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.