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Rather sad news on climate research


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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.

 

Full article

 

The real issue is not that he received funding from corporations, but that he did not declare conflict of interest in his published articles. That being said, it should be noted that the researcher in question was a part-time employee and had to secure funding for his job himself. It is obvious that people in that position are most vulnerable to financial incentives from the private sector (if only to keep their job), which is one of the reason why tenure was implemented in the first place.

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I was just reading that article. "Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher"

NYT says "He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers."

 

Gosh, if the government and academia offer those same incentives, I could see why people would be skeptical of any science.

I wonder if the pockets of academia and government are as deep....

~ :huh:

 

p.s. But that's not that much, per year; the wrongdoing is the lack of declaration on

all that 'research' with which his name has so famously become associated.

Edited by Essay
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It is sad as this I am sure will be used by both sides of the spectrum on climate change in some way or another. In a slightly wider context this does not help with the public image of scientists and if they are trust worthy.

 

I have noticed that very recently more and more mathematics journals are asking about conflict of interest. For me this seemed strange as I could not think what on Earth they mean in my case. Details of who funded you are often requested. Moreover, this can sometimes be a contractual obligation with who is funding you. Maybe not so when a fossil fuel company funds a climate scientist, that could be something they both rather not disclose in public.

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No, no, no. It's only money that funds pro-AGW conclusions that corrupts scientists.

 

That said, a million over a decade is not a huge sum, if the researcher has to pay his/her salary out of the research grant. Hell, I've accepted a similar amount in support from the government over the last decade.

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It is sad as this I am sure will be used by both sides of the spectrum on climate change in some way or another. In a slightly wider context this does not help with the public image of scientists and if they are trust worthy.

 

I have noticed that very recently more and more mathematics journals are asking about conflict of interest. For me this seemed strange as I could not think what on Earth they mean in my case. Details of who funded you are often requested. Moreover, this can sometimes be a contractual obligation with who is funding you. Maybe not so when a fossil fuel company funds a climate scientist, that could be something they both rather not disclose in public.

 

I am thinking that it is common in many areas that are even vaguely applied (be it medical, biotech or engineering related). I guess more fundamental journals do not require it as much. But pretty much any biological/chemical journal I know requires a declaration (even if you just say there are none)

 

No, no, no. It's only money that funds pro-AGW conclusions that corrupts scientists.

 

That said, a million over a decade is not a huge sum, if the researcher has to pay his/her salary out of the research grant. Hell, I've accepted a similar amount in support from the government over the last decade.

 

That is important to note. It is not that he got 1.2 mills in his pocket. Assuming a base salary of 50k and another 25k for benefits it would pretty much just pay for him and a postdoc/student for the time frame. Imagine if he had to pay for experimental costs. Now, the real point is not that the industry swamps people with money, but rather that the situation (i.e. having to rely on soft money for financing your position) may make it very cheap for them to influence results.

It is less of an issue if they draft a contract which states that the company has no influence on the publication of results. However, one can easily imagine that people relying on soft money are less inclined to anger their sole source of funding.

Edited by CharonY
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OK, so his interpretation of results may be corrupted by his conflict of interest.

Now I'm not aware of his research myself, but peer review would take into account his methodology.

As for the data, unless falsified in some way, it should stand alone, shouldn't it ?

And if not falsified, it should be repeatable by others.

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OK, so his interpretation of results may be corrupted by his conflict of interest.

Now I'm not aware of his research myself, but peer review would take into account his methodology.

As for the data, unless falsified in some way, it should stand alone, shouldn't it ?

And if not falsified, it should be repeatable by others.

 

Aye there's the rub. Most of the profession disagrees with him, and at least one paper raised questions about the peer review, while other publications were not in peer-reviewed publications

 

Many of these articles were not published in peer-reviewed journals, but were rather published by organizations skeptical of climate change such as the Fraser Institute (here andhere), The George C. Marshall Institute (here and here), and in the skeptical science journal Energy & Environment (here).

 

 

Also, it's not just that he failed to disclose the conflict of interest, it's that he declared no conflict of interest on publication forms. That's a more serious infraction — it's not a simple error of omission.
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Actually the issue here is an ethical one first. However, that does question the integrity of the author as a declaration would have been the usual procedure. The validity of the actual research has come under scrutiny due to a variety of different reasons as part of the usual scientific discussion (but which was not the core of the news segment).

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I think a part of it relates to mutual interests. Politicians are found that think a certain political way which are in line with their constituency. In this way both the politician and their constituency are happy.

 

I suspect the same thing goes on with researchers. Many think a certain way based upon their education, past studies and research. To provide more evidence for that line of thinking and point of view, groups, foundations, trusts, companies etc. for varying reasons which agree with this line of thinking look for those that agree with them to do related research, or independent research to come to conclusions which may be more compatible with their own views.

 

I don't think an agreement usually exists beforehand that a certain conclusion to a research project is required before funding is provided. In such cases I expect that when the study's conclusions are in agreement with its funder's beliefs or interests, the results will be highly promoted by these funders, if not only the researchers themselves will promote their research and their results.

 

So I don't believe a conflict of interest is necessarily involved in most cases.

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I don't think an agreement usually exists beforehand that a certain conclusion to a research project is required before funding is provided. In such cases I expect that when the study's conclusions are in agreement with its funder's beliefs or interests, the results will be highly promoted by these funders, if not only the researchers themselves will promote their research and their results.

 

So I don't believe a conflict of interest is necessarily involved in most cases.

 

Nope that is not how it works. If the research already has a forgone conclusion it will not be considered for funding. You need to test a novel hypothesis before it is even considered. The actual review is typically done by peers, not by the funding agencies, if we talk about public funding. Finally, dissemination of the information is the job of the researcher and not of the funding agencies nor of the referees, who will be busy with other things at this point.

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That said, a million over a decade is not a huge sum, if the researcher has to pay his/her salary out of the research grant. Hell, I've accepted a similar amount in support from the government over the last decade.

That is important to note. It is not that he got 1.2 mills in his pocket

It is not that he didn't just pocket most of the money, either. The granted money was not his sole income over the years, and I get the impression he doesn't need to buy much in the way of equipment.

Generally, guys in his position can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar - and he's surrounded by cookie jars.

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It is not that he didn't just pocket most of the money, either. The granted money was not his sole income over the years, and I get the impression he doesn't need to buy much in the way of equipment.

Generally, guys in his position can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar - and he's surrounded by cookie jars.

 

 

If he's in a soft-money position he pays his salary and overhead (often around half of the grant amount) as well as a possible grad student or postdoc (as CharonY noted) out of it. Harvard-Smithsonian also got money from this.

 

http://www.desmogblog.com/2015/02/27/harvard-smithsonian-profited-much-willie-soon-fossil-fuel-funding

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Generally, guys in his position can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar - and he's surrounded by cookie jars.

 

 

What position would that be? One of no power and constant threat of unemployment (you did read the article, didn't you)?

Note that his actions are deplorable, but equating the situation being surrounded by cookie jars is about far from reality as it gets (unless you are saying that cookies are his only food...).

I should note that it is not 100% sure whether he is getting money from the Smithsonian as the article only states that he is a part-timer. But typically these positions tend to only provide affiliation, and you have to get your whole salary from third parties.

Edited by CharonY
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What position would that be? One of no power and constant threat of unemployment (you did read the article, didn't you)?

Something like that, and also a large and organized body of extremely wealthy people very much interested in helping him out in life - as silently, on both sides, as possible.

 

It's possible Soon was simply and only a victim of a character flaw meeting desperation and abuse, like a low level dealer or gambling addict, but it's been many years now of an ongoing pattern. I don't think we're going to be seeing researcher Soon driving semi over the road, or even teaching high school, regardless of the outcome of what should be a careful investigation into not only his financing, but his personal connections.

 

The point being: climate change denial is in part an organized, deliberate, massive fraud, a vast rightwing conspiracy - hundreds of billions of dollars ride on it, in the hands of people who know exactly what they have at stake.

 

Such things do exist, and this is one of them. And Soon has been an important player, witting or unwitting - how unwitting do you want to bet he was?

Edited by overtone
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I am not going to excuse his behavior, however nowadays we have a huger workforce of scientist who have only temporary jobs which are dependent on external funding. Also if he had connections he would not be in a dead-end job to begin with. Assuming that this was his sole source of funding, and further assuming that he did not hire anyone else, the reported number would not be much higher than a highschool teacher job (a bit higher than the median).

 

If you are an established researcher, you have a much better standing in establishing the terms of this contracts. When I get corporate contracts for a study, it is par of the course to put a something in that allows me to freely disseminate the data (they may get a first look, but will have not veto power). Even if they cut off funding after that I do not care, as my salary is independent from that money.

 

There is the side issue that universities have cut down on faculty positions and instead employ adjuncts for teaching and unpaid soft-money researchers to get external funding in. Considering that their salaries are comparatively low, they are easy targets for groups with deep pockets.

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Also if he had connections he would not be in a dead-end job to begin with.
Depends. His job credentials have been critical to his usefulness to the Heartland Institute, say, or the Koch brothers in their efforts to influence US Federal legislation - from their pov, there's nothing "dead end" about it.

 

 

Assuming that this was his sole source of funding, -
Again: very wealthy and well-organized people have much to be grateful for, from Soon's consistent and otherwise invisibly motivated efforts on their behalf. As Don Corleone put it in the The Godfather, they "know how to return a favor". That's the situation, observable from an outside perspective without information. Given that, how would you bet?
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