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Koch & Exxon-funded scientist challenged by students at climate denial event (VIDEO)

  • Posted on: 9 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.

Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.

Dr. Willie Soon is a Smithsonian Institution astrophysicist paid by Charles Koch, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and coal utility Southern Company to write papers dismissing climate change, publish op-eds saying coal pollution won't affect our health, refute the seriousness of ocean acidification, and apparently anything else he can be paid to deny. Dr. Soon has misrepresented himself by repeatedly claiming affiliation with Harvard University and using his credentials as an astrophysicist to make people believe he's a climate expert, and he shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, he told students in Madison, "I am as as qualified as anyone on the planet on this topic."

In both Madison, Wisconsin and East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Soon was caught with his pants down. As the Michigan State News documented in its article and accompanying audio interview, Soon claims that all the scientists around the world who study and recognize the seriousness of climate change are motivated by money, yet somehow his funding from coal and oil companies for his extremely marginalized viewpoints doesn't matter.

Here is the dialog with Willie Soon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with direct links to key clips below:

1) Willie Soon insinuates ExxonMobil will no longer fund him (emphasis added): 

"I have been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil will no longer give me any money for a long time. American Petroleum Institute, anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies. I write proposal and let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I'm happy to receive it." Click to watch (starts @ 1:52).

2) Dr. Soon stands behind his attempts to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with help from ExxonMobil lobbyists: 

"I was trying to bring down IPCC--is that what you imply?! [...] Let it be known that I do not like IPCC, because IPCC does not stand for science, it is corrupting science." Click to watch (starts @ 3:32).

After a question referencing emails with ExxonMobil lobbyists to undermine climate research at the United Nations before it even hit publication, Dr. Soon quickly loses his cool over his record of global warming denial, peppering the student with mild insults before owning up to his actions.

3) Dr. Soon thanks anyone who uses petroleum products or electricity from coal for supporting his work:

"I really want to thank her, because she's receiving the electricity used for her house, she's driving cars, she's doing all of these things because you are funding me. It's not an oil or coal company. They are a company that provides a service to humanity--to people who want to use electricity." Click to watch (starts @ 5:14)

Anyone looking at Southern Company's record of pollution and political interference would be skeptical about its commitment to serve humanity. Soon continues with an aggressive rant claiming that the student isn't qualified to question his fossil fuel payments until she stops driving, using electricity, and wearing nylon. 

4) Willie Soon states "I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything," despite listing himself as an "expert in mercury and public health" for a discredited Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing health concerns over mercury pollution from coal plants. Soon invented similar credentials for another opinion piece in the Washington Times, before he swapped back to being a 22-year veteran of "researching the relationship of solar radiation and the Earth's climate," research Dr. Soon did on the dime of oil and coal companies.

Basically, Willie Soon is an expert in whatever problems vested industries will pay him to deny. Michigan State students note how Willie Soon now refutes research indicating adverse impacts from ocean acidification, a global crisis that is married to climate change (both problems stem from humans burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).

That's effed up. This man makes a career lying to the public, not to mention our lawmakers, about some of the most serious issues of our time. Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of 400,000 people each year and costing global GDP about $1.2 trillion, according to a report commissioned by multiple nations. 98% of actual climate scientists (a distinction Dr. Willie Soon does not earn) agree that global warming is real and primarily drive by humans burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

Not only has Dr. Soon lied to us and our lawmakers about the seriousness of global warming--he even lied directly to Congress in 2003 about his sources of funding at a time when he was promoting his study funded by the American Petroleum Institute, the $200 million/year oil and gas lobbying group. The Guardian wrote last year:

"In 2003 Soon said at a US senate hearing that he had "not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any organisation that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

This is why it's crucial to demand accountability of people like Willie SoonHe is a public relations tool of oil and coal companies, and as a scientist attempting to publish in fields well outside of his expertise, that oil and coal money is crucial to recognize.

Here are some of the best examples of Soon's pseudo-science paid for by Big Oil and King Coal:

Dr. Soon's work is like a joke, but not the type you'd laugh at. While he cracks these fossil-funded zingers, reputable scientists warn that humanity is running out of time to stop climate change from self-reinforcing to the point that it spirals out of human control. As quoted by the Michigan State News, young conservatives on campus had trouble taking Dr. Willie Soon's presentation seriously:

“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”

Science majors attending the MSU event didn't agree that Soon's points were particularly valid. See this account from a MSU Greenpeace student activist on PolluterWatch for more details.

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Michigan State: students highlight Willie Soon's oil and coal-funded climate denial career

  • Posted on: 8 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Image from a USA Today article detailing Willie Soon's at events to confuse the public over climate science.

Written by Rachna Pannu. This event was covered in the Michigan State News by Simon Schuster, whose interview with Dr. Willie Soon confirms CFACT paid for Soon to attend these events.

Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate change denier, was invited by the MSU Campus Conservatives at Michigan State University to talk about climate change.  The event was sanctioned by CFACT, an obscure but vocal group among climate science deniers. We at MSU Greenpeace saw this as a great opportunity to have some of our members attend and question the reasons and methods with which he chooses to deny what 98% of climate scientists have agreed to be true
 
The bulk of Dr. Soon’s talk involved aggressively targeting published or well-known supporters of climate change prevention, including professors, Al Gore, and federal, national and international organizations. He went through the data, attempting to discredit it with conflicting data from other studies and experiments. However, this aspect of his talk left me with more questions than answers, especially since he is a known recipient of oil and coal money.
 

Willie Soon’s fossil fuel-funded career

 
Willie Soon spent a good amount of the talk repeatedly defending himself as an independent scientist simply seeking to learn the truth before anyone had even questioned his motives and his expertise. He ranted that people question his funding and his intentions, but he is just an objective man trying to get to the truth of climate change. He also used this opportunity to criticize the current scientific model of publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, claiming that it was a buddy-buddy system and peer-reviewing did not affect the validity of the article.
 
Essentially, Dr. Soon was warding off the holes in his credentials before anyone had questioned them because his doctorate is in astrophysics, which is not even related to the Earth’s climate, and has only been able to publish one article on climate science in a peer-reviewed journal. Even that article was hotly debated by the editors, who wrote a negative response and resigned from their positions in outrage. And Willie Soon's funding? It comes from fossil fuel companie--like ExxonMobil and Southern Company--totaling over $1 million in the last decade.
 

Questionable Climate ‘Science’ 

 
Willie Soon pulled up a graph showing the temperature range over a series of years in the 2000’s and asked rhetorically whether anyone could see an increase in the temperatures over time. Yes, I could, but I would rather like to question the validity of using a period of less than 10 years to examine the change in the Earth’s temperature over time. In another example, he showed a graph that analyzed both the variance in amplitude and shift in time for the predictions of temperatures by many different model used by scientists. The models were dispersed around the central point of zero difference in amplitude and zero shift in time, but he simply stated that the image showed errors in all of the models and stated that none of them were in the lower left corner. Why they should be in a region of less amplitude and a negative shift in time in relation to the actual temperature patterns baffles me.  
 
Members of MSU Greenpeace questioned Soon about his articles on climate science, and he became aggressive and very defensive, stating that peer-review did not signify greater accuracy (peer-review is crucial to ensuring the highest conduct in scientific research). When a member of The State News, the MSU student newspaper, asked why with about 13,900 published articles on the verity of climate change and only twenty-something that argue the reverse he felt that climate change did not exist, Dr. Soon again became frustrated. Soon referred to a quote from Albert Einstein, saying that it only takes one person to disprove what everyone agrees upon. Read coverage of this event from the State News here.
 
There was no way to have an effective discourse about climate change with Dr. Willie Soon because he refused to accept the very basic premises of our current scientific standards that peer-review ensures accuracy of the published articles and that a large consensus by educated individuals who have done their own research into a matter indicates the verity of the hypothesis. In addition, some of the data and sources he provided seemed either not applicable or reputable as we are taught is critical to reliable scientific research. 
 

Dr. Soon adds Ocean Acidification Denial to his Growing list of Specialties

 
Separate from Willie Soon’s questionable assertions about global temperature trends were his assertions used to dismiss ocean acidification, a serious problem that is linked with increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (caused by companies funding Dr. Soon, like ExxonMobil and Southern Company). Soon's sources were shaky--data cited from a BlogSpot website, for instance, not exactly a credentialed scientific institution. He disputed a report by a marine biologist that claims increasing CO2 content of the ocean results in weakening of the shells of marine organisms by interfering with their ability to use calcium carbonate in their shells. 
 
Scientists who are serious about scientific standards tell us that ocean acidification is having a profound impact on coral reefs (they are dying rapidly), and scientists are working to determine if more acidic oceans are impacting crustaceans, ocean animals that have shells. Dr. Soon apparently already has the answers, stating that crabs and lobster shells were not composed of significant amounts of calcium carbonate, and then he provided data that showed lobsters and crabs increasing in size after carbon dioxide was bubbled through their water. If indeed the shells of crustaceans are not mainly composed of calcium carbonate, how does an experiment showing the effect of carbon dioxide presence in the water of lobster and crabs conflict with the statement that it affects the availability of calcium carbonate? 
 

Soon’s Limited Audience

 
The only thing I can say is that I felt some relief in that he was only able to attempt to influence a half-filled classroom composed of 1/3 individuals who did not attend the university and already believed in Soon’s paranoid vision of the world and 1/3 supporters of the movement to protect our planet. There are always a few doubters, a few critics and a few conspiracy theorists that refuse to acknowledge global warming no matter how much evidence is presented to them. If we can get the majority of rational individuals to understand the changes occurring to the environment, we can create change to save our planet and make it a healthier place to live. 
 
Rachna Pannu
Senior, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology B.S. 
Lyman Briggs College
Michigan State University
 

 

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