Willie Soon saga

I was tempted to ignore the whole Willie Soon saga, but since everyone else is writing about it, I thought I would post something. Personally, I think academic freedom is extremely important. If someone can get funded to do research and can get their work published, good on them; that’s how it’s meant to work. There may be issues with peer review that could addressed and maybe we should be looking at how some journals operate, but none of that changes that people should be free to research whatever they want to (well, within the bounds of ethics). If, however, he didn’t disclose his funders and/or didn’t disclose possible conflicts of interest, that is a serious issue and should be addressed. I have a feeling, however, that this may reflect as badly on the Smithsonian as it does on Willie Soon himself.

One reason I don’t care greatly about this whole saga is that it’s fairly clear that Willie Soon’s research is mostly rubbish. I wrote about the recent Monckton, Soon, Legates and Briggs paper. Realclimate has a post pointing out the fallacy in some of his research. There’s the whole Soon and Baliunas controversy. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with some people publishing rubbish. Willie Soon is almost certainly not alone in doing so.

The more worrying thing – which is what I think Adam Frank is getting at in this article – is how someone like Willie Soon has managed to get such a prominent public profile. Rubbish research would normally simply not get noticed and the researchers would disappear into obscurity. I have no problem with there being rubbish researchers (I may be one myself), but I do have a problem with rubbish researchers gaining prominence when their research is so obviously drivel. Academic freedom means that you have the freedom to do whatever research you want. It doesn’t mean that you get to do so and avoid criticism when it’s nonsense. I also see no reason why anyone who wants to be credible would be comfortable with Willie Soon’s research having the prominence it does, irrespective of their own views on global warming. Surely, we would all like the public and policy makers to be as well-informed as possible. We should all be comfortable with calling out obvious nonsense, irrespective of who is presenting it (and I do mean obvious nonsense, rather than what some think is nonsense, but others don’t).

Of course a more interesting issue is what this implies overall. On an earlier thread I ended up in a lengthy discussion – that I should probably have tried to stop – about how some people think that skeptics are prevented from getting funded, and prevented from getting their work published, because there is an active attempt to control what is funded and what is published. Given my own experiences, this seems highly implausible, but if Willie Soon is one of the leading climate skeptics, then this seems completely nonsensical. If he’s one of the best, then it would seem obvious that the reason skeptics might find it hard to get funded and published is because their work is rubbish, not because there is some active conspiracy to stop them.

Anyway, that’s my view, FWIW. I realise that this post has some thoughts about conspiracy ideation, but I have no great interest in lengthy discussions about possible conspiracy, especially as – in my view – the Willie Soon saga essentially shows that there isn’t one. Maybe people could bear that in mind when crafting their comments.

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118 Responses to Willie Soon saga

  1. > I was tempted to ignore the whole Willie Soon saga

    Ha ha, sometimes it feels like the whole world is conspiring to troll you 🙂

    > Adam Frank is getting at

    Yes, agree, that’s a nice article. I may steal it.

  2. Yes, I thought Adam Frank’s article was very good.

  3. semyorka says:

    The wagon circling to defend Soon is a mistake. A curious one at that, almost all of our enthusiastic friends blogs has taken a similar line.

    Surely the clever response would have been:
    “Dr Soon has produced some challenging and novel work that has stimulated my thinking, but we need to take any accusations of academic impropriety seriously and I shall be watching the Doctors response and any investigations before coming to a full conclusion.
    I wish him well and in the spirit of innocent until proven guilty offer him a guest post on this blog”

  4. russellseitz says:

    Do you have to wait for milk to curdle before complaining about a trout in the bottle?

  5. I remember having a conversation with a journalist once who was running the “you lot are only in climate research for the money and fame line”.

    I answered two ways – first I pointed out the old joke about “have you ever looked at the cars in a university car park” (I don’t own a car). Point is we don’t get paid much. I have a great job which I love and am lucky to have. But I could earn loads – well more than an MP – if I became a software engineer.

    The second way was to say if I really wanted to be famous and get a big public profile then all I would have to do is stand up and generate some work like you are pointing out above. That is the route to almost instant global impact and walking with Lords (if not kings….)

    Sigh. Imagine how much self knowledge and integrity have “held back” the progress of science.

    (And because this is an international blog the last line is both English sarcasm and irony all rolled into one – and so as a result bound to fail…)

  6. semyorka,
    Yes, I don’t really understand why some are trying to circle the wagons. It clearly deserves some kind of investigation. I agree, though, with the “innocent until proven guilty” though.

    Mark,
    Yes, I – as you can imagine – agree. There are career choices most of us could have made that would have been much more financially rewarding. I think that people don’t realise how little financial benefit goes to the researchers when they get funded. Of course, postdocs get paid from the grants, but their salaries aren’t exactly massive. Academics can use funding successes to justify promotions, but they don’t get some kind of cut of the funding. In the UK, in particular, you might argue that the optimal strategy is to have just enough funding that you can get some interesting research done, but not so much that you end up spending all your time managing others. There’s not a great deal of financial advantage to managing very large research grants.

  7. Russell,

    Do you have to wait for milk to curdle before complaining about a trout in the bottle?

    I really don’t know 🙂

  8. > But I could earn loads – well more than an MP – if I became a software engineer.

    Everyone thinks that SW eng get paid loads. Alas, its not really true, as measured by the std MP salary comparison index. The problem with SW is that everyone thinks they can write it, so there’s always a steady stream of bods willing to do the job, which depresses wages.

  9. William,

    Alas, its not really true, as measured by the std MP salary comparison index.

    What, do you mean that standard academic mantra of “I’d be so much better off if only I’d…..” might be wrong?

  10. Jim Hunt says:

    @Mark B – A little bird from the Tyndall Centre suggested that I get in touch with you about our assorted Soon/Booker/Rose conversations with IPSO:

    Any chance of a “retweet” or three?

  11. Andrew Dodds says:

    Well, when I jumped ship from academia in 2000, you could get more in a call center than as a PhD student. Postdoc didn’t look much better..

    And nowadays, if I glance at Academic job adverts.. I’d have to be in the Serious Professor ™ category to get the same kind of pay as my senior-dev job does, with a lot more hours, I suspect. Not up to MP levels yet, of course, but there again I live in Somerset; I could move to London and earn more than an MP, I suspect, although the tradeoff would be a lower quality of life.

    The worst problem in the UK is that it’s very hard to live a life of genteel poverty, because house prices and rents have gone through the roof(sic.) in the past 15 years..

  12. Lars Karlsson says:

    For a bit of amusement, check out these letters of support for Soon from Prof Carter and the Viscount!

  13. Lars,
    Yes, I was tempted to link to those. As William points out in his post, it’s worth reading them without checking first who wrote which letter.

  14. Joshua says:

    For more amusement…

    Tom Fuller, who co-authored a book related to climate change that had nothing to do with the science, writes a guest post for WUWT that talks about Gleik, Gore, and Pachuiri, and then closes with the following lament:

    Oh for the days when we talked about science.

    Sometimes, ya’ just gotta love “skeptics” and tip your hat for their uunendingly creative ways to be unintentionally ironic.

  15. Joshua,
    Yes, I’ve already commented on that. Am I right in thinking that Tom Fuller is regarded as one of the more thoughtful/reasonable sceptics, or am I thinking of someone else? Not obvious from the bits of his blog that I’ve read.

  16. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    IMO,

    Tom’s a smart guy, knowledgeable in some areas (mostly related to energy), and a good writer. He’s also very inclined towards the personality politics side of the spectrum, and is very prone to thinking that throwing around insults suffices for an argument. He’s big on moralizing and preachiness, and self-satisfied sanctimoniousness.

    Sometimes be writes views that are interesting to read, but his inability to see the stunning irony in the closing sentence of his post is a pretty average example of the quality of his reasoning.

  17. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Before I post a comment I need to get a better handle on what your “bear with me” parameters are. Please list them. Thanks.

  18. BBD says:

    ATTP

    Am I right in thinking that Tom Fuller is regarded as one of the more thoughtful/reasonable sceptics

    Not by me. And we go back.

  19. JH,
    Oh, I just don’t really feel like restarting the whole discussion that was going on with swood in the earlier thread. I’m trying to avoid the discussion degenerating into conspiracy ideation, really.

  20. harrytwinotter says:

    Dr Willie Soon gets good coverage from certain parts of the press – I assume that is why he has prominence.

  21. Morbeau says:

    Surely, we would all like the public and policy makers to be as well-informed as possible.
    Why do I think that’s going to be a long row to hoe?

  22. dhogaza says:

    “Am I right in thinking that Tom Fuller is regarded as one of the more thoughtful/reasonable sceptics”

    When I think of tom fuller, neither of those words pops into mind. many others do, though. sorry.

  23. John Hartz says:

    Mark Brandon: You could also challenge your opponent to name one prominent scientist employed by a major University whose annual salary exceeds that of the head football coach. [Applicable in the U.S]

  24. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Please know that my question was tongue-in-cheek.

  25. @William,
    Ok drop Software engineer and replace with avaricious salesperson with a low moral framework.
    Now that is something I could do – but the low moral framework would be a tough call. (It doesn’t matter how hard I try I always come out “lawful good”)

  26. @ John H
    When I saw those figures I was more than a bit surprised. More so that people could rationalise it.

  27. Joshua says:

    Off-topic, feel free to delete (as if you needed my permission) –

    But I see that Stevie-Mac has once again climbed on his hobby horse of alarmism:

    Andrew Weaver: Libel Chill or Libel “Polar Vortex”

    […]

    If Burke’s decision accurately reflects Canadian libel law, then for opinion writing in Canada (including Climate Audit), it is more of a polar vortex than mere libel “chill”.

  28. bratisla says:

    I am not sure about your exact stance, ATTP, you seem to put the emphasis on Willie Soon – I have a slightly different view :
    for me, the problem is not that he produces rubbish – except when this rubbish gets published and masks more worthwile research. The problem is not that he gets paid for that rubbish. And I would go as far as saying the problem is not really that people use that rubbish to score political points. The problem is simple : some people use as loudly as possible this rubbish to score points while deliberatly being deaf to the debunkings made again and again and again and again.
    Willie Soon was debinked several times, and it changed nothing. Then Greenpeace shifted tactics and pointed the origin of the money. Once again, no attention. You have to resort to shaming to at last have a noticeable reaction, when reasonable persons would have taken into account the factual corrections brought years ago …
    Willie Soon is only the justification for some people, not the initiator. If you want to reduce his prominence, you have to take care first of the people advertising him imho. It may well be your opinion, but it was not really clear in your text. Of course, I’m quite dense at moments that doesn’t help.

  29. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: I am assembling an inventory of articles about the Soon-Smihsonian-fossil fuel connection for publication as a special SkS news bulletin. I’ll let you know when it is posted,

    PS – My inventory of articles about Brooker’s recenbt Telegraph articles, 2015 SkS News Bulletin #1: Adjusting Temperature Records, was posted today.

  30. guthrie says:

    I’ve been hanging about the climatoblogosphere too long; I recall when Tom Fuller was more widely viewed as a journalist who understood the issues quite well. Then he went a bit mad or something and he’s been useless for what, 7 or 8 years? I can’t remember now.

  31. bratisla,

    The problem is simple : some people use as loudly as possible this rubbish to score points while deliberatly being deaf to the debunkings made again and again and again and again.

    Yes, I agree that that is really the problem, not that that it exists in the first place.

    If you want to reduce his prominence, you have to take care first of the people advertising him imho.

    In a sense I agree. My view might be slightly more nuanced, but roughly the same. The problem isn’t Willie Soon specifically, but that there are those who would like to use the research he does – which is nonsense – to push an agenda. If it wasn’t Willie Soon, it would probably be someone else. So, the problem is how it’s been used, rather than someone is doing this nonsensical research. So, yes, the ideal would be to find a way to deal with those who try to justify their positions using research that is clearly nonsense. I don’t really have any good ideas about how one would do that, though.

  32. JH,

    You could also challenge your opponent to name one prominent scientist employed by a major University whose annual salary exceeds that of the head football coach.

    You may already know this story, but Steven Weinberg – after winning the Nobel prize – negotiated a package at the University of Austin that guaranteed him the highest faculty salary by 1 dollar. Apparently what noone realised was that the football coach is technically a faculty member and so he ended up guaranteeing himself a salary 1 dollar higher than that of the football coach.

  33. -1=e^ipi says:

    @ ATTP –

    I notice that you keep using the word ‘conspiracy’, but in my opinion this is not the view of most ‘skeptics’. There is no conspiracy among electrons in the event of an electron avalanche in a semi-conductor, yet the electrons still act coherently. There is no conspiracy amount lemmings to jump off cliffs in mass, yet they still do it and act coherently. There does not need to be a conspiracy for there to be biases in the way that scientific research and funding is done.

    Patrick Moore (cofounder of greenpeace) gives a description of his view in this video:

    Notice that he specifically says that it is not a conspiracy.

  34. semyorka says:

    “There is no conspiracy amount lemmings to jump off cliffs in mass, yet they still do it”
    This is a myth.

  35. -1,

    I notice that you keep using the word ‘conspiracy’, but in my opinion this is not the view of most ‘skeptics’

    I don’t know if it is the view of most skeptics, but there are certainly plenty who claim that there is an active campaign to stop skeptics getting published or funded. Maybe you want to call it something other than “conspiracy” but it sounds like a conspiracy to me. I don’t plan to watch Patrick Moore’s video (I’m not too happy about it even being posted here) but I will note that just because someone says that they’re not suggesting that there’s a conspiracy doesn’t mean that that isn’t what they’re suggesting. In fact, that someone actually says this, often means that that is precisely what they’re doing.

  36. whimcycle says:

    And Patrick Moore is not a co-founder of Greenpeace, but who’s counting?

  37. Joshua says:

    -1 reminds me of an ol Louis Jordon song.

    Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens

  38. Bobby says:

    +1 on Mark 10:26, coming from somebody who left academia for software.

    To the engineer salary discussion – it’s a sliding scale. Just because somebody thinks they can do software, doesn’t mean they get hired or paid top dollar. Where I work, junior engineers get paid much better than post-docs and senior, top engineers are in a salary range that faculty would find hard to comprehend.

  39. Joshua says:

    In case my point missed its mark, the unfortunately racist provenance:

    This song is sometimes cited as the origin of the phrase, but the phrase is older.[2] Its first known appearance, a reader-submitted anecdote in Everybody’s Magazine in 1908,[3] was a racially charged joke regarding a chicken thief, formulated as, “‘Deed, sah, dey ain’t nobody hyah ‘ceptin’ us chickens.”

    That background is retained in the 1931 Our Gang episode “Little Daddy”, in which Farina and Stymie crawl inside an empty chicken coop to hide from a social worker who has come to take Stymie to the orphanage. Farina makes rooster noises to fool the social worker, but when the man asks, “Who’s in there?”, Stymie replies, “Just us chickens!”

  40. Does anyone have a clue over what warez the Fuller Brush Man is trying to sell? Etiquette books?

  41. Imaginary Number says:


    . There is no conspiracy among electrons in the event of an electron avalanche in a semi-conductor, yet the electrons still act coherently.

    get yer physics straight. according to the definition, for electrons to act coherently they must show quantum wave properties, such as interference.

    i don’t think that electron avalanche in a “semi-conductor” qualifies. the avalanche occurs independently of them acting coherently. perhaps the term you meant to use was collectively?

    or better yet, don’t be like Judith Curry and toss off physics analogies that you have no business discussing.

  42. -1=e^ipi says:

    @ ATTP –

    Can you at least allow for the possibility that some skeptics take the position that there is bias the funding, the peer-review process, the IPCC, etc. that doesn’t involve a conspiracy?

    My understanding is that there are many skeptics that do not take the position that there exists a conspiracy (Richard Lindzen, Roy Spencer, Patrick Moore, I don’t even think Anthony Watts takes this position). The primary group of people that I see actually claiming that there is a conspiracy are the hardcore deniers.

    “In fact, that someone actually says this, often means that that is precisely what they’re doing.”

    So if a group of skeptics claims they believe in a conspiracy, that is evidence that they believe in a conspiracy. And if a group of skeptics claims they do not believe in a conspiracy, that is also evidence that they believe in a conspiracy?

  43. -1=e^ipi says:

    @ WebHubbleTelescope –

    I was using a more colloquial definition of the word coherently, not coherent as in coherent light in optics. If you want to replace it with collectively, that is fine.

    “don’t be like Judith Curry and toss off physics analogies that you have no business discussing.”

    I have a physics degree and I’ve done graduate studies in optical coherence tomography, but apparently I have no business discussing physics analogies…

  44. Joshua says:

    ==> “Can you at least allow for the possibility that some skeptics take the position that there is bias the funding, the peer-review process, the IPCC, etc. that doesn’t involve a conspiracy?”

    shorter – 1 = ain’t nobody here but us chickens.

  45. guthrie says:

    Perhaps now, -1, you have an impression of what climate scientists feel when random people on the internet tell them they are wrong…

  46. anoilman says:

    Did anyone else read page 48 of the leaked contract proposals? He says he has no basis in physics for his arguments, and that was like 3 years ago.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/us/ties-to-corporate-cash-for-climate-change-researcher-Wei-Hock-Soon.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/21/science/document-climate.html

    “If a solid physical explanation using the dynamics of the natural Earth system can be found for the results shown in Figures 1 and 2, the dream of a physical theory for a predictable sun-climate connection, especially on multi-decadal and multi-centenial timescales as focused in this comprehensive research program, may soon be realized.”
    –> Willy Soon

    Dream on Willy! Dream big!

  47. Joshua says:

    -1, can you at least allow for the possibility that even as you argue that you are not promoting a conspiracy theory in fact you are promoting a conspiracy theory?

  48. semyorka writes:

    “‘There is no conspiracy amount lemmings to jump off cliffs in mass, yet they still do it’
    This is a myth.”

    What exactly is the myth here? That lemmings were jumping off cliffs in mass, or that there wasn’t any conspiracy among them to do so? Although I agree with that latter was a myth, I totally disagree, if you say former was a myth. I have seen it with my own eyes in a computer game. They all are jumping off.

  49. Lucifer says:

    Regardless of your position, step back a moment and enjoy the irony that what many refer to as McCarthy style inquiries are being conducted by a representative with some Communist connections.

  50. anoilman says:

    Lucifer: I agree! The attacks and hounding of Michael Mann were terrible! I mean demanding to go through his email, and send death threats to him. Awful stuff.

  51. Steven Mosher says:

    “Can you at least allow for the possibility that some skeptics take the position that there is bias the funding, the peer-review process, the IPCC, etc. that doesn’t involve a conspiracy?”

    Probably the most cogent position to take ( because its mine of course ) is this.
    1. Don’t expect climate science to be any different than say medical science or whatever.
    There is no reason to expect it to be more or less “pure” than any other scientific endeavor.
    2. There is a good chance that it will experience the “Funding effect”, since, well, funding is involved.
    3. The Funding effect doesn’t entail that your answer is wrong. Other science will show that
    or not. In other words, in general, funders do pay you to create crap that will be easily destroyed.
    Soon of course being an apparent exception.
    4. The funding effect works to narrow the scope of inquiry. Look at this, not that.

    hmm that is kinda one of Judith’s arguments. #4

    https://thepumphandle.wordpress.com/2008/07/15/the-funding-effect/

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/14/AR2008071402145.html

  52. To be fair to Lucifer, the current congressional questioning of a number of US scientists is rather concerning and I, personally, object to it very strongly. It might have been better had Lucifer not invoked McCarthyism and Communism, but that doesn’t change that scientists should not have to face such questioning unless there is some evidence to suggest that it is warranted which, as far as I’m aware, it is not.

  53. Joshua says:

    oilman –

    Consider that post junior high school, “They did it first” is generally a suboptimal argument.

  54. izen says:

    @-Jan P Perlwitz
    “They all are jumping off.”

    Did they jump, or were they pushed?

    http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp

    However collective action in social groups can be an emergent property that requires no intentional conspiracy or hierachical coordination. The problem with labelling climate science as such an emergent system, an example of group-think, is that the collective, or consensus position of mainstream science is defined by the consistency of the evidence and the explanatory strength of the AGW theory. That is evident from how historically this climate ‘group-think’ emerged. It is a collective defined by the science, not the ideology.

  55. -1,

    So if a group of skeptics claims they believe in a conspiracy, that is evidence that they believe in a conspiracy. And if a group of skeptics claims they do not believe in a conspiracy, that is also evidence that they believe in a conspiracy?

    No, I’m simply pointing out that just because someone says they’re not suggesting a conspiracy does not mean that what they said didn’t suggest a conspiracy. I’m also suggesting that if what someone has said doesn’t suggest a conspiracy, then they shouldn’t really need to say “I’m not suggesting a conspiracy”.

  56. jsam says:

    Lucifer forgets Cuccinelli and NIWA. Bless.

    Andrew Weaver is an almost unsung hero.

  57. Everett F Sargent says:

    ATTP,

    I had you in mind (#9 at Stoat) when I wrote this (#11 at Stoat):
    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2015/02/24/im-a-terrorist/#comment-52618

    My main point (before I went off the real very deep end) was the ‘black swan’ analogy NOT occurring wrt what Dr. Soon would do/write/say regardless of the funding source. Dr. Soon has even said so in slightly different words (under upholding the banner of ‘Truthiness’ or some such). Even if Greenpeace (or the Democratic Underground (aka DUmmies as opposed to FReepers)) had funded Dr. Soon the outcome was preordained and certain.

    And right at that point, in my train of … sardonic thoughts (‘skin in the game’), poof, It’s a game with teams (D’oh!), there is no final Stupid Bowl, there is only the next Stupid Bowl, no one is the ultimate winner, humanity loses in the long run (con).

    There is also the reality of the half-life of most internet thoughts (from less than a day to at best a few weeks).

    Now, in Dr. Soon’s case, the outcome (inquiries and aftermath) is not certain at all, there are black swans with skin in that game. Short of, how should I put it, Hang ‘Em High or The Passion of the Christ (villain or hero), a lot of people will never be satisfied with the outcome. The inquiries will take several months, the next Stupid Bowl is less than a year away, as Willard would say, there no rules in Stupid Bowl(tm) (and that you are a loser if you don’t play), rinse and repeat.

    That is all.

  58. John Hartz says:

    My crystal ball says that Soon will soon have a high-paying cushy job with one of the prominent right wing-nut think tanks.

  59. Michael 2 says:

    John Hartz says: “My crystal ball says that Soon will soon have a high-paying cushy job with one of the prominent right wing-nut think tanks.”

    Maybe so, on the principle there’s no such thing as “bad press”. It is sufficient that Greenpiece has identified him as their enemy to make him a darling of the right.

  60. Joshua says:

    File this under: Why Do I Bother?

    Lucifer –

    “… a representative with some Communist connections.”

    What are those “communist connections” of which you speak?

  61. -1: I notice that you keep using the word ‘conspiracy’, but in my opinion this is not the view of most ‘skeptics’.

    Brute: “Summing up, a handful of people (whose names are known by all) have bullied their way to control “climate science”. Since there is ample evidence that violent hysteria is used against outsiders, it is safe to assume that heads are rolling on the inside. At best, no funding for those that speak up. At worst, your career is over.”

    markstoval: “A few scientists like Dr. Ball have been trying to get the truth of this massive delusion/scam out there for some years now, but most of the science establishment is just worried about their own reputations and the flow of grant moneys. I respect Dr. Ball and the few others willing to challenge the overwhelming power structure to try to tell the people the truth.”

    For two examples, read WUWT comments for thousands of others.

    There may be some who do not see a conspiracy. The alternative option is that all climatologists are completely stupid and unable to see the obvious truths any reader of WUWT can comprehend without any math. The latter group may contain more physicists. For former more engineers.

  62. John Hartz says: “My crystal ball says that Soon will soon have a high-paying cushy job with one of the prominent right wing-nut think tanks.”

    They will at least wait until he is fired, so that they can claim persecution.

  63. Rachel M says:

    Oh dear. It all sounds a bit like the Andrew Wakefield drama. He published the now discredited paper claiming a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. But he failed to disclose a financial conflict of interest as the research was paid by lawyers who were trying to prove the vaccine was unsafe. The paper has since been retracted, he was struck off the Medical Register, and he’s now barred from practising medicine in the UK. But for some reason that doesn’t stop the anti-vaccination community from hailing him the hero who was wronged: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/the-vaccine-autism-cover-up-how-one-doctors-career-was-destroyed-for-telling-the-truth/

  64. dave S says:

    I don’t know if you’d describe it as a conspiracy, but when considering whether Soon’s rubbish papers are of any significance it’s worth remembering that Soon & Baliunas published on 31st January 2003, the Bush administration’s Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff Philip Cooney promptly deleted EPA references to surface temperature reconstructions showing world temperatures rising over the last 1,000 years, and on on 21st April sent a memo stating “We plan to begin to refer to this study in Administration communications on the science of global climate change; in fact, CEQ just inserted a reference to it in the final draft chapter on global climate change contained in EPA’s first ‘State of the Environment’ report.”

    Insignificant in science, of considerable importance to the development of denial.

  65. Everett F Sargent says:

    VV,

    ‘he is fired’

    Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched, as it were.

    Dr. Soon is already lining up his next really high paying job, at best he will just quit, at worst just reprimanded. In any case, Dr. Soon will continue to publish in some kind of peer reviewed literature, no matter where he ends up. There is no black swan in that game.

    Come again with with your ‘physicists’ versus ‘engineers’ analogy? As I resemble that remark, I am an engineer, by training. You just might not want to go there. Just a suggestion.

  66. Everett F Sargent says:

    dave S,

    Yes! Because … cons piracy theory

    I’m somewhat suffering from cons piracy DENIAL! I’m a cons piracy DENIER! I DENY cons piracy theories!

    Truthers and Birthers and Deniers oh my. 😦

  67. Joseph says:

    However collective action in social groups can be an emergent property that requires no intentional conspiracy or hierachical coordination. The problem with labelling climate science as such an emergent system, an example of group-think, is that the collective, or consensus position of mainstream science is defined by the consistency of the evidence and the explanatory strength of the AGW theory. That is evident from how historically this climate ‘group-think’ emerged. It is a collective defined by the science, not the ideology.

    Exactly, a “skeptic” would have to demonstrate that these supposed “biases” are leading to individuals mindlessly (or intentionally) doing research that is designed to produce results that are consistent with those biases. How can one possibly lump so many researchers into this category without knowing more about them individually?

  68. Brandon Gates says:

    ATTP,

    On an earlier thread I ended up in a lengthy discussion – that I should probably have tried to stop …

    Sealions want you to use the mod hammer. It’s a bind, mate, on purpose.

  69. Steven Mosher says:

    oilman: I agree! The attacks and hounding of Lomborg were terrible!

    see joshua on why suboptimal

  70. anoilman says:

    Steven, Joshua..

    Oh… I know its suboptimal. I just like to reverse the exact same thing when someone comes out with some fear mongering. I prefer to railroad it into the opposite direction. Its my way of saying that they aren’t saying anything. And lets face it… I fling poo. (How about it when deniers claim scientists are just in it for the money? Really? Talk to Willy!)

    I didn’t find Willy Soon’s contracts disturbing to read through other than, the fact that he did not disclose his sources when getting them published. He may have still been published even if he did disclose, but either way, there would be no controversy if he simply told the truth when asked. More than anything else, this is what causes concern. He told congress that he didn’t receive money from anyone else.

    I find his admission that he has no idea how to prove his ideas hilarious!

  71. jsam says:

    Lomborg is laughing all the way to the bank.
    http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/06/25/millions-behind-bjorn-lomborg-copenhagen-consensus-center

    Willie should be so persecuted.

  72. Joseph says:

    Why would fossil fuel interests pay a “skeptic” to do climate science? What do you think their expectations are of the research?. I don’t think I would have a problem with it if it were solid research, but the fact that a lot of it is considered nonsense then makes me question even more the whole arrangement.

  73. anoilman says:

    Joseph: Its not like the oil industry is well know for its open research ways. We are very very very backwards compared to pretty much any industry. We do not research, and we do not share what we know.

  74. Pingback: rigorously eschewing the unfortunate ad hominem arguments that too often characterize public “debate” about human-caused climate change – Stoat

  75. Joshua says:

    oilman –

    ==> “How about it when deniers claim scientists are just in it for the money?”

    That’s actually a different argument. When they say that, you can tell them that they are making a fallacious argument.

  76. Lucifer says:

    Pielke channelled McCarthy:

    While Grijalva channelled the Reds:

    To be sure, there’s nothing illegal about writing for a communist newspaper
    ( though it doesn’t speak well for one’s education ).

    I’m just appreciating the irony.

  77. Michael 2 says:

    anoilman says: “[about]…the oil industry… We do not research, and we do not share what we know.”

    I tend to agree with the not sharing part, but I wonder why you assert that no oil company does research? Maybe you define “research” differently. My buddy K.M., a hard rock geologist, did plenty of research while working for an oil company in Oklahoma. I’ll admit he was a bit secretive about it. I suspect the research is more in line with “where is it” and “how to get it”. The Bakken oil field drills typically 14,000 feet deep and that to me is incredible. I had no idea that such a thing is even possible.

  78. Becoming quite ridiculous out there. Slick Watts tweeted this:

    He doesn’t seem to realize that AGU is the American Geophysical Union and is the defacto home of geologists and geophysicists and petroleum engineers, and so of course ExxonMobil will sponsor some part of it.

  79. [Mod: unnecessary] commenter at WUWT claims that he is responsible for a critical portion of the GCM codebase that climate scientists are using.


    What this means is that if the same atmospheric model is used as the basis of the climate models (and I think it is) then it will over-predict absorption of infra-red emitted by the earth hence over-predict warming. I am responsible for the fiasco but nobody believes me.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/02/11/recent-paper-ends-abstract-with-model-might-be-too-sensitive-to-the-prescribed-radiative-forcings/#comment-1858927

    Read the whole thing as it is quite entertaining. Can’t make this stuff up.

  80. Imaginary Number says:


    I have a physics degree and I’ve done graduate studies in optical coherence tomography, but apparently I have no business discussing physics analogies…

    You are gonna get called on it if you get it wrong, that’s for sure.

    Curry tried an analogy with her Bose-Einstein statistics fiasco and it was breathtaking watching how she ended up descending into madness. If you want a laugh check out the Amazon comments on her book.

  81. AnOilMan wrote:


    Joseph: Its not like the oil industry is well know for its open research ways. We are very very very backwards compared to pretty much any industry. We do not research, and we do not share what we know.

    I linked your quote on a peak oil site here. Follow the thread down and look at the response by a grizzled oil hand named Mike.

    No one likes outsiders coming into their discipline and that is just part of human nature. This applies to geology, climate science, whatever. Yet physics plays no favorites,

  82. matt says:

    @WHT

    Yep, the skeptic response seems to be “just because he is funded by… doesn’t mean…”. Which is fair enough, but straw man. The actual issue being non-disclosure (and perhaps some clauses in his contracts were not ideal IIRC, but not a major issue IMO).

  83. Lucifer says:

    Well, the science issues are “What’s happening?”.

    The political issues are “How can I scare voters into conforming?”.

    ( That includes scaring people about ‘climate change’
    as well as scaring them about resulting policies ).

    Since most voters aren’t too bright, and even the bright ones are emotional,
    there’s no point in using reason – fear and greed are more effective.

  84. Willard says:

    > The inquiries will take several months, the next Stupid Bowl is less than a year away, as Willard would say, there no rules in Stupid Bowl(tm) (and that you are a loser if you don’t play), rinse and repeat.

    The strategy is called running out the clock:

  85. anoilman says:

    Michael 2: Geology isn’t research. Its just work. Find new ways of locating a reservoir would be research. Finding new ways of extraction would be research.

    The grey area is when enough experience results in ‘development’ of something new. That would be modern fracking developed in about 2000 in Calgary, Alberta Canada.

    Research is seeking to understand or bring light to something new that we don’t know. There is very very very little of that in oil and gas. One man has most of the patents in drilling technology, and he’s recently written a book (the first book) in his field. He decries the secretiveness of the industry, and as an example holds up China as a success. His book was made possible by the Chinese National Oil Company, and he includes a huge quantity of peer reviewed Chinese papers on Drilling. (In this field we don’t have any in North America. Zero. Zip. I learned what I know through osmosis.)

    Now go back to my comment where Willy Soon states that he hasn’t discovered anything new, and we don’t do research in oil. Is Willy Soon really doing research, or just engaging in pattern recognition as a means of PR for oil interests? I know I have my opinion.

    Research is only done to get ahead of the competition. Its risky, and has poor results, and more often than not only results in a loss. Oil or not, most companies are incredibly shy about it.

  86. AnOilMan, great explanation of the way things are. Cool that we have a parallel thread over at PeakOilBarrel too.

  87. Kevin O'Neill says:

    Back in the 1990s Alan Greenspan gave a speech extolling the wonders that capitalism has given us. Among them were the semiconductor, the computer, the internet, airliners, and a few more I can’t recall. Noam Chomsky quickly pointed out that every one of Greenspan’s wonders of capitalism were actually made possible through research funding paid for by taxpayers. Chomsky labeled this, Privatizing Profit and Socializing Risk.

    In most companies the amount of private money that is actually spent on R&D is usually less than what might be spent on an advertising campaign – if any R&D is done at all. Most companies are happy to do R&D – as long as someone else (i.e., the government) is paying for it.

  88. toby52 says:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Entrepreneurial-State-Debunking-Economics/dp/0857282522

    The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (Anthem Other Canon Economics) Paperback
    by Mariana Mazzucato (Author)

    Blurb:

    This new bestseller from leading economist Mariana Mazzucato – named by the ‘New Republic’ as one of the ‘most important innovation thinkers’ today – is stirring up much-needed debates worldwide about the role of the State in innovation. Debunking the myth of a laggard State at odds with a dynamic private sector, Mazzucato reveals in case study after case study that in fact the opposite situation is true, with the private sector only finding the courage to invest after the entrepreneurial State has made the high-risk investments.

    Case studies include examples of the State’s role in the ‘green revolution’, in biotech and pharmaceuticals, as well as several detailed examples from Silicon Valley. In an intensely researched chapter, she reveals that every technology that makes the iPhone so ‘smart’ was government funded: the Internet, GPS, its touch-screen display and the voice-activated Siri.

    Mazzucato also controversially argues that in the history of modern capitalism the State has not only fixed market failures, but has also shaped and created markets, paving the way for new technologies and sectors that the private sector only ventures into once the initial risk has been assumed.

  89. David Blake says:

    @Kevin O’Neill,

    “Chomsky labeled this, Privatizing Profit and Socializing Risk.”

    Chomsky is correct of course, but it’s only half the story. The publically funded research is only made possible by tax revinue. Where does that come from? Profit made by private companies. Any R&D done by private companies will be offset against their tax bill, so they pay less tax, so less revinue is available for publically funded research!

    So both groups feed off one another, and in particular the public research is ultimately dependant on tax revinue from private profit.

  90. David Blake says:

    @WHT,

    “that AGU is … and so of course ExxonMobil will sponsor some part of it.”

    The CRU is funded by “Big Oil/Big Coal” money also (see Acknowledgements):

    “This list is not fully exhaustive, but we would like to acknowledge the support of the following funders (in alphabetical order):”

    .. British Petroleum…Central Electricity Generating Board,…Eastern Electricity, … Irish Electricity Supply Board, … National Power, … Nuclear Installations Inspectorate… Shell…Sultanate of Oman, …

    and also interestingly…
    … Greenpeace International, …the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).”

  91. Andrew Dodds says:

    Kevin –

    Absolutely. The problem is, if you want real breakthroughs, you need to collect a bunch of clever people together with a general problem field to work on, a decent amount of funding, and no specific targets – or very generally defined targets. Think Palo Alto..

    This is difficult in the private sector, because any department doing such research is not going to be able to explain what its value is. Worse still, at the risk of stereotyping, the kind of people who make breakthroughs are the opposite of the kind of people who can work corporate politics.

    So.. corporations can commercialize breakthroughs that have been made elsewhere, they can monetize infrastructure (The internet, GPS, etc) built elsewhere, make processes more efficient and do stepwise innovation very effectively. Let’s not bash the private sector too much; it does plenty of stuff. But there is clearly a big role for the public sector – fundamental research, infrastructure of all kinds, breaking monopolies, ensuring worker protection..

    The frustrating thing is that the market fundamentalists of the world seem unable to cope with any concept other than ‘Public Bad, Private Good’.

  92. David Blake says:

    @Andrew Dodds:

    ” Let’s not bash the private sector too much; it does plenty of stuff. ”
    Like paying tax, which pays for the public sector.

  93. Andrew Dodds says:

    @David Blake

    Really? I thought that money grew on magic money trees. Next you’ll be telling us that in order to have profits, you have to have revenues, or some such hokum..

  94. David Blake says:

    @Andrew Dodds,

    “in order to have profits, you have to have revenues”
    Normally, yes, but many FTSE companies seem to make do with a clever accountant. 🙂

  95. Eli Rabett says:

    FWIW Exxon had a combustion chemistry research group for decades and it may still be going

  96. Hank Roberts says:

    Don’t forget:

    The Rise of the Dedicated Natural Science Think Tank — Philip Mirowski

    “… have the ambition to change the very nature of knowledge production about both the natural and social worlds. Analysts need to take neoliberal theorists like Hayek at their word
    when they state that the Market is the superior information processor par excellence.

    The theoretical impetus behind the rise of the natural science think tanks is the belief that science progresses when everyone can buy the type of science they like, dispensing with whatever the academic disciplines say is mainstream or discredited science….”

  97. WebHubTelescope quotes David OHara: ”What this means is that if the same atmospheric model is used as the basis of the climate models (and I think it is) then it will over-predict absorption of infra-red emitted by the earth hence over-predict warming. I am responsible for the fiasco but nobody believes me.

    David OHara also writes: It used large numbers of coupled partial-differential equations and divided the atmosphere into a 3D grid and solved the system over time to predict the atmospheric radiance over a line of sight. It is pertinent that this code from 1986 is the basis of atmospheric models used for the climate models of today.

    However, the radiative transfer computations in climate models are 1D, not 3D. So we can be sure that the model of David OHara is not used.

    There are, furthermore, many different radiative transfer codes and they are naturally validated and in models they use the state of the atmosphere in the model. Not like in the remote sensing case of David OHara a prescribed atmosphere. Thus we can be certain, David can relax, he did not inadvertently create the global warming scare.

  98. WebHubTelescope says: “No one likes outsiders coming into their discipline and that is just part of human nature.

    No one likes an outsider coming in and tell everyone that everything they do is completely wrong. However, I have worked on a number of fields and when I go into a new discipline I collaborate with the local people to assure that I do not make any rookie mistakes. When you are respectful and willing to listen people are normally interested in benefiting from knowledge from other fields.

    It depends on how you do it.

  99. David Blake, and the best part: Phil Jones of the UK Climate Research Unit (CRU) works for Saudi Arabia.

    When someone has a story that goes against the interests of their funders, that actually makes it more credible. But it could naturally be that the situation is more alarming and that Phil Jones tries to make the temperature trend as small as he can without hurting his scientific reputation too much.

    Andrew Dodds says: “The frustrating thing is that the market fundamentalists of the world seem unable to cope with any concept other than ‘Public Bad, Private Good’.

    That is one of the reasons why we have so much expensive satellites and climate modelling. The satellites and super computers are build by private companies. They have a strong lobby and are by definition “good”. People analysing data are working on public money. Everyone know we should minimize people working on public money, that is called bureaucracy, that is “bad”.

  100. The oil industry does perform research. Some of it gets published, some doesn’t. The industry is very competitive, and until recent years exploration for new fields and the development of technology to recover previously unrecoverable resources were the leading edge activities. Because there was a lot of open acreage which could be leased if one had a technology lead, the work was kept secret.

    Furthermore, a lot of the advanced work has involved the combination of both science and engineering. Since you are interested in climate as a topic, I can mention that we do employ climatologists, oceanographers, and data gathering experts to try to understand the climate. This is needed to set the design basis for things we plan to build or use. For example, I worked on a team engaged in the analysis of Arctic projects. I’m not a climatologist, I was involved in other areas, which included the preparation of a system dynamics model we used to study the feasibility of oil transport using ice breaking tankers.

    The oil industry has thousands of independent players, some may have limited exposure to the R&D side. Others are into it up to their necks, and they do keep what they know close to the vest. The consensus amongst the people I know is that a serious oil shortage is looming, and the industry has no cost competitive targets anymore. The idea that we have to keep 2/3 of the oil in the ground is really funny. We are going to be charging so much for that oil most of you won’t be able to afford it.

    So in conclusion some of the oil companies have worked on climate issues for decades. The hot topic, I suspect, is whether the Beaufort, Kara, Barents, Laptev and Chukchi will be ice free in the summer, what will multi year ice look like, and what will be the ice thickness distribution. Topics such as sea level rise and storm track changes are also being studied.

  101. Joshua says:

    ==> “Like paying tax, which pays for the public sector.”

    I’d say, rather. pays the public sector for essential services, without which the private sector would not exist.

    Amazing how many folks there are out there with a belief that they’re privileged to a free lunch

  102. Joshua,

    Amazing how many folks there are out there with a belief that they’re privileged to a free lunch

    Or, how many people might spent a great deal of time arguing over which came first – the chicken or the egg? Although, that may be a bad analogy, as I think there is an actual resolution to that issue.

  103. ATTP,

    “Or, how many people might spent a great deal of time arguing over which came first – the chicken or the egg? Although, that may be a bad analogy, as I think there is an actual resolution to that issue.”

    I don’t know whether there is a resolution to that issue. However, I think there is a resolution to the question, what comes last, the chicken or the egg? The answer depends on your eating habits.

  104. Apparently, the chicken came before the egg, but that’s from the Daily Mail, so probably wrong 🙂

  105. Joshua says:

    ==> “Or, how many people might spent a great deal of time arguing over which came first – the chicken or the egg?”

    How about nature vs. nurture?

    People reduce complex dynamics so they can comfort themselves with facile answers.

    Extremist libertarians tend to be the worst of the lot.

  106. VV said:


    No one likes an outsider coming in and tell everyone that everything they do is completely wrong. However, I have worked on a number of fields and when I go into a new discipline I collaborate with the local people to assure that I do not make any rookie mistakes. When you are respectful and willing to listen people are normally interested in benefiting from knowledge from other fields.

    It depends on how you do it.

    I have worked with this in a couple of ways. I have a github account where I hold all my code.
    The other area I contribute to is the Azimuth Project forum where a registered member can collaborate with a number of other like-minded people. The most recent collective effort there was direected to devising interesting mathematical approaches to predict El Nino.

    https://forum.azimuthproject.org/categories/Azimuth%20Code%20Project

    This is rewarding because we are all making the same mistakes but it benefits from a clean-room approach. At least one climatologist is involved but he only pipes up when someone gets too big a head.

  107. Joseph says:

    .. British Petroleum…Central Electricity Generating Board,…Eastern Electricity, … Irish Electricity Supply Board, … National Power, … Nuclear Installations Inspectorate… Shell…Sultanate of Oman, …

    Each corporation approaches the issue of climate change differently. Shell and BP have accepted climate change for a long time now. Exxon has recently slowed down on it’s denial efforts. But the Koch brothers seem to be pretty active. I haven’t seen the Koch brothers official position on climate change though. That doesn’t mean less active corporations aren’t trying to shape the policy to their advantage through funding political campaigns. And it’s difficult to know which other corporation might be funding “skeptic” efforts through organizations like Heartland, GWPF, etc., because they don’t disclose their donors. I also think the anonymous route is more appealing to fossil fuel interests.

  108. Joseph says:

    So in conclusion some of the oil companies have worked on climate issues for decades. The hot topic, I suspect, is whether the Beaufort, Kara, Barents, Laptev and Chukchi will be ice free in the summer, what will multi year ice look like, and what will be the ice thickness distribution. Topics such as sea level rise and storm track changes are also being studied.

    So why would fossil fuel interests pick someone like Willie Soon. What does how does his research bear on what they are doing? I can only think of one thing..

    I seriously wonder if they did get what they wanted (and knew they would get) from Willie Soon and it wasn’t necessarily primarily his research.

    From his wikipedia page

    Soon is a critic of the scientific consensus on climate change, who gained prominence in the Soon and Baliunas controversy over the methodology of a paper he co-wrote.[6] He disputes the consensus view that human activity is a significant contributor to climate change, and has argued that most global warming is caused by solar variation.[7][8] Climate scientists have rebutted Soon’s arguments, and the Smithsonian does not support his conclusions, but he is frequently cited by politicians opposed to climate-change legislation.[2][9]

  109. Michael 2 says:

    anoilman says: (February 26, 2015 at 6:52 pm) “Michael 2: Geology isn’t research. Its just work. Find new ways of locating a reservoir would be research. Finding new ways of extraction would be research.”

    Kent was involved in finding new ways to visualize deep strata using something like holography. It was very computer intensive.

  110. anoilman says:

    3D visualization of what is under ground isn’t new. Finding a new way to do the same old thing, isn’t usually research. It’s development.

    A seismic sample is gathered by setting a grid of accelerometers on the ground then setting off an explosion and recording the reflected waves. We’ve been doing it for a very long time and the science is very very old.

    The hottest topic 25 years ago was using wavelets to extract data from seismic samples. Because computers were so slow, they used massive banks of hardware DSP filters (ASICs) to extract geological formation information in real time. (You couldn’t store that much raw information back then.) It’s complicated because what is seen at the surface and when, depends on what the shock wave hit, and it’s density. Which in turn affects how long future reflections will take to reach the surface. The field is very active, because its difficult collect the data let alone extract something meaningful from it.

    These days an nVidia GTX 980 with 2k CUDA cores could crunch the data in moments, and sight unseen, I bet that’s what they are doing. The fact that they can play video games on it afterward is a bonus. 🙂

    I’m no expert on this, but I studied those filters in detail because they were very similar to an ASIC filter I designed for satalite communications. A simpler variant of this technology is Beam Forming, which is what most Radar is these days.

  111. Joseph says:

    For those who interested, this page outlines Soon’s ties to right wing think tanks as well an earlier tie to the Greening Earth Society which was organization created by the Western Fuels Association.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Willie_Soon

  112. Andrew Dodds says:

    anoilman –

    I had contact with this stuff as an undergradudate and PhD student.. I remember the day the department really splashed out for a memory upgrade on the Silicon Graphics 3D rendering machine – 64Mb to 128Mb!.(My phone has 8 times that nowadays..) Before that, to do seismic processing we had to fill in all the parameters we wanted for the job and submit it to the specialist computing unit..

    And yes, I suspect that this is all real-time nowadays. Which is nice, unless you are working against a power-law distribution and most of the oil is in big, obvious fields anyway.

  113. anoilman says:

    Andrew Dodds: I spoke to a company that built equipment to do the seismic surveys. The current emphasis is in gathering and storing all the data from a single shot, and processing is somewhere else. Its still incredibly challenging in that moving that much data synchronously in real time is difficult. Massive banks of FPGAs are still required just to handle the communications. (I was brought in to look at the wireless component, but I had little experience with timing accurate to < 1ms.)

    For kicks… I decided to expand on my 'sight unseen' claim;
    http://http.developer.nvidia.com/GPUGems3/gpugems3_ch38.html

    Consider the use of GPU's in seismic processing as 'seen'. Companies have been doing it for some time now.

    An FYI, but a commercial PC for $12000 loaded with 4 nVidia GTX Titan Z GPUs can hit 32TFlops. And the authors of that article could replace their entire mainframe sized cluster with just 10 PCs.

  114. semyorka says:

    The AMS statement on the current investigation
    http://www.ametsoc.org/sss/letter_on_challenges_to_academic_freedom_Feb15.pdf
    The AMS on an earlier one. Consistency missing from certain other actors on this issue
    https://www.ametsoc.org/sss/documents/Letter_UVA_AMS-UCAR.pdf

  115. jsam says:

    the climate fraud will not cease till someone is prosecuted

    Named and shamed: the shoddy, rent-a-quote “scientists”
    By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley
    January 25, 2015 6:41 PM
    http://www.climatedepot.com/2015/01/25/monckton-fires-back-point-by-point-rebuttal-at-warmist-critics-of-new-peer-reviewed-study-shoddy-rent-a-quote-scientists/

    So much for denialist calls for academic freedom. And from Soon’s lead author too. How embarrassing.

  116. John Hartz says:

    Another update with additional detail:

    Willie Soon’s Fossil Fuel-Funded Work Draws Ethics Review From Publisher by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News, Jun 10, 2015

  117. anoilman says:

    Thanks for those John.

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