Environment

This is Why We Have to Stop Giving Credence to Climate Denialists

February 23rd 2015

By:
Alicia Lutes

The employers of one of climate change's biggest deniers has categorized the actions of Dr. Willie Soon as "inappropriate behavior" that  they will "have to handle with Dr. Soon internally." And those actions sure do seem to be a serious conflict of interest with his position as an unbiased scientific thought leader: particularly the part where Soon has not disclosed accepting millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry.

Uh oh!

Dr. Wei-Hock Soon — known as Willie — is a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His claims that global warming can largely be explained by variations in the sun's energy have appeared in many an anti-climate-changer's repertoire. But now The New York Times has unveiled not just the source of most of his funding (surprise surprise, he takes some seriously conflict of interest-inducing levels of cash from the world's biggest polluters, like the fossil fuel industry), which we already knew — but just how closely that funding was tied to his scientific papers' results. It's not good, folks.

Per the Times:

"He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work."

And:

"Environmentalists have long questioned Dr. Soon’s work, and his acceptance of funding from the fossil-fuel industry was previously known. But the full extent of the links was not; the documents show that corporate contributions were tied to specific papers and were not disclosed, as required by modern standards of publishing."

This man's irresponsible actions show just how dangerous a lack of full disclosure can be in the world of scientific research — and just how aggressively we have to push for it, still. Because let's not mince words here: Soon's work is not only detrimental, it's dangerous as it eschews scientific fact for corporate benefit. As John Oliver has earlier stated, we already give far too much credence — percentage-wise — to the climate change denying movement. Because, like it or not, climate change is real and man-made

Are there likely to be in-pocket people on both sides? Sure, probably, if we want to be cynical about it for the sake of argument. But the fact of the matter remains: this man, whose data is largely thrown about by the major climate-denying political players (like the Koch Brothers) to bolster erroneous claims that humans have no part in the causation of climate change, is ultimately viewed at by Soon as "directives" (his words) in exchange for cash from these companies. Not — as is the scientific standard — research that's done without bias or financial incentive. If those findings coincidentally support an entity's position one way or another, that's one thing. But Soon's flimsy science allows major fossil fuel operations can continue to make the problem worse while giving credence to an idea that is simply inaccurate.

As The Times put it, Soon's papers rely on the use of “out-of-date data" in order to publish "spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change.”

All this does is continue to lead humans down a path of least resistance and willful ignorance. There is no denying that climate change is real: this is scientific fact. We cannot give rise to the belief that we might not have some part in the matter — which means its our moral imperative to sniff out the issues not only behind Soon's science, but the money he makes off positing his particular brand of it.