Who'd a thought it. Anthony Watts, who makes blog pocket money by smearing climate scientists and others, has published an article by Kip Hansen, saying he is "so sickened by this that I really don’t care to discuss it". The "this" being the latest publicity given to Willie Soon and his funding sources. Anthony is painting this as a poor little denier fighting a corrupted climate science. The mainstream media is painting it as a scientist possibly being corrupted by funding sources.
The chicken or the egg?
The issues are being mixed up quite a bit around the few traps I've visited. One of the central issues is funding sources. The implication is that Willie Soon is writing papers that suit the interests of his funders. That he has tailored his results to suit their perceived interests.
You could turn it around the other way, and argue that his funding sources like the general tenor of his research and stance on climate science, and therefore send funds his way.
I've already made some comments in another thread that science is judged by science, not by who pays for it. As I see it, the issue at hand can be summarised as follows:
- Willie Soon is used by some lobby groups in their efforts to dispute AGW.
- Willie Soon has received a lot of research funding from fossil fuel companies, right wing lobby groups and Donors Trust.
- The question is being asked about whether or not Willie Soon has declared all his funding sources when he should have, as required by many scientific journals. This is the conflict of interest question.
- Willie Soon's published research relating to climate is generally not regarded as good science.
This isn't a new issue. It's just resurfaced. As I see it, the current spate of articles are mainly intended to highlight Willie Soon's funding sources. The "smear" being the implication that if one receives substantial research funds from fossil fuel companies or organisations representing right wing interests (Donors Trust), then that research is suspect.
It has long been known that Willie Soon's funding sources include parties that are keen to deny climate science. The extent of this funding has been revealed by FOI requests. The point of some of these articles is not so much that he that he received this funding, but whether or not he consistently failed to declare these funding sources when he should have. (Some people argue that his recent paper with Monckton etc should have indicated funding sources. Soon says it was done in his own time. It boils down to "he said" "he said". The paper was so silly there's not much point making a fuss about it.)
Irony indeed: Anthony Watts falsely smears while complaining about smears
What I find ironic, in this case, is that Anthony Watts posted an article by Kip Hansen who sez that he is "sickened" by the "smear" and doesn't "care to discuss it". Anthony Watts wasn't so "sickened" - in an earlier article the same day (archived here), Anthony wrote:
Smear campaign: “His judgment cometh and that right soon”
The title is a quote from the framed embroidery over the Warden’s wall safe in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, which is a story about one man fighting the corruption of the penal system at the hands of the warden, who was using his position to profit, bully, and murder. Since the quote turned out to be wildly ironic, I thought it was appropriate for what’s happening to Dr. Willie Soon at the hand of green activists and the compliant media. I often think of the warden as a figurehead for people like Dr. Lawrence Torricello, who once called for the death of climate skeptics.
"Wildly ironic" indeed. Anthony Watts is trying to paint Willie Soon as the martyr - fighting some mythical "corruption". That's how Anthony Watts is portraying Willie Soon. It won't stand up. Presumably Anthony will acknowledge that Soon's "fight" is against facts, and is being paid for by vested interests, including some fossil fuel companies, right wing lobby groups and the shady Donors Trust.
Since Anthony called on wild irony, let me point out another supreme irony in that paragraph of his. Anthony again "smears" Lawrence Torcello (and doesn't even get his name right) - completely misrepresenting what he wrote in an article at the Conversation - again.
In fact, Anthony and others so successfully lied about and "smeared" Professor Torcello that it resulted in hundreds of emails ("upwards of 700"), including some very nasty threats. Some of these would have been a direct result of a call by Anthony Watts for deniers to write to Professor Torcello's university, as I described here.
Dr Torcello did not call for the "death of climate skeptics". The closest he came was writing: "an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent". How many countries sentence the "criminally negligent" to death? And "climate skeptics" are not necessarily "an organised campaign funding misinformation". They are the target of such a campaign.
Maybe Anthony sees himself as part of "an organised campaign funding misinformation" - although he is more likely to be a recipient of funds than a funder. (Can you imagine Anthony Watts, the cyberpanhandler, giving his hard-begged funds away? He's often putting his hand out, and rarely delivers).
Which leads us back to the funding issue.
The Smithsonian Institution wants to get the facts straight
The Soon matter is reportedly being looked into by the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian doesn't have any requirement for people to declare their funding sources, but it does expect it's affiliates and staff members to comply with the requirements of the journals they publish in.
As well as the New York Times and the Guardian writing about the story, Jeff Tollefson has an article about this in Nature. He reports about the Smithsonian Institution:
The institution has no explicit policy requiring its researchers to disclose funding sources when they publish, says CfA director Charles Alcock, but they are expected to comply with journal rules, which typically require that authors report potential conflicts of interest.
“We want to get the facts straight,” says Alcock. “If there is evidence of failure to disclose, yes, we have a problem.”
Declaration of funding sources and questionable research
On the matter of questionable research, the Nature article refers to the infamous paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas. Some editors of the journal that published that paper, Climate Research, resigned over the fiasco. Incidentally, the declaration on that disputed paper reads:
Acknowledgements. This work was supported by funds from the American Petroleum Institute (01-0000-4579), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Grant AF49620-02-1-0194) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Grant NAG5-7635). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are independent of the sponsoring agencies. We have benefitted greatly from the true and kind spirit of research communications (including a preview of their thoughts) with the late Jean Grove (who passed away on January 18, 2001), Dave Evans, Shaopeng Huang, Jim Kennett,
Yoshio Tagami and Referee #3. We thank John Daly, Diane Douglas-Dalziel, Craig and Keith Idso for their unselfish contributions to the references. We also thank the Editor, Chris de Freitas, for very helpful editorial changes that improved the manuscript. We are very grateful to Maria McEachern, Melissa Hilbert, Barbara Palmer and Will Graves for invaluable library help, and both Philip Gonzalez and Lisa Linarte for crucial all-around help.
I also see that Willie Soon has declared his funding sources on some other papers, too. For example, in this paper published in GRL, he writes:
I thank Igor Polyakov for kind access to his Arctic SAT data, Peter Frick for sharing his insights and programs on wavelet transform, and Gene Avrett and David R. Legates for comments. I further thank Julia Pham and Benjamin Soon for motivation. Both referees offered helpful suggestions for significant improvements. This scientific research was supported by generous grants from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, American Petroleum Institute, and Exxon-Mobil Corporation. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are independent of sources providing support.
On the other hand, there is no declaration of funding sources in this 2013 paper in the (low impact factor) Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics. (The paper is mainly cited by various contrarians and science deniers, so it got no traction.) That journal does require disclosure as follows:
Conflict of interest
All authors are requested to disclose any actual or potential conflict of interest including any financial, personal or other relationships with other people or organizations within three years of beginning the submitted work that could inappropriately influence, or be perceived to influence, their work. See also http://www.elsevier.com/conflictsofinterest. Further information and an example of a Conflict of Interest form can be found at: http://help.elsevier.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/286/p/7923.
The extent to which there is a "failure to disclose" on the part of Willie Soon has yet to be determined. Regardless, the publicity has once again brought his funding sources to light. The "by association" may well influence people who otherwise aren't in a position to assess the scientific merits or otherwise of Willie Soon's work.
To my way of thinking, the implied argument that Willie Soon's research was made to order for the funding bodies is too much like the denier argument that scientists only say what the government wants to hear. (Which is nonsense - there isn't a government in the world that wouldn't want global warming to go away). I doubt anyone will be able to categorically determine motivation. It requires mind-reading. His climate research is questionable at best and much of it has been shown to be flawed. (Which came first - the flawed science or the funding?)
Other scientists have received funding from some of the same sources. Think the Berkeley Earth temperature reconstruction, which received a fair whack from Koch. If that research had found something different would it have been because of the funding source? Or would scientists have decided its merits or otherwise on the strength of the work itself?
The real issue
To my mind, the problem is not so much Willie Soon's published papers, but any influence he might have in the deniosphere. (Many of the few climate papers he's had published are in journals that are not highly regarded. Many of his citations are by himself or other "contrarians".) Even in relation to his talks, I'd question whether anyone takes any notice, except for the denialati. Yes, he's called on by the deniers in the Republican Party - but so is Judith Curry, Roy Spencer, John Christy and others who the deniers among the Republicans probably think are willing to distort scientific facts.
This latest attempt to taint Willie Soon's name may be effective, or not. It will depend on whether or how often he has not declared interest when he should have. If he has declared interest in most of the cases he should have, then that particular line of argument will have gone nowhere. If he hasn't, maybe the Smithsonian will take action.
At the end of the day, it's the flaws in Willie Soon's utterances at his speaking engagements and his research publications that need to be highlighted if one is to show that he's not anyone worth listening to.
As Gavin Schmidt wrote at RealClimate.org almost four years ago:
... the real issue is not how he gets paid, but the quality of his science