Dr. Wei-Hock Soon has long been the Right’s go-to scientist when it comes to defending their anti-climate change efforts. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center scientist has repeatedly said that not only are greenhouse gases not that harmful, but variations in the sun’s energy can actually explain climate change.
But, as the New York Times reported, newly released documents show that Soon’s work has been heavily funded by the fossil-fuel industry and that he did not disclose this conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers.
Over the last ten years or so, Soon has received more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry and “11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted [a disclosure of where his funding came from], and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.”
The documents, obtained by Greenpeace, show that Soon referred to many of his papers as “deliverables” that he had written in exchange for money from fossil fuel companies, and that he had used the same term about his testimony before Congress.
It’s not surprising that the fossil fuel industry would try to buy scientists to lie and publish papers with viewpoints they support. As the NYT pointed out, historians and sociologists say that “since the tobacco wars of the 1960s, corporations trying to block legislation that hurts their interests have employed a strategy of the appearance of scientific doubt, usually with the help of ostensibly independent researchers who accept industry funding.”
Regarding Soon’s acceptance of fossil fuel money, Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, said, “What it shows is the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.”
More than $400,000 of Soon’s funding came a subsidiary of The Southern Company, which provides power for much of the southeast, and has poured a considerable amount of money into lobbying against any environmental regulations regarding its coal-burning power plants.
“Southern Company funds a broad range of research on a number of topics that have potentially significant public-policy implications for our business,” a company spokesperson told the Times, while declining “to answer detailed questions about its funding of Dr. Soon’s research.”
And, as expected, the Koch brothers are also involved in funding Soon’s erroneous reports. Soon received more than $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
The Times reported that, despite being touted by Conservatives as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” Soon is actually not an astrophysicist nor has he ever been employed by Harvard. He also has little formal training in climatology. The fact that his “findings’ go against the 97 percent of scientists who agree that climate change is a real threat, that it is caused by human activity, and that greenhouses gases are quite harmful to the environment, should have been a clue that something was wrong.
“The science that … Soon does is almost pointless,” said Dr. Gavin A. Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, explaining that the sun “had probably accounted for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming.”
Admitting that climate change is a real, human-caused threat is one of the worst things for the fossil-fuel industry’s bottom line. If giving a scientist a few hundred thousand dollars to lie to help them out is what it takes to protect their hundreds of billions of dollars in profits, of course they’re going to do it. The industry continually spreads lies, false-facts, and tries to keep, if not increase, the dependency on fossil fuels for energy.
Dr. Soon is probably not the first scientist the industry has tried to buy off, and he is likely not the last. Hopefully this case will serve as further proof of the corruption that permeates the fossil fuel industry, and by extension, the members of the GOP that bow down to it.