Reality finally bites for Willie Soon

Among the handful of apparently reputable scientists who deny mainstream climate science, Willie Wei-Hock Soon, regularly described as a Harvard astrophysicist (he’s actually an aerospace engineer working for the Smithsonian, which has a joint centre with Harvard), has been among the most prominent and durable. His biggest hit was his 2003 paper with Sallie Baliunas* which brought about the resignation of half of the editorial board of the journal concerned.

Soon has finally come unstuck, having failed to declare his funding from fossil fuel interests and the Koch brothers in a number of articles, thereby violating the requirements of the journals that published him. The New York Times has a lengthy and unflattering expose.

The only surprise is that this took so long, and that Soon has been allowed to do so much damage to science. Still, the supply of seemingly credible deniers is small enough that discrediting even one makes a difference.

* Unlike Soon, Baliunas is a real astrophysicist. But she’s also a rightwing activist, who pushed ozone hole denial as well as climate denial. She made regular appearances in the early years of this blog, but seems to have gone quiet for the last few years.

26 thoughts on “Reality finally bites for Willie Soon

  1. This Willie Soon was unfamiliar to me, but I shall always cherish the disingenuous attempts to defend R. A. Fisher’s pro-tobacco agitprop, attempts made shortly after Fisher’s death in Adelaide:

    “It has been suggested that the fact that Fisher was employed as consultant by the tobacco firms in this controversy casts doubt on the value of his arguments. This is to misjudge the man. He was not above accepting financial reward for his labours, but the reason for his interest was undoubtedly his dislike and mistrust of puritanical tendencies of all kinds.

    Oh, well, that’s obviously all right then. The whole memoir in question is here, though you might need JSTOR access in order to read it in its entirety:

  2. I suppose if Willie is asked why he accepted funding from the Koch brothers, he will reply “because that’s where the money is”.

  3. Any hope that he will go to jail as a climate criminal? (I am only half joking.)

    What about taking $1.2 million under false pretences? Of coure, he did not embezzle the Kochs etc. as such so it’s a different form of false pretences.

    What about serious academic fraud involving significant funds and the potential to put members of the public at risk? Why should not this be a criminal offence?

    And what about the Kochs? Oh yeah, that’s right they are billionaires with the best lawyers in tha country and they fund the politicians. We can forget about action on the Kochs.

  4. To me the most surprising thing is that he could be bought so cheaply. The amount he got is a trivial fraction of the value received by the funders.

  5. Is there a list somewhere of credentialled denialists, confusionists, and delayists? As you say, exposing even one is a small victory. I’m only familiar with Curry, Lomborg, Lindzen. Pielke and Wegman, but there must be a few more. One problem is that they can be discredited professionally (like Lomborg) and still find op-ed space as “experts”.

  6. @Ikonoclast
    The Koch Petroleum Group, pled guilty in 2001 to criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, in covering up breaches of regulations at a Texas oil refinery they owned. The company paid a $10 criminal fine, and another $10m for cleanup projects. This wasn’t the only violation.

    This company, now renamed Flint Hills Resources, is a subsidiary of the main vehicle, Koch Industries, which is 84% controlled by family members. The brothers can’t seriously argue that they were not responsible for the environmental crimes of their closely-held corporation. While they did not spend time in jail, it is therefore absolutely factual to refer to them as “self-admitted environmental criminals”.

  7. Theres a report around that despite Big$ the PR firm Edelman have dumped Big Oil. Of course it just means that someone else will pickup the business but the credibility of Big Oil is something that cannot be replaced. Same with Willy Soon, he sold his scientific credibility and it is gone, there is no way he can get it back.

    Credibility is something money just cannot buy.

  8. It would seem that some people manage to maintain ‘credibilty’ even though they make stuff up. Well if credibility means they are able to maintain their funding from the right for telling lies and being stupid.

    Gerard Henderson is just one of the fools who thinks he can give and take away PhD’s and tell the ‘right’ expert from the wrong ones just because.

    This article by University of Sydney Professor of Public Health Simon Chapman “hits back at his fans in The Australian” and ends by saying:

    “In 2011 Henderson asked me to talk on plain packaging of cigarettes at his portentous-sounding Sydney Institute. I had little idea what to expect.

    “I assumed I would walk into some well appointed auditorium and be speaking to social policy scholars. Instead, you speak in the tatty living room of a terrace house to about 20-30 superannuated types who have driven their Daimlers over from Mosman for a nice talk and a few ports.

    “One knowingly asked me something like “Don’t you think that all this warning about tobacco might be having the opposite effect on young people … after all, there are so many of them smoking.” Actually, smoking by young people is the lowest ever recorded.

    “Henderson’s smearing of me belongs to the same pathetic, out-of-touch world. Time, gentlemen.”

  9. Speaking of people of that ilk, the inimitable Jennifer Morahasy, described in the Courier Mail as a “climate change researcher”, has accused the Bureau of Meteorology of scaremongering for saying Cyclone Marcia was Category 5.

    The neo-Dutscheist strategy of Morahasy, Newman et al, taking a long march through our public science institutions to trash them, is really quite disturbing.

  10. Morahasy has always had a thing about BOM, despite ship loads of hard evidence, data and reasoned argument she remains resolute that BOM are part of a conspiracy.

  11. @rog

    I love a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, and I love a good conspiracy even more, but having known some BoM people, I would never choose them to be part of any conspiracy I was cooking up.

  12. Morahasy’s criticism has a nice twist to it. She sneers that the BoM got it wrong because they ‘relied on models’, no doubt planning to draw parallels with the denialist criticism of climate change models in future.

  13. Some call it “the age of endarkenment”. We have entered a new age of endarkenment for many reasons but a key reason is the attack on science by capitalism.

    Green left Weekly says it well in the article “Science vs capitalism”. This article was published nearly two decades ago and is even more relevant today.

  14. @Ken_L

    According to her website, she is a biologist and an adjunct research fellow at Capricornia CAE CQU. According to Google Scholar, she has published papers on weed control.

    According to her position at Capricornia CAE CQU is funded by a climate science sceptic.

    That must be false, of course. I can’t believe that CQU would create a position for a scientist funded by an anti-scientist. In any case CQU is proud that her work is cited by eminent scholars. According to CQU’s website her critique of the BoM has been favourably cited by …. George Christensen (but of course).

  15. No small irony that Marohasy spends a lot of time and energy supposedly debunking programs and studies that cost money while looking for backers for programs and studies that cost money.

  16. While there are some climate researchers who publish in peer reviewed journals, and yet feel that the evidence of human-caused global warming isn’t strong, they are largely of the previous generation, when there was of course less evidence than now. Some of their views are firmly stuck in the past, rather than updating as ever more evidence rolls in. They are typically of the Republican right, or the international equivalent, not that there are many of them.

    There are some younger “scientists” who operate in a different category. They allows others to attach formal titles to their name when introducing their work, say on Fox Network, and bingo, instant expert in the field. Freedom of speech allows these network shows to get away with such embellishment, and even if they are sprung for grossly mis-representing a particular individual’s formal qualifications and position, the penalties applied are minimal.

    Quite a few of the AGW rejectionists live and work in this space. It is virtually impossible to shut them down, for if they are careful, they can operate entirely legally as a paid for dissenting voice. With the ever-present push for scientific research to be privately funded, this whole question of conflict of interest in science is rendered irrelevant, for the dividing line is crossed well and truly, every day of the week.

    In Australia, we are facing the same political forces, but one which in spite of the MSM is unified at the senior ranks of this government: they do not want public research which interferes—by its very existence—with the ideological goals of this government. The simplest, least politically objectionable, is to pressure the big public research institutions to use private funding as a large percentage of overall research funding. Large in this context could be 25% to 30%; that is more than enough to render the black-and-white dividing line into a dirty grey smudge, i.e. the damage is done.

    ABS, CSIRO, and plenty of other public analysis and research institutions have been given more than a toe-clipping by this government, although they deny the bleeding obvious. They interfere with boards of organisations they don’t like, and they don’t give a t*ss how partisan they appear in the process.

    There will always be some private research which is blue-sky, and that is to be applauded. The difficulty is when research funds are tied to obtaining a particular result, for the world doesn’t work like that. Research often demonstrates that a hoped-for result is unobtainable, perhaps it was literally impossible, but without the research itself, noone would ever know one way or the other.

    We live in a time of the unfairest, most religiously driven federal government I have ever witnessed in Australia. They have no time for scientists, science, or even engineering. The carnage they have wrought in South Australia, and in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, well it is simply horrific. I can’t help but wonder if it would have been different if South Australia were under a state Liberal government, rather than a despised (by Abbott) state Labor government. Perhaps they would have made an effort to assist SA, rather than to trash it.

  17. @Julie Thomas
    That response of Simon Chapman’s would be funny, if the topic weren’t so serious. As Chapman notes, Gerard Henderson made a dog’s breakfast of Professor Chapman’s credentials, in a manner that is beneficial to Henderson’s argument. In short, if you are losing, shoot the messenger.

    The ABC should not be using such people as credible opinion. If they cannot be trusted to properly check out someone’s credentials (before trashing them), if they cannot be trusted to give a factually accurate description of someone’s formal credentials and scientific publications, then the ABC simply shouldn’t continue to use (and presumably) pay these people to present incorrect information as correct; they simply shouldn’t be used, full stop. This is yet another sop for the LNP, stemming from the Howard government, and unfortunately not corrected since. It is not an aberration.

    Just to be clear: I am not attributing any particular reason for these lapses with respect to giving the correct credentials etc, just saying that if this sort of thing happens on a regular basis, then it is fair to expect some action to be taken to remove such a lapsing individual from the air. In this day and age, having someone fact-checking (live) off-camera and then providing the resultant answer to the host, would allow such errors to be caught and dispensed with while on air. That would have to be the best time to correct an error of fact made by one of the interviewees/panelists on a given show (eg Insiders, Q&A, Lateline).

  18. @Donald Oats

    It is appalling indeed but I’ve given up expecting any action to be taken against the fools that the ABC provides to ‘balance the bias of the left’.

    This group of elite commentators the ABC invite on from the IPA and The Australian, continue to come on and make stuff up and these factual errors are never made public or acknowledged. Written complaints to the ABC receive a form letter noting the complaint and saying just go away and stop being a whinger.

    What to do except laugh?

  19. FWIW, Baliunas has vanished from the Earth, or at least the part of it that Google looks at. Just vanished. She had already stepped back from the climate change stuff by 2008/9 leaving Soon to reap the Exxon Mobile money. Eli would appreciate a clue on what she is up to.

    As an aside, although his doctorate was in aerospace engineering, it was on the thermodynamics of the upper upper atmosphere, which is of interest to space flight jockeys, and with Bob Jastrow (one of the three founders of the Marshall Institute) and Baliunas he had published a number of papers on variable stars. YMMV on how good those papers are and YMMNV on how crappy the climate stuff is

  20. Marohasy has many deficiencies including it seems, map reading. Shoalwater Bay is some distance from Rockhampton or the Capricorn coast, so of course the intensity was lower over the populated centres. For the Courier Mail to publish this rubbish when central Queensland was still reeling in the aftermath of the cyclone was appalling.

  21. Actual Willie Soon quotes: “Too much ice is really bad for polar bears.”

    “I would suggest the current conditon today is nowhere near optimal for the polar bear, which means it can grow a little bit warmer.”

    These are from a 2008 speech entitled, “Endangering the Polar Bear: How Environmentalists Kill.”

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