army of big money corporations keep throwing money at those willing to deny climate change, the lies, misinformation, and distortion will keep coming.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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