Michigan State: students highlight Willie Soon's oil and coal-funded climate denial career

  • Posted on: 8 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Image from a USA Today article detailing Willie Soon's at events to confuse the public over climate science.

Written by Rachna Pannu. This event was covered in the Michigan State News by Simon Schuster, whose interview with Dr. Willie Soon confirms CFACT paid for Soon to attend these events.

Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate change denier, was invited by the MSU Campus Conservatives at Michigan State University to talk about climate change.  The event was sanctioned by CFACT, an obscure but vocal group among climate science deniers. We at MSU Greenpeace saw this as a great opportunity to have some of our members attend and question the reasons and methods with which he chooses to deny what 98% of climate scientists have agreed to be true
The bulk of Dr. Soon’s talk involved aggressively targeting published or well-known supporters of climate change prevention, including professors, Al Gore, and federal, national and international organizations. He went through the data, attempting to discredit it with conflicting data from other studies and experiments. However, this aspect of his talk left me with more questions than answers, especially since he is a known recipient of oil and coal money.

Willie Soon’s fossil fuel-funded career

Willie Soon spent a good amount of the talk repeatedly defending himself as an independent scientist simply seeking to learn the truth before anyone had even questioned his motives and his expertise. He ranted that people question his funding and his intentions, but he is just an objective man trying to get to the truth of climate change. He also used this opportunity to criticize the current scientific model of publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that it was a buddy-buddy system and peer-reviewing did not affect the validity of the article.
Essentially, Dr. Soon was warding off the holes in his credentials before anyone had questioned them because his doctorate is in astrophysics, which is not even related to the Earth’s climate, and has only been able to publish one article on climate science in a peer-reviewed journal. Even that article was hotly debated by the editors, who wrote a negative response and resigned from their positions in outrage. And Willie Soon's funding? It comes from fossil fuel companie--like ExxonMobil and Southern Company--totaling over $1 million in the last decade.

Questionable Climate ‘Science’ 

Willie Soon pulled up a graph showing the temperature range over a series of years in the 2000’s and asked rhetorically whether anyone could see an increase in the temperatures over time. Yes, I could, but I would rather like to question the validity of using a period of less than 10 years to examine the change in the Earth’s temperature over time. In another example, he showed a graph that analyzed both the variance in amplitude and shift in time for the predictions of temperatures by many different model used by scientists. The models were dispersed around the central point of zero difference in amplitude and zero shift in time, but he simply stated that the image showed errors in all of the models and stated that none of them were in the lower left corner. Why they should be in a region of less amplitude and a negative shift in time in relation to the actual temperature patterns baffles me.  
Members of MSU Greenpeace questioned Soon about his articles on climate science, and he became aggressive and very defensive, stating that peer-review did not signify greater accuracy (peer-review is crucial to ensuring the highest conduct in scientific research). When a member of The State News, the MSU student newspaper, asked why with about 13,900 published articles on the verity of climate change and only twenty-something that argue the reverse he felt that climate change did not exist, Dr. Soon again became frustrated. Soon referred to a quote from Albert Einstein, saying that it only takes one person to disprove what everyone agrees upon. Read coverage of this event from the State News here.
There was no way to have an effective discourse about climate change with Dr. Willie Soon because he refused to accept the very basic premises of our current scientific standards that peer-review ensures accuracy of the published articles and that a large consensus by educated individuals who have done their own research into a matter indicates the verity of the hypothesis. In addition, some of the data and sources he provided seemed either not applicable or reputable as we are taught is critical to reliable scientific research. 

Dr. Soon adds Ocean Acidification Denial to his Growing list of Specialties

Separate from Willie Soon’s questionable assertions about global temperature trends were his assertions used to dismiss ocean acidification, a serious problem that is linked with increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (caused by companies funding Dr. Soon, like ExxonMobil and Southern Company). Soon's sources were shaky--data cited from a BlogSpot website, for instance, not exactly a credentialed scientific institution. He disputed a report by a marine biologist that claims increasing CO2 content of the ocean results in weakening of the shells of marine organisms by interfering with their ability to use calcium carbonate in their shells. 
Scientists who are serious about scientific standards tell us that ocean acidification is having a profound impact on coral reefs (they are dying rapidly), and scientists are working to determine if more acidic oceans are impacting crustaceans, ocean animals that have shells. Dr. Soon apparently already has the answers, stating that crabs and lobster shells were not composed of significant amounts of calcium carbonate, and then he provided data that showed lobsters and crabs increasing in size after carbon dioxide was bubbled through their water. If indeed the shells of crustaceans are not mainly composed of calcium carbonate, how does an experiment showing the effect of carbon dioxide presence in the water of lobster and crabs conflict with the statement that it affects the availability of calcium carbonate? 

Soon’s Limited Audience

The only thing I can say is that I felt some relief in that he was only able to attempt to influence a half-filled classroom composed of 1/3 individuals who did not attend the university and already believed in Soon’s paranoid vision of the world and 1/3 supporters of the movement to protect our planet. There are always a few doubters, a few critics and a few conspiracy theorists that refuse to acknowledge global warming no matter how much evidence is presented to them. If we can get the majority of rational individuals to understand the changes occurring to the environment, we can create change to save our planet and make it a healthier place to live. 
Rachna Pannu
Senior, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. 
Lyman Briggs College
Michigan State University


Known Associates: