Willie Soon and the Pretend Harvard Connection

February 27, 2015

Yes, Dr Soon, its come to this.

 

5 years ago, climate deniers staged a fake “scandal” by hacking in to the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, and selectively quoting stolen emails to a compliant and cooperative media.

We know that deniers will be trying all this year to disrupt the science and policy messaging leading up to the important November COP meeting in Paris.
This time, the media has been deviating  from the script, and instead, a leading climate denier, Dr  Willie Soon, has found himself under withering examination for accepting more than a million dollars from fossil fuel funders.  Of course, when real scientists get examined, as happened in the email affair, their case comes away strengthened.
Problem for Willie is, this “science” and pretend Harvard connections, don’t stand up.

Chronicle of Higher Education:

Years of using a Harvard nameplate to flog his insistence that polar bears are doing fine, and that sunspots might explain planetary warming better than the Industrial Revolution does, may finally have caught up with Wei-Hock Soon.

Mr. Soon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, has endured a barrage of news reports this week detailing his acceptance of $1.2-million in support from energy companies and others hostile to government limits on fossil-fuel use. In response, the Smithsonian Institution announced plans to investigate whether he had properly acknowledged his political alliances.

“We’re very concerned to get to the bottom of this, and make sure we have all the facts,” W. John Kress, the Smithsonian’s interim under secretary for science, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The investigation threatens serious repercussions for Mr. Soon, commonly known as Willie. But it may raise an equally tough question for Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and arrangements for their shared astrophysics observatory: How did the scientist trade on Harvard’s name to gain a leading role in climate politics?

In a series of scientific-journal articles over the past decade, Mr. Soon has routinely listed himself as representing “the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.” In turn, various reports describing his activities and beliefs—often published by organizations dedicated to opposing government regulations—have short-handed his identification to “Harvard scientist.” Even The Harvard Crimson, the university’student-run newspaper, has referred to him that way.

The problem, according to Charles R. Alcock, a Harvard professor of astronomy who also serves as director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is that the “center” refers primarily to a shared set of physical facilities. Almost everyone working at those facilities, Mr. Alcock said, is either an employee of Harvard or an employee of the Smithsonian, a federally administered collection of museums and research centers.

“From a legal point of view,” he said, “there is no such entity as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.” And Mr. Soon is employed only by the Smithsonian, Mr. Alcock said. “It’s always been that way. He has never had any Harvard appointment.”

There is an important point to understand about Dr Soon – according to the New York Times:

Though often described on conservative news programs as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” 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 received little federal research money over the past decade and is thus responsible for bringing in his own funds, including his salary.

Though he has little formal training in climatology, Soon has for years published papers trying to show that variations in the sun’s energy can explain most recent global warming. His thesis is that human activity has played a relatively small role in causing climate change.

So Dr. Soon gets no pay other than what he can bring in thru grants for his work. And the grants he has consistently gotten for his “deliverables” – primarily science papers and frequent public speaking gigs, seem to have come overwhelmingly from the hard core fossil fuel industry – although we can imagine his former friends will be distancing themselves now.  Even Exxon ended its support for Dr. Soon some years ago.

But Dr. Soon has told interviewers, “I would never be motivated by money for anything.”
It will be interesting to see how his research output continues when he has to begin supporting himself without a reliable stream of fossil fueled climate denial cash.

12 Responses to “Willie Soon and the Pretend Harvard Connection”


  1. Sounds like he has been using the same trick as his partner-in-crime “Lord” Monckton who claims he was an advisor for Margaret Thatcher. I guess the only difference is that Soon didn’t use the Harvard logo/shield on his published papers in the hope that some of the criticism would bounce of the logo/shield. If they can’t misuse an existing organ, they certainly love making all kinds of fancy sounding “think tanks” and “journals” to make their quasi-science look prettier than the heap of shit it really is.


  2. I would prefer that those criticizing Soon let science do the talking. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but all the criticism I’ve seen to date refers to undisclosed funding and qualifications puffery. These are ethical breaches, and he should be chastised for them. But I would prefer to see arguments refuting the findings of his work. This is what matters most.

  3. kookaburra2 Says:

    Whoops! Wrong spelling in the above post. It should be “Rogue’s Gallery”

  4. neilrieck Says:

    I’m not sure why people call him “an astrophysicist” when he was trained as an “aerospace engineer”. But just being labelled “senior scientist at the George C. Marshall Institute” non-think tank makes me question his motives 🙂

  5. anotheralionel Says:

    I would like to point out that to Brit’s and other English speakers not from the continental USA would read that rejoinder emblazoned across the foot of that image very differently from not parsing ‘Koch’ as ‘Coke’.

    What was in the minds of owners of Mars when it was decided to change the name of a ‘nutty’ (RN idiom for candy) bar in the UK from the eminently sensible ‘Marathon’ to ‘Snickers’, snickering being a form of suppressed snigger although of a less tasteful meaning in ‘urban slang’.

    • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

      It should of course be pronounced the German way, where the “ch” is more of a glottal “kh”, as in Heckler and Koch.
      Pronouncing it as Coke or Cock just sounds ridiculous, likewise pronouncing Boehner as Bayner, instead of Boner or Böhner.

      I truly believe that names and nouns should be pronounced globally as in their country of origin.
      Praha for Prague, Moskva for Moscow etc, then there is less room for ambiguity and people get educated a little more.

      • anotheralionel Says:

        Well maybe we should start with ‘Berkshire’, and there are many others. Must dig out that Bill Bryson, now was it ‘Notes from a Small Island’ or ‘Notes from a Big Country’?

        Now how is ‘Heckler & Koch’ pronounced?

        • anotheralionel Says:

          Sorry intended, as I had seen your ref’:

          Now how is ‘Heckler & Koch’ pronounced again?

  6. Paul Kyprie Says:

    Willie’s co-worker and co-author Sallie Baliunas needs to be vetted also. She is a frequent speaker at “Doctors for Disaster Preparedness” annual conventions. This is a fringe group of right wing Docs whose primary focus is promoting the view that AGW is not real. Check her out on youtube using the same old tired talking points that have been repeatedly debunked. They even gave her the Beckmann award named for Petr Beckmann, a libertarian electrical engineer who climbed to have debunked Einstein’s theory of relativity.


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