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Exxon- and Koch-funded scientist Willie Soon confronted at University of Wisconsin over discredited climate research

Written by Hannah Noll.

I was just getting out of class last Tuesday when Dan Cannon, Greenpeace Student Network Coordinator, called to inform me that Dr. Willie Soon was coming to University of Wisconsin-Madison the following night to “challenge the Global Warming status quo.” I attend school an hour away, but I just couldn’t allow myself to pass this opportunity up. I had prior knowledge that there are climate deniers that are funded from Big Coal and Big Oil, but what I learned about Willie Soon's funding, motives, works published, and past (and present) controversies shocked me.

“Harvard Astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon,” as listed on the fossil-fuel funded Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow’s event notification, consistently misrepresents himself to seem credible. Dr. Soon is not employed by Harvard University as suggested by CFACT Campus, but he uses the affiliation with the university to his advantage. He works for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Though located on Harvard’s campus, the group is not officially associated with the University, and Harvard University has distanced itself from Soon. He is an astrophysicist by training, but has no formal education on climate science.
 
His self-misrepresentation alone wouldn’t be jaw-dropping, but when paired with information about Willie Soon’s funding, it is clear that something fishy is going on here. The last grant he received from a funder with no ties to dirty energy interests was in 2002 (a grant that carried through to 2006). Since then, he has been entirely funded by fossil fuel interests. Dr. Soon has received over $1 million in coal, oil and gas funding for his work, including funding from Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Texaco (now Chevron), and the Koch Brothers. Greenpeace Freedom Of Information Act inquiries to Smithsonian Institute reveal that in 2011 and 2012, Dr. Soon received nearly $115,000 from Donors Trust. He has been caught directly coordinating with lobbyists from ExxonMobil to undermine the United Nation’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report before it was even released. IPCC is the global research authority on climate change. 
 

Recounting the day’s events:

When the time came to leave Milwaukee for CFACT's event in Madison, Lynda Mouledoux and I probably had over 100 different species of butterflies in our stomachs. I’m just a college student, but this was my chance to demand accountability from someone meddling with important science in order to hold the world back from addressing climate change. After his presentation, he held a question and answer session. I came prepared to ask critical questions. During the questioning, something must’ve gotten under his skin and caused an aggressive and defensive posture that launched phrases like “childish,” “extremely rude,” “wrong,” and “if you had a bit of intelligence”  Not once did I use a personal attack on him; I was simply asking him about factual details of his career and those funding it.
 
My ask was "You have received over one million dollars in funds from coal and oil interests. The last grant you received from a funder with no ties to the energy industry was in 2002. That's over a decade ago. So Dr. Soon, why should we trust someone without credentials in climate science whose work is only funded by coal and oil interests?”  Watch the video below to see his reaction to this question.
 
 
Dr. Soon made an interesting claim, emphasis added:
"I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything, but I have enough knowledge about climate science and climate system to be able to write scientific papers and go to meetings and talk about monsoon systems and talk about any other things that you want to discuss about climate science issues. I'm as qualified as anybody that you know on this planet on this topic"
But Soon certainly appears to claim that he’s an expert on things outside of his expertise. His lack of climate science credentials aside, perhaps the $290,000 he has received from coal-burning utility Southern Company explains why he abruptly appeared in a 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing mercury pollution from coal plants. The op-ed, titled "The Myth of Killer Mercury," ends with the following description:
Mr. Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, is an expert on mercury and public health issues.
...except Soon doesn’t work for Harvard and carries no formal expertise on “mercury and public health issues.” Co-authoring that article was Paul Driessen, another known fossil fuel shill from the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT)--the parent organization to the campus group hosting Soon’s discussion on climate science.
 
We’re living in a time where corporations and junk science are crippling the effectiveness of our own government to serve us. According to Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, “ExxonMobil made more money each of the last three years than any company in the history of money.” Corporations put profits over people and destroy the earth to please shareholders. I refuse to accept this, so I will continue to perform Non-violent Direct Action in order to do my best to change the status quo.
This blog was written by Hannah Noll. Hannah is a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Campus Coordinator with the Greenpeace Student Network, and a Greenpeace Semester alumna.
 
Charles Koch

It is so frustrating to watch

It is so frustrating to watch Dr. Soon equivocate, again and again, and to personally ridicule the student who is asking these questions. And, for no one in the audience to back her up... Great job, Hannah. That is not an easy position you put yourself in, but it is such an important one. Thanks for your work.

Just...wow

That was my only thought as i watched this. The way Dr. Soon never answered the question, but simply fired back in such a way. We need more people like you Hannah to stand up. Great job.

money

Who invited this guy and who paid him? Maybe the sponsors should be taken to task also!

Great Job Hannah!

Great Job Hannah!

Brava to the lady that

Brava to the lady that confronted Soon. Notice how he tried attacking her intelligence and knowledge of climate science. That was weak and very telling of his character. I am sorry however disappointed that she nor anyone else in the lecture couldn seem to spit out the words "CONFLICT OF INTERESTS" when Soon kept saying: "what are you implying by me taking money from big oil?" And them some idiot male in the audience saying: "what does it matter?" Well I bet that he wouldn't be asking that question if his Mom had been sexually assaulted and the judge was taking money from the accused.

Well......... what are you implying, exactly?

Are you utterly unaware that "implying" corruption in a courtroom evidentiary hearing would get you laughed out of there in a heartbeat? Without a shred of evidence to prove Dr Soon is paid to lie about whatever he says, YOU. HAVE. NOTHING.

Except some industry people donating strings-free money to places that have material they happen to agree with.

What part of that do you not comprehend? And if that same guilt-by-association accusation hopelessly taints any person having any appearance of conflict of interest, then you have just wiped out the vice chair of the IPCC and the entire IPCC organization ( http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2011/08/climate_science_and_corrupti... and http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2011/03/14/peer-into-the-heart-of-the-ipc... )

You can't have it both ways, either both sides are corrupt in such associations, or neither side is unduly influenced by those associations.

Rather than praising the lady here, you should perhaps instead direct heavy criticism at her for putting out a paper-thin insinuation that is so easily shot down.

Soon deserves to be held accountable

I'll tell you one thing: Charles Koch never donates to political causes with no strings attached. Never. He wants to be damn sure he's making a wise investment in his various outlets to manipulate politics in his favor. The contracts his Foundation has with Florida State University are a good example--his team has a role in hiring economics professors, and choosing who NOT to hire.

You say there's "nothing" here showing Dr. Soon is a tool of fossil fuel interests. Did you bother to look at the primary sources showing Dr. Soon's funding over the last decade? And how about how ALL of his output conveniently benefits the PR strategies of those coal and oil interests? Here's the link, check the FOIA results yourself:

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwatch/koch-industries/CASE-STUDY-Dr-Willie-Soon-a-Career-Fueled-by-Big-Oil-and-Coal/#a4\

One year Soon is an expert on polar bears saying they aren't harmed by changes in global temperature (a factual phenomena that he has also denied in other settings), then he somehow became public health "expert" on mercury pollution from coal plants (guess what--he says there's nothing to worry about! also demonstrably false...), now apparently he's also an expert on ocean acidification, which he is working to dismiss concerns over. Did he get degrees in each of these distinct fields from year to year? No, he's still an astrophysicist with no training or formal education in these other fields.

Most telling: others in the scientific community have long recognized Dr. Soon as an irrelevant bozo, although a bozo who is quick to speak up and interfere in discussions that will delay policies that are inconvenient to his funders. They use Soon because it is not credible for Exxon or Charles Koch to make the claims that they can pay Soon to make.

It's exactly like those paid by tobacco companies to deny the health consequences of smoking. Some of those in Soon's community were exactly those people, and Soon fits into the tactical handbook on climate change science denial that Big Tobacco invented to ward off taxes and regulations for decades.

His argument about not being influenced by money is full of wholes, and I'm only talking about what he says in this single video. Somehow 98% of ACTUAL climate scientists (publshing peer-reviewed data in the relevant journals) who agree global warming is happening and caused by fossil fuel use are ALL MOTIVATED BY FUNDING, yet Willie Soon, one of a few shills isolated by his irrelevant creditials and dissenting opinion that is completely out of line with established climate science, ISN'T influenced by his funding from coal, oil and gas companies. No way. Dr. Willie Soon is a fraud.

As far as Greenpeace and the IPCC--Greenpeace doesn't deny the science of climate change. IPCC is the lead research authority worldwide on climate, with thousands of contributing scientists. I don't understand how the trashy articles you posted succeed in fabricating even a remote scandal--it'd only seem scandalous if you're a climate change denier who is never going to accept the IPCC's research in the first place. I'd rather have those who have listened to what climate scientist have said for decades give feedback to IPCC than industry-funded contrarians like Willie Soon (or Richard Lindzen or Pat Michaels or Fred Singer or whoever else agrees to interfere).

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