Willie Soon

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Willie Soon
Born 1966 (age 48–49)
Kangar, Malaysia
Residence Malaysia and United States
Nationality American Malaysian
Fields Earth Science, Solar Physics
Institutions Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Alma mater University of Southern California
Thesis Non-equilibrium kinetics in high-temperature gases (1991)
Doctoral advisor Joseph Kunc
Influences Richard Lindzen
Notable awards Petr Beckmann Award (2004)

Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon (born 1966)[1] is an aerospace engineer[dubious ] and a part-time employee at the Solar and Stellar Physics (SSP) Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.[2][3] He is also a receiving editor for the journal New Astronomy.[4] In addition to writing technical papers on the physics of climate change, Soon co-authored The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun–Earth Connection with Steven H. Yaskell (2004). The book treats historical and proxy records of climate change coinciding with the Maunder Minimum.[5]

Soon is a critic of the scientific consensus on climate change, who gained visibility with the Soon and Baliunas controversy over the methodology of a paper he co-wrote.[6] He disputes the consensus view that human activity is a significant contributor to climate change, and has argued that most global warming is caused by solar variation.[7][8] Climate scientists have rebutted Soon's arguments, and the Smithsonian does not support his conclusions, but he is frequently cited by politicians opposed to climate-change legislation.[2][9]

Soon's research has been largely funded by fossil-fuel interests, which provided over $1.2 million in funding, including $409,000 from The Southern Company, $230,000 from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and hundreds of thousands of dollars from Donors Trust. This potential conflict of interest was not disclosed in at least 11 papers published since 2008, which may have violated the ethical guidelines of the journals where they were published.[2][10]

Early life and education[edit]

Willie Soon was born in Kangar, Malaysia, in 1966. He attended Khoon Aik Primary School in Kangar, Perlis, then Sekolah Menengah Syed Sirajudin Secondary School in Jejawi, Perlis, and Sekolah Menengah Dato Sheikh Ahmad Secondary School in Arau, Perlis.[1] To further his education he emigrated to the United States in 1980 and attended the University of Southern California, receiving a B.Sc. in 1985, followed by a M.Sc. in 1987 and then a Ph.D. [with distinction] in 1991.[11] His doctoral thesis was titled Non-equilibrium kinetics in high-temperature gases.[12] He received the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society Graduate Scholastic Award in 1989 and the Rockwell Dennis Hunt Scholastic Award from the University of Southern California in 1991.[13]


After completing his plasma physics Ph.D. and upon the advice of his thesis advisor, Soon did post-doctoral research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and has been doing research in astrophysics and earth science there as a non-tenured employee since 1991.[1] He has also been an astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory,[14] a senior scientist at the George C. Marshall Institute think tank,[14][15] the chief science adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute,[16] and an Adjunct Professor of the Faculty of Science and Environmental Studies of the University of Putra, Malaysia.[17] In 2004 Soon was awarded the "Petr Beckmann Award for outstanding contributions to the defense of scientific truth" by the conservative group Doctors for Disaster Preparedness.[18] In 2014, Soon received the Courage in Defense of Science award from the George C. Marshall Institute. [19]

2003: Climate Research controversy[edit]

In 2003, Willie Soon was first author on a review paper in the journal Climate Research, with Sallie Baliunas as co-author. This paper concluded that "the 20th century is probably not the warmest nor a uniquely extreme climatic period of the last millennium."[20]

Shortly thereafter, 13 scientists published a rebuttal to the paper.[21][22] There were three main objections: (1) Soon and Baliunas used data reflective of changes in moisture, rather than temperature; (2) they failed to distinguish between regional and hemispheric mean temperature anomalies; and (3) they reconstructed past temperatures from proxy evidence not capable of resolving decadal trends.[21][22] Soon, Baliunas and David Legates published a response to these objections.[23]

After disagreement with the publisher and other members of the editorial board, Hans von Storch, Clare Goodess, and two more members of the journal's ten-member editorial board resigned in protest against what they felt was a failure of the peer review process on the part of the journal.[6][24][dead link] Otto Kinne, managing director of the journal's parent company, eventually stated that "CR [Climate Research] should have been more careful and insisted on solid evidence and cautious formulations before publication" and that "CR should have requested appropriate revisions of the manuscript prior to publication."[25]

Soon and Baliunas have also been criticised because their research budget was funded in part by the American Petroleum Institute.[26][27][28][dead link][29]

2011: Funding controversy[edit]

In 2011, it was revealed that Soon received over $1,000,000 from petroleum and coal interests since 2001.[30] Documents obtained by Greenpeace under the US Freedom of Information Act show that the Charles G. Koch Foundation gave Soon two grants totaling $175,000 in 2005–06 and again in 2010. Multiple grants from the American Petroleum Institute between 2001 and 2007 totalled $274,000, and grants from Exxon Mobil totalled $335,000 between 2005 and 2010. Other coal and oil industry sources which funded him include the Mobil Foundation, the Texaco Foundation and the Electric Power Research Institute. Soon has stated unequivocally that he has "never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research" and "would have accepted money from Greenpeace if they had offered it to do my research."[31]

For health reasons, in 2011 Soon went from full time employment by the Smithsonian at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to a part-time position. The Center's spokesman said "Willie’s opinions regarding climate change are his personal views not shared within our research organization". Its former director Irwin Shapiro said no attempt had been made to suppress Soon’s views, and there had been no complaints from other scientists there: "As far as I can tell, no one pays any attention to him." Soon has been defended by others agreeing with his views. In 2013, theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson wrote in an email to The Boston Globe: "The whole point of science is to question accepted dogmas. For that reason, I respect Willie Soon as a good scientist and a courageous citizen." Senator Jim Inhofe has cited Soon, and Inhofe's former adviser Marc Morano said that "Willie Soon is a hero of the skeptical movement. When you are an early pioneer, you are going to face the scrutiny and attacks." Soon has links with conservative groups which promote his writings to influence the public debate on climate change, including The Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. In a speech at The Heritage Foundation, he accused the IPCC of being "a pure bully" engaged in "blatant manipulations of fact", and said "Stop politicizing science! Just stop!"[32]

January 2015 Monckton et al. paper[edit]

Soon co-authored a paper with William M. Briggs, David Legates, and Christopher Monckton published by the Chinese Science Bulletin in 2015.[33] Climatologist Gavin Schmidt described the paper as "complete trash". He said that the model used is not new, "they arbitrarily restrict its parameters and then declare all other models wrong."[34][unreliable source?]

2015: Allegations of disclosure violations[edit]

Documents which Greenpeace obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request showed funding Soon had received from organisations opposing action on climate change. The Monckton et al. paper published in the Chinese Science Bulletin in January 2015 included a statement by the authors, including Soon, that they had no conflict of interest, and Kert Davies of the Climate Investigations Center wrote to the journal about the funding not having been disclosed, contrary to the journal's policy. On 24 January the journal replied that they would "look into the matter as appropriate". The story was published by The Boston Globe on 26 January with a statement by Monckton that allegations of failure to disclose a material conflict of interest were untrue, as the authors had not "received any funding whatsoever for our research, which was conducted in our own time". He said that the Heartland Institute had provided funding to make the paper available to the public on the journal's website.[35][36]

On 21 February 2015, reports were carried by The Guardian and the New York Times, which said that Soon had failed to disclose conflicts of interest, including accepting more than $1.2 million from companies from the fossil-fuel industry, in at least 11 papers since 2008. The reports alleged that Soon had violated ethical guidelines of at least 8 of those journals publishing his work. Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) where Soon is a part-time employee, described the disclosure violations as "inappropriate behavior" that they would "have to handle with Dr. Soon internally".[2] On the same day, Nature reported that the CfA had launched an investigation into whether Soon had properly reported the funding arrangements shown in the documents which Greenpeace had obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Alcock said "We want to get the facts straight. If there is evidence of failure to disclose, yes, we have a problem."[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Sunny Occupation". The Star. April 18, 2005. 
  2. ^ a b c d Justin Gillis; John Schwartz (February 21, 2015). "Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher". Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  3. ^ Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Quote: "SOON, Willie, Astrophysicist ... Research specialties: Observational analysis and physical modeling of phenomena relevant to the Sun, Sun-like stars, and the Earth."
  4. ^ "New Astronomy Editorial Board". Elsevier. Retrieved 2012-06-05. 
  5. ^ Soon, Willie Wei-Hock; Yaskell, Steven H. (2003). The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun-Earth Connection. World Scientific Publishing. ISBN 981-238-275-5. 
  6. ^ a b Monastersky, Richard (September 2003). "Storm Brews Over Global Warming". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  7. ^ "Testimony of Dr. Willie Soon". United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. July 29, 2003. Retrieved 2011-06-17. 
  8. ^ Baum, Eric W. (April 14, 2009). "Sunspots May Cause Climate Fluctuations: Harvard astrophysicist says recent cooler temps are a result of fewer sunspots". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  9. ^ Goldenberg, Suzanne (February 21, 2015). "Work of prominent climate change denier was funded by energy industry". The Guardian. 
  10. ^ Malakoff, David (February 23, 2015). "Smithsonian asks legal watchdog to investigate climate skeptic's disclosure practices". Science Insider (American Association for the Advancement of Science). 
  11. ^ "Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences: Research Staff". Smithsonian Office of Fellowships and Internships (OFI). Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  12. ^ Soon, Wei-Hock (1991). "Non-equilibrium kinetics in high-temperature gases". University of Southern California. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  13. ^ "Rockwell Dennis Hunt Scholastic Award". Skull and Dagger Honor Society, University of Southern California. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  14. ^ a b Soon, Willie et al. (2001). Global Warming: A Guide to the Science. Fraser Institute. p. viii. 
  15. ^ Pearce, Fred (2010). The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth about Global Warming. Random House. p. xvi. ISBN 978-0-85265-229-9. 
  16. ^ "Global Warming Science and Public Policy". Science and Public Policy Institute. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  17. ^ "Speakers 20th Annual Meeting of DDP Colorado Springs, CO, July 27–28, 2002". Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. Retrieved 2012-06-28. 
  18. ^ "Doctors for Disaster Preparedness Newsletter" 21 (4). Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. July 2004. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  19. ^ 2014 Winner of the Courage in Defense of Science
  20. ^ Soon, Willie; Baliunas, Sallie (2003). "Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years". Climate Research 23 (2): 89–110. doi:10.3354/cr023089. 
  21. ^ a b "Leading Climate Scientists Reaffirm View that Late 20th Century Warming Was Unusual and Resulted From Human Activity" (Press release). American Geophysical Union. July 7, 2003. AGU Release No. 03-19. Archived from the original on 2010-01-17. 
  22. ^ a b Mann, Michael et al. (2003). "On past temperatures and anomalous late-20th-century warmth". Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 84 (27): 256–256. Bibcode:2003EOSTr..84..256M. doi:10.1029/2003EO270003. 
  23. ^ Soon, Willie et al. (2003). "Comment on "On past temperatures and anomalous late-20th century warmth"". Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 84 (44): 473–476. Bibcode:2003EOSTr..84..473S. doi:10.1029/2003EO440007. 
  24. ^ Goodess, Clare (November 2003). "Stormy Times for Climate Research". SGR Newsletter No. 28. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  25. ^ Kinne, Otto (2003). "Climate Research: an article unleashed worldwide storms" (PDF). Climate Research 24: 197–198. doi:10.3354/cr024197. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  26. ^ Sanchez, Irene (November 13, 2005). "Warming study draws fire". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  27. ^ Mooney, Chris (April 13, 2004). "Earth Last". The American Prospect. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  28. ^ "20th Century Climate Not so Hot" (Press release). Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. March 31, 2003. CFA Release No. 03-10. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  29. ^ Revkin, Andrew (August 5, 2003). "Politics Reasserts Itself in the Debate Over Climate Change and Its Hazards". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  30. ^ Gardner, Timothy (June 28, 2011). "US climate skeptic Soon funded by oil, coal firms". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-06-28. 
  31. ^ Vidal, John (June 17, 2011). "Climate sceptic Willie Soon received $1m from oil companies, papers show". The Guardian. 
  32. ^ Rowland, Christopher (5 November 2013). "Researcher helps sow climate-change doubt". BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  33. ^ Monckton, C.; Soon, W. W. -H.; Legates, D. R.; Briggs, W. M. (2015). "Why models run hot: Results from an irreducibly simple climate model". Science Bulletin 60: 122. doi:10.1007/s11434-014-0699-2.  edit
  34. ^ Brian Merchant (21 January 2015). "How Climate Change Denial Still Gets Published in Peer-Reviewed Journals". Motherboard. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  35. ^ Lane, Sylvan (January 26, 2015). "Climate change skeptic accused of violating disclosure rules". Boston Globe. 
  36. ^ a b Tollefson, Jeff (21 February 2015). "Documents spur investigation of climate sceptic". Nature (Nature Publishing Group). doi:10.1038/nature.2015.16972. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 

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