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The Almighty Buck Politics Science

How One Climate-Change Skeptic Has Profited From Corporate Interests 448

Lasrick writes Elected officials who want to block the EPA and legislation on climate change frequently refer to a handful of scientists who dispute anthropogenic climate change. One of scientists they quote most often is Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent global warming. Newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon has made a fortune from corporate interests. '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.' The Koch Brothers are cited as a source of Dr. Soon's funding.
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How One Climate-Change Skeptic Has Profited From Corporate Interests

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  • disclosure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @10:56PM (#49103267) Homepage

    '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. Im a little curious if it is standard practice to not disclose this type of relationship. If it is, it is wrong. I see an ethics issue at hand

    Id like to see a breakdown on which scientists are getting paid and by whom in all their works.

    • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:15PM (#49103317)

      '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. Im a little curious if it is standard practice to not disclose this type of relationship. If it is, it is wrong. I see an ethics issue at hand

        Id like to see a breakdown on which scientists are getting paid and by whom in all their works.

      Most of the scientists I know make a salary and that's it. A $ 100 honorarium (say for giving a talk to the public) is regarded as a big deal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wisnoskij ( 1206448 )
        Yes, but they get millions to conduct research. I doubt he took that $1.2 million home.
        • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @12:20AM (#49103557)

          Yes, but they get millions to conduct research. I doubt he took that $1.2 million home.

          It still should have been disclosed, it was unethical for him fail to disclose it, and he certainly knew that. Science doesn't work without integrity.

          • Re:disclosure (Score:4, Insightful)

            by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @12:31AM (#49103597) Homepage
            I don't know about that. If you base your belief in the integrity of the scientist conducting the research instead of repeat-ability and peer review process, I think that is a little misguided. If you are saying that to trust hat a plane I am getting on will on not crash, I have to trust a series of hundreds of scientist's integrity, than I disagree. It does not matter what whit if one of them was an adulterer, a liar, or a thief, only if their processes were solid (as verified by peer review), and there experiments could suffer repetition by interested third parties.
            • Re:disclosure (Score:4, Insightful)

              by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @01:24AM (#49103757)

              "Here's 1.2 mil. We want you to tell us that it is possible that global warming is being caused by the sun"

              A few months of well funded but blindly done research - ie, you know the answer to the question, what can we do to prove it? - and wallah! A paper. That is then submitted to a supposedly peer-reviewed journal, where of course no such review takes place (there have been several stories about that on /.).

              So... are we shocked that the NRG Industry went shopping for the answer they wanted to hear? Are we shocked that a person who either needs to be top in their field or at least bringing in grants accepted a grant to do research? Are we shocked that a peer-reviewed journal is in fact not very often reviewd by the peers?

              • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Strangely Familiar ( 1071648 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @01:49AM (#49103811) Homepage
                There are a bunch of people hearing about Dr. Soon's research on Fox News who have not been told the facts, and probably think he is a straight up scientist. They probably don't know the man Fox News calls a "Harvard Astrophysicist" (yes, I actually RTFA, and this is something in TFA) actually has a doctorate in aerospace engineering, not astrophysics. They probably don't know he gets no money from Harvard, a part time salary from the Smithsonian, and that most of his money comes from the fossil fuel industry. So, "Are we shocked" is not the right question at all. This kind of crap is like that junk science about autism and vaccines. Once that stuff gets out there, it is very difficult to get people to stop repeating it, even after it gets discredited. And this kind of disinformation has real-world consequences when people rely on it, including U.S. Senators making speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by sumdumass ( 711423 )

                  Indeed it does. Just like the claims that nothing is peer reviewed in journals and whatever else you just rambled on about discredits the actual science without touching the science because you do not want to agree with the results has real world consequences.

                  The science will speak for itself. Character assasination to discredit science is not science at all. In fact, it makes it appear as if there is something to hide.

              • by houghi ( 78078 )

                Are we shocked that a peer-reviewed journal is in fact not very often reviewd by the peers?

                Some people are shocked when we learn that not all Open Source is not very often reviewd by the peers.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by friedmud ( 512466 )

                You are obviously not a scientist.

                If you have "blindly done research" and you're publishing in a reputable journal... then you'll get your ass handed to you if your science isn't correct (trust me: my ass still stings from some of the scathing reviews I've received on a few of my papers).

                The funding agency DOES NOT MATTER... if proper peer review is undertaken. If the science is good... then the science is good... this isn't an opinion piece in the New York Times paid for by big oil...

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by rs79 ( 71822 )

            "Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent global warming."

            He's in good company here, this scientist in 2008, using the same hypothesis correctly predicts the awful and cold winters of 2013 and 2014 The IPCC discredited him, but they have never predicted anything correctly. In fact their model flew off the rails with 75% error after 35 years of refinement.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

            http://rs79 [vrx.net]

            • Re:disclosure (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2015 @02:19AM (#49103885)

              > NASA, NOAA point out warming has stalled, no temperature has exceeded 1998's.

              You deniers have got to stop using that one.
              By now, we've all figured out that any mention of 1998 is just cherry-picking at its worst. [motherjones.com]
              All you do is identify yourself as a zero-knowledge shill that should be ignored.

            • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Interesting)

              by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @04:19AM (#49104123)

              He's in good company here, this scientist in 2008, using the same hypothesis correctly predicts the awful and cold winters of 2013 and 2014.

              Did they predict it for the whole globe? If they did they were wrong. They were right if they only predicted it for Eastern North America.

            • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Informative)

              by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @05:53AM (#49104363)

              He's in good company here, this scientist in 2008, using the same hypothesis correctly predicts the awful and cold winters of 2013 and 2014

              The winters of 2013 and 2014 were in the top-10 warmest. Not sure why you would refer to them as "awful and cold".

              You think it's warming? Show me your data that proves NASA wrong then.

              How about NASA's own data where they show it's warming ?

              http://www.giss.nasa.gov/resea... [nasa.gov]

        • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Interesting)

          by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @12:24AM (#49103571)

          Right, and then you're somewhat bound to give the "right" result, because otherwise they won't fund more research.

          Hence the conflict of interest.

          • Re: disclosure (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            On a polarized issue like climate change, there is money on either side of the table. Probably more for being pro-climate change.

            • With all that private sector money piling up? Scientists who argue for climate change must be saints to resist the money jungle. Look how money has bought Congress; why haven't scientists all been bribed too?

        • all he has to do is regurgitate whatever his owners tell him to say. It's not like he is doing anything remotely resembling real science.
      • $100 honorarium is not a big deal. I've seen people wave it off with "donate it" just to avoid the paperwork.
      • Many scientist I know of which are "only" post doc do not even get salary here , they get 1/2 or 1/3 salary as long as they have no real tenure / place. $1.2 million is a HUGE deal. Now we do HAVE an example of scientist paid off. And guess what ? It is on the skeptic side. It is funny to find so few climate skeptic "it is the sun/volcanoe/scientist are paid off" protesting that huge ethical breach.
    • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Xylantiel ( 177496 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:17PM (#49103335)
      Apparently you don't read many papers. It is very common, I daresay almost ubiquitous, for scientific papers to say "this work supported by X".
    • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:34PM (#49103397) Journal
      The thousands of scientists who help compile the IPCC reports do it for free, none of them get a dime from the IPCC, at best they get their regular salary from their university. The IPCC has a $5-6M annual budget, most of it is spent on conference rooms and transport, there are a handful of full time admin staff. The IPCC accounts are published on their website for all to see. The money comes from individual nation states, last time I look there were about 130 nations on the donor list representing every colour of the political rainbow.

      Most people in the climate science community will not be surprised that Soon was on the FF payroll.
    • Re:disclosure (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday February 22, 2015 @12:09AM (#49103517) Homepage Journal
      At the base it is disclosure. Papers should have a note of who is funding the research. Sometimes that funding is obfuscated because the money goes through shell non-profits. This is why government funding is so useful. But there is nothing wrong with independent funding, as long as it transparent. When Al Gore was big, he never hid his objective or funding. Likewise Green Peace and PETA are generally transparent. OTOH, when Philip Morris was trying to push cigarettes as healthy, most of their research was far from transparent.

      This is interesting, because despite the diplomatic title of the post, many if not most researchers who are publishing against man made climate change are funded by people who are going to lose money, at least short term, if man made climate change becomes a political reality. To be sure the improvements to industrial processes are going to create a whole new class of very wealthy people, but those who will no innovate will be left behind.

  • Koch brothers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argee ( 1327877 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @10:57PM (#49103273)

    Their involvement says it all.

  • Envy (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by gmuslera ( 3436 )
    Meanwhile paid slashdot deniers are getting the standard 30 pieces of silver for the same work.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:17PM (#49103331)

    Anyone who is surprised by this has really not been paying attention (or has been paid not to pay attention).

  • So 1.2 million over the last decade comes to about $120 000 a year.
    With whatever it costs, per year, to do research, then whatever is left cant really be considered "getting rich from the fossil industry".

    Seriously. If you are a scientist and your research is contrary to the establishments priorities, where will you get your funding if grants are only given to those who who will publish the "right" findings.

    • by Socguy ( 933973 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:37PM (#49103415)
      Funding grants are given irrespective of the findings. ...unless you're referring to the funding which comes from the fossil fuel industry.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by cbeaudry ( 706335 )

        Nice try. You saying so, does not make it true, in this age of climate scaremongering.
        Try getting a government grant, if your research subject is, "The limits of CO2's radiative forcing."

        Also, by the way. 120 000$ is the average salary of a tenured university professor.
        What makes them less "bad" than someone making the same amount from another sources?

        Should we ignore all papers from scientists who work for the pharmaceutical industries?

      • Funding grants are given irrespective of the findings. ...unless you're referring to the funding which comes from the fossil fuel industry.

        This simply isn't true, funding grants normally look at what you are looking to find or research, only a rare few are actually independent and don't care which way your results go. If they are pro something and it looks like you are searching for proof against then good luck getting funding and vice versa.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:30PM (#49103375) Homepage Journal

    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 his evidence? What about the evidence? What does him accepting money have to do with his results?

    Did he fake his evidence, or fudge the calculations?

    Science is all about the observations and the predictive conclusions. It shouldn't matter if he was funded by the devil himself - if science can't refute his observations and conclusions, then it's the science that must be revisited.

    Let's focus on what's important, and leave the person out of the equation.

    (Lots of doctors take money from drug companies - so much so that there's a government database [washingtonpost.com] that allows you to look up your doctor online.)

    (And for the record, I'm not for or against the "school of thought" that is climate change. It's simply something I haven't looked into. I have seen some seemingly credible arguments against (due to selection bias in the news), but I leave it to the experts to decide.)

    • Oh, and in case someone poo-pooh's my claim of arguments against, it's Freeman Dyson [wattsupwiththat.com] making some reasoned points(*) against the predictions of climate science.

      Again, I make no judgement on the movement, but it's hard to refute Freeman Dyson as an acceptable authority.

      (*) Point one is that everything is predicated on models which are shot through with fudge factors. Real models shouldn't have fudge factors, or should be able to show that the factors are derived from first principles.

      (*) Point two is that top

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2015 @12:15AM (#49103541)

      Would anyone say the same about the handful of "scientists" who were funded by the lead industry starting in the 1950s, and spent twenty years casting doubt on the fact that lead exposure is bad (and therefore tetraethyl lead in gasoline is really bad)?

      Or how about the handful of "doctors" who the tobbaco companies paid millions to spread lies and doubt about the connection between smoking and cancer for decades?

      When the truth is bad for corporate interests, expect a campaign against the truth that is as determined and well funded as it is slanderous.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cbeaudry ( 706335 )

        Like those pesky scientists who dared do research and publish on the fact that cholesterol is not the evil boogey man we have been looking for.
        The science was settled, those idiots should have let it lie...

        • There is not many article on cholesterol in comparison, believe it or not biology is far far more complicated than climate science, because of the many additional factor both camp "cholesterol is bad for you" and c"cholesterol is good for you" can be bot right, due to the way the homeostasis in our body work and what happen when it does not, body requirement, confounding factors etc.... This is why you see often study contradicting each other in biology "coffee is good / bad for you". This is not about sett
    • If this was a scientist who was caught profiting from "the global warming" agenda, this would have been considered iron clad proof that ALL the science is false.
    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      And his evidence? What about the evidence? What does him accepting money have to do with his results?

      Did he fake his evidence, or fudge the calculations?

      Science is all about the observations and the predictive conclusions. It shouldn't matter if he was funded by the devil himself - if science can't refute his observations and conclusions, then it's the science that must be revisited.

      His papers in regards to climate have been thoroughly destroyed. A quick Google search will yield plenty of information on the topic. Just avoid the science denial sites.

  • by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:43PM (#49103429) Journal
    Receiving money to conduct research is conflict of interest if the funds come from parties with vested interest in findings' results? 1.2 million over a decade is hardly a "fortune". It's on par with grants received by any small-size lab. In fact, probably much less. If he is quoted as often as the summary claims, he should be receiving at least 5 times as much in government funding.
  • Sounds Good to Me (Score:2, Informative)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 )
    If the fossil fuel industry wants to spend their money, that sounds great. I am not going to complain that they are wasting their money, and research in to alternative reasons why the climate is changing is important. As for declaring where his funding comes from, why? A scientific paper must stand alone, and not be judged by any other standard than if its logic is correct and if it is repeatable. All research is funded by someone, and no one is going to fund a paper that they have no conflicts of interest
  • by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Saturday February 21, 2015 @11:49PM (#49103459)

    If you don't understand how university research is funded, please don't write article summaries for slashdot on that topic. This scientist is described as having "made a fortune" for receiving research funds – but this is research money, not personal money. In fact his institution was given the $1.2M, and he just got to direct how it the money was spent (hint: his mortgage in not an allowable expense). Possibly the grants were used to cover part of his salary (though TFA doesn't say so), but that is a normal use of research funds and there are limitations on that.

    I agree that he should have declared this funding in the paper (because the journal asks that funding sources be disclosed), but this is not him getting rich. This is him getting his research funded. You have a missing link:

    1. Get research funds
    2. Spend them on research expenses
    3. ???
    4. Profit!
  • " Wei-Hock Soon"

      hock (v) 1. To sell or pawn something

  • Those who screen the loudest are the ones that stand to lose the most. I'm just surpized that the Kroch's haven't started making contingency plans; other than the XL Pipe Line. Maybe further up river?
  • Elected officials who want to block the EPA and legislation on climate change frequently refer to a handful of scientists who dispute anthropogenic climate change. One of scientists they quote most often is Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent global warming.

    I can find no reference to him in the recent Congressional Records. I am a skeptic of the phrase "One of scientists they quote most often is Wei-Hock Soon" as this is the first I've ever heard of him. And you would think the Congressional Record of floor debates and speeches would be the place to find a mention of him if "elected officials who want to block the EPA and legislation on climate change frequently refer to [him]." Does anyone have a reference to back this statement up?

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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