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The Soon fallacy

Filed under: — gavin @ 24 February 2015

As many will have read, there were a number of press reports (NYT, Guardian, InsideClimate) about the non-disclosure of Willie Soon’s corporate funding (from Southern Company (an energy utility), Koch Industries, etc.) when publishing results in journals that require such disclosures. There are certainly some interesting questions to be asked (by the OIG!) about adherence to the Smithsonian’s ethics policies, and the propriety of Smithsonian managers accepting soft money with non-disclosure clauses attached.

However, a valid question is whether the science that arose from these funds is any good? It’s certainly conceivable that Soon’s work was too radical for standard federal research programs and that these energy companies were really taking a chance on blue-sky high risk research that might have the potential to shake things up. In such a case, someone might be tempted to overlook the ethical lapses and conflicts of interest for the sake of scientific advancement (though far too many similar post-hoc justifications have been used to excuse horrific unethical practices for this to be remotely defendable).

Unfortunately, the evidence from the emails and the work itself completely undermines that argument because the work and the motivation behind it are based on a scientific fallacy.

Putting aside papers where Soon was only a minor contributing author, and the hopelessly slanted ‘forecasting principles’ papers with Green and Armstrong (see here for why they add nothing to the discussion), most of Soon’s work has been related to finding correlations of a very specific solar reconstruction (see figure below) to some observational time-series. There are very real criticisms that can be made of the solar forcing time-series he uses, and of course, of the cherry picking of specific time-series without mentioning that correlations to others (such as the global mean) are very low, but even accepting all that, there is a much more fundamental problem.

It is most succinctly highlighted in an article Soon wrote ‘It’s the Sun, stupid’ (not sure if it was ever really published anywhere, but he did send it to his contacts at Koch Industries). Towards the end he states:

The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic.

It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of “preventing catastrophic climate change.”

It is the leap from the first to second sentence that drives Soon’s research – the notion that if you can find enough correlations to solar forcing, the impact of CO2 must be diminished, if not obliterated altogether. But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero. The existence of one physical factor affecting a variable in a complex system says nothing whatsoever about the potential for another physical factor to affect that same variable.

Even if the correlations existed at the level Soon claims (and they don’t – see figure), it would still not indicate that CO2 had zero effect, and indeed, it could never do so. The impacts of CO2 on radiative transfer have been studied since the 1860s, and modern spectroscopic databases date to Air Force calculations for heat seeking missiles in the 1950s and have been validated by an enormous number of observations, both in situ and via remote sensing. The vertical fingerprint of the impact of increasing CO2 (warming troposphere, cooling stratosphere) was calculated in 1967 by Manabe and Wetherald, decades before it was observed. None of this science disappears because a regional temperature series correlates for some short time with something else.

Figure 1. Updating the Soon (2005) correlations by correcting for an obsolete and almost certainly incorrect solar reconstruction (replacing with the SORCE reconstruction) and extending the temperature data to the present, shows an almost complete collapse of the initially impressive correlation (click for larger version).

The only way this might even begin to make sense would be if attribution of recent global warming was based purely on a linear regression of temperature to CO2 (which it isn’t). Given that we know there are multiple drivers of climate operating (the sun for sure, but also volcanoes, aerosols, greenhouse gas changes, land use change, etc.) the only way to do attribution properly is calculate the physical fingerprints of each of these drivers across multiple variables and see which combinations provide the best fits. Indeed, this is indeed exactly what is done. This kind of attribution is not based on single-factor correlations and is even robust to errors of magnitude in the calculated responses.

Soon’s work has been singularly poor for over a decade, first coming to prominence with the Soon and Baliunas (2003) debacle in Climatic Research which led to the resignation of 5 editors in protest at the way the paper was handled (and see more here). Another case associated with some very obvious shenanigans was Dyck et al (2007). More recently, his presentations at Heartland’s pseudo-climate conferences have come under renewed scrutiny for their level of incoherence.

The odd thing about this is that there is real, and interesting, science to be done on the impacts of solar forcing on climate. The chemical feedbacks due to photolytic reactions in both the stratosphere and troposphere involving ozone, NOx, and water vapour, can have significant impacts. Exploring the tremendous complexities in aerosol formation and growth and impacts on clouds and whether that is mediated by modulations of cosmic rays is fascinating (if, as yet, inconclusive). Indeed, there is a current NASA call for proposals on exactly these subjects (Notice of Intent due March 13!). But every time another one of these spurious correlations is touted, or one more fallaciously reasoned argument is put forward, it makes it harder for serious scientists to get involved at all without being tarred with the same pseudo-scientific brush.

Moving on from this low-quality, pointless kind of solar forcing shtick can’t come ‘Soon’ enough.


  1. W.W. Soon, "Solar Arctic-Mediated Climate Variation on Multidecadal to Centennial Timescales: Empirical Evidence, Mechanistic Explanation, and Testable Consequences", Physical Geography, vol. 30, pp. 144-184, 2009.
  2. S. Manabe, and R.T. Wetherald, "Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity", J. Atmos. Sci., vol. 24, pp. 241-259, 1967.<0241:TEOTAW>2.0.CO;2
  3. W.W. Soon, "Variable solar irradiance as a plausible agent for multidecadal variations in the Arctic-wide surface air temperature record of the past 130 years", Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 32, 2005.

56 Responses to “The Soon fallacy”

  1. 1
    Mitch says:

    I think your point on Twitter deserves to be repeated over and over again–the Smithsonian should never be taking grants that require that the research cannot be freely published, without review by the grantor.

    Having been on soft money, it is often tempting to go after grants no matter what the restrictions are–kids have to be fed. One of the jobs of the grants administrator is to be gatekeeper in order to prevent ethical binds. It appears that someone here was after a metric rather than following ethical behavior. The grants administrator should be held accountable.

  2. 2
    dorlomin says:

    IIRC Dr Soon’s latest paper suggested Pleistocene temperature variations (c. 6C swings) was an argument for low sensitivity. One is baffled as to how this slipper pasted the reviewers.

  3. 3
    Rob Quayle says:

    Inspecting various simple correlations between two variables linked via strong physical and theoretical evidence is not pseudoscience. By failing to do this for carbon dioxide and global temperature we are missing a teachable moment for many. Let the critics howl away. It’s how they measured gravity when they were school kids.

    [Response: Of course. But purposely ignoring other strong physical and theoretical evidence is pseudoscience. IN any case, you imply that no one has ever looked at CO2 temperature correlations, but lots of good work has been done along those lines. See e.g. . From the conclusion to his 1997 paper, based essentially on a correlation approach a la Soon (but done correctly in this case): “From examining the data records I conclude: Changes in solar irradiance explain perhaps one-quarter of the increase in temperature during the last century. The changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration resulting from human consumption of fossil fuels cause most of both the temperature increase and the changes in the seasonal cycle.”–eric]

  4. 4
    William Freimuth says:

    ExxonMobil Admits Climate Change Is Real. It also Imposes an Internal Cost on Carbon. Still Not Enough to Get Any Love From the Greens (Interesting Reading, Though)

    November’s Senate vote of 59-41 showed a deficit of thought. Thinking in Congress has now been completely suspended.
    The Tar Sands issue hinges on the scientific consensus and risks associated with CO2 emissions being limited to 1 trillion tons in an effort to mitigate the earth’s temperature rise below 2 degrees celsius. Providing a ‘pipeline’ for the dirtiest of fossil fuels opens a valve which essentially assures failure…..not a very thoughtful thing to do.
    Sorry, if you haven’t figured out the scientific evidence by now, you are likely an invested member of the Upton Sinclair club; “it’s hard to get someone to understand something if their salary depends on them NOT understanding it.”
    Unhealthy jobs, leading to an unhealthy planet can be transformed. In fact, they have to be. The transition to clean energy is win win.
    Exxon Mobil’s announcements (link above) underline the reality, albeit without guilt, and admit the ‘costs’ everyone is setting aside.
    The President, if forced to approve the Pipeline, should make his approval contingent upon EM’s projected cost of $80/ton CO2, applied to the estimated 150 million tons / year.
    The proceeds being applied to the costs of clean-up and all forms of mitigation, including Research and Development.
    Dear William:
    Thank you for writing. I want you to know I take your thoughts about the Keystone XL pipeline very seriously, and I appreciate your taking the time to share them with me.
    We know a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. I want America to build that engine, which is why my Administration has invested aggressively in renewables and energy efficiency. But it’s also true that we cannot complete that transition overnight, which is why we have taken steps to produce more oil here at home rather than buying it abroad.
    No matter what, allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to be built requires a determination that it will serve our national interest, and the State Department is running a process to make this determination. I want to be absolutely clear: this project will only serve our national interest if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.
    Thank you, again, for your message—it will be on my mind in the days ahead.
    Barack Obama

  5. 5
    vukcevic says:

    There is also geomagnetic ‘solar forcing’ with identifiable effect on the Arctic polar vortex.

  6. 6
    Tokodave says:

    Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.

    Just seeing Soon in the references with manbe and Weatherald is enough to make me want to….nevermind.

  7. 7
    Edward Greisch says:
    “Smithsonian’s Inspector General to Probe Willie Soon”

    “Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics”
    “The Smithsonian side employs Soon”

    OIG = Office of Inspector General

    Soon should not be employed by Harvard or Smithsonian. If Soon works for Koch, Soon should do so at Koch’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.

  8. 8
    Salamano says:

    Seeing that Rep. Grijalva has taken this as an opportunity to probe funding sources and communications from various skeptic and contrarian climate scientists out there to see if there are similar “Soon-like” conflicts (for example Roger Pielke, Jr.)

    It makes me wonder if Cuccinelli is getting jealous down there in Virginia at the prospects for success this Representative might have in securing some similar documents and files to go through, particularly if Grijalva can manage to do so without any criticism from the academic-freedom-preserving scientific community.

  9. 9
    Killian says:

    Me much likey the no-nonsense, pull-no-punches response. Can’t we toss in a few choice epithets, just for fun?

    More seriously, at what point do we get serious about treating such obvious attempts to corrupt the literature as serious breeches of public safety? One result of Soon’s intentionally misleading pseudo-science is it adds one more “scientific” result to the “anti-CC” column. So now it’s, what?, 14k+ to 25? But for denialists and their addled belief systems, one denialist paper is obviously equal to hundreds or thousands of papers reflecting scientific rigor.

    At what point do we acknowledge the massive damage being suffered and to be suffered by what are, at the end of the day, lies, and do something to stop them happening without repercussions?

  10. 10
    Russell says:

    Soon’s familiars are crying “Witchunt”

    Those wishing to remonstrate will find the coven assembled at Bishop Hill

    [Response: Indeed, and ignoring the scientific points entirely, of course.–eric]

  11. 11

    One can appreciate how sloppy Soon’s work is if you actually attempt a correlation with known factors. I have done a more complete multiple regression correlation model here and the results are in keeping with a strong CO2 forcing:

    It may even be the case that Soon is intentionally misleading as it takes a lot of effort not to include the obvious factors.

  12. 12
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Eli’s Soon Chronicles are up to episode 4.

  13. 13
    Salamano says:

    @9. Seriously?

    It has been well known for years the issues with Soon’s research (and his funding sources I might add). The only new wrinkle in this whole bit is the new campaign launched on the basis of Soon’s situation to try to identify potential similar arrangements with other professors– specifically targeting them by name without the cause.

    Seems to me this is the part being ignored. Realclimate has been well ontop of Dr. Soon and his research’s shortcomings. What is new revelation here about RC’s analysis of Soon’s work? Or about the importance of solar forcing research in the overall climate science picture?

    Obviously the folks at RealClimate can make a post about whatever they want, and anyone else is free to make their own original topics at other places. It does seem to be an odd place though to choose to stay silent about some critical issues now re-arising in the arena of academic freedom. Moreso, by cloaking that silence in a side-hashing of already longstanding “knowns”.

  14. 14
    patrick says:

    >The odd thing about this is that there is real and interesting science to be done…

    Thank you for your clarity on the Soon fallacy. Perhaps in the future it will be recalled fondly along with the Gish Gallop, etc.

    But the pity, and real scandal, remains–which you put with equal prescience: there is real science to be done.

    Pointless science–which you’ve been defining informally (not to be confused with disinterested or pure science)–is a pointed distraction, or defacto jamming of legitimate science.

  15. 15
    Tom says:

    The big issue is that Mann’s and IPCC climate models do not conform to the observed temperature record – this is not debatable.

    [Response: Since neither Mann nor IPCC develop, run or produce climate models, this might even be true. – gavin]

    Soon’s climate model will or will not conform to the observed temperature record soon enough.

    [Response: It was wrong before he even started. – gavin]

  16. 16
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tom, Are you a resident of Washington state, Colorado or Alaska, or are you a scofflaw?

  17. 17
    Eric Swanson says:

    Tom @ #15, The so-called “climate model” to which you refer as presented by Monckton with Soon as a co-author, is obviously flawed. They begin their paper with a figure and comment claiming that the satellite data from the MSU/AMSU series of instruments is the same as the surface temperature presented in the IPCC reports. The model which results from such thinking isn’t likely to match the Earth’s future climate, as can be easily shown

  18. 18
    Ric Merritt says:

    Re Edward Greisch, #7: Although the institution has “Harvard” in the name, I don’t believe Soon has ever been “employed by Harvard”.

    More seriously, about the proper penalty, it would be interesting to compare this case to any others, especially ones where the offending author was more distinguished and/or the work more respected, but for a disclosure lapse. Were those folks, if any, fired? Or did the journals just publish a note with the required information? Withdrawing the paper would seem to be the proper course by the journal only if the editorial staff feels confident that it would never have been published given proper disclosure. I’m skeptical that’s true, and anyway it’s hard to judge in retrospect.

    As noted elsewhere, the actual science (or not) is the important part.

  19. 19
    Hoyt Clagwell says:

    You attempt to discredit Soon’s graph by showing that solar forcings have decreased in recent decades while temperatures have continued to rise, suggesting there is no correlation. Do you know how many places in the historical record show an equal or longer period of time where CO2 is known to be decreasing while temperatures continue to rise? Can I then conclude, using your logic, that there is no correlation between CO2 and temperature?

    [Response: I am not the person claiming that single factor correlations to a single time series can produce accurate attributions. – gavin]

  20. 20
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Tom, behold the certainty of willful ignorance.

  21. 21
    John Benton says:

    Just admit it Schmitters, Soon is the scientist you could not even aspire to being.

    [Response: That got a genuine lol. Thanks! – gavin]

  22. 22
    Matthew R Marler says:

    3, Eric, in line: From examining the data records I conclude: Changes in solar irradiance explain perhaps one-quarter of the increase in temperature during the last century. The changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration resulting from human consumption of fossil fuels cause most of both the temperature increase and the changes in the seasonal cycle.”–eric] – See more at:

    Is that considered a solid result? The 25% due to solar variation?

    [Response: More recent work suggests it is smaller, but that’s because estimates of the magnitude of the solar forcing variations have been reduced. Lots of discussion in IPCC volumes on this.–eric]

  23. 23
    Matthew R Marler says:

    22, Eric in line: More recent work suggests it is smaller, but that’s because estimates of the magnitude of the solar forcing variations have been reduced.

    Thank you.

  24. 24

    #15, 19 & 20–

    And they say denialism isn’t good for anything… ‘they’ must be lacking in any resemblance of humor.

  25. 25
    hf says:

    It’s nice to know that you have a seat in the bleachers, Gavin, and thanks for the past field work as well!

  26. 26
    Edward Greisch says:

    18 Ric Merritt: I was under the impression that drylabbing and other dishonesty would be generally career-ending for a scientist at a prestigious institution. The Harvard-Smithsonian center for anything would qualify as a prestigious institution.

    “Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which houses the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.” is from:

    According to Wikipedia: “The center was founded in 1973 as a joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University.”

    The prestige of both Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution are on the line since both are involved in the center. If I were in charge of either, Soon would be out the door before Soon was hired. There is just too much to loose to have a character like that around.

    The normal course of events should see Soon employed at a very small college in the boondocks or working for Koch directly or entirely out of science.

  27. 27
    Paul S says:

    Is that considered a solid result? The 25% due to solar variation?

    [Response: More recent work suggests it is smaller, but that’s because estimates of the magnitude of the solar forcing variations have been reduced. Lots of discussion in IPCC volumes on this.–eric]

    I would think the march of time is a factor too. The temperature series used in that paper ends in 1990 and there has been about 0.3K warming since then (about 1/3 of the total since 1850) under declining solar forcing. I suspect the same analysis with the same solar forcing calibration would find a substantially smaller contribution if brought up to date.

  28. 28

    MRM (22),

    When I regress Hadley CRUTEM4 temperature anomalies on CO2 and International Sunspot Number from 1850 to 2014, I get 80% of variance accounted for by carbon dioxide and 3% by solar variation.

  29. 29

    #22, 23–More specifically, Chapter 8 of the WG 1 report deals with all manner of natural and anthropogenic forcings (including perennial fave, the water vapor feedback.) Direct link:

    As a provisional bottom line number–‘provisional’ because uncertainties still exist–Figure 8.15 (p. 697) gives solar forcing for 175-2011 as ~0.05 W/m2 (roughly comparable to the effects of contrail-induced cirrus, or stratospheric water vapor due to methane breakdown), while total anthropogenic forcing is ~2.3 W/m2.

  30. 30
    Ric Merritt says:

    Edward Greisch @26, replying to my 18:

    We agree about most of this.

    If you are an official at Harvard U, you are probably at pains to point out that Soon’s paycheck does not say “Harvard U”, and you do not have hiring and firing authority. Firing would entail a long due process in any case, and regardless of other ethical issues, while there Soon retains the academic freedom to be quite right or quite wrong.

    The particular comparison I would be curious about would be to other lapses by other scientists. If for example someone omitted a required disclosure, or several, but was otherwise respected (and even maybe favored by people like us RealClimate readers, however you define and measure that), that would be a nice case to test the appropriate degree of dudgeon. Have other academics ever been fired for this cause? The absence of such cases would also be interesting. Similar cases are not the easiest Google search, and lack of cases even harder to confirm, so the question would best be addressed by someone with long experience in the area.

  31. 31
    BillS says:

    One of life’s mysteries, is why anyone would lend any credence to Willie Soon’s ideas about climate science (or any number of others like him).
    Apparently his PhD is aerospace engineering — all well and good — but would anyone solicit his opinion if they had a heart attack? Or ask him to help develop a new cholesterol drug?

    Stick a PhD after your name and all of a sudden you become an expert on whatever catches your fancy? Most of us know better than that.

  32. 32
    t marvell says:

    This behind-the-scenes funding will always happen some way or another. This was only caught because the Soon happened to be employed by the government.

    I think the more important issue is the failure of the peer review system in climate science, which permits Soon’s stuff to be published. How many reviewers are there for an article? Do the journals routinely publish letters pointing out problems with papers that the authors did not mention? It is mandatory that authors make available programs, models, and data used?
    In my experience the powers that be in a discipline like to keep review systems weak so they can publish more.

  33. 33
    toby52 says:

    26, Edward Greisch

    Soon should not worry – there will surely be a position for him with the Cato Institute or some such, as an official martyr to the international climate conspiracy, with regular appearances as a “Foxpert” on Fox News, where he can join Joe Bastardi. Senate appearances cannot be ruled out either, not with Inhofe riding high.


  34. 34
    GregH says:

    Although, since it’s not really his area of expertise, he could soon be a candidate for the EPA’s Science Advisory Council:

  35. 35
    Ray Ladbury says:

    T. Marvell
    1) Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is not gummint
    2) Peer review is a low bar that is not intended to keep the literature free of incorrect or flawed work. All it does is determine whether the work might be of interest to special-ists in the field. A paper that is wrong in an interesting way may have a better chance of getting published than a paper that is correct but trivial.
    3)The scientific literature presumes sufficient familiarity with the field that you can tell the difference between wrong-but-interesting and correct.

    P. S. I want to kick the crap out of the marketer that came up with the name


  36. 36

    #33–‘Fraid I missed the sarcasm in the response. :-(

  37. 37
    JRHS says:

    Time to expose the fake!

    “From a legal point of view,” he said, “there is no such entity as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.” And Mr. Soon is employed only by the Smithsonian, Mr. Alcock said. “It’s always been that way. He has never had any Harvard appointment.”

    A Harvard University spokesman, Jeff A. Neal, provided a written statement saying the institution “takes the appropriate use, and the inappropriate misuse, of the university name very seriously. When made aware of a potential issue related to the misuse of the Harvard name, we communicate our expectations to the relevant individuals or organizations.”

  38. 38
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    @36 – Soon is no fake. From what I can see he is this guy, who has marginal capabilities as a scientist and is operating outside his area of training, and therefore showing marginal incompetence in his “research”.

    To the Denialist industry he is a useful idiot that they can use to peddle their poison.

    On a personal level, I am sad for Soon, just as I am sad for people suffering from cognitive failure who imagine they are doing great things when in fact they are simply humiliating themselves.

  39. 39
    patrick says:

    @36 link: Paul Basken, Charles R. Alcock, & W. John Kress:

    > an astrophysicist

    > Mr. Soon has routinely listed himself as representing “the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.”

    Soon’s PhD is in aerospace engineering, not astrophysics. So the first association that comes Soon’s way by association with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is the astrophysicist label–a label which Mr. Basken perpetuates, inadvertently or not.

    [Notwithstanding, that “From a legal point of view, there is no such entity as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.”]

    Were the responsible parties not so solicitous to defend the reputation of Harvard and/or the Smithsonian first and above all, then they might take a try at defending truth itself, and integrity.

    “He [Soon] was publishing science. …not the highest quality research [but] research carried out in a scientific process.” [reference above] Surely Mr. Kress must jest. Surely he must mean that Soon was publishing anti-science: science

    “I’m as qualified as anybody that you know on this planet on this topic.” [aplause] –Wei-Hock Soon (3rd video, 3:13):


    This video is from the event noted as “an event in Madison Wisconsin in 2013” by Justin Gillis’ piece in the New York Times Feb 21, which quotes Soon disavowing the influence of money.

    Same video is one of two at DeSmogBlog that show how Soon has reacted angrily to questions about funding sources but acknowledged some corporate ties and said they had not altered his findings, as reported by Gillis.

    Skeptical Science credits Gillis for larger context on Soon–and adds the trailer for “Merchants of Doubt,” the movie, plus video backstory on the movie from Climate Crocks:

    Charles R. Alcock (reported by Gillis) says that it’s important to defend Soon’s academic freedom even if most of his colleagues disagree with his findings. Center of Astrophysics spokeswoman Christine Pulliam is expansive on academic freedom but not on the Center’s responsibility for disclosing funding sources. Soon should have followed the policies on disclosure of the journals that published him, she says, as reported in the Guardian:

    To which Ms. Oreskes has said: Let’s be clear, this is not about academic freedom, it’s about academic integrity.

    The keys to the shady kingdom will be found by listening to Mark Morano (he’s in the trailer): “We’re the negative force, we’re just trying to stop stuff.”

    And from there, by following the money.

    So it’s about a B.A. in political science (“Keep it simple. People will fill in the blanks with their own–I hate to say biases–their own perceptions…”) versus scientists who deal with understanding complexity and how to quantify it.

    Remarks by Soon reported at InsideClimate News are so contrary to the Smithsonian’s own published policy on climate change and so generally off the rail that the Smithsonian needs to investigate itself, I think.

    Till the Smithsonian investigates itself one can consider this:

    –and begin to deconstruct the matter with the series of five posts that starts with this one:

  40. 40
    patrick says:

    Correction, my comment 28 Feb 2015 at 11:58 AM:

    > @36 link

    Should read: > @37 link

    by JHRS 27 Feb 2015 at 9:05 PM

  41. 41
    Ken Caldeira says:

    Willie Soon’s science is obviously bad, but that does not necessarily mean that he is a bad person.

    It is entirely likely that monied interests starting giving him money because he believed and said things that were to their advantage.

    He probably got a lot of positive reinforcement from these people when saying silly things at the Heartland Institute, in Congressional hearings, and other venues. Human psychology is very adept at justifying beliefs that we already hold, especially when giving up those beliefs would require questioning our self worth and affect us adversely in material ways.

    I would prefer to assume that people are basically sincere, honest, and act in good faith, but they are prone to human weakness.

    This is related to the question of whether we prefer to view problems through a medical lens or a morality lens. Is a drug addict a sick person or a criminal (or both)?

    I don’t know the details about Willie Soon, but it is a mistake to think we can know somebody else’s motivations and intentions just by looking at their actions from afar.

    It is obvious that Willie Soon’s “science” is pretty bad and politically counterproductive. However, we should refrain from thinking that we understand his motivations. Without explicit information to the contrary, we should assume that even bad scientists who are weak people are sincere, fundamentally honest, and acting in good faith.

    When in doubt, let’s adopt the generous alternative. We can see Willie Soon as a troubled man worthy of our sympathy, rather than as a bad man.

  42. 42
    Hank Roberts says:

    monied interests starting giving him money because he believed and said things that were to their advantage.

    He probably got a lot of positive reinforcement

    Thank you Ken Caldeira. I’ve been trying to think how to express what you said so well. Money is powerful reinforcement, and we get shaped without being aware it’s happening. No one is immune. Choosing an environment to avoid temptation can help.

    Famous anecdotes about shaping behavior

  43. 43
    patrick says:

    Sorry for the faulty link to DeSmogBlog (for John Mashey on anti-science).

    It should be:

  44. 44
    Killian says:

    #41 and #42 Language matters, as do the evidence of either ignoring or distorting facts. That first paper by Soon and Baliunas was so flawed I was able to figure it out, and I have zero skills WRT the technical side of climate science.

    Soon’s comments, and even language in his work is clearly biased. Someone seeking to merely understand does not do that. They don’t need to. I have zero doubt that all of the well-known FF-supported researchers know what they are doing, or eventually figured it out.

    More tellingly, their research would find balance at some point, but it never does. It continually leans and continually is found to lean due to design and choices in interpretation.

    Sorry, but it is naive to assume naivete on their parts. None of this is accidental. I do, however, firmly believe the ideology of some, if not all, allows them to engage in some serious rationalization. The problem with rationalization is, we know we are doing it, so we are back to intentionality.

    I would ask the scientists who contribute to the blog, can you honestly say the choices and conclusions you see in their papers do not show a clear trend of bias toward an outcome?

  45. 45
    calyptorhynchus says:

    One question which has always puzzled me is this: why didn’t the Kochs et al simply look at the science in the mid 1990s and start changing their businesses over to renewables?

  46. 46

    Has Ken read the Heartland Institute’s latest effusion on Willie’s behalf?

    If irony had mass, it would have an event horizon.

  47. 47

    That’s a good question, and I don’t pretend to know the answer with any detail or certainty. But quite likely this provides a clue:

    Influenced by the sentiments of their father, who was present at the birth of the John Birch Society, Charles and David have spent decades trying to remake the American political landscape and mainline their libertarian views into the national bloodstream. They now control a machine that is a center of gravity within the Republican Party. To their supporters, they are liberating America from the scourge of Big Government. To their detractors, they are political “contract killers,” as David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s chief strategist, put it during the 2012 campaign.


    IOW, it’s ideology all the way down.

  48. 48
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    What passes for science at the Heartland Institute.

    Must see.

  49. 49
  50. 50
    SqueakyRat says:

    @45 To do so would require an acknowledgment of massive sunk costs. Always difficult.

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