The funding entities, regardless of their affiliation, have no influence on the research

Or so says Christine Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. And yet we discover that Soon’s research was (partially) funded by Southern Company Services, with whom Soon had and agreement, signed by Smithsonian’s William J. Ford, contract and grant specialist; and Bryan Baldwin, Southern’s manager of environmental assessment.:

As further consideration to SCS [Southern Company Services], Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for comment and input, if any, from SCS

The assertion of no influence doesn’t make sense, if there’s a special agreement in place for SCS to read proposals and comment in advance. Some part of the text isn’t true.

Incidentally, none of his actual funding is news. Greenpeace had that story in early 2013 at least. But, it wasn’t interesting then.

Refs

* I would never be motivated by money for anything
* Documents spur investigation of climate sceptic, Questions raised about conflict-of-interest disclosures by Willie Soon, Nature, Jeff Tollefson, 21 February 2015.

46 thoughts on “The funding entities, regardless of their affiliation, have no influence on the research”

  1. Hmm, so the only thing really new in the NYT is Soon’s revealing use of “deliverables”? Perhaps it’s enough, though.

    But what’s really, really new is what may be an unleashing of sorts. If so, I imagine the Ghost of Revkin Past will be upset.

    Also, that’s some first-class work by them evil greenies.

    Russell: Brilliant as always, but shouldn’t Cisco have been Chico (the actual home of Watts)?

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  2. Thanks Steve- the Greenpeace article has at long last clarified Soon’s Harvard affiliation– he ain’t.

    The ‘Harvard -Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory ‘ is the name of the warren of buildings surrounding the Harvard College Observatory atop Observatory Hill. Soon is affiliated with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory there, not the colocated Harvard Astronomy Department, or the confusingly named Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics , They have separate entrances, staffs and libraries, the SAO being the go to institution when you want to do a space experiment or build an orbital instrument or planetary probe..

    Full disclosure : I coathored a paper with a HSCFA coauthor in 2006 ( http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00114-005-0067-9#page-1)

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  3. So let me get this straight.

    Right wing ideologues complain all the time about scientists being corrupted by their funding, and suggest that they are only in it for the grant money. Because of this, their findings about climate change are fraudulent.

    But when one of their own is called out for being corrupted by funding – suddenly he isn’t influenced by who provides the funds and its all above board.

    Something….. something…. hypocrites.

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  4. mandas writes: “Something….. something…. hypocrites.

    One of the ‘problems’ with the internet is it’s increasingly inhabited by young people and foreigners (i.e., under 50 and not from the USA). I say this not because ‘old and American’ equals good, but because we older Americans at least share a lexicon based on common experiences with the virulent disease known as the modern (post-Vietnam) political conservative.

    Going back to Ronald Reagan, conservatives have become defined by their hypocrisy. It is a general rule that whenever Republicans accuse someone of something, they are themselves guilty of that thing.

    Conservatives read Orwell’s 1984 and said, Hey, what a great idea! They have turned hypocrisy not only into a winning political strategy, but practically an art form.

    It matters not the subject at hand; climate change, economics, foreign policy, etc,. etc. There is almost nothing of substance left in the American political conservative movement that is not at it’s core hypocritical.

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  5. RE: Ghost of Revkin Past

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/climate-roundup/

    “Is there a different standard when a libertarian or industry group does the same, as with this example of a NASA request by Christopher Horner, the same lawyer whose fresh requests to the space agency helped inspire the science group’s statement?”

    Yes!

    Greenpeace isn’t 100% litigation, on the other hand …

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Tradition_Partnership

    ATP/WTP/ATI/WTI/E&EII is (now essentially) 100% litegation:

    “Strategic Fishing Litigation is the cornerstone of E&E Illegal Institute, which is accomplished through two practice areas: Petition Fishing Litigation (lawsuits) and Transparency Fishing (FOIA filings). Its illegal activities are dedicated to originating and supporting actions to protect against government underreach, restore an unhealthy relationship between responsibility to the environment and the free market essential to its destruction, and to secure the unconstitutional and other fundamental wrongs of the free market.”

    (at least Greenpeace doesn’t change its name every three years)

    NOTE: The above quote is 100% satire.

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  6. It is worth perusing the real document dumps:
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1531939-foia-response-willie-soon-2012.html
    Get the 131-page PDF at bottom, easier to search.

    1) A prior review clause is rare in this game, most funders know better.
    2) The way this works, in a continuing funding relationship, is that somebody proposes some work officially, but of course have talked unofficially.
    3) Then at end of time, they say what they did, and funders take that into account for the next grant request.
    One can easily find examples of this cycle in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, as Heartland, CEI, etc beg for money from Big Tobacco, extolling the good work they’ve done over the year.

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  7. Everett F Sargent:

    The FOIA requests you point to are one reason I’ve become dubious about Revkin. I first heard of him in Mark Bowen’s Censoring Science, which described his good reporting on the Bush administration’s distortion of climate-change science. But equating the Greenpeace FOIA request RE: Willie Soon with the CEI’s — which basically says, “Dear NASSA (sic): Please send us copies of all your documents produced since 2000 — is IMO false equivalence.

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  8. Obviously, all scientific research has to be funded. There may be bias due to the source of the funds. The data which has been presented does not indicate significant global warming.

    [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming -W]

    The increase claimed for for 2014 lies within experimental error for measurements.

    [No, you have the wrong meme there. Care to try again? -W]

    Climactic disaster scenarios presented presented recently are pure fiction.

    [I’m not a great fan of “climate disaster” myself, but “presented recently” is very vague. Can to make some actual verifiable references? -W]

    Any responsible person should be concerned about the climate and potential change, but most of the remedies proposed are unlikely to have any positive effect as the data shows.

    [I don’t really understand what you’re saying here. I agree that most of the remedies proposed are far worse than a simple carbon tax – http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2011/06/06/carbon-tax-now-1/. But how you get to any positive effect as the data shows is a mystery to me -W]

    We need to help those nations likely to be affected by rising sea levels.

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  9. With the contractual obligation to provide a pre-publish copy of research for “input” one has to wonder, where are the emails that contain this information? I am betting dollars to doughnuts that these emails were not released as part of the FOIA because they have a private confidentiality clause as part of public/private communications? I would love to see a lawsuit working to get THOSE emails released!

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  10. Whether the source of funding might affect the direction and results of the research is a matter of the integrity of the scientists All research requires funding, sometimes the funding bodies have a vested interest in the outcome of the work.
    That does not automatically imply that the scientists involved will willing or with coercion be selective in their reports, or deliverables.

    But What Soon seems to have done is not a matter of personal conscience. All credible research list the source of funding in the acknowledgements or as the affiliations or the authors.

    The problem is that in the recent Monckton et al paper claimed that there were no affiliations of relevance as they all did the work in their own ‘free’ time.

    As it was the first issue of the Science bullitin perhaps they had not established a code of conduct for disclosure of funding sources, but such is generally considered standard practise, the omission of any accurate disclosure of funding by Soon on this paper, with just his affiliation with the smithsonian mentioned is the act that crosses the line I think, not the funding source.

    Although the prevalent theme of any research that has had W Soon as one of the authors might give rise to the slight suspicion that the deliverables have been cooked to the taste of the funders.

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  11. I’m not bothered at all by the use of the word “deliverables”: grants often list “publication of a paper” as a “deliverable”. Even the review clause is ok. That would only be wrong if the clause said, “the funder must have an opportunity to _approve_ the paper before submission”, but review & comment is acceptable.

    Not disclosing said funding is of course, inappropriate.

    And the bad “science” was… well, just that. It is a pity that there are people out there who are willing to fund things just to have the results out there that they want, and it is a pity that there are politicians who will highlight studies with the results they want with no regards for quality.

    But I’m not sure concentrating on where the funding is coming from is the right approach at an individual level. (at a macro level, yes: if all the papers saying X come from an industry which wants X, and every paper funded independently says Y, that means something).

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  12. The papers themselves weren’t very important, except as building blocks in campaigns to confuse the public.
    Read the 131-pager PDF and look at the talks Soon gave. Some of them are actual science conferences, many are places like Heartland, Doctors for disaster Preparedness, Ayn Rand Institutes.

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  13. “Davies drew attention to Soon’s funding disclosures last month after Soon and three colleagues published a paper in the Chinese journal Science Bulletin that presented results from a simple climate model to argue that burning all recoverable fossil fuel reserves would result in little more than 2.2°C warming. By comparison, models assessed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on average project around 4° of warming with unabated fossil fuel use by 2100 and further warming beyond that time. The paper was appended with the statement: “The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.” Davies wrote to the journal insisting that Soon’s past funding sources do constitute a conflict of interest that should have been reported.

    Science Bulletin’s conflict of interest policy states that authors must disclose “all relationships or interests that could influence or bias the work,” including “professional interests or personal beliefs that may influence your research.” The policy also gives a series of example disclosures. The first reads, “Author A has received research grants from Company A.”

    Lead author Christopher Monckton, a British viscount and former journalist who now serves as chief advisor to the Science and Public Policy Institute, a climate-advocacy group in Haymarket, Virginia, that disputes human-caused global warming, contends that there was no conflict on the Science Bulletin paper and that all of the authors, including Soon, completed the work on their own time. In an e-mail to Nature, he rejected the allegations by Davies as “manifestly untruthful and malevolent.”

    Davies says that Greenpeace has requested Soon’s annual reports to Southern Company for the years 2013 and 2014 to determine whether either of them list the paper in Science Bulletin as a ‘deliverable’.”

    Fuck me! If the Monkers ‘paper’ does show up as a ‘deliverable’ then … he is going to take a gigantic, beyond infinity, one UP the backside! Please excuse my French.

    To say nothing about Harvard and the Smithsonian.

    http://www.nature.com/news/documents-spur-investigation-of-climate-sceptic-1.16972

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  14. The 131 page pdf document includes legal agreements with the following paragraph under the heading of “Publicity”

    “Smithsonian shall not publish and utilize the name or otherwise identify SCS or its affiliate companies in any publications or other advertisements without the express written consent of SCS. As further consideration to SCS, Smithsonian shall provide SCS an advance written copy of proposed publications regarding the deliverables for
    comment and input, if any, from SCS.

    In my experience, an organization that provides research funding usually wants to receive credit. Here we see the opposite.This would seem to indicate a clear desire to underplay any connection between the source of the funding and the deliverables. ”

    Soon’s publications would be of very little internal use to SCS – the obvious inferences are that SCS was looking to influence public opinion and Soon knew this and was willing to do business.

    Like

  15. MMM,

    Standard language for a huge swath of papers from many fields would be something like “funding agency played no role in the design, interpretation, etc. etc. of this work”- Soon is an embarrassment and the Smithsonian whatever is likely quite embarrassed.

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  16. “A version of this article appears in print on February 22, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher”

    Also in the Washington Edition of the NYT (upper right corner).

    http://images.dailykos.com/images/130727/large/Willie_Soon_NY_Times_A1_2015.jpg?1424635367

    Will this one make The Daily Show? The Washington Post? The evening news? The morning talk shows?

    Harvards and Smithsonians and Deniers Oh My!

    Like

  17. “As it was the first issue of the Science bullitin perhaps they had not established a code of conduct for disclosure of funding sources,”

    izen, it wasn’t really the first issue *and* they have a quite clear policy in place. Very first example the journal provides:
    “Author A has received research grants from Company A.”
    Can’t be much clearer than that with respect to Soon.

    http://www.springer.com/new+%26+forthcoming+titles+(default)/journal/11434 (select “instructions for authors”)

    And if the excuse is that they did in their own time…they should not have listed their affiliations.

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  18. The Times has given Soon an easy out by
    taking him exteraneously to task on mercury from coal burning , in that US atmosperic release from geothermal and volcanic activity is objectively several orders of magnitude larger than the 42 tonnes thermal plants emit annually.

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  19. The assertion of no influence doesn’t make sense, if there’s a special agreement in place for SCS to read proposals and comment in advance.

    I understand that clauses like this are routine in corporate-funded research, because there may be a non-disclosure agreement involved. That’s one of the issues with biomedical research in particular: negative outcomes of clinical trials are much less likely to be published than positive outcomes. And a clause like this might even be reasonable when proprietary information (e.g., a commercial product under development) is involved. But for the kind of research (and I use the term loosely) Soon does, the only intellectual property to protect is what Soon writes in his proposals and papers. There isn’t any reason for Soon to have signed an NDA, because there is nothing that could plausibly be covered by an NDA.

    And I presume that not only is Ms. Pulliam naive, she has never worked for a medical research institute. Research physicians are routinely accused of being shills for Big Pharma. Sometimes the accusation has merit, but most of the time it does not (see the archives of your blogmate Orac for examples–as he documents, many of the people who make the “pharma shill” accusation are themselves selling expensive supplements). Government agencies, who provide most of the funding for SAO and CfA, usually want to produce good research, and don’t have much interest in the outcome beyond, in NASA’s case, successful launch and operation of spacecraft. But private companies and foundations can and usually do have an agenda. That’s why most journals require authors to disclose that the research was funded by $GRANT_NUMBER from $FUNDING_AGENCY. When $FUNDING_AGENCY is a private company, readers need to know that fact so they can evaluate the research accordingly.

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  20. I see the nondisclosure agreement as a breach of responsibility by Harvard. No university or university-attached organization should be making such agreements with a private company, and the administration should be hit hard for doing so. I do realize that there are issues about doing defense research, although there were major fights about secret research for DOD in the 1970’s which moved most of it off campus.

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  21. Mitch: as best as I can tell, Harvard* has nothing to do with this.
    The Harvard-Smithsonian C fA is one of those joint entities found on unveirsity7 campuses, but Willie has always been with the Smithsonian side, money came that way.
    Of course, Harvard name is useful.

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  22. Hmm. I believe I see signs of selective memory here. If I recall correctly, Muller received far more from the Koch brothers. That doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone.

    [You appear to be suffering from selective memory. Muller talked an awful lot of bollox, and got stick for it; e.g. http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2011/04/05/muller-is-rubbish/. I wasn’t terribly interested in the funding, but plenty of others were. However, the main point about Muller was that when the totally-obvious-to-everyone-except-Muller results came in, he recanted most of his bullshit. Not all of it, of course; he’s still in the Mann-is-fat camp with you. But even Muller isn’t fool enough to discuss land temperatures on an aqua planet. See-also

    * http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2013/11/22/mann-vs-muller/
    * http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2011/10/30/best-is-fun/
    * http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2011/10/20/best-is-boring/

    -W]

    Nor does Exxon’s hundred million dollar grant to Stanford. Nor for that matter Shell’s and BP’s contributions to the CRU.

    Funny that. It would almost seem as if this controversy were seized upon to paper over accounts of another story in the news. I believe Google News returns 187,000 results for the search string ‘pachauri sexual harassment.’

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  23. Tom Fuller ignores, conveniently I must say, that Soon often did not disclose his funding. Muller did disclose his funding. So did Stanford and CRU.

    Worse is that one funder apparently demanded they were allowed to provide input into Soon’s “deliverables” and hide their funding.

    “Funny that. It would almost seem as if this controversy were seized upon to paper over accounts of another story in the news.”

    – iets a conspirazee! A conspirazee ay zey!

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  24. Marco, right. The point here isn’t the source of funding, it is the failure to disclose that funding and potential source of conflict of interest as journals Soon was publishing in require.

    No surprise that Fuller doesn’t see the difference.

    Nor did the Koch brothers have, as far as we know, the right of review and comment on the results of the BEST project. Unlike Soon’s arrangement.

    No surprise that Fuller doesn’t see the difference.

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  25. Fuller:

    “Funny that. It would almost seem as if this controversy were seized upon to paper over accounts of another story in the news. I believe Google News returns 187,000 results for the search string ‘pachauri sexual harassment.’”

    Pachauri’s personal behavior is relevant to climate science how, exactly? Enlighten me, Fuller.

    Like

  26. dhosedgaza, it’s time for my annual response to one of your ravings. Pay attention–it’s a long time til 2016.

    Let’s… ask… Al (the medium is the massage) Gore. Let’s aks Peter (your writings are mine–and my writings are yours!) Gleick.

    Kind of a pattern forming here….

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  27. TF,

    Yes! I see where this is all going … a pattern … it needs a field … of play … and teams … and rosters … what’s your position?

    Stupid Bowl L … err IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII … err Fiddy Cent … err 50

    Like

  28. What’s interesting is the timing of these ‘revelations’ about Soon’s funding sources. None of this information is new. You lot have been howling about Soon’s funding for a decade.

    This isn’t new. Amazing that the fuss happens to coincide with the revelation the chair of the IPCC has been engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior for his entire tenure.

    Perhaps his book should have been entitled ‘A Return To AlGora’.

    [Tee hee. Your position for rather a long time can be neatly summarised as “Al Gore is fat” -W]

    Like

  29. No, my position is actually stated clearly at Bart Verheggen’s blog, to wit (or half of that):

    “Andrew, the central message of the climate consensus is that we have to change the way we live…”

    [Snip. As per site comment policy, I prefer people to link to long comments elsewhere rather than reproduce them. You’ve provided the link, that’s all that is needed -W]

    https://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/yes-we-can-communicate/#comment-12412

    Al Gore isn’t fat. He just doesn’t practice what he preaches.

    [Well, your slightly longer message is “Al Gore is fat, I hate Mann and Jones”. Your the central message of the climate consensus is… is wrong, of course. Try to avoid confusing science and politics; it will help you think more clearly -W]

    Like

  30. Actually, this previous comment by yours truly on the same thread might be even better:

    “So, as they taught me long ago in uni, the necessary precondition for communication is the establishment of trust.

    I don’t necessarily have to believe what you say. But in order to communicate, I have to believe at a minimum that you believe what you say.

    Which puts me in a bit of a dilemma. I believe that increased concentrations of CO2 do warm the planet, although I don’t know (and I don’t believe anyone else knows) what the sensitivity of the atmosphere is to those increased concentrations. So theoretically I should be easy to communicate with.

    However, Mann won’t admit error in his work. Jones instructed colleagues to delete emails. The leading proponents of vigorous action to combat climate change have personal lifestyles that are sybaritic at best and baselessly debauched at worst.

    Scientists working on what they say is the most important issue facing the planet refuse to even look at the work of their peers that is criticized, let alone to cooperate with those struggling to find understanding. The effort of BEST to establish a broader base of temperature readings and make them publicly available was vilified by consensus media outlets because of the participants. When, as everybody knew, the first findings were perfectly in line with other databases, the same sources crowed that this was a feather in the cap for the consensus and continued to vilify BEST members.

    Bart, the people who believe as you do are in fact communicating. I don’t think that what they are communicating is really what you want.”

    https://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/yes-we-can-communicate/#comment-12394

    Like

  31. I actually think you’re confused. I’m not a scientist. I am a member of the polity. The difference between my position on the science and yours is probably paper thin. Our difference on the policy impacts is not.

    Like

  32. TF:

    “Jones instructed colleagues to delete emails.”

    Sums up Tom in a nutshell. Jones “asked”, not “instructed”. There’s a very real difference. “instructed” implies a hierarchy, which implies a level of global conspiracy which simply doesn’t exist. Fuller’s rantings over the years make clear that he buys into the conspiracy to some degree, at least (rather more, IMO, but clearly to some extent). Tom’s too good a writer – and wrote an entire book (with Mosher) about ClimateGate – to accidently have used the word “instructed”.

    And I’m still waiting for an answer to my question (“Pachauri’s personal behavior is relevant to climate science how, exactly? Enlighten me, Fuller.”), which you describe as “a raving”. As WC noted above, your answer (to that and almost anything) is that “Al Gore is fat!”.

    To which I’d add “climate science is a corrupt conspiracy”, corrupt as in your reference to Mann’s refusal to “admit error”, conspiracy as in your entire book about ClimateGate.

    You’ve been involved in this stuff for years, Tom. That’s certainly enough time for you to have learned something, isn’t it? “Al Gore is fat, Mann’s a liar, and UAH is corrupt” is so ten years ago, man.

    Don’t you have anything new? Oh, right, I forgot … “Pachuri has been accused of sexual harassment’…

    Like

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