Monday, February 23, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Hi-Jinks1

Justin Gillis has lit the fuse on the interesting funding received by Willie Soon from hither and yon.  Eli had done some digging early on into that pile of offal, but admittedly did not follow through as he should have.  However, the results of the FOI requests by the Climate Investigations Center are telling

One of the fuses in this controversy has been the neglect, rather perhaps the purposeful admission of who funded that in particular with respect to Soon's latest provocation, a rather silly article co-authored by Monckton and two guys to be named later.  The Weasel summarizes this as

I’m not sure it’s coherent enough to count as drivel. There’s quite a bit where I had no hope of working out what it means or what the point of saying it was.
and then goes on to shortly summarize why it was drivel.  Jan Perlwitz provides a more measured discussion (e.g. he provides the reasoning why Soon and Monckton were spitting up, in short, they model the response of the system to a 150 increase in greenhouse gas concentrations as if it was a single pulse and other things and calls the paper drivel after providing the reasons rather than in the opposite order).

Much of the commentary on the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hi-jinks has concerned how one of Dr Willie Soon's sponsors the Southern Company had the right to examine and review any manuscripts that Dr. Willie Soon submitted for publication.

Even before the Gillis piece appeared, Paul Thacker was been hot on pointing out that this paper does not acknowledge Soon's support from various sources including the Southern Company and had noticed that the contract between the Southern Company Services and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics contained the unusual clause
Publicity. Smithsonian shall not publish and utilize the name or otherwise identify SCS or its affiliate companies in any publications or other advertisements without the express written consent of SCS. As further consideration to SCS, Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS. 
Eli would guess that even had permission been requested, it might have been, well, not given.

But there is much more in the pile.  Consider the Amanda Preston two step in Hi-Jinks 2 to follow


afeman said...

Though often described on conservative news programs as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” Dr. 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.

So is the upshot that he was allowed to be associated with CfA for bringing in private grant money? He doesn't have much of a presence on their website, aside from this press release:

Smithsonian astronomers Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, with co-authors...

afeman said...

I guess I meant to ask: just what is he supposed to do there?

EliRabett said...

It's a long and not very interesting story. Soon's thesis advisor was Joseph Kunc at USC and his thesis was on the thermodynamics of the thermosphere. His first position was with Jastrow at Mt. Wilson, which linked him to CfA where he worked with Sally Baliunas, so he was always floating in the sea of denial wrt climate change.

He did publish a number of papers with Baliunas on variable stars, but as she disengaged from CfA he needed to fund more and more of his salary

Pinko Punko said...

Funny thing that I believe tamino has a lot of day job related to astronomy, yet these two could not be much different

Dan Riley said...

Wow. Soon, Baliunas, Jastrow and Singer have all been recipients of the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness Petr Beckmann award for persistent wrongness. I could not have made that up. (I do wish they had named it after Peter Peachfuzz instead.)

Taylor B said...

Wow, Dan. They're all in the "illustrious" company of Marc Morano (2012), a PR hack with no scientific background whatsoever. That must make them feel really special.

Tom Curtis said...

Eli, the clause allowing Southern prepublication review is on the section on publicity, and is most reasonably interpreted as a right of review of publicity, ie, press releases and the like, rather than of any papers arising from the research. Absent evidence that Soon infact sent his pre-publication papers to Southern for review I do not see it as an issue. The clause may be an issue, however, in that it may have forbidden the due acknowledgement of the funding by Willi Soon are required by the journals in which he published.

What I find interesting about the Southern funding is that it was used to fund (according to Soon's reports to Southern) a large amount of research and other activities not related to the explicit purpose stated in the agreement with Southern. In the first such agreement, the research purportedly funded (on the relation between US temperatures and solar variability) never lead to publication, but the purpose of the grant was satisfied, according to Soon, because he wrote several things on Polar Bear populations. I doubt a federal funding agency would be so flexible about the use of research grants. Southern, however, seems to have been quite happy, renewing the relationship twice after that. That suggests that Willi Soon new that the purpose of the grant, from Southern's point of view, was not that explicitly stated, but rather to provide a general smoke screen preventing action on global warming - something Soon was very happy to provide. (Note, the last is not a suggestion that Soon was expressing views he did not agree with for monetary gain, which is an inference too far on available evidence, and one we should not make without solid evidence.)

JohnMashey said...

1) 1998 GCSCT meeting, included Southern's Gehri, Exxon's Randy Randol, Red Singer's wife, George Marshall Institute(GMI) representative, etc.

2) Singer and Baliunas had various roles a bit later at GMI, which by then had William O'Keefe as CEO, had been exec at American Petroleum Institute for 24 years.
GMI got funding from Exxon and others.

3) Almost never does anybody write down "we want you to attack AGW" or "We want you to attack anti-smoking laws>"
If there area any discussions like that, they are verbal or otherwise invisible.

4) Now, somebody drafts a proposal that sound OK, but with enough latitude to allow activities.

5) They get money, from somebody they've likely talked to, or had friends talk to.

6) Then, at the end of the contract, they show what they've done. If funder likes it, they look favorably up the next proposal, so repeat 4-6.

One can find lots of examples in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library of begging letters, extolling how much good work they've done over the last year.

7) Willie Soon's papers were really only part of the work: look at the talks he gave (search for "disaster" in the FOIA PDF, 3 of 4 of them will land you in the lists of talks.
DDP, Heartland, Ayn Rand Institutes, etc are not exactly science meetings...