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| 02/26/15

Climate denial highlights the need for close scrutiny


Documents obtained by Greenpeace that disclose the full extent of fossil-fuel industry funding for climate denier Wei-Hock (“Willie”) Soon also offer a glimpse at the evolving strategies some industry quarters use to cast doubt on climate science. According to the documents, released under a Freedom of Information request, Soon received $1.2 million over the last decade and published at least 11 papers that failed to disclose the sources of this funding. Ethical guidelines of the host journals may have been violated as many as eight times. Soon, an aerospace engineer employed part-time by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has spoken at conferences and on news programs, and testified before Congress that fluctuations in the sun’s energy are responsible for observed warming. He has repeatedly suggested that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities have a limited impact on global warming, a claim that flies in the face of the overwhelming consensus of practicing climate scientists worldwide. Soon has been questioned about industry ties in the past but always maintained that funding does not impact his research. But perhaps even more interesting is what it reveals about his funders.

Southern Company Services, a utility holding company that paid Soon over $400,000, has funded anti-climate research in the past, even admitting its motive is to prevent ‘business-harming’ climate policy. But interestingly, Southern may be changing its stance: it has also recently instigated the Kemper Project, a Mississippi coal-burning power plant that will use carbon capture techniques to reduce emissions. Exxon Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute, both of which formerly funded Soon, recently stopped, reinforcing indications that industries that relied in the past on people like Soon to create the illusion of ‘scientific doubt’ may be realizing that the gig is up. Far less comforting is what this new information reveals about the scientific institutions involved. While a counterintuitive result supported by good data should not be dismissed, it seems that peer-review mechanisms in the largely low-impact journals in which Soon’s work was published failed to detect bad data and conflicts of interest. Several scientists have called for the papers in question to be retracted. Thus, while it may be tempting for climate scientists to view the headlines with glee, they should instead redouble their efforts to improve the quality of editorial boards and the rigor of peer-review in journals that set the bar low and publish questionable, or wrong, science. Indeed, climate scientists should not shy away from publicly calling out junk journals that publish misinformation

In depth

Can there really be carbon-neutral gasoline? A BC firm reckons it might arrive sooner rather than later

The Climate Examiner speaks to BC-based Carbon Engineering about the technology, the business and the policies that could make direct air capture, synfuels and carbon sequestration work.

Climate news and analysis that's relevant for you, every week.