Sunday, March 08, 2015

Analysis: Soon's disclosure of non-controversial funding supports the conclusion that he deliberately omitted fossil fuel disclosures

In the storm of controversy surrounding Willie Soon's failure to disclose that his academic papers were funded by fossil fuel companies, the background question is whether Soon deliberately concealed the funding. The fact that Soon and his co-authors did publish their noncontroversial and prestigious funders while consistently omitting the fossil fuel funder supports the conclusion that omission was deliberate.

Lisa Song from InsideClimate News has reported details about 11 papers funded by Southern Company, a massive corporate utility with more carbon dioxide emissions than any other American utility, and Donors Trust, a shadowy charitable foundation that allows donors to climate denying efforts to conceal their identities by giving money to the foundation that they can count on giving grants for climate denialism.

InsideClimate News summarizes the 11 papers, including whatever financial disclosure information was included, and in 5 of the papers the non-controversial funders that add prestige to the paper were listed, while Southern and Donors were not. No explanation has been offered by Soon or anyone else for this discrepancy in disclosure.

The 5 papers where the funders other than Southern and Donors were disclosed are (full list at InsideClimate):

1. "Centennial Variations of the Global Monsoon Precipitation in the Last Millennium: Results from ECHO-G Mode," Journal of Climate (2008) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Basic Research Program of China, National Natural Science Foundation of China, US National Science Foundation and NOAA/OGP.  
2. "Polar Bear Population Forecasts: A Public-Policy Forecasting Audit," Interfaces (2008) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing funding from the State of Alaska. 
3. "Multiple and changing cycles of active stars", Astronomy & Astrophysics (2009)
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing multiple funding agencies related to astronomy. InsideClimate notes the paper does not discuss climate change on earth. This raises the possibility that Soon "padded" the deliverables he provided to Southern. 
4. "Temporal derivative of total solar irradiance and anomalous Indian Summer Monsoon: An empirical evidence for a sun-climate connection", Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (2011) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company and Donors Trust while listing National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi and the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa. 
5. "Indian summer monsoon rainfall: dancing with the tunes of the sun", New Astronomy (2015) 
Disclosures omit Southern Company while listing Indian Space Research Organization, Government of India.
Soon was a co-author in all of the 11 publications. One possibility in these cases of partial disclosure is that his co-authors disclosed their funding while he did not. Regardless of whether that was the case, the issue of deliberately failing to disclose is emphasized especially by these cases. The remaining 6 publications where no disclosures were included at all include some co-authors whose institutions have been asked by Representative Raul Grijalva to provide information about them potentially receiving fossil fuel funding.

Following exposure in the news media, Soon made a statement via the climate-denying Heartland Institute that asserts "In submitting my academic writings I have always complied with what I have understood to be disclosure practices in my field generally...." Smithsonian has promised an investigation of Soon's behavior - it is unclear whether this statement's accuracy itself should be considered when Smithsonian decides whether his behavior meets acceptable standards.  Soon goes on to indicate that unless disclosure standards will somehow change from what they currently are, then he need do no greater disclosure than he had in the past. In other words, his past behavior on disclosure will be his future level of disclosure.

Dr. Donald Prothero at draws the following conclusion about Soon's general omission of disclosure:
This is not a simple slip but a deliberate effort to not reveal the obscene amounts of money he was getting paid, and where it came from.
To only reveal non-controversial funding while consistently failing to reveal his fossil fuel funders further reinforces the conclusion that the omission was deliberate.


Russell Seitz said...

Coming Soon to a gate near you.

bluegrue said...

The SCS funding was of course not made public. After all that was a provision in the aggreement between the Smithsonian and the SCS:

15. Publicity. Smithsonian shall not publish or 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 in advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS.

So it's either getting permission to name SCS as a sponsor or not publishing in journals that require acknowledgement of all funding. Fat chance of either solution, and poor Willie was required by contract to publish the deliverables, after all. Some commiseration for somebody caught between a rock and a hard place is in order, gentlemen.

Mitch said...

This is where someone in the Grants Office should have been fired at Smithsonian-Harvard. It is completely unethical to receive grants to do science where the name of the grantor must be kept secret.

Everett F Sargent said...


I mentioned this elsewhere, that after Ballerinas 'left the building' circa 2010. Soon's CoI/disclosure statements sort of vanished (at least on papers without Ballerinas as a coauthor).

Now I have not looked at all of Baliunas works, but the ones that I have looked at AFAIK always carried CoI/funding disclosure statements.

Of the 11 papers mentioned above Baliunas appears on two, so that the original polar bear paper:

"All views and conclusions are strictly our own and do not reflect upon any of those acknowledged (especially A. Derocher) or any institutions with whom we are affiliated.

M. Dyck and W. Soon initiated this scientific study around 2002–2003 without seeking research fundings and both have contributed equally. W. Soon’s effort for the completion of this paper was partially supported by grants from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, American Petroleum Institute, and Exxon-Mobil Corporation. The views expressed herein are solely of the authors and are independent of sources providing

So clearly the original study is pretty 'above board' wrt CoI and funding disclosure wrt Soon.

Don't have a copy of the "Response to reply paper ..." but as shown above it would appear that disclosures were made at the time of the original paper.

As to the 2nd paper with Baliunas name on it:

Acknowledgements reads in part:

"S.B. acknowledges support from JPL 12700064, Smithsonian Institution Restricted Endowment funds and NASA NNX07AI356."

Soon's funding is not mentioned, but I would assume similar sources as per Baliunas.

So one would actually have to gather up all the Baliunas and Soon papers (coauthored and seperate), form a timeline, categorize CoI's and funding sources, to detece a timeline pattern of CoI and financial disclosures wrt Soon alone, Baliunas alone and Baliunas/Soon together.

I do detect such a pattern in my limited searches, Baliunas mostly disclosures, Baliunas/Soon mostly disclosures and Soon fewer (to no) disclosures.

Brian said...

Thanks Everett - Soon's pattern of being around others who are disclosing and then not doing it himself is reinforced by those examples. Ever harder to argue that it was an oversight.

Russell Seitz said...

Willie Soon and Bob Carter have just canoodled their way into Nature Geoscience coauthorship.

True to form, semi-coauthors Willie and Bob do not mention financial support :
Dynamics of the intertropical convergence zone over the western Pacific during the Little Ice Age

State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi’an 710061, China
Hong Yan, Zhisheng An, Weijian Zhou & Yuhong Wang
Joint Center for Global Change Studies (JCGS), Beijing 100875, China
Hong Yan, Zhisheng An & Weijian Zhou
The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven 27570, Germany
Wei Wei
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
Willie Soon
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Zhonghui Liu
Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia
Robert M. Carter
H.Y. designed the study and wrote the manuscript. W.W. contributed to the section discussing climate model results. W.S. contributed significantly to improvements in the manuscript. Z.A., W.Z. and Z.L. contributed to discussion of the results and manuscript refinement. Y.W. and R.M.C. contributed to improving the English.

Competing financial interests
The authors declare no competing financial interests.”

Hank Roberts said...