Monday, 27 July 2015

"Gloves come off in bitter fight over climate change". But the SCMP doesn't cover the full brouhaha

The South China Morning Post's Science Focus is an often interesting page.
Its editor is Alex Ho has decidedly "climate science denial" (or "sceptic" if you wish) tendencies, so I suspected there may have been more to the story that simply the case of a brave "climate sceptic" facing off the brute forces of  the "global warming orthodoxy".
I was suspicious. A letter to the editor followed:

I was intrigued to read the article by Wilie Soon (“Gloves come off in bitter fight over climate change”, Science Focus, 19 July).  Why give such prominence to an article complaining about “personal attacks”? [1]

So, I hied me to the internet and find that Soon’s statement had first appeared on 2 March, in response to a New York Times article claiming that Soon had not fully disclosed the source of grants for his studies on climate change. These totalled $US 1.5 million over ten years, almost all from the fossil fuel industry.  

One may choose to believe Soon’s claim that “I have never been motivated by financial gain…”.  And one may also choose to believe in the tooth fairy.  In any case, whether or not he was influenced by the source of his grants is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that he did not always disclose those sources.  The Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (HSCA), at which Soon works part-time, has said: “Soon had failed to meet disclosure requirements of some of the journals that published his research”.  Google “Willie Soon” for many more references to this brouhaha.  Virtually all are dismissive of Soon’s claims, and indeed of his science.

Wikipedia has this to say about the controversy:  "He also requested that journalists who had reported on his actions similarly examined disclosure by other scientists.  An investigation by InsideClimate News could find no cases where mainstream climatologists had failed to disclose the funding of their research. Unlike Soon, who had approached private funders directly, their funding was almost entirely obtained through open competitive peer-reviewed applications to public bodies."

Soon describes himself as “research physicist sat the Harvard-Smithonian Centre for Astrophysics”.  Yet he released his claim of victimisation via the Heartland Institute, a climate sceptic organisation, rather than the HSCA.  Why?   Perhaps because on 26 February a Smithsonian statement said: "The Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon’s conclusions on climate change. The Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming."

As to the substance of Soon’s research, the nub of it is this: he believes that sun-spots are the sole cause of global climate changes, and that CO2 can be discounted.  Many climate scientists agree that solar activity plays a part, but not the sole part, and that all the evidence points to rise in CO2 emissions as the chief cause of global warming. 

Given that fully five months have elapsed since this controversy first erupted, surely your editors could have found time to research and report this background.  Your readers would have been better served by understanding the context as balance to Soon’s farrago of victimhood.

Yours, etc....
[1]: Soon's original statement via the Heartland Institute is here.  The SCMP version is very slightly different, but behind a paywall.