Media Update - coverage of the report below:
Science Magazine - "Journals investigate climate skeptic author’s ties to fossil fuel firm as new allegations arise", by David Malakoff
Inside Climate News - "Willie Soon's Fossil Fuel-Funded Work Draws Ethics Review From Publisher", by David Hasemyer
Guardian - "Climate sceptic researcher investigated over funding from fossil fuel firms", by Suzanne Goldenberg
PLoS Public Library of Science - New Charges of Climate Skeptic's Undisclosed Ties to Energy Industry Highlight Journals' Role as Gatekeeper, by Liza Gross
Nature - Earth science wrestles with conflict-of-interest policies, by Jeff Tollefsen, June 24, 2015
Willie Soon and Conflicted Climate Science
Today we are releasing a report summarizing our communications with science journals over the past four months regarding Willie Soon's lack of disclosure of sources of financial support to those science journals and in Soon's research and commentary published in peer reviewed literature. The introduction and summary of findings are below.
View and download the full report, Willie Soon and Conflicted Climate Science, on DocumentCloud
Additionally, we have queried two prestigious journals where Willie Soon has published commentary and papers, while declaring no conflict of interest.
We sent the report to the National Academy of Sciences with a letter inquiring about a piece that Willie Soon published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2014. View letter to PNAS.
We sent a letter to Nature regarding a March 2015 paper Soon co-authored in Nature Geoscience. View letter to Nature.
People keep asking how much Soon got from each of his corporate funders year by year, and why some places it says $1.2 million total and others $1.5M...
The total funding since 2001 that we know about from Greenpeace FOIAs to Smithsonian and corporate foundation 990s is $1,573,270, tabulated below.
That total excluding the 'anonymous' donation from Donors Trust, leaved known fossil funding at $1,248,471
|Funder||Grant Description from source||Grant Year(s)||Grant Amount||Source|
|American Petroleum Institute||1994-1997||??||Soon published papers|
|American Petroleum Institute||Sun's impact on climate over the last 1000 years||2001, 2002||$58,380||Smithsonian FOIA|
|American Petroleum Institute||1000 years of solar variability||2003||$60,053||Smithsonian FOIA|
|American Petroleum Institute||The 11-22 year climate responses||2004, 2005||$50,178||Smithsonian FOIA|
|American Petroleum Institute||Understanding Arctic Climate Change||2005, 2006||$50,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|American Petroleum Institute||The solar influence of arctic climate change||2006, 2007||$55,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Charles G. Koch Foundation||Koch/Mobile Charitable foundation||2005, 2006||$110,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Charles G. Koch Foundation||Understanding Solar Variability and Climate Change||2010||$65,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Charles G. Koch Foundation||Understanding Solar Radiation and Climate Change||2010-2012||$55,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Charles Koch Foundation Total||$230,000|
|Donors Trust||Understanding Solar Radiation and Climate Change||2011||$50,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Donors Trust||A Circum-global Teleconnection View of Regional Sun-Climate Connections||2011-2012||$64,935||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Donors Trust||Wavelet Analysis And Solar Dynamo Theory of Solar Activity Variations||2013||$70,000||Donors Trust 990|
|Donors Trust||Wavelet Analysis And Solar Dynamo Theory of Solar Activity Variations||2013||$49,864||Donors Trust 990|
|Donors Trust||Wavelet Analysis And Solar Dynamo Theory of Solar Activity Variations||2013-2015||$209,864||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Donors Trust||2014-2015||$90,000||Two 2013 grants subtracted from 2013-15|
|Donors Trust Total||$324,799|
|Mobil Foundation||1995-1997||??||Acknowledged in Soon's published papers|
|ExxonMobil Foundation||listed by Exxon as a grant to SAO||2005||$105,000||ExxonMobil Worldwide Giving Report 2005|
|ExxonMobil Foundation||Listed by Exxon as "project support" to SAO.||2006||$105,000||ExxonMobil Worldwide Giving Report 2006|
|ExxonMobil Foundation||Exxon-Arctic Climate Change||2007, 2008||$55,000||Smithsonian FOIA/Exxon Giving Report|
|ExxonMobil Foundation||"Exxon - Soon - Solar Variability" "Understanding Solar Variability and Climate Change: Signals from Temperature Records of the United States"||2008-2010||$70,106||Smithsonian FOIA/Exxon Giving Report|
|ExxonMobil Foundation Total||$335,106|
|Southern Company||Understanding Arctic Climate Change||2006, 2007||$110,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Southern Company||Solar variability and Climate Change signals from temperature||2008, 2009||$120,000||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Southern Company||Understanding Solar Radiation and Climate Change||2011||$60,003||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Southern Company||Understanding Solar Radiation and Climate Change||2011-2012||$59,942||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Southern Company||A Study of Solar Activity Variation on Multiple Timescales||2013-2015||$59,809||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Southern Company Total||$409,754|
|Electric Power Research Institute||1994-1999||??||Acknowledged in Soon's published papers|
|Texaco Foundation||1996||??||Acknowledged in Soon's published papers|
|Free to Choose||The sun's influence on climate change||2008||$19,383||Smithsonian FOIA|
|Total known grants 2001-2015||$1,573,270|
|Total known Fossil grants||$1,248,471|
The new Telsa (electric car) has an acceleration setting called INSANE MODE...literally.
The car goes from 0 to 60mph in 3.2 seconds...
That's what three Senators just did to accelerate the Willie Soon scandal.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Eben Burnham-Snyder (Markey) 202-224-2742
Mary Kerr/Kate Gilman (Boxer) 202-224-8832
Seth Larson (Whitehouse) 202-228-6291
Markey, Boxer, Whitehouse Query Fossil Fuel Companies,
Climate Denial Organizations on Science Funding
100 letters sent to unearth extent of climate denial-for-hire programs
WASHINGTON (February 25, 2015) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) today sent letters to 100 fossil fuel companies, trade groups, and other organizations to determine whether they are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.
This investigation follows the revelations regarding one of the chief climate denial researchers, Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, from documents released by Greenpeace showing that Soon received more than $1 million from ExxonMobil, Southern Company, and others to produce what he termed “deliverables” to push back on climate science or carbon-cutting policies in papers or Congressional testimony. Soon did not disclose this funding to peer-reviewed scientific journals that require such disclosure.
The letters from Senators Markey, Boxer and Whitehouse ask the companies and other organizations about any funded research efforts related to climate change and the wide range of related issues over the last ten years. The letters also ask for the names of researchers, whether restrictions or terms were put on the requests, and results from the agreements including any publications or other materials.
“For years we’ve known that fossil fuel interests have sought to block action on climate change and have denied the science. This investigation will help to determine who is funding these denial-for-hire operations and whether those who are funded by these fossil fuel interests are keeping their funders’ identities secret from the public and legislators,” said Senator Markey, Ranking Member of the Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Corporate special interests shouldn’t be able to secretly peddle the best junk science money can buy.”
“We’ve known for many years that the tobacco industry supported phony science claiming that smoking does not cause cancer. Now it’s time for the fossil fuel industry to come clean about funding climate change deniers,” said Senator Boxer, Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The news about Willie Soon is further confirmation that the fossil fuel industry has taken a page out of the tobacco playbook by bankrolling scientists to cast false doubt on the existence of climate change,” said Senator Whitehouse, Ranking Member of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “The American people deserve to know more about this self-serving effort to distort the facts and prevent action on this issue, and I hope these letters will help.”
An example of one of the 100 letters sent is available HERE and a full list of recipients is included below.
The three Senators ask for answers to be given by April 3, 2015.
Full list of recipients:
ACCCE (American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity)
Alliance Resource Operating Partners LP
Alliance to Save Energy
Alpha Natural Resources LLC
American Coal Foundation
American Energy Alliance
American Enterprise Institute
American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers
American Gas Association
American Legislative Exchange Council
Americans for Prosperity Foundation
America's Natural Gas Alliance: ANGA
Anadarko Petroleum Corporation
API (American Petroleum Institute)
Arch Coal Inc.
Armstrong Energy Inc.
Atlas Network (previously Atlas Economic Research Foundation)
Boich Group LLC
Bowie Resource Holdings LLC
Chamber of Commerce of the USA
Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
Chesapeake Energy Corporation
Cloud Peak Energy
CNOOC (Nexen Petroleum U.S.A. Inc.)
Competitive Enterprise Institute
CONSOL Energy Inc.
Continental Resources Inc.
Denbury Resources, Inc.
Devon Energy Corporation
Ecopetrol America Inc
Edison Electric Institute
Energy Future Holdings Corp
Eni U.S. Operating Co.
EOG Resources, Inc.
Exxon Mobil Corporation
George C Marshall Institute
Hallador Energy Co
Independent Petroleum Association of America
Institute for Energy Research (IER)
John Locke Foundation
John Williams Pope Foundation
Linn Energy, LLC
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
Marathon Oil Corporation
Murphy Oil Corporation
Murray Energy Corp
NACCO Industries Inc.
National Association of Manufacturers
National Mining Association
National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA)
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Noble Energy Inc.
Occidental Petroleum Corporation
Patriot Coal Corp
Peabody Energy Corp
Peter Kiewit Sons Inc.
Petrobras America Inc.
Pioneer Natural Resources Company
PSEG Public Service Enterprise
Rio Tinto Group
Searle Freedom Trust
The Heartland Institute
The Heritage Foundation
Walter Energy Inc.
Western Fuels Association Inc.
Westmoreland Coal Co
# # #
First, we have an idea for coming clean, a remedy...the illustrious Smithsonian Institution should sponsor free screenings nationwide of the upcoming theatrical film Merchants of Doubt, pay for school kids everywhere to go see it. Maybe half a million dollars worth of screenings (see How Much Did Smithsonian Get below)
Here we update the plot...(with research by Cindy Baxter)
In the wake of this past weekend's release of documents from our investigation and media attention around climate denier Dr. Willie Soon’s $1.25 million in payments from the fossil fuel industry, his employers, the Smithsonian Institution, launched an investigation by their Inspector General on Monday.
Remember, Willie Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA as they call it) on the Smithsonian side of the building called the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. It helps to have that data when looking through the documents.
The documents we got from Smithsonian during our 5 year investigation definitely don't contain the full record of correspondence between Soon, the Smithsonian and the corporate funders, but what we do have paints a very clear picture. Every time Dr. Soon made a proposal and then got a grant from the Koch Foundation, from ExxonMobil or Southern Company, CfA Director Alcock and his grants department staff were deeply involved in making it happen, crafting budgets, sending email, signing contracts and letters of thanks.
Willie Soon, the Smithsonian says in its announcement of the IG investigation, was “hired to conduct research on stellar and solar variability. The Smithsonian does not fund Dr. Soon; he pursues external grants to fund his research”
They continued “The Smithsonian does not support Dr Soon’s conclusions on climate change. The Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based on many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming.”
The statement from the Smithsonian raises a number of questions that we hope the Inspector General will look into during his investigation.
From the documents we have received from the Smithsonian during the investigation, it is very clear that the Institute has worked hard to help him get his grants and benefitted from those grants through funding for overhead and staff time other than Dr. Soon.
Let’s start with the ExxonMobil grants.
In 2008, Soon writes to his colleagues at the Smithsonian, asking for help to “stretch” the proposal to ExxonMobil for $60,000.
“Any way you can help me stretch this proposal to maximize my work at SAO would be appreciated,” he wrote.
Two years later, in 2010, the Smithsonian’s “Advancement and External Affairs” officer, Amanda Preston, wrote to colleagues about the $76,106 ExxonMobil grant, of which Soon hadn’t managed to use all of for his project.
Preston talks about the $22,181 that was left over.
“On instruction from [CfA head] Charles Alcock, I asked ExxonMobil to allow us to reclassify that amount as an unrestricted contribution,” she writes. They wanted to allow the money to be used for "general support" instead of what it was meant for, Willie Soon's work.
Exxon eventually agrees the documents show. This was Dr. Soon's last grant from Exxon, so they probably could have cared less. In 2010, Exxon unceremoniously dropped Soon, telling him that budget priorities had changed. But in a possible indication of how important the ExxonMobil grant was, and perhaps the naiveté of Ms. Preston, the letter is sent to ExxonMobil thanking them for permission to shift the money and then makes a final pitch to Exxon to support the CfA's fine telescope program and its research goals including studying star and planet formation and the physics of dark matter.
Little did she know that Exxon is only interested in planets with oil in them and one kind of dark matter..."oil that is, black gold, Texas tea..." (sorry, the Beverley Hillbillies theme song came into my head...back to questions for the Smithsonian)
The Charles Koch grants
Alcock was also heavily involved in sealing Soon’s grant from the Charles G Koch Foundation in 2009, with the $65,000 check sent by the Koch Foundation to Alcock himself on 21 September, referring to a previous conversation and agreement between them.
The letter is addressed to Dr. Alcock and signed by Richard Fink himself, who some describe and Charles Koch's right hand man.
These are just a couple of examples.
The Southern Company grants
This one is ongoing, and Dr Alcock has acknowledged to reporters that the clause that appears to stipulate a covert relationship is a problem. Nature's Jeff Tollefson writes:
The documents also illuminate the CfA’s role in the funding arrangements: in a contract signed in 2008 with Southern Company, a utility in Atlanta, Georgia, the CfA agreed to notify the company before disclosing it as the source of the funding. Alcock calls that “a mistake” and says that the CfA “would not do that again”.
We want to know if anyone at CfA has flagged that potential conflict of interest problem over the years?
We wonder if Smithsonian will query Southern Company officials about their understanding of the relationship and "deliverables"?
And finally the Donors Trust grants
These are also apparently a semi-covert deal. Donors Trust is not acknowledged as a supporter in any published work of Dr. Soon's. Yet he reports to them "deliverables" including published studies, similar to the ones he reports to Southern Company.
More problematic is the language in the letter from Whitney Ball of Donors Trust, (again, addressed to Charles Alcock) stipulating that the identity of the actual donor shall not be known by Dr. Soon or Harvard Smithsonian.
We ask, how can Willie Soon declare there is no conflict of interest in his published work when he doesn't know what interests his anonymous donor indeed has?
How much did Smithsonian get out of the deal?
Willie Soon has remained quiet this week in the wake of all the publicity about him. We know, from the Boston Globe’s attempts to talk with him in 2013, that the Smithsonian has banned him from doing interviews on the Harvard campus.
But he did speak to one person: his friend and climate denying blogger, James Delingpole, who mentioned his chat with Willie on Breitbart.com.
“I spoke to Soon last night. He told me that of course he receives private funding for his research: he has to because it’s his only way of making ends meet, especially since the Alarmist establishment launched its vendetta against him when, from 2009 onwards, he became more outspoken in his critiques of global warming theory.
“Harvard-Smithsonian strove to make his life harder and harder, first by banning him from working on anything even remotely connected with issues like climate change or CO2, then by moving his office away from the astrophysics department to a remote area Soon calls Siberia. What the faculty couldn’t quite do was actually sack Soon because it had no cause: he was producing too many quality papers, and he was also bringing in too much money (40 per cent of which goes straight into the faculty coffers)."
While we need to take Soon’s comments to Delingpole with a grain of salt, second hand and paraphrased as they are, but if the Smithsonian did pocket 40 percent from his grants that Soon claims, that would mean the Institute has managed to get $500,000 from the fossil fuel industry – through Willie Soon’s grants - to help run its operations over the past 14 years or so. We wonder how much research money other astronomers bring in at Harvard-Smithsonian.
So while they have distanced itself from Soon’s climate denial, the Smithsonian has clearly been very happy to take big chunks of the money the fossil fuel industry funds him to do it, through their institution, and has bent over backwards to help him get those grants.
The API grants
We have questions about this relationship which goes quite a ways back to 1994 but ended in 2007. We did not get all the data on those grants from Smithsonian. Sallie Baliunas, who was Soon's mentor at CfA, a fellow climate denier and ozone hole denier before that, acknowledged grants from Electric Power Research Institute, American Petroleum Institute, Mobil Foundation, Texaco Foundation in a December 1996 paper published in the Astrophysical Journal. Proud transparency. The dollar figures and terms of those contracts may never surface, but if the Smithsonian wanted to, I bet they could release the records they have of Baliunas' funders too and come clean.
The Smithsonian takes a lot of corporate money. There is the Koch Hall of Origins anthropology exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. They renamed the Air and Space museum theater, Lockheed Martin theater, erasing the name Langley, an daviation pioneer. The museums newly renovated Hall of Oceans might have been called the American Petroleum Institute Hall of Oceans if not for the intervention of Sen. Leahy of Vermont and another corporate philanthropist, Roger Sant, then chair of the Smithsonian board and an energy industry millionaire.
But this funding to Soon (and Baliunas before him) is different still.
Another question...what is the total amount of fossil fuel funding that has come to Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics over the years for climate change denial?
What is the total from API from 1994-2007...a long stretch of support?
Soon’s use of the Harvard-Smithsonian affiliation to advance climate denial
We have still more questions that we hope the Inspector General can ask - about Soon’s use of his affiliation with Harvard and Smithsonian.
While he now prefaces most of his denier presentations with a caveat about how he is presenting in his personal capacity, that’s not the case when it comes to his “scientific” papers that have nothing to do with astrophysics, or the sun’s connection with climate change, nor anything else the Smithsonian says he works on while at the CfA.
If you want to get credibility for your pseudo-scientific, climate-denying papers, using the moniker of an institution that has the words “Harvard” and “Smithsonian” is a very good way to do it. It’s this affiliation that has gained Soon so much credibility in denier circles, for so many years.
The most recent example was his co-authorship of the flawed paper published in Science Bulletin last month that questioned IPCC models. This paper has no acknowledgement of any of Soon’s fossil fuel industry funding, but it does have Soon’s Harvard-Smithsonian CfA affiliation next to his name on the paper. Meanwhile, co-author Monckton can't stop saying that none of the authors got paid for the study, essentially doing it on their own time. Then shouldn't it say, Willie Soon, citizen of Boston? That would work.
If the CfA is really trying to distance itself from Soon’s climate denial, and if Soon really does write these papers in his own time, what on earth is the CfA’s name doing next to Soon’s in all these papers?
In an op-ed at the Wall St. Journal from 2011, written with Paul Driessen, another climate denier and not a scientist, Willie Soon's byline is listed: Mr. Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, is an expert on mercury and public health issues. Clearly that is inaccurate, yet Harvard has taken no apparent action to correct this. Has Smithsonian?
Has there been any communication of concern between Harvard and Smithsonian about Soon through the years?
Soon has used the Institution’s name on a number of other papers that have nothing to do with sun climate connections: from his 2003 paper supposedly debunking the Hockey Stick, to the 2007 polar bear paper, to one published last year that supposedly “debunks” the groundbreaking study by Cook et al that showed a 97% consensus amongst climate scientists that humans are causing the climate to change.
None of these papers are written based on Soon’s qualifications as an aerospace engineer (as Justin Gillis points out in the New York Times: Soon is not a climate scientist). They are way outside of his area of expertise. He is not a polar bear biologist, not a mercury expert.
Does Harvard or Smithsonian routinely let their scientists wander like this? Could a marine biologist pen an article about ancient Egypt and sign as a "Smithsonian scientist"? Could a Harvard Chinese history professor write about Obamacare and sign the article "Harvard healthcare expert"? Surely there are rules...
Hopefully the Inspector General can answer these and more questions
All the Willie Soon documents are organized and attached below.
This post will be updated as this investigation proceeds...
Just wanted to get something up tonight...and since the stories were supposed to be embargoed for midnight...alas...(btw, it is amazing how many folks are jamming on the web on a Saturday...not a bad news day after all.)
Here is the first wave of press:
New York Times, Justin Gillis, John Schwartz, "Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher" Feb 21, 2015
Boston Globe, Sylvan Lane, "Senator Edward Markey to investigate energy companies" Feb 21, 2015
The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg, "Work of prominent climate change denier was funded by energy industry" Feb 21, 2015
Inside Climate News, David Hasemyer, "Documents Reveal Fossil Fuel Fingerprints on Contrarian Climate Research" Feb 21, 2015
The new Willie Soon documents: These documents are the latest returns on the December 2009 Greenpeace records request to Smithsonian Institution. This file is exactly as the documents were sent to Greenpeace - 131 pages with a Document Cloud index on the right column to the beginning of each separate document.
Here I have rearranged the new documents in chronological order by corporate funder:
Southern Company related documents:
ExxonMobil related documents:
Charles G. Koch Foundation related documents:
Donors Trust related documents:
Other key resources:
Greenpeace letter to IRS, Feb. 20, 2015
Greenpeace letter to House Science Committee on Exxon, Feb. 20, 2015
Greenpeace letter to House Science Committee on transparency, Feb. 20, 2015 (142 pages)
Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist, is an employee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (which has little to do with Harvard except it's location, but that's another story...)
Dr. Soon raises money for his research, like many scientists, through grants from foundations, government and corporations. However Soon's "research", which has mostly focused on debunking the consensus on climate change over the past decade or so has been supported almost entirely by corporate grants from fossil-fuel interests like the Charles Koch Foundation, ExxonMobil and Southern Company - well over $1.2 million dollars in total according to the Greenpeace Research Department which has investigated Soon's corporate funding via FOIA requests to the Smithsonian Institute over the past few years.
The larger question is what these corporate funders hoped would be achieved by funding Dr. Soon over the years. Maybe they hoped he would prove the global science consensus was dead wrong? Or maybe they knew it wouldn't but thought his efforts might provide a decent smokescreen, delaying policy action for a bit?