Willie Soon Fails Conflict of Interest Test in Science Bulletin Article


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?

In a new tactical grasp for credibility, Dr. Soon apparently orchestrated the publication of this paper in a relatively new Chinese journal named Science Bulletin

Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model 

Christopher Monckton1, Willie W.-H. Soon2, David R. Legates3, William M. Briggs4

1. Science and Public Policy Institute, Haymarket, VA 20169, USA;

2. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA;

3. Department of Geography, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA;

4. New York, NY 10021, USA

Lord Christopher Monckton, lead author of the article, described the decision to target the journal to an E&E ClimateWire reporter:

"We didn't even think of publishing in the West," said Christopher Monckton, a climate denier who is also the lead author on the study. "We decided the West is now no longer doing science, it is doing propaganda via the learned journals, so we weren't playing that game anymore."

"Heartland Institute finds route into U.S. science news conduit through China", Gayathri Vaidyanathan, ClimateWire, January 23, 2015

Apparently giddy that they actually got a paper in a 'peer reviewed' journal (even as they decry the peer review process at every turn), the Heartland Institute broadcast the story to its base and funded the open distribution of the journal article according Heartland affiliate Anthony Watts.

This climate denial effort is nothing new for Soon who has been aided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics staff in releasing misinformation on climate since the 1990s.  For example, here (with the now retired Sallie Baliunas and a couple of Idsos) is a 2003 press release of another 'study', this time attacking historic climate records as opposed to climate models. 

Soon, along with Legates and Monckton, have been living on climate denial island for many years.

Climate Investigations Inquiry

Last week, the Climate Investigations Center wrote the Science Bulletin editorial staff expressing concern that Dr. Soon had not disclosed his funding sources or his outside consulting fees when submitting the article, in which “The authors declare that they have no conflict [of interest].”  We attached a spreadsheet of the known grants that Soon has received in recent years from fossil fuel interests (also pasted below).

The Boston Globe published today on our inquiry to the journal:

Boston Globe, "Climate change skeptic accused of violating disclosure agreement", by Sylvan Lane January 26, 2015

This weekend, Science Bulletin responded that they are investigating based on the information we submitted.  Our letter to the journal and their response can be seen below...stay tuned.


CIC letter to Science China Press

Editorial Office

Science China Press, 

16 Donghuangchenggen North Street 

Beijing 100717, China

                                                                     January 20, 2015

Dear Editors of Science Bulletin,

I was dismayed to run across a study published in the current edition of your journal Science Bulletin, which is sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The study is titled “Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model” and attempts to argue that current predictions for future climate change may be wrong.

At the end of the article under the heading “Conflict of interest”, there is this statement: “The authors declare that they have no conflict.”

This simply cannot be true.

The second author of the paper is Willie W.H. Soon with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In November 2013, the American newspaper, The Boston Globe profiled Dr. Soon in an article titled “Researcher helps sow climate-change doubt: Industry-funded Cambridge astrophysicist adds to partisan divide.”[1]

This article makes clear that Dr. Soon is funded by industry to undermine the science of climate change. In one passage of the story, the Globe notes that Dr. Soon has received “more than a $1.2 million from sources such as ExxonMobil; Southern Company, a foundation run by the Koch brothers, conservative energy moguls; and industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, according to public documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group.”

ExxonMobil, as you know is one of the largest oil companies in the world.  The Southern Company is a U.S. electric utility company that is an extensive consumer of coal.  The American Petroleum Institute (API) is the trade association representing the oil industry.  Dr. Soon has received $273,611 from API, $335,106 from ExxonMobil Foundation, $349,945 from Southern Company, $230,000 from Charles G. Koch Foundation and $234,799 from Donors Trust (an organization set up to distribute funding from sources who wish to remain anonymous.) Source: Greenpeace Research  

While Dr. Soon appears to have not disclosed his outside funding, the policy at your journal on disclosure is quite clear.[2]  Your policy states:

Authors must disclose all relationships or interests that could influence or bias the work. Examples of potential conflicts of interests that are directly or indirectly related to the research may include but not limited to the following:

•   Research grants from funding agencies (please give the research funder and the grant number

•   Honoraria for speaking at symposia

•   Financial support for attending symposia

•   Financial support for educational programs

•   Employment or consultation

•   Support from a project sponsor

•   Position on advisory board or board of directors or other type of management relationships

•   Multiple affiliations

•   Financial relationships, for example equity ownership or investment interest

•   Intellectual property rights (e.g. patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights)

•   Holdings of spouse and/or children that may have financial interest in the work

In addition, interests that go beyond financial interests and compensation (non-financial interests) that may be important to readers should be disclosed. These may include but are not limited to personal relationships or competing interests directly or indirectly tied to this research, or professional interests or personal beliefs that may influence your research.

The corresponding author will include a summary statement in the text of the manuscript in a separate section before the reference list. An examples of disclosures is shown below:

Conflict of interest: Author A has received research grants from Company A. Author B has received a speaker honorarium from Company X and owns stock in Company Y. Author C is a member of committee Z.

If no conflict exists, the authors should state:

Conflict of interest: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

I am concerned that Dr. Soon has not disclosed his funding sources or his outside consulting fees when submitting this article for publishing in your journal, and I am worried that such failure to disclosure may impact the reputation and credibility of both the journal and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  

In addition, it has been advertised that the Heartland Institute has apparently paid your journal to make the article available for open download.  The Heartland Institute, a U.S. think tank, widely discredited for its work attacking the scientific consensus on climate change, also receives industry.  Was it disclosed to Science Bulletin that Heartland Institute paid these “open access” fees? 

In light of Dr. Soon’s apparent failure to disclose his conflicts of interest in taking money from fossil fuel companies, I ask for your immediate attention to this matter to publish a clarification of Dr. Soon’s “conflicts of interest” statement and to consider a retraction of this article at this time.


Thank you for your time,

Kert Davies

Climate Investigations Center

P.O. Box 91 

Alexandria, VA 22314


[1] Christopher Rowland, “Researcher helps sow climate-change doubt: Industry-funded Cambridge astrophysicist adds to partisan divide,” Boston Globe, November 5, 2013. See also: “http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2013/11/05/harvard-smithsonian-global-warming-skeptic-helps-feed-strategy-doubt-gridlock-congress/uHssYO1anoWSiLw0v1YcUJ/story.html

[2] Science Bulletin, “Instructions for Authors.” See also: http://www.scibull.com:8080/EN/column/column131.shtml


Letter from Science Bulletin to Climate Investigations Center

Kert Davies

Climate Investigations Center

P.O. Box 91

Alexandria, VA 22314


Dear Dr. Davies,
Thank you for your informative letter with some data. We will look into this matter as appropriate.
Please be aware that although Science Bulletin is co-funded by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), under absolutely no circumstances the content of the publication is in any form influenced by either CAS or NSFC. In this context, you may be interested in another paper we published some time ago (http://community.dur.ac.uk/yaoling.niu/MyReprints-pdf/2006WSBroeckerCSB.pdf).
Science Bulletin is a prestigious Science Magazine and we publish original research work, reviews as well as news and views etc. We consider publishing anything that help promote science and technology including important topics/issues that may be considered controversial so long as the submission passes our rigorous peer-review process. The Monckton et al. paper, for example, passed such rigorous peer-review process! 
As you mentioned, the paper is missing the  acknowledgement in that research paper on potential source of funding, for which we will look into it.
Thanks again for your letter, and please accept our warm invitation should you consider contributing a research article to Science Bulletin either to support the ideas by Monckton et al or rebut it or any other topic of your choice that can help promote science and technology.

Editorial Office

Science China Press, 

16 Donghuangchenggen North Street 

Beijing 100717, China



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
 Total API Grants     $273,611  
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
 Total Koch Grants     $230,000  
Donors Trust Understanding solar radiation and climate change 2011 $50,000 Smithsonian FOIA
Donors Trust Understanding solar radiation and climate change 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
 Total Donors Trust Grants     $234,799  
Electric Power Research Institute   1994-1999 ?? Soon published papers
Mobil Foundation   1995-1997 ?? Soon 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 2008-2010 $70,106 Smithsonian FOIA/Exxon Giving Report
 Total ExxonMobil Grants     $335,106  
Free to Choose The sun's influence on climate change 2008 $19,383 Smithsonian FOIA
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
 Total Southern Co. Grants     $349,945  
Texaco Foundation   1996 ?? Soon published papers


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Showing 4 reactions

commented 2015-03-04 12:10:49 -0800 · Flag
How about debunking the science of the paper. It was peered reviewed and passed rigorous testing.
commented 2015-02-23 17:09:14 -0800 · Flag
And of course all other funding of science is not biased based on where the scientists receive their grants. Only science which refutes the ‘consensus’ theory.

It only takes ONE negative result to refute ANY theory.
commented 2015-02-08 13:57:35 -0800 · Flag
OK so the reply from the Chinece papers makes it quite probable that that whole “scientific publication” is in fact owned/ran by the deniers?
followed this page 2015-02-08 13:56:53 -0800