The Real Problem with Dr. Soon. He’s Just Not Very Bright.

February 25, 2015

Willie Soon, trained as an Aerospace Engineer, has been acclaimed among climate deniers as a new Galileo of climatology. And an expert on Polar Bear Biology.  As yet he has not announced a cure for AIDs of the common cold, like his research colleague, “Lord” Monckton.
(In Denier-ville it’s good to do double duty, as their numbers are shrinking rapidly..)

You can see Gavin Schmidt’s take on the science elsewhere on this page, but then there’s a more human response.

Willie Soon is ideologically correct, I’m sure that gets him a lot of gigs.  But he’s just not very bright. And he assumes, with good evidence, that his audience is likewise.
Below, Adam Frank relates the same kind of reaction I’ve had when meeting with supposedly fierce climate deniers.
Is this the best they’ve got?

Astrophysicist Adam Frank for NPR:

…let’s review a little background about Soon. First, he is not an astrophysicist or a climate scientist. He holds a degree in aerospace engineering. What really matters, though, is that Soon is a climate skeptic with a Ph.D (from University of Southern California in 1991.) That makes him extremely valuable to the forces of climate denial. Soon is often a speaker at conferences focusing on climate doubt — and he’s been invited to testify before Congress.

When it was announced that Soon was giving a talk at the University of Rochester, I knew it would be interesting. I was more than willing to hear what the man had to say. The whole point of being a scientist is, after all, to try to leave your preconceptions at the door and let the work speak for itself. I also wanted to understand Soon’s own thinking about the role he was playing as a public skeptic.

On all counts I was disappointed.

Taken as nothing more than a scientific talk, Dr. Soon’s presentation was, in my opinion, pretty bad. I watch a lot of these things. It’s part of my job. If Soon had been giving a Ph.D defense, he would have been skewered. I was left without a clear line of argument or clear justifications for his claims. More importantly, for a topic this contentious there was insufficient discussion of the voluminous and highly detailed response critics have offered to his claims that solar activity accounts for most observed climate variability. Many of my colleagues listening to the talk said they felt the same way. I came away thinking, “Is that the best they have?”

But more troubling was a conversation I had with Soon earlier in the day. Every scientist has the right to his or her own perspective. But scientists also understand how research communities build their understanding about what is known and how anyone knows it. So, I wondered how Soon could fail to acknowledge that the weight of evidence was overwhelmingly against him when he made his overarching public statements of skepticism. I asked Soon why his testimony to Congress did not begin with something like, “I acknowledge that the majority of researchers in my field hold a different view from me, but let me now explain why I am taking such a contrarian position.”

When I asked Soon about these points, he had very little to say.

I came away from my meeting with this famous climate skeptic feeling pretty depressed. What I had seen was a scientist whose work, in my opinion, was simply not very good. That, on its own, is no big deal. There are lots of scientists whose work is not very good — and some people may even think my science should be included in that list. But Soon’s little string of papers were being heralded in the highest courts of public opinion as a significant blow to everyone else’s understanding of Earth’s climate. From TV studios to the halls of Congress, we were being told his was world-shaking research of the highest caliber, and that we had to take notice.

From what I saw and learned that day, the truth wasn’t anywhere close. That was what made it all so depressing. For an issue so important to all of us, the standards should be a lot higher.

That is the real problem with Willie Soon and climate denial.

Below, recent Facebook posting from the Smithsonian, with which Dr. Soon has been associated.



10 Responses to “The Real Problem with Dr. Soon. He’s Just Not Very Bright.”

  1. David Blake Says:

    1) Too much ice *is* bad for polar bears.

    They mostly eat seals, which mostly eat fish. If there’s only ice and no open water there’d be no fish and no seals, and thus no polar bears.

    2) Why is it OK for the CRU, or the Guardian to take money from Oil companies, but not OK for Dr Soon to do the same?

  2. Had Soon not chosen the “skeptic” career-path, he would be a long-forgotten “3-and-out” postdoc.

  3. redskylite Says:

    I’m not sure if so much would be made of this in other countries, and what happened to the “Innocent until proven guilty” article from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ?

    It is ironic as Judith Curry’s Climate etc is talking about witch-hunts, A.Watts is shrieking indignantly and righteously away as is the sewer press of Breibart putting Mr soon on the same level as J.C and talking about crucifixions, they are all making a meal and ironically at the same time getting the most mileage out of the sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Rajendra Pachauri.

    Does mankind even the wit and intelligence to slow down with industrial ghg’s and stop messing up nature’s balance, instead of spiteful infighting and creating chaos.

    Some words of sanity and good sense from Chris Mooney in the Washington Post today.

    “Aliens who arrived on Earth and examined the climate debate might infer that human beings don’t identify scientific experts primarily based on their knowledge or their credentials, but rather based upon the actual positions they hold — ”

  4. I never heard of Dr. Soon until about a week ago, so anything I can say about him is mostly speculative on my part. But as regards the statement that “he’s not very bright,” my guess is that he’s no idiot, at least in terms of his IQ. The problem with him and most of the other deniers with an IQ over 40 is that he knows which side of the bread is buttered. Lending his name to the AGW deniers is a shrewd move, if all he cares about is a paycheck. Whether or not he actually believes the nonsense he spews is a question I can’t answer.

    Peter said: “There are lots of scientists whose work is not very good — and some people may even think my science should be included in that list.”

    Just for the record, my take on your science is that it’s pretty good if we’re talking about AGW, though sometimes you seem to overact to every little blip on the temperature graph. All things considered, I think we’re in for something like a 2 to 4 degree rise in average temperatures by year 2100. My main issue with what you say/write is your proposed solution, which isn’t strictly science but rather an engineering issue. You look at a wind farm or solar panels and see “the solution,” where I see a marginal source of intermittant power that is better than nothing, but not great. When I look at a 3rd (or hopefully 4th) generation nuclear power plant, I see a solution, where you see an atomic bomb.

    Emotionalism aside, I’m just interested in solutions that work.

    Today, exceptionally warm for this time of year in Taiwan – feels like summer. We are having a bad drought on the west coast, with talk of water rationing. AGW is not controversial here, though nuke powerplants are definitely a hot-button issue for our politicians.

    Have a nice (warm) day,

  5. Of course one could draw simple conclusions from where Soon is getting his funding from as that naturally could make the research biased. But what really stands out is that his research isn’t particularly good either, and that is what time will show as well. Physics doesn’t care where funding comes from.

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