Willie Soon: Conflicted Climate Science and Role of Science Journals

Media Update – coverage of the report below:

Science Magazine – “Journals investigate climate skeptic author’s ties to fossil fuel firm as new allegations arise“, by David Malakoff

Inside Climate News – “Willie Soon’s Fossil Fuel-Funded Work Draws Ethics Review From Publisher“,  by David Hasemyer

Guardian – “Climate sceptic researcher investigated over funding from fossil fuel firms“,  by Suzanne Goldenberg

PLoS Public Library of Science New Charges of Climate Skeptic’s Undisclosed Ties to Energy Industry Highlight Journals’ Role as Gatekeeper, by Liza Gross

Nature Earth science wrestles with conflict-of-interest policies, by Jeff Tollefsen, June 24, 2015


Willie Soon and Conflicted Climate Science

Today we are releasing a report summarizing our communications with science journals over the past four months regarding Willie Soon’s lack of disclosure of sources of financial support to those science journals and in Soon’s research and commentary published in peer reviewed literature.  The introduction and summary of findings are below.

View and download the full report, Willie Soon and Conflicted Climate Science, on DocumentCloud

Additionally, we have queried two prestigious journals where Willie Soon has published commentary and papers, while declaring no conflict of interest.

We sent the report to the National Academy of Sciences with a letter inquiring about a piece that Willie Soon published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2014.  View letter to PNAS.

We sent a letter to Nature regarding a March 2015 paper Soon co-authored in Nature Geoscience.  View letter to Nature.

Willie Soon and Conflicted Climate Science:

Science Journals Unwittingly Serve

As A Conduit For Corporate Interests 

June 2015


The Climate Investigations Center (CIC) monitors the individuals and organizations trying to delay the implementation of sound energy and environmental policies that are necessary in the face of the climate crisis.

For more than twenty five years, the fossil fuel companies and their allies have adopted a strategy of “manufacturing doubt” as a means of stalling and subverting regulation, similar to the strategy deployed by the tobacco industry when facing mounting pressure by regulators seeking to protect public health.[1]  With oil, coal and utility companies at the lead, corporate interests have pushed uncertainty about the scientific consensus on climate change as an explicit strategy.  Numerous leaked documents and investigations have revealed efforts that often include tactical funding of scientists who believe or are willing to express a counter-narrative, creating the impression that the scientific community is divided on the urgency of climate change.

In February 2015, we released documents with Greenpeace produced by a five-year investigation into the corporate funding of Dr. Willie Soon, a well-known climate science denier, of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, a part of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA).

Since 2001, Dr. Soon has received grants from fossil fuel vested corporate interests totaling more than $1.2 Million dollars.  These funders are the Southern Company, ExxonMobil Corporation, the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the American Petroleum Institute.  The only other funding he has received in this time period are anonymous grants from the secretive DonorsTrust organization totaling nearly $325,000.[2]

This report summarizes the latest findings of our ongoing investigation, focusing on the response by scientific journals in which Dr. Soon published his work and failed to reveal any conflict of interest or corporate funding, while reporting these same published papers to his corporate donors as “deliverables” in his grant reports.  Our report is based on a review of internal Harvard-Smithsonian CfA documents and emails, Soon’s papers published in journals, and responses we received from nine journals that published Soon’s work.


Based upon our review of all of the above materials, we report the following:

  • Dr. Soon has engaged in a reckless pattern of disregard for basic ethical standards of science, by failing to disclose his industry funding and conflicts of interest.
  • An ethics team from the publisher Elsevier is now investigating the matter. Six of the “deliverables” were published in four different Elsevier journals. Correspondence from Soon’s lawyers has been forwarded from one of the journals to Elsevier.
  • The American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate has changed Dr. Soon’s 2009 study, adding a “publisher’s note and an amendment to the acknowledgments that make clear [Soon’s] funding source.” The note reads: “This article was revised on 13 March 2015 to include in the acknowledgement section the following statement: Dr. Willie Soon received support from the Southern Company under agreement for SAO Proposal P6882-1-08.”
  • Eleven of Dr. Soon’s studies listed as “deliverables” were published in eight science journals and one law school quarterly. None of the studies disclosed Dr. Soon’s industry funding.
  • The journals in question are published by six different publishers including EDP, Elsevier, UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall, INFORMS, American Meteorological Society, and Taylor & Francis.
  • Six of the eight science journals have conflict of interest policies that appear to have been violated by Dr. Soon’s failure to report his corporate funding.
  • Three journals do not appear have a conflict of interest policy to violate.
  • Five of the journals state they are looking into the matter, and four of those state that they plan to take future action.
  • The law journal Ecology Law Quarterly states they have no conflict of interest policy but will explore implementing a disclosure rule for all law journals at UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall.
  • The journal Physical Geography responded to our letter by saying they do not have conflict of interest policy to violate, even though one exists.
  • The journal Astronomy and Astrophysics states it has no conflict of interest policy and Soon’s industry funding is irrelevant.

[1] Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming,” Bloomsbury Press, Reprint 2011.

[2] Climate Investigations Center, “Willie Soon Scandal: Corporate Funding Year by Year”, Feb 27, 2015. https://climateinvestigations.org/willie-soon-scandal-corporate-funding-year-by-year

Posted by Kert Davies