Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon, a favorite scientist of climate-change deniers for his theory attributing global warming to variations in the sun's energy and not human activity, has accepted more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry in the last decade, the New York Times reports. He also failed to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his published papers.
Soon's corporate funding has been known for some time, but newly released documents, obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal just how close Soon is to the industry to which he lends his ostensibly objective support.
The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received $335,000 from Exxon Mobil, $274,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, and $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Guardian reports. The documents reportedly show that the Kochs and other donors used an anonymous trust to give Soon another $324,000.
In a statement to the Guardian, a Harvard spokesman, Jeff Neal, distanced the institution from Soon: "There is no record of Soon having applied for or having been granted funds that were or are administered by the University. Soon is not an employee of Harvard."
A spokeswoman for the Center for Astrophysics, Christine Pulliam, explained to the Guardian that Soon is not on salary, and is funded by outside grants. The center does not require its scientists to disclose the sources of that funding, Pulliam said. Many of the journals Soon was published in, however, do.
The New York Times spoke to Robert J. Strangeway, the editor of one such publication—the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, in which three of Soon's papers were published. "We assume that when people put stuff in a paper, or anywhere else, they're basically being honest," Dr. Strangeway said.
[Image via Shutterstock]