Sunday, April 26, 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.