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Breaking: Climate Change Denying Scientist Bought by Corporations

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I know I am shocked to discover that arguably the nation’s leading climate change denying scientist is bought and paid for by fossil fuel corporations, including the coal industry and Charles Koch’s foundation. Who could have predicted this outcome!

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  • MAJeff

    You can see why the Right would think scientists are just in it for the money. They’ve been able to buy quite a few.

    • postmodulator

      A useful reminder of the “It’s always projection” phenonmenon.

      • Steve LaBonne

        I’m constantly amazed by the explanatory power of that rule.

  • Davis

    Let’s see…climate scientists have an agenda (research funds, destruction of our economy, Marxism, etc.), and the Koch brothers don’t have an agenda other than the betterment of society. Which is more plausible?

  • DonN

    The amazing and shocking thing is how few scientists the Kochs are their ilk have been able to buy. It’s good to out people like this but I’m impressed how unusual it is.
    DN

    • DrDick

      Most people do not go into science for the money, at least at the Ph.D. level.

      • mark

        But they go in for ‘success’, and it looks like this guy was possibly going to be out of the business, and certainly not an independent resarcher, if he wasn’t taking the Koch’s money.

      • That’s an interesting question. In STEM, at least, I think a lot of people are partially motivated by the potential financial reward.

        For things like climate denial, the problem is that it’s so stupid few think it’s worth it. I sincerely doubt that the Kochs’ are offering “financially set for life” money.

        • DrDick

          After I posted that, I had the same thought. However, that is mostly in areas with clear, direct commercial applications. The people actually studying climate change are not part of that group.

    • sibusisodan

      Dr. Soon is not an astrophysicist and has never been employed by Harvard. He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering […] he has little formal training in climatology…

      This is the best they could buy…

  • cpinva

    what actually did kind of surprise me is just how cheaply they can be bought: $1.2 million over a decade. $120 grand a year. that, gentlemen, is a steal!

    • Lee Rudolph

      Frankly, the same seems to be true of politicians (except, maybe, at the Federal level).

      • cpinva

        “Frankly, the same seems to be true of politicians (except, maybe, at the Federal level).”

        true, but there is a huge (in my mind, anyway) difference. any idiot who can breathe and chew gum at the same time can be elected to public office. to become a respected expert in a field of science requires years of work and learning. politicians are (literally) a dime a dozen. even at the federal level they’re relatively a cheap commodity and a fungible good. scientists cost a lot more to make, you’d think they’d charge accordingly.

        • DrDick

          any idiot who can breathe and chew gum at the same time can be elected to public office

          Actually, if he is a Republican, that might make him over qualified for the position.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      [Harvard joke]

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    the joke writes itself:

    “What are we gonna do with the Escalade the Kochs bought us?”

    Punchline: [his name]

    Also ZOMFG he referred to his scientific papers and Congressional testimony as “deliverables” (!) The Seahawks can feel a little better about themselves now.

    • JL

      Also ZOMFG he referred to his scientific papers and Congressional testimony as “deliverables” (!)

      Irritatingly, this is what certain funding agencies expect you to call them. I wouldn’t know about the Kochs or the fossil fuel industry, but I definitely remember this being the case for parts of the DoD, from my days working for government contractors before I went back for a PhD.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Yes – that’s exactly what is so shocking. I’m a former bureaucrat & non-profit manager & I believe this is standard terminology in the consulting world (“the thing you’ll give me a check for”). No decent bureaucrat or consultant would ever use that terminology in a subpoena-able format to describe work that’s supposed to be impartial.

        • cpinva

          “work product” sounds so much better.

        • ??

          All EU grants require specifying the deliverables as such. The EPSRC Knowledge Transfer grant I just wrote also required this.

          “Deliverable” is a neutral term (like “milestone”) used in project management. It just means the tangible item produced (and usually transferred).

          It’s a bit twee but hardly unsavory.

    • matt w

      …jokes about Asian names are kind of uncool, especially when the punchline appears to be the kind of stereotypical broken English you get in a lot of jokes about Asian people.

  • Davis X. Machina

    I don’t know why everyone’s so upset.
    Jesus will have come back before the water in lower Manhattan is more than knee-high.
    Ok. Thigh-high. Tops. No higher. I promise.

    And all those folks in the Sundarbans, if they know what’s good for them, will long since have embraced Him as their Lord and Savior.

    • Lee Rudolph

      The thing is, whereas “Cape Cod” doesn’t sound bad, “Cod Island” really isn’t a great name.

      • Davis X. Machina

        The Berkshires will be the new Vineyard.
        Ferries will leave hourly.

    • tsam

      Jesus isn’t coming back to New York. He’s coming to America’s heartland where they consume the majority of the porn in their own homes and talk the morality game better than the rest of us.

      • Jesus isn’t coming back to New York.

        Of course not. He was never here in the first place so how could he return?

  • elm

    The real story here, in my opinion, is his failure to disclose the money when publishing. It’s nit uncommon for part of the research to come first and then money is sought for more of the research, i.e. the money may not have influenced the findins or motivated the research. But n order for readers to evaluate how objective the research is, they need to know about all sources of conflict of interest. Failure to disclose the money limits readers ability to judge the credibility of the work.

    That Dr. Soon hid the funding sources provides its own information about the credibility of the research, of course.

    • Snarki, Child of Loki

      “Failure to disclose the money limits readers ability to judge the credibility of the work.”

      That’s not how it works in science: the results are supposed to stand on their own, doesn’t matter who supported the work.

      What is much, much more common is that the agency/foundation/whoever that gave funding WANTS to be listed on the publications, so that they can take credit. And the funding agreements are typically very, very specific about giving credit in publications. It would be very interesting to see if the funding came with a “do not disclose” clause.

      • dmsilev

        An increasing number of journals are requiring a conflict-of-interest statement at the end of a paper above and beyond the usual “work at University A supported by NSF grant #123; work at University B supported by the Fred Smith Foundation” acknowledgment. It usually takes the form of “the authors declare no financial conflict of interest”, but if you do have a conflict of interest (say you’re reporting results on a new medical innovation from which you expect licensing money) and don’t report it, that’s grounds for having the paper yanked by the journal.

        • As important as the research articles are the editorials. The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, requires authors of editorial pieces that assess the meaning and importance of new research also to state at the end of their essays if they have ever received funding from or even just consulted for commercial entities that might have a stake in the outcome.

        • Area Man

          Virtually every journal (at least in the biomedical field; it could be different elsewhere) requires a conflict of interest disclosure, which may vary from a simple declarative statement to a comprehensive form that every coauthor must fill out. In addition, all funding sources must be disclosed. Unless every journal he submitted to somehow did not require such disclosures, Soon committed fraud. The only appropriate response for the journals is to retract the papers.

          • Snarki, Child of Loki

            Biomed, sure, is rife with potential conflicts. But many fields simply do not have such obvious commercial ties.

            Does Astrophysical Journal have such a policy? I haven’t checked, but have a hard time seeing how there even COULD be a “conflict of interest”.

            And yes, I know that Soon isn’t an astrophysicist.

            • Lee Rudolph

              The Astrophysical Journal’s Author Instructions say nothing at all about conflict-of-interest.

        • The market may be ready for RetractionWatch-brand popcorn.

      • elm

        If science were done by Vulcans, you might be right. But science is done by humans, with conscioys and unconscious biases. Disclosing funding sources and other conflicts of interest enables readers to form some opinion on the magnitude and direction of biases. It’s why science journals increasingly mandate such disclosures, including journals Soon published in while failing to disclose those conflicts.

        • TheTragicallyFlip

          Exactly, and it’s also worth saying that many papers do not disclose the nuts and bolts of their methology so everyone can easily double check their work. The classic example being that “debt at 90% = GROWTH COLLAPSE” economics paper revealed to have glaring Excel formula flaws when they shared the spreadsheet with a graduate student.

          You couldn’t tell that from reading their paper closely, you’d have to literally recreate their entire work from scratch and most papers do not get that kind of scrutiny.

      • mark

        That’s not how it works in science: the results are supposed to stand on their own, doesn’t matter who supported the work.

        There is never enough in the paper, even if the paper is completely honest, to completely judge the credibility of the work. The easiest-to-understand example is repeatedly studying a drug in a double-blind trial, but only publishing the one-of-ten studies that show an effect. Disclosure guidelines now prevent this is in humans, though you could get away with a similar approach in animals.

        More to the point there are a million more subtle potential ways results get skewed. Add in that not all scientists are always rigorous when it’s make or break for a paper, and readers want to see conflicts. A “do not disclose” line in funding would prevent publication in many major journals.

        • Lee Rudolph

          retractionwatch is a must-read blog.

    • Area Man

      This. A conflict of interest isn’t necessarily unethical. (Some conflicts of interest are unavoidable.) What’s unethical, and massively so, is failing to disclose it.

  • tsam

    Did NOT see this coming! I’m SHOCKED that a credentialed scientist would sell fake findings or phony interpretations of data for personal gain. They’re supposed to be in it for the science, which is its own reward!

    Where are we with the smoking issue? Has that been settled yet, or can I believe that it’s actually good for me to smoke?

    • Area Man

      Be prepared to be totally shocked at the next turn of events: The denialist crowd will paint Soon as the victim of a political witch hunt.

  • FridayNext

    I come at this from a different angle. From my perspective and interests I am curious to see how the Smithsonian handles this compared to how they have handled other “issues” (broadly interpreted) over the years. I don’t know EXACTLY what Soon’s employment status is at the Smithsonian (there are a lot of different ways to work for/at/with/under the Smithsonian) but I suspect regardless of what happens he’ll get a whole lot more due process than a historian, artist, art curator, or other scholar who does something similar. Hell, when it comes to history, especially at the American History building everyone is perfectly fine with letting funders dictate content and research agenda’s. See: Reynolds and/or Behring.

    I have no idea where this will go, but I do have my popcorn ready.

    • lhartmann

      Willie works at the Smithsonian outpost in Cambridge, MA on soft money. He’s been there for many years. I always wondered where he got his funding from. Basically, he’s a tool.

  • TheTragicallyFlip

    This recalls the leak of Heartland documents a few years back. What was also true in that one is that while Climate Denial is a bought and paid business, it’s apparently a pretty stingy one for nearly all the participants. I think even the Director of Heartland really didn’t make that much coin considering his place in the wingnut welfare system (low 6 figures as I recall). Most of the staff were making sub $50K.

    The Kochs et al don’t pay their evil arms-length underlings any better than they do their staff at their legitimate businesses.

  • Scotius

    The only reason we know about the $1.2 Million is because he works for the Smithsonian in some capacity and his earnings there were subject to a Freedom of Information request. I’d love to know how much he has made from the various talks he has given over the years. It seems to me that this is where wingnut welfare really shines.

  • Linnaeus

    If folks haven’t read it already, Merchants of Doubt, whose co-author is quoted in the liked article, is a good book on this topic.

    • mark

      I’ll second that, with the caveat that I found it an incredibly frustrating read. But well researched and tied the whole “doubt industry” together.

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  • Eli Rabett

    FWIW Soon worked with/under Sally Baliunas at CfA who got him into the denial business as a coauthor on the ur-text, the Soon Baliunas Robinson “paper” that got sent around by Art Robinson and Fred Seitz as the basis of their Petition Project. Baliunas was included on the first round of Exxon Mobile funding @ Cfa, but in the meantime appears to have vanished.

    Soon’s doctoral advisor and a group of faculty at USC is also tightly linked into the networks.

    IEHO the real running here is how CfA management exploited the funding for their own purposes

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