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How Soon is now?

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 July 2011

Willie Soon is a name that pops up every so often in climate ‘debate’. He was the lead author on the Soon and Baliunas (2003) paper (the only paper that has ever led to the resignation of 6 editors in protest at the failure of peer-review that led to its publication). He was a recent speaker (from 37.20) at the 2011 Heartland Institute conference, and can be counted on to produce a contrarian take on any particular issue that anyone might care about – ranging from climate, to mercury in fish and polar bear population dynamics.

Recently, there has been a renewed focus on how much money Willie Soon has taken from fossil fuel companies for his ‘research’ (over a $1 million dollars). While that is impressive, the real issue is not how he gets paid, but the quality of his science. The discussion last week about his finances did lead people to notice his publically accessible website where he has posted papers, emails, calculations and reviews going back to 2003 (Update: since this piece was posted, many items have been blocked. We have switched the links to saved versions). There is quite a lot of interesting stuff there, including a few curious tidbits.


Figure: Distinct populations of polar bears across the Arctic. WH = Western Hudson Bay, nr. Churchill, Manitoba.

One particularly amusing find is evidence of some outrageous cherry-picking in what ended up as the Dyck, Soon, Baydack, Legates, Baliunas, Ball and Hancock (2007) paper. This paper attempted to cast doubt on the sensitivity of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay to climate change, a basis of the eventual US Fish and Wildlife listing of the polar bear as ‘threatened’. Earlier work by Andy Derocher, Ian Stirling and others had documented the clear reduction in sea ice in Hudson Bay and the subsequent reduction in the period available for hunting seals, and the impacts on the population.

Note that as a “viewpoint” paper, the Dyck et al submission was not peer-reviewed. Instead, it was accepted (March 2 2007) only 1 day after it was received (March 1 2007). Soon’s website indicates that a very similar paper had been submitted as a normal paper at least once before (in 2003, with only Dyck and Soon as authors). The reviews for that paper (or one very similar), are also available (dated June 2003).

The paper itself (both versions) is a collection of standard arguments for why everything is uncertain and nothing can be concluded, but did actually include a little analysis. Specifically, the claim was made that temperatures in Churchill, Manitoba (close to the center of the Western Hudson Bay population of bears) had not risen, and that instead, any multidecadal variations in temperatures affecting the bears were related to the Arctic Oscillation (AO), a mode of natural variability. Of course, temperatures in the Churchill region have risen, and the ice extent in Hudson Bay is melting earlier and forming later (by about a month in each case) than 30 years ago. But the interesting aspect is the impact of the AO which certainly affects short term temperatures in the Arctic.


Regressions of winter temperature anomalies with the strength of the AO (JISAO). (ºC change in temperature per unit increase in the AO – for reference, the AO varies from roughly -3 to 3 on a monthly timescale).

Andrew Derocher, who signed his review, queried why the figure showing an impact of the AO on temperature (r2=0.52) used the data from Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit) in the Labrador Sea instead of the data from Churchill. Frobisher Bay is just under 1000 miles away from Churchill and doesn’t border Hudson Bay at all, so its relevance to bears in Western Hudson Bay is somewhat mysterious. It is however very close to the center of the AO influence (as seen in the above figure). Derocher suggested that Dyck et al use the correlations at Churchill instead (makes sense, no?). In the finally published paper (in 2007) however, the correlation with the AO was still using the Frobisher Bay data – exactly as it appears in the first draft in 2003.

What the files reveal however, is that Soon had already calculated the correlations of Churchill temperatures to the AO, and found that the correlation was very low – regardless of what month or season he used (the files are dated to January 2003 – prior to Derocher’s review). None of the correlations showed an r2 > 0.24 (highest in August), and most were much smaller (especially during the key spring period where the variance explained was less than 5%). Note that a value like r2=0.24 is not necessarily meaningless — indeed, for the number of data points involved here (between 50 and 60), this is probably statistically significant relative to a standard ‘red noise’ null hypothesis. However, the variance explained is small.

Soon had also calculated the impact of the AO on the Frobisher Bay data and, unsurprisingly, used the seasonal correlation that had the highest correlation. The fact that Frobisher Bay temperatures and Churchill temperatures are only loosely correlated (also calculated by Soon) (highest monthly r2 was 0.22) was not mentioned in either version of the paper.

The link is made (in the 2003 version) using:

… the temperature and climatic conditions around the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay areas have close association with the AO circulation index

which is an attempt to imply that the Hudson Strait connection, also applies to Hudson Bay (which Soon already knew was untrue). The version in the 2007 paper was only slightly different:

… the air temperature and climatic conditions around the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay areas have a close association with the AO circulation index.

but is equally misleading.

So, the picture here is quite clear. Soon knew that the relevant data series for discussing the AO influence on Western Hudson Bay temperature (and by proxy, sea ice) was from Churchill and despite being reminded of the fact by the first set of reviewers, nonetheless continued to only show the AO connection to a site 1000 miles away, which had a much higher correlation without any discussion of whether this other data was at all relevant to Churchill or the bears nearby.

There was much else in the Dyck et al paper that was worth criticising (see Stirling et al (2008) for details), but the evidence of the cherry-picking of data for the sake of an (irrelevant) higher correlation from the files is a very clear black flag.

In my opinion, this kind of ‘scientific’ sleight-of-hand is far more egregious than Soon’s ability to get funding from coal, oil, and fossil-fueled foundations.


57 Responses to “How Soon is now?”

  1. 1
    Tim Jones says:

    Nice to see someone turning over the rocks these insects live under.

  2. 2
    Jesse says:

    I like this essay, but it would help those of us who aren’t statisticians (or trained scientists) if there was a sentence or two explaining some of the references. For most readers the reference to r^2, for instance, is not immediately obvious. I think I understand what it means but it took a little looking up on my part. A quick caption on the winter anomalies figure would also be great — I wasn’t sure if that is showing degrees C or some other measure.

    Not that I mind that particularly, but anyone reading this who isn’t “in the know” would be confused by it, it seems to me. I know that the people writing this are scientists and not journalists. But speaking as a journalist who wants people to understand his work as clearly as possible — and as someone who genuinely likes to makes sure I understand what I read — I’d have added a bit of explanation there.

    Sorry, don’t mean to sound nitpicky. I know Gavin and Raypierre don’t have a ton of time to spend on this kind of thing.

    [Response: Fair enough. r2 is the correlation coefficient squared and is a measure of the amount of variance explained. An r2 of 0.2 between two timeseries implies that 20% of the variations in one series can be explained by reference to the other. I've also added some info to the figure caption. - gavin]

  3. 3
    Alan Keller says:

    Well and good that this readership know what Soon is up to. However what is important is that the general public, which is increasingly lured into the Inhofe orthdoxy that those climate scientists who attempt to publicize the growing threats from greenhouse gases are “frauds”, “perpetrators of a giant hoax”, etc., know what the likes of Soon are up to. I don’t know how to convey that information in intelligible sound bites, but it seems urgent that it be systematically done.

  4. 4
    Anna says:

    The people who aren’t being paid millions but still bang on about climate change being a conspiracy etc. are scarier, because you know they must really believe it!

    But thank you Gavin for taking the time to dissect and debunk, I hate to think what the world would be like without people like you and the team at RealClimate.

  5. 5
    tamino says:

    Bravo. Thanks for laying out the facts so plainly.

    It’s absolutely, positively undeniable that Soon was cheating with the data, and that he knew exactly what he was doing. I guess that it’s his willingness to do that which makes industry willing to pay him a million dollars.

    Foul deeds will rise, tho’ all the world o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.

  6. 6
    paul says:

    If you read your link to Churchill you find it says “Churchill is a town on the shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada”. Yes it is on the shore of hudson bay and your statement “doesn’t border Hudson Bay at all, so its relevance to bears in Western Hudson Bay is somewhat mysterious.” is incorrect.

    [Response: You are misreading. That statement referred to Frobisher Bay. I am well aware of where Churchill is. - gavin]

  7. 7
    John Mashey says:

    It was interesting to see the renewed notoriety of Willie Soon, and Gavin mentions the resignations at Climate Review (CR) over Soon and Baliunas (2003). But actually, that paper was part of a larger story I’ve been researching, hopefully completed later this month, tentatively entitled:

    “Pal Review at Climate Research , 1997-2003 – Chris de Freitas, Pat Michaels, Willie Soon, and other pals”

    BACKGROUND
    Although many are familiar with that story, I wondered if there more, given, for example:
    a) Clare Goodess’ comments comments:

    “The publisher eventually asked to see the documentation associated with the review of the paper – which had apparently gone to four reviewers none of whom had recommended rejection. Otto Kinne concluded that the review process had been properly conducted.”
    “Hans von Storch and I were also aware of three earlier Climate Research papers about which people had raised concerns over the review process. In all these cases, de Freitas had had editorial responsibility.”

    and
    b) Michaels and McKitrick(2004), ably refuted by Rasmus Benestad here at RC and at CR. People may recall that as the “degrees/radians paper.”

    Finally, one might recall Pat Michaels long-voiced complaints about climate peer review, the latest in Peer Review and ‘Pal review’ in Climate Science, at Forbes last month. Strange Scholarship in the Wegman Report had even accorded that a Meme designator, Meme-b, indexed on p.8. p.10 backtracks the history of this in the Wegman Report, and in the recently retracted article, via a 2005 presentation by McIntyre and McKitrick, back to comments by Michaels at a 2003 meeting with them for George Marshall Institute.

    PRELIMINARY RESULTS
    I looked at all freely-available papers from CR, 1990-2006 and built a spreadsheet recording interesting characteristics.

    “PALS”
    From 1990 to 1996, CR published no papers from any of the following, called “pals” hereafter:
    Sallie Baliunas, Robert Balling, John Christy, Robert Davis, Chris de Freitas , David Douglass, Vincent Gray, Sherwood Idso, PJ Knappenberger, Ross McKitrick, Pat Michaels, Eric Posmentier, Arthur Robinson, Willie Soon, and Gerd-Rainer Weber.

    RC readers may recognize some of these names. Some appear , all but Gray and Weber are listed in CCC, cross-referenced with specific climate anti-science activities and involvement in organizations that do it. The social network analysis is interesting, let us say that six degrees of separation is overkill, 2 is adequate and 1 is common.

    De Freitas arrived and during his tenure at CR, edited 27 articles, of which 14 came from the “pals.” Not all 14 rose to the level of Soon&Baliunas (2003), but many shared curious characteristics on which I will report later.

    Soon and Baliunas were authors/coauthors of 3 papers through de Freitas.
    Pat Michaels, he of “pal review” fame”, was on *7* papers through de Freitas, oddly, about half of his total “peer reviewed” publications during that time.

    Following the resignations in 2003, zero more papers were accepted from any of pals by de Freitas. Via other editors, over the next few years, 3 other (relatively innocuous) papers came through other editors, involving Balling or de Freitas, but none of the others.

    The party was over, but recall that at same time as de Freitas was reviewing Soon&Baliunas(2003), Soon was reviewing de Freitas (2002). While referee names are properly confidential, given de Freitas’ social network, one might wonder if there were any ways to get 4 positive reports on Soon&Baliunas(2003).

    More to come.

  8. 8
    Peter Gleick says:

    Thank you for pointing out that the source of the funding, while of interest and relevant for understanding possible conflicts of interest, is far less critical than the quality of the science itself. Good research can, and is, done with funding from dubious sources. But bad research is bad research, no matter WHO funds it.

  9. 9
    Marco says:

    One wonders why the Climate Auditors did not notice any of this…

  10. 10
    Derek says:

    Has the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics ever expressed an opinion on Soon or Baliunas? I would think allowing them to misrepresent data (as implied in the article), or not clearly show potential conflicts-of-interest, indicates a institutional failing.

  11. 11
    Ed says:

    This is great. Thanks for digging into this topic. But … Why are you using miles in this piece? It seems completely strange to read “1000 miles away”. I keep wondering if you really mean miles or are just being colloquial.

  12. 12
    vukcevic says:

    Even high correlation (eg. r^2 of ~0.9) is not necessarily confirmation of causation. Exactly two years ago I started looking into the climate change. My first attempt cantered on investigation of events in the Hudson Bay area. Result is an article, which to a professional climatologist may look a bit naïve, but it did produce correlation of r^2=0.8901, which I think is unprecedented, but still not a confirmation of the causation.
    Abstract:
    Post-glacial uplift and convection in the underlying mantle uplift in the Hudson Bay area (as reflected in the changes of the area’s gravity and magnetic intensity) are making significant contribution to the Davis Straits rate of flow, affecting composition of the Labrador current and further the Subpolar gyre’s circulation, which is the engine of the heat transport across the North Atlantic Ocean and very relevant to the Atlantic basin climate.
    More details you can find here:
    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/NATA.htm

  13. 13
    Ron R. says:

    Wow, excellent article!

    Could it be that Soon knew in 2003 of research that indicated that warming was having an effect on polar bears in Churchill?

    “Continued research on how climate change affects
    Churchill (Stirling et al., 1999). Impacts of global
    warming in Churchill include an increase in the number
    of ice-free days and reduced nutrition in polar bears due to a shorter feeding season (Stirling et al., 1999). If this warming trend continues, it will affect not only the environment, but also the economy of the region. For
    example, if polar bears have to move farther north to
    obtain an adequate food source, tourism in Churchill
    may suffer (Stirling et al., 1999).”

    http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic55-3-281.pdf

    “Marine mammals of Hudson Bay may be facing emerging risks that affect their health and population size. In my view, these risks are probably in decreasing order of importance: climate change, contaminants, increased hunting and mineral development and shipping. The effects of these disturbances on marine mammal populations are largely unknown although there are signs that climate change has already caused a decline in the health and reproduction of polar bears.”
    http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/collection_2007/dfo-mpo/Fs97-4-2589E.pdf

    Dishonesty on the part of the professional skeptics? NAH!

  14. 14
    DeNihilist says:

    Alan @ 3, if my experience is any indication (and I think it is, as I am fairly well educated)of the general population, then I believe you really don’t have much to worry about. I started being interested in AGW about 5 years ago, being quite negative in my uninformed opinions. But as I have dug into this, from both sides (yes every day I visit here and Judith’s and heaven forbid Anthony’s site, plus others) I am starting to understand the sciences and implications more. If you were to compare my beliefs from then to now, they have moved from “no F’ing way!” to being agnostic (i.e. not knowing but trying to learn).

    And as a side point, what really spurred me to dig deeper with an open mind, was when my “heroes” from the sceptical stance did their own analysis of the GISS temp records and found that they were sound. It was then that I started to have more trust in the “main stream” climate scientists.

    The other thing that I have noticed, maybe just a figment of my imagination, is that sites like this one and other “pro” (I hate these terms!) sites, seem to be gaining patience with questioners like me and seem to be more tolerant of the obtuse views (for proof of this check out Tamino’s blog, where he and others spent a lot of bandwidth trying to help a certain individual even though this person was very obtuse at times). Trust me, this will go a long way further to communicating the science then anything else to us in the general population.

  15. 15
    Jeff Pierce says:

    Assuming the title is an intentional reference to the Smiths song, I suggest “William it was Really Nothing” the next time you write an article on Soon, Gavin.

    [Response: Brilliant! - gavin]

  16. 16
    Utahn says:

    John Mashey @7. I look forward to your upcoming story. I hope you will use “the intellectually inbred, filthy-rich world of climate science” when you do your writeup. I still can’t believe Michaels would project that into words…

  17. 17
    Andy Park says:

    I respect deNihilist’s honest attempts to get to grips with the issues of climate change. My own journey has me meeting him somewhere towards the middle. That is, although I firmly believe that AGW is ocurring, I do not believe that (some segments of) the climate science community have done themselves any favors by appearing to conspire against dissenting views, by soemtimes producing poor science and by poor selection of sources in official reports.

    However, In the interests of diversity, I also lurk on Judith Curry’s blog, and I disagree with deNihilist’s opinon that those who are worried about AGW have little to worry about. Curry’s CLimate etc contains some genuinely interesting and balanced coverage on climate issues that are either controversila or tough to understand. But if you read the commentaries that follow, you’ll come out feeling as exhausted and stressed as if you have been in a bar room brawl. I do not want to paint ALL the commenters with the same brush, but many belong to the usual coterie of “skeptics” who believe peer review is broken, the IPCC is completely corrupt, and that any data favouring AGW theory is incompetent or fabricated. By the same token, even blogs from “skleptics” get treated as if they have genuine authority and are submitted to only the lightest criticism.

    For these anti-warmers, it seems enough to trot out the standard collection of anti-AGW memes to satisfy whatever skepticism they may have. The problem is that these memes appear to have permeated the popular culture to a great degree. So, I believe that those who root for honest science in the wake of all this bias should be very worried indeed.

    As for Climate etc, I’ll be very interested to see if Judith Curry chooses to cover Willie Soon’s apparent cherrypicking of data…….

  18. 18
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    At what point does deceit become a crime against humanity?

  19. 19
    dhogaza says:

    Andy Park:

    I do not believe that (some segments of) the climate science community have [not] done themselves any favors by appearing to conspire against dissenting views

    Andy, think long and hard about what you’ve said here and ask yourself how climate scientists can avoid to appear to be engaged in nefarious activities when subjected to quote-mining, selective publication of stolen e-mails, outright misrepresentation of public statements, organized FOI flooding meant to overwhelm a departments resources to respond (while asking for stuff the university in question has no right to release), etc etc.

    Ask yourself how *you* can defend yourself against a charge of apparently appearing to be supportive of people on the internet whose dishonesty is apparent, based on the statement I’ve cherry-picked from your overall reasonable post …

    And at a more basic level, what’s wrong with scientists “conspiring” against “dissenting views” such as Soon’s paper?

  20. 20
    cindy baxter says:

    Given the Heartland conference’s insistence on restoration of the scientific method, we also found some interesting correspondence in Soon’s files.

    A letter , filed in October 2003, that discussed the upcoming AR4 (the IPCC was just beginning the process of putting the working groups together). Soon suggests that the “A Team” band together who could give it their “best shot” at “countering” the report.

    “Even if we can tackle ONE single chapter down the road but forcefully and effectively … we will really accomplish A LOT!

    In all cases, I hope we can start discussing among ourselves to see what we can do to weaken the fourth assessment report or to re-direct attention back to science …”

    Noting that this was before a single word had been written.
    So much for the scientific method.

    The letter was addressed to [in brackets is who we think they are]: “Bob [Ferguson SPPI or Carter], Randy [Randol- Exxon's environment man], Walter [Bucholtz, Exxon's man in charge of the grants], Sallie [Baliunas] and Dave [Legates].”

  21. 21
    Paul Tremblay says:

    >>Assuming the title is an intentional reference to the Smiths song, I suggest “William it was Really Nothing” the next time you write an article on Soon, Gavin.

    Wow, someone really knows his Smith’s music. And here I thought the Smith’s an obscure musical group.

  22. 22
    Mike Donald says:

    Or how about singing

    Will ye no come back again?
    Will ye no come back again?

    And here’s a website I’ve just been made aware of.

    http://theconversation.edu.au/pages/clearing-up-the-climate-debate

  23. 23

    Wonderful article. It was great to see plainly and clearly the biases that these ‘scientists’ have and the corners they cut to make their argument fit their data. I’ve always thought that the data shapes the argument.

    It’s like asking someone for the weather in Toronto and that person giving you the forecast for Johannesburg.

    Ridiculous.

  24. 24
    chek says:

    Mike, I haven’t followed the latest Conversation as assiduously as the previous topics there, so thanks for the pointer.

    Astounding to see surely everybody’s fave PhD student John McLean still banging out the oldies-but-goodies, in this case “Why else did “global warming” suddenly shift to “climate change”.

    Even the most recalcitrant of knuckle-draggers stopped using that one so long, long ago, it almost brought a nostalgic tear of laughter to my eye.

    There really must be only a nanometer or so of tin left in the bottom of that barrel.

  25. 25

    Interesting point on the funding. A large fraction of well-educated people have lots of free time to pursue any kind of hobby they want to. A very small fraction of these people are willing to do any kind of independent research to study scientific problems that will impact our future. Unlike Soon, some of us can do this on our own, particularly w/o needing funding, but the ability to fit into the system is rather limited.

  26. 26
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    About negative AOs — which bring warmer weather to places in the arctic and colder weather to my subtropical place in the Rio Grande Valley, killing most of my winter garden crops….

    There was some talk earlier here that these might become more frequent with CC. See: Benestad, “Cold Winter in a World of Warming?” http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/12/cold-winter-in-a-world-of-warming/

    Has there been anymore thinking or study on this?

    BTW, Northern Mexico lost over a $billion in its winter crops due to the unusual killing freeze there this past winter from that strongly neg AO.

  27. 27
    Chris R says:

    Thanks Dr Schmidt,

    In my opinion the behaviour of Dr Soon is best described not as ‘cherry picking’, but as dishonesty – plain and simple. If an honest person is made aware of an obvious and simple problem with their work they accept it and re-work, accepting what impact that may have on their conclusions with good grace. Only the essentially dishonest carry on and hope nobody notices.

    #9 Marco,
    Quite right. Climate Audit’s selectivity about what they ‘audit’ is very revealing. They have precious little to do with genuine auditing and everything to do with providing fodder for spin doctors and other media manipulators.

  28. 28
    grypo says:

    “Climate Audit’s selectivity about what they ‘audit’ is very revealing.”

    So are some of the files in Soon’s directory, TCS-DOCfile03-d. The dates and names interest me.

  29. 29
    cindy baxter says:

    @grypo – that directory, to me, looks like his Tech Central Station file – Soon was a regular contributor. Also articles co-written with Baliunas and with “Dave” Legates.

    for full breakdown of his funding, files etc see here.

  30. 30
    Edwin Kite says:

    Soon’s website is obviously not intended to be publicly-facing.

    Why are you making use of it?

    If someone drops a sheaf of personal documents on the sidewalk, would it be ethical to go through those?

  31. 31
    dhogaza says:

    Edwin Kite:

    Soon’s website is obviously not intended to be publicly-facing.

    Ahhh … this is why it is made explicitly public.

    And it also explains why he’s not responded by making it private.

    Now, why do you think it’s obviously not intended to be public?

    Do you think he meant to hide things that expose him to be the dishonest sack-o-…. that he is?

    Why do you reject the notion that he’s proud of his work, stands behind it, makes it public, because he thinks it’s the truth and makes him look like a hero?

    I think I know … you understand that it exposes him as being dishonest, and you think it’s unfair to do so.

  32. 32
    dhogaza says:

    Edwin Kite:

    More…

    his website address is: https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~wsoon

    This is a totally typical address for a public website run under the apache web server, which by default, when given a user’s home directory on a server, looks for the folder “public_html” and then serves it to whoever.

    If it’s not meant to be publicly-facing, why is it stored under the folder “public_html” ?

    Sheesh. Web tech 0.0000001` fail.

  33. 33
    Rattus Norvegicus says:

    Gavin, watched the polar bear talk you gave a few months back (the blogger who shall remain nameless had a link to it). Quite a nice talk and laid out the issues well. I enjoyed it.

    Unfortunately the screaming monkeys over at the blog which shall remain nameless either didn’t watch or didn’t get it. Par for the course.

  34. 34
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Edwin #30, Are you for real? Soon accidently dropped these documents on his website. Yeah right.
    Soon provides public evidence of his deceit, and your point is?

  35. 35
    Hank Roberts says:

    > intended to be publicly-facing

    That’s not “his website” — it’s one of many directories of CFA material, all searchable by the public.

    The search tool for that material is on the home page.
    See for yourself:

    http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/

    Look in the upper right corner.
    See the box labeled “Google Gustom Search”

    Type “soon” into that box
    Click the button next to it, the one labeled “Search CFA”

    The result is this:
    http://www.google.com/cse?cx=007824057196517177806:83rjfdqssky&ie=UTF-8&q=soon&sa=Search+CfA

    Google shows about 2400 links if you search this way

    http://www.google.com/search?q=site:cfa.harvard.edu++~soon

  36. 36
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Edwin Kite

    http://eps.berkeley.edu/~kite/

    See the similarity?

  37. 37
    Paul S says:

    #37, Eric – It’s a thought but I’ve heard, on the issue of climate, they have become quite polarised. (groan)

  38. 38
    Jack Maloney says:

    Too bad these climate blogs (both skeptics and believers) focus on ad hominem attacks like this. Smearing Willie Soon (or Michael Mann or Roger Pielke or Phil Jones or Judith Curry or Gavin Schmidt) isn’t a convincing argument for anything. Climate science is un-”settled” enough without sly innuendo and schoolyard taunting.

    [Response: You do not appear to be aware of what 'ad hominem' means. Soon's conclusions are being criticised because of his science - not because of his appearance, opinions, political persuasion, funding sources or with whom he chooses to spend his time. - gavin]

  39. 39
    Jack Maloney says:

    [Soon] was a recent speaker (from 37.20) at the 2011 Heartland Institute conference, and can be counted on to produce a contrarian take on any particular issue that anyone might care about – ranging from climate, to mercury in fish and polar bear population dynamics.

    Recently, there has been a renewed focus on how much money Willie Soon has taken from fossil fuel companies for his ‘research’ (over a $1 million dollars).

    Gavin – Maybe you should read the opening paragraphs of your own article, which clearly reference Soon’s “opinions,” “funding sources” and “with whom he chooses to spend his time.” It’s a bit disingenuous to raise those issues, then pretend to ignore them.

    [Response: Again you misunderstand what is and is not ad hom. Soon is/did all of those things mentioned. It is only an ad hom if that is the reason given to dismiss his science. Indeed I raised the funding issue specifically to contrast an argument based on dismissing him fir that as opposed to pointing out why his scientific output was flawed. - gavin]

  40. 40
    John Mashey says:

    re: #37 jack
    Yes, the science stands or falls on its own merits, and one can count on good scientists to refute anything interesting that’s broken, although there is hardly time for professionals to refute every bad paper, many of which languish uncared-about in odd places.

    A few of us research complete orthogonal questions, which have nothing to do with assessing the science.

    In the real world, reputation matters. In engineering, some people establish track records of being (usually) able to estimate project feasibility, schedules and cost, of being able to build useful things that people want. Some managers build track records of being able to assess potential employees and hire good ones. Some venture capitalists are very good at hearing a one-hour pitch and quickly assessing whether those looking for funds are worth investigating further. Even the best make mistakes – a common mantra in Silicon Valley is that if you’ve never failed, you are not trying hard enough. Of course, in all these, people who try things of which most are skeptical and *often* make them work are highly regarded. Equally, people who make frequent bad decisions and squander resources are not, and experienced people learn who is who.
    Correctness of an idea is independent of who generates it, but in practice, experienced people learn who is usually proved right and who is easily proved wrong, again and again.
    The inimitable Rabett has a good essay on on this topic. See especially “whose papers to trust, and which to be suspicious of [Hey Prof. here's a great new paper!... Son, don't trust that clown.]”

    So, if someone establishes a track record of being *badly* and *determinedly* wrong, always in the same direction, again and again, *then* it gets interesting to ask why? and is someone paying for it? if so, who? and how did terrible papers get accepted (normal error, or something else?) if there is a pattern, is it organized, and if so, who else is involved? and why are *they* doing it? (Mere association is not guilt. I recognize a long list of authors who make me nervous, but not everything they write seems obviously wrong, and sometimes others coauthor with them who seem credible.)

    One can find many reasons, not just ideology or financial, and the evidence shows rather different mixes. For example, E. G. Beck and Willie Soon do not seem similar overall.

    In any case, refuting bad climate science is the provenance of good climate scientists, and the papers rise (or crash in flames, as in this case) on their merits. The other areas belong more to investigative journalists, historians, social scientists.

  41. 41
    Jack Maloney says:

    …refuting bad climate science is the provenance (sic) of good climate scientists, and the papers rise (or crash in flames, as in this case) on their merits. The other areas belong more to investigative journalists, historians, social scientists…John Mashey

    I agree. So isn’t it odd that a blog claiming to be “Climate science from climate scientists” runs an article that begins and ends with reference to Soon’s funding sources?

  42. 42
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jack Maloney, an ad hominem is a classical rhetorical fallacy, and as such it has meaning in the context of formal debates conducted according to the rules of classical rhetoric.

    And in that context, yes, it is fallacious to assert that your debate opponent’s argument should be rejected because of his “opinions,” “funding sources” or “with whom he chooses to spend his time”, all of which are irrelevant to the actual merits of his argument.

    However, in the real world, that stuff most certainly is relevant.

    If someone holds extreme or bizarre or clearly baseless opinions, or receives funding directly or indirectly from corporations with billions of dollars in profit riding on public confusion about, or ignorance of, the scientific facts, or “chooses to spend his time” with propagandists and ideologues known to be dishonest, those are all entirely legitimate — and indeed compelling — reasons to be, shall we say, “skeptical” of his scientific claims. Those facts do not, of course, demonstrate that his science is wrong, but they do give you good reason to give his science extra-careful scrutiny.

    And in this case, skeptical scrutiny of his claims does in fact show them to be wrong, and moreover to be consistently wrong in a particular direction that “happens” to support the financial interests and “ideology” of his backers.

    Caveat emptor is more relevant than ad hominem here.

  43. 43
    dhogaza says:

    So isn’t it odd that a blog claiming to be “Climate science from climate scientists” runs an article that begins and ends with reference to Soon’s funding sources?

    Well, let’s see, Jack Maloney …

    Recently, there has been a renewed focus on how much money Willie Soon has taken from fossil fuel companies for his ‘research’ (over a $1 million dollars). While that is impressive, the real issue is not how he gets paid, but the quality of his science.

    So the piece starts out by noting the news and essentially *rejecting* ad hominem use of that news. What’s implied here is that others do indeed make the ad hominem attack you complain of, but we can and should reject that and focus on the quality of the science he does.

    After having done shown Soon’s work to be – let’s be blunt – so wrong it’s dishonest, the piece closes by saying that being so wrong is far more impressive than being able to get money from FF interests.

    Now, after having read the piece, one might be tempted to conclude that Soon’s corrupt, in the pocket of those paying his freight, but the piece itself carefully avoids drawing that conclusion.

    So I have absolutely no idea what you’re complaining about.

  44. 44
    Radge Havers says:

    From the Department of Irony Challenged Agitprop, Newspeak Division, Psychological Projection Section, Petty Outrage Desk come comments to RC drawn from the FUD Technique Files subheaded “Sly Innuendo” and “Schoolyard Taunting” which feature:

    Meaningless use of the term “ad hominem” as an insult.

    Priceless.

  45. 45
    Steve Metzler says:

    As these things go, I secretly wished JM hadn’t been so well refuted both by the RC principals and other proponents of rationality. I really, really wanted to see if he would just blow by Radge Havers’ #44, like an advance fee fraud scammer who is not paying the slightest attention to anything you say.

  46. 46
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    JM #41 Not really. It provides context, for one thing. Otherwise the article would just be an account of incomprehensible incompetence, as though RC was wasting time refuting failed undergrad work.

  47. 47
    richard pauli says:

    “Not even wrong”

    But when we reverse engineer it – we see it as a very successful paper that accomplishes its goal of distraction and delay.

  48. 48
    Dan H. says:

    As far as funding is concerned, it is essentially a nonissue to me. The report should stand on its scientific merits, regardless of who funded the work.

    That said, other work regarding the West Hudson Bay populations have focused on native cultivation of polar bears, which may overwhelm any climate variations.

  49. 49
    Scott Brassfield, MD says:

    I have always wondered who the tiny percentage of climate scientists who are climate change sceptics are. Surveys show one or two percent. Just like doctors who used to appear in Lucky Strike ads long after the tobacco related health issues were scientifically settled.

    Now we have a poster boy! They are well paid liars, they hilariously misapply Frobisher Bay data to Hudson Bay, but instead of bribes from Reynolds tobacco, Exxon pays these bills. Unfortunately, the largest “news” network and incoming congressional demographic, tea party Republicans, gain valuable cover. I just watched Korean gals dominate the Womens Open here in my hometown, Colorado Springs, and the sooner Soon puts his Exxon bucks towards greens fees, the better!

  50. 50
    KR says:

    Many of the Soon links are now blocked. It appears that someone noticed the activity…

    [Response: I thought that might happen. I've switched the links to the copies that were made. - gavin]


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