It’s Not the Sun, Stupid: Willie Soon’s Bogus Science

February 25, 2015


As many will have read, there were a number of press reports (NYT, Guardian, InsideClimate) about the non-disclosure of Willie Soon’s corporate funding (from Southern Company (an energy utility), Koch Industries, etc.) when publishing results in journals that require such disclosures. There are certainly some interesting questions to be asked (by the OIG!) about adherence to the Smithsonian’s ethics policies, and the propriety of Smithsonian managers accepting soft money with non-disclosure clauses attached.

However, a valid question is whether the science that arose from these funds is any good? It’s certainly conceivable that Soon’s work was too radical for standard federal research programs and that these energy companies were really taking a chance on blue-sky high risk research that might have the potential to shake things up. In such a case, someone might be tempted to overlook the ethical lapses and conflicts of interest for the sake of scientific advancement (though far too many similar post-hoc justifications have been used to excuse horrific unethical practices for this to be remotely defendable).

Unfortunately, the evidence from the emails and the work itself completely undermines that argument because the work and the motivation behind it are based on a scientific fallacy.

Putting aside papers where Soon was only a minor contributing author, and the hopelessly slanted ‘forecasting principles’ papers with Green and Armstrong (see here for why they add nothing to the discussion), most of Soon’s work has been related to finding correlations of a very specific solar reconstruction (see figure below) to some observational time-series. There are very real criticisms that can be made of the solar forcing time-series he uses, and of course, of the cherry picking of specific time-series without mentioning that correlations to others (such as the global mean) are very low, but even accepting all that, there is a much more fundamental problem.

It is most succinctly highlighted in an article Soon wrote ‘It’s the Sun, stupid’ (not sure if it was ever really published anywhere, but he did send it to his contacts at Koch Industries). Towards the end he states:

The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic.

It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of “preventing catastrophic climate change.”

It is the leap from the first to second sentence that drives Soon’s research – the notion that if you can find enough correlations to solar forcing, the impact of CO2 must be diminished, if not obliterated altogether. But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero. The existence of one physical factor affecting a variable in a complex system says nothing whatsoever about the potential for another physical factor to affect that same variable.

Even if the correlations existed at the level Soon claims (and they don’t – see figure), it would still not indicate that CO2 had zero effect, and indeed, it could never do so. The impacts of CO2 on radiative transfer have been studied since the 1860s, and modern spectroscopic databases date to Air Force calculations for heat seeking missiles in the 1950s and have been validated by an enormous number of observations, both in situ and via remote sensing. The vertical fingerprint of the impact of increasing CO2 (warming troposphere, cooling stratosphere) was calculated in 1967 by [2], decades before it was observed. None of this science disappears because a regional temperature series correlates for some short time with something else.

Figure 1. Updating the Soon (2005) correlations by correcting for an obsolete and almost certainly incorrect solar reconstruction (replacing with the SORCE reconstruction) and extending the temperature data to the present, shows an almost complete collapse of the initially impressive correlation (click for larger version). – See more at: (click for larger)


The only way this might even begin to make sense would be if attribution of recent global warming was based purely on a linear regression of temperature to CO2 (which it isn’t). Given that we know there are multiple drivers of climate operating (the sun for sure, but also volcanoes, aerosols, greenhouse gas changes, land use change, etc.) the only way to do attribution properly is calculate the physical fingerprints of each of these drivers across multiple variables and see which combinations provide the best fits. Indeed, this is indeed exactly what is done. This kind of attribution is not based on single-factor correlations and is even robust to errors of magnitude in the calculated responses.

Soon’s work has been singularly poor for over a decade, first coming to prominence with the Soon and Baliunas (2003) debacle in Climatic Research which led to the resignation of 5 editors in protest at the way the paper was handled (and see more here). Another case associated with some very obvious shenanigans was Dyck et al (2007). More recently, his presentations at Heartland’s pseudo-climate conferences have come under renewed scrutiny for their level of incoherence.

The odd thing about this is that there is real, and interesting, science to be done on the impacts of solar forcing on climate. The chemical feedbacks due to photolytic reactions in both the stratosphere and troposphere involving ozone, NOx, and water vapour, can have significant impacts. Exploring the tremendous complexities in aerosol formation and growth and impacts on clouds and whether that is mediated by modulations of cosmic rays is fascinating (if, as yet, inconclusive). Indeed, there is a current NASA call for proposals on exactly these subjects (Notice of Intent due March 13!). But every time another one of these spurious correlations is touted, or one more fallaciously reasoned argument is put forward, it makes it harder for serious scientists to get involved at all without being tarred with the same pseudo-scientific brush.

Moving on from this low-quality, pointless kind of solar forcing shtick can’t come ‘Soon’ enough.

14 Responses to “It’s Not the Sun, Stupid: Willie Soon’s Bogus Science”

  1. andrewfez Says:

    Just overlay the satellite measured solar irradiance over Soon’s model for solar irradiance and you’ll see he’s not competent.

  2. Figured you fellers would be having fun with the latest in a string of attacks against Dr Soon. Problem with you and your media friends is that you accept the single source within those weekend articles without question, instead of looking into the lineage of the attacks and where they originate. All of that is in your own beloved material. You should try connecting the dots sometime.

    Believe what you will about what’s supposedly damaging in those reports, but I’d submit the attacker(s) have gone ‘one bridge too far’ this time around. Particularly the bit with Rep Grijalva. Place all your eggs in this one basket one time too many, and it ends up drawing attention to where the accusation comes from in the first place and whether the core accusation about ‘money bought lies’ is valid.

    Have fun with it if you like. What I see coming down the pike is a backfire of epic proportions. It’s what happens when your beloved leaders can’t figure out when to keep their mouths shut.

    Now, cue “dumboldguy” in ..3 ..2 ..1 “GO AWAY!!”

    • dumboldguy Says:

      We all know that you must defend your fellow whore, Russell. admirable of you.

      “Single source”? And “connect the dots”? Bwa-ha-ha-ha! I have seen so many sources about Soon’s bad behavior and connected so many dots about it that I am amazed that you have the balls to say any of this—-are you trying to mislead those who are new to the climate change discussion? And on top of the great job Peter has done linking and showing clips of Soon convicting himself?

      Be sure to come back and gloat when that prophecy comes true—-“What I see coming down the pike is a backfire of epic proportions” Can’t wait.

      No “go away”, Russell—-keep coming around and making a fool of yourself while we laugh.

      (…..and stop giving yourself those friggin’ thumbs up, fool!—-we know your game and you’re embarrassing yourself)

    • jfreed27 Says:

      Does it matter that Soon’s science sucks?

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Not to Russell. He just loves “sucky science”, although he worries a lot about catching STD (Science Transmitted Diseases), and that’s why he hangs out on WUWT and similar places. (Heartland has pills and vaccinations for that, though, and I’m sure Russell has taken advantage)

  3. anotheralionel Says:

    I have just been appraised of an interview given by Richard Lindzen where he starts off thus:

    ‘Personally I don’t think its a in the big leagues of threats people face…’lot of the alarm is based on extreme projections frankly I don’t think many people involved in the field seriously believe um on the other hand um I mean given the concerns about climate I suppose you could argue there is something to be careful about not even having to do with man climate is always changing….’

    See how much further you can go before bailing out, I could not proceed beyond that ‘climate is always changing’ false equivalence.

    Now if you click on Menu the second from the left is ‘Global Cooling Earth’s Little Known Threat’ where we find Pat Michaels saying that ‘the Sun is very cold right now’, in another spiel that makes it hard not to gag.

    Lindzen and Michaels, along with Soon, feature in this IREA memo.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Lindzen sounds like Spencer there. I am surprised that Roy Spencer wasn’t mentioned as well in the memo. I am reading Spencer’s book “Blunder” right now, and his science and logic are so bad that I AM gagging repeatedly. His “thoughts” on CO2 are beyond belief. The book also has testimonials on the back cover from John Coleman and The Gasbag Limbaugh (who says Spencer is his “official climatologist”—-LOL)

      I also checked out Spencer’s “Climate Confusion” (a “best seller”, they say), and Lomborg’s “Cool It”—-they are sitting there in a pile oozing stupidity and a funny smell as I speak. “Confusion” has a testimonial from Lindzen on the cover—it’s a small world of mutual admiration these denier scumbags inhabit.

      PS They are all rather insubstantial books—160 to 180 pages of content. I guess when you don’t have much to say, you can save paper.

      PPS If anyone cares to know why I checked out these three books at the risk of my sanity, just ask. An interesting story about my local library and librarians.

  4. anotheralionel Says:

    “If anyone cares to know why I checked out these three books at the risk of my sanity, just ask. An interesting story about my local library and librarians.”

    I am all ears, sorry eyes.

    As for local libraries, mine has long ceased carrying any books of interest across my wide swathe of interests. I have an eclectic interest in the world around me, what makes it work and its history. Thus maritime history, aviation, science in its many guises including geology and cosmology with mathematics thrown in of necessity.

    Indeed, many books I now hunt down for purchase arrive as good copies with the release stamps from various UK libraries within. In this way I know that it isn’t my local that is dumping books – this to make room for entertainment in music and DVD form. The dumbing down of society continues apace. This is a real issue and why the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ get away with it.

    Over the years when a regular visitor (there was a time when I swapped my 4 fiction tickets for my wife’s non-fiction – this before computerisation resulting in lack of differentiation) I would always stop and browse the sell-off shelves, picked up a few crackers this way, but the rate of dump increased a few years back. They also decided to mix the loan non-fiction in with the Reference Only which was up stairs – difficult – making hunting even less promising. Have they never heard of serendipity? That was a key factor in broadening my mind as a kid visiting libraries.

    My home city library at the time I was in junior started to collect a complete edition of all the Jules Verne novels, IIRC there were more than fifty of these, steam powered elephants, flying balloons the size of the Titanic, ‘Black Diamonds’ written around life in Pittsburgh (IIRC) and a moral tale for the pillaging of the landscape and despoiling of lives that is now such a huge feature of the modern US, and other lands.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Since you asked. We have a pretty good public library system in my affluent county in northern VA outside DC. Four big and well-stocked regional libraries and many small neighborhood libraries. I can request a book from anywhere in the system and it will be sent to my “home” library in just days. I am fortunate to be less than a mile from one of the big ones and typically check out 3 or 4 books a week.

      They have “librarian’s picks” shelves inside the door, which I always peruse. Usually good fiction picks and an eclectic selection of interesting non-fiction—-I too like to read widely, and I’ve got the time.

      I was looking through the “picks” section and spotted Spencer’s “Blunder” there, flipped through it and found horseshit on every other page, and saw red. So I engaged one of the librarians on what the library’s policy was on carrying books that were full of bad science, asking her if I could also find books on how the earth was flat or the moon was made of green cheese. She informed me that the library tried to present “all viewpoints”, and got upset when I pursued the idea that science was based on fact and not on “viewpoints”. It went downhill from there, so I informed her that I might be taking the matter up with the library governing body, that I had no problem with them catering to “viewpoints and tastes” in music, politics, religion, fashion, food, etc, but that telling lies about scientific fact was unacceptable.

      I immediately checked out the “Blunders” book as well as the other Spencer book and the Lomborg, all the denier horseshit that I could find amongst the climate change books there. I am allowed to check out most books for three weeks and renew them SIX times for an additional three weeks each time, so I can keep those books out of circulation for 4 or 5 months, and intend to do so.

      Before anyone screams “censorship”, if anyone requests one of the titles, I will not be allowed to renew it and must return it, so I will only delay someone wanting to access the horseshit for a couple of weeks. It will be telling if NO ONE requests the books over the next 4 months, and if they do, I will request them right after I return them and attempt to “sequester” them again. Their computerized system makes it easy.

      • anotheralionel Says:

        I have been down the path of appraising County (Hampshire. UK) of my disappointment. What pushed my button there was my requesting of a book which had to be sourced from another library and thus I could not renew it. As this was a rather technical book on nuclear power I tried to reserve it again, but this time the only library that was allowed to source it, some strange rules here, was the British Library and the cost was over a hundred of pounds and county didn’t want to play ball.

        As asimilar protest, when I found a copy of Plimer’s ‘Heaven and Earth’ in a bookshop I frequent, alongside copies of Lomborg, I asked Tim Lambert if I could print out and include a copy of an article he put up at Deltoid ‘Ian Plimer is a Fraud’. He gave permission so I slipped this in between the front cover and the frontispiece. That book stayed on the shelf for years.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          You have just given me a great idea for the time when I am forced to return these books. “Truth inserts”—–a piece of paper with some truth info—links, titles of “better” books to read, quotes of negative reviews. Thank you.

      • j4zonian Says:

        You only need to work with someone else, who requests the books you have, maybe a third person, and then I’m guessing each of you can request the books again, and so on in an endless Round Robin. However, it might be worthwhile to leave them on the shelves, just making sure there’s enough real science to refute them inside and outside the library. Maybe leave taped-in love notes for future readers–guerilla front plates or chapter reviews with references to the real…

        • j4zonian Says:

          Just read your reply, which didn’t appear at first–apparently you had the same thought.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, we are thinking alike. Perhaps I will recruit my wife into the “endless circle of denial” of these books. I have only read portions of the “Blunder” book at length, but it is so bad that it should be burned. The copy I have is a later printing with a new preface that is the sorriest three pages of whining and self-justification that you can imagine.

            Spencer was pilloried for what he said in the first edition in 2010, and it might be a good idea to leave it on the shelves with the “supplementary truths” as you suggest. Right now, I am so angry that a flaming asshole like Spencer is allowed to spout his crap and my tax dollars are used to put it in the library that I think I’ll just sit on the books for many months—-or at least until the SHTF in 2015 and makes his arguments even more ridiculous.

            PS, if anyone wants to see what a real Merchant of Doubt looks like, read the “Blunder” book—-it is mind boggling—-the preface is suitable for framing.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: