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2015 SkS Weekly Digest #8

Posted on 22 February 2015 by John Hartz

SkS Highlights

Missing Arctic warming does contribute to the hiatus, but it is only one piece in the puzzle by Kevin C generated the most chatter of the articles posted on SkS during the past week.     

Breaking News

For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher by Justin Gillis & John Schwartz, New York Times, Feb 21, 2014

Toon of the Week

2015 Toon 8

Hat tip to I Heart Climate Scientists. 

Quote of the Week

“The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” said Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University and the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a book about such campaigns. “Willie Soon is playing a role in a certain kind of political theater.”

Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher by Justin Gillis & John Schwartz, New York Times, Feb 21, 2014

SkS in the News

Brian Angliss' Rouges & Scholar's blog post, Peddlers of climate change deceit have significant advantages over climate realists contains a link to the Advanced version of the SkS rebuttal article, CO2 is plant food.

Skeptical Science: Getting skeptical about global warming skeptcism is the title of a one pragraph description of, and links to, SkS included in the The Scout Report - Volume 27, Number 7 posted by Internet Scout, Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Suffolk students debunk climate myths, research paper published posted on the Long Island Exchange concludes with:

Professor Mandia is one of 13 international scientists and professors who are instructors in the Massive Online Open Course  (MOOC)  titled Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. This MOOC is set to go live in April 2015 and is produced by The University of Queensland, Australia.

The Consensus Project webpage is linked to by Greg Laden in his blog post, Climate Science vs. Climate Science Denial in Word Clouds

Letters-to-the Editor We Like

As for the denier myth of “global cooling” the letter contained, it was, as always, put forward with no proof. You can see this myth and all the other climate denier myths disproven by real climate scientists using peer-reviewed climate science on the Skeptical Science website.

The Washington Post has praised Skeptical Science as “the most prominent and detailed website to counter arguments from global warming skeptics” It is affiliated with no political, business, or charitable entity, unlike public climate deniers who can always be found to be secretly taking money from fossil fuel corporations for their stance on global warming.

The climate change solution by Pete Kuntz, Battle Creek Enquirer, Feb 20, 2015 

Coming Soon on SkS

  • Climatology versus Pseudoscience (Dana)
  • Telegraph wrong again on temperature adjustments (Kevin C)
  • 2015 SkS News Bulletin #1: Adjusting Temperature Records (John Hartz)
  • New Series: Science Communicators – Why We Love Communicating Science (Collin Maessen)
  • 2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #9A (John Hartz)
  • President Obama's Keystone Decision (John Abraham)
  • Scientists discuss how strongly a warming Arctic is implicated in extreme weather (Robert McSweeney)
  • 2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #9B (John Hartz)
  • 2015 SkS Weekly Digest #9 (John Hartz) 

Poster of the Week

2015 Poster 8

SkS Week in Review

97 Hours of Consensus: Raymond Pierrehumbert

97 Hours: Pierrehumbert 

Raymond Pierrehumbert's bio page

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Comments 1 to 15:

  1. Going after Willie for funding is a mistake that I wish this site would not commit. It plays right into the hands of deniers who claim that ALL scientists are just saying what the funders want to hear.

    I have no problem with journals withdrawing his articles because he broke the contracts which require disclosure.

    Most important though, is to use the scientific method, that is to stick to his science as published and show how it is wrong and to make sure the peer review process is clean. Both can be done and that really is the way to go.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] If you insert "Willie Soon" into the SkS search box, you will find that the SkS author team has already thoroughly debunked Soon's published pseudo-science.

  2. The comments on the NY Times article include some hints of how the people who create and try to prolong any success of deception or misrepresentation of what is going on (including "Climategate"), will respond to this.

    There are posts indicating that the focus should be on the impressions of scientific merit of the creations of the likes of Soon, not the actual validity of it just the public perceptions of it, and there should be no consideration of the potential motivations of the likes of Soon or awareness of the connections between the participants in the creation and dissmination of information like Soon's.

    And that type of irrational defense will work in the minds of people who have personal interests that motivate them to uniquely filter each piece of information to maintain their preferred beliefs by establishing perceptions of validity. And such a person would make no connections between contradictory beliefs they hold or the irrationality of such beliefs if better understanding things would challenge their preferred beliefs and interests.

    I have my doubts that Willie Soon (and the people who fund his creation of reports, and the powerful people who refer to and rely on his creations), have duped themselves about what they are doing. I believe it is likely they are well aware of the unacceptability of what they are doing. And I believe that all parts of the chain from the "funding fathers of the creations like the Kochs" through to the "Loudspeakers like Inhofe and Fox News pontificating and disemminating the creations " are connected and aware of the full chain of unacceptable pursuers they are a part of.

    Hopefully the exposure of this case of attempted cover-up and deception will lead some of those who were easily impressed by past actions of the participants in this group to question the validity of what they had previously allowed themselves to believe about this group. However, anyone who still holds perceptions of validity related to "Climategate" cannot be expected to change their mind.

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  3. It is concerning that the supporters of Willie Soon have recently chosen to pay him off through Donors Choose.  That is an organization that is designed to make it impossible for people to determine who is influencing the people they finance.  If all of Soon's money had come from Donor's Choose it would be difficult to show that they were in charge.

    Hopefully as these issues get more vetting in the press rules will be passed to make Donor's Choose and their like release who is financing them.  I for one am not holding my breath waiting for that change.

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  4. I am sorry, the organization that funds hidden donations is called Donors Trust, not Donors choose.

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  5. From today's edition of the Climate Nexus broadcast email Hot News:

    Big Money for Denier Research: Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon, a scientist favored by climate deniers, received over $1.2 million from energy industry companies, lobby groups, and billionaires for his research 'deliverables,' new documents show. Soon pushes the widely-discredited theory that the sun is responsible for climate change, not greenhouse gas emissions. He appears to have violated the ethical guidelines of at least eight journals by his failure to disclose this conflict of interest. Soon, often described as a 'Harvard astrophysicist,' has a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering and is employed by the Smithsonian Institution at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (News: New York Times $, Guardian, InsideClimate News, Science Magazine, Tech Times, Mic, ThinkProgress, The Verge, Boston Globe $. Commentary: Mother Jones, Kevin Drum column, Discover Magazine, Tom Yulsman column)

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  6. Re. Moderator's Comment. I thoroughly agree. Do address his pseudoscience here and in the literature.

    What I disagree with is going after him for his funding sources. All this does is validate denier claims about how science works. Scientific publishing and communication must stay above that level as much as possible even though we all know corporate monies at the very least nibble around the edges of many big money fields all the time (can you say "big Pharma"?). I have worked at Memorial University for 3.5 decades which had a bit of a problem with a big money researcher publishing in the BMJ a while back as many may know. But the money was not the point, the science was.

    It simply is a mistake in my opinion to go after him for funding sources as pretty much every other comment has done. Go after the science.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Do you blieve it was a mistake for SkS to address "Climategate"?

  7. jgnfld @1 and @6, providing a link to a story that is in the news in the weekly digest hardly constitutes "going after" Willie Soon.  It is in the news, and it is relevant to the public debate on climate change.  Further, as it is going to be in the news, it is worthwhile discussing the issue to make sure we know which claims are justified, and which are not.  That includes defending Willie Soon from claims that are unjustified, but which have been made by some people.  For example, there is no evidence that Willie Soon stated opinions he did not hold in order to gain funding.  Rather, he sort and gained funding from people who liked the opinions he was known to hold.  In another example, a clause in the contract relating to his funding from Southern Company Services has been interpreted as allowing Southern to review and request ammendments to his research, wheras interpreted in context it allows Southern that right only with respect to publicity for Soon's research (ie, press releases and the like).

    Of course, the same process does find ethical issues with Soon's funding arrangements.  Directly, and most obviously is Soon's failure to disclose the source of his funding, even where explicitly required to do so by conditions of publication in journals.  Also of concern is his failure to deliver on the explicit research contracted for, but substituting general anti-AGW research and conference appearances as adequate substitutes - a substitution accepted as adequate by Southern.  While this does not suggest Soon was expressing opinions he did not hold, it does suggest that he and Southern understood the funding to be for opposition to AGW rather than for some specific piece of research.

    I entirely agree with you that these points should not be the main focus, or even a major focus in discussion of Willie Soon's work.  As purportedly scientific research, it stands and falls on the science - something more than adequately addressed at SkS as pointed out by the moderator.  That they are not a major focus, and not relevant to the validity of the research, however, in no way implies that it should not be discussed.

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  8. jgnfld, a small addendum to my prior post.  You say:

    "It simply is a mistake in my opinion to go after him for funding sources as pretty much every other comment has done. Go after the science."

    The fact is that Soon has not published a paper recently (SFAIK), but that his funding is in the news.  Ergo it is no surprise, and no problem that comments discuss what was in the news.  If the comments had equally focussed on his funding after a post criticizing one of his papers, you would have had a valid point.

    Unfortunately, there is no such post on SkS (contrary to my prior impression and claim in the preceding post), although there are posts directly assessing the general thrust of his arguments that do not mention him by name.

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  9. jgnfld @1:

    Going after Willie for funding is a mistake that I wish this site would not commit. It plays right into the hands of deniers who claim that ALL scientists are just saying what the funders want to hear.

    When science-deniers claim that ALL all scientists are just saying what the funders want to hear, they are implying that all funders want to hear something in particular.  It gives reality-based people the chance to expose the obvious flaw in the denier's logic: while it's no secret that a funding sources like Southern Company Services is protecting its investments, why would, say, the National Science Foundation be biased one way or another?  At all times, the difference between the obvious profit motive of fossil-fuel investors, and the clear public interest behind sources like NSF, can to be highlighted.  I recommend this piece by John Timmer of arstechnica as an example of how it should be done.

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    Moderator Response:

    The use of "all-caps" is akin to shouting and is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

  10. My comment seems highly unpopular(!), but I think the main point was partially missed except perhaps by Mal. My point is that going after funding simply VALIDATES validates what deniers assert all the time. I simply think that is a serious strategic error, personally.

    WRT Mal's point, as you know it is an article of faith among deniers that what you know to be true, that funding agencies are arms-length, is not at all the case. Funding agencies are controlled by various agendas to produce specific results. That means the message to the broader public from science is that Soon is biased because of funding and the message to the public from deniers is that science is biased by the funding. It is this (seeming) parallel logic that the broader public hears that worries me. Especially when going after his (supposed) scientific statements is so easy and direct.

    Is this a totally senseless worry?  It's not that I am not appalled by certain behaviors on his part.

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    Moderator Response:

    The use of "all-caps" is akin to shouting and is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

  11. Added (or can a mod merge?): Going after appalling overt personal actions and behaviors is totally fair game as well. That would include (apparent) dishonesty in declarations of conflicts of interest and possibly the use of the word "deliverables" depending on surrounding context. I hope journals, in particlar, would look very carefully into this matter.

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  12. jgnfld @10 & 11, perhaps you should read my comments again.  Particularly the sentence where I say:

    "For example, there is no evidence that Willie Soon stated opinions he did not hold in order to gain funding."

    There is evidence, however, that he gained funding because he held (or at least, was prepared to propogate) certain opinions.  If the deniers want to turn that around and say that there is no evidence that the 97% of climate scientists state opinions they do not hold, but that they gain funding because of the opinions they hold, they are still left grasping at straws to explain why 97% of climate scientists disagree with them.  As in so many areas, we can have a reasonable discussion of the problems in certain funding methods, whereas the deniers cannot, for the deniers require a reason to believe that 97%  of climate scientists are not guided by the evidence, and such a reason does not exist.

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  13. "My point is that going after funding simply VALIDATES what deniers assert all the time"

    Deniers bewail many things, some of which are true and some are untrue.  There is evidence that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, there is evidence that human activities are driving the warming of our world...and there is evidence that Soon's funding was predicated upon "deliverables"; then the specific nature of the deliverables is fair game.  And the failure by Soon to divulge his remunerations and links to industry is also fair game.

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  14. Re SkS rebuttals of Willie Soon, we sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees...

    This “it’s the sun” claim is an extremely popular argument with climate change doubters — according to the website Skeptical Science, it is the second most popular anti-global warming argument of them all, second only to “climate’s changed before.” So is there any truth to it? After all, regardless of who supports his research, if Soon is actually right on the substance then we may be getting all worked up about global warming for nothing.

    No, the sun isn’t driving global warming by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Feb 23, 2015

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  15. Inside Climate News has the best writeup on the Soon debacle that I have seen thus far.

    Quoting Soon: "For polar bears... you do want to watch out for ice. Too much ice is really bad for polar bears."

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