Willie Soon And Friends In The Early Days Before Climate Science Denial

Read time: 8 mins

Willie Soon is gathering with his Heartland Institute friends this week in Washington, DC for their latest Denial-a-Palooza stunt designed to mimic a science conference.

As anyone who followed the story of Willie Soon's failures to disclose conflicts of interest knows, nobody came to his defense more rabidly than the Heartland Institute. Heartland President  Joe Bast, Communications Director Jim Lakely and others used familiar tobacco industry tactics of intimidation of journalists and misdirection to try to limit the fallout.

They even bought AdWords, “In Defense of Willie Soon - The Merchants of Smear Attack Heroic Scientist.”

So it's no wonder that Soon is now feted as a hero among the denialist crowd.

But people might wonder: where did Soon come from before climate anti-science? What are his credentials? And who were some of his early allies?

A brief history follows:

Willie Soon has talked on mercury, polar bearsocean acidification, the View From Galileo's Window and other topics. However, he has mostly pushed “Warming: Not CO2, It's The Sun!” akin to saying “Cancer: not cigarettes, just natural,” but funded via fossil fuel energy interests, not tobacco.  He has been wrong again and again.

But how did Soon become a cog in the machinery of climate anti-science? An old video and older papers help reconstruct the history, back to his years with advisor Joseph Kunc at University of Southern California (USC) and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). These also shed light on the long history of climate anti-science in the Wall Street Journal.

Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP) is run by Jane Orient of Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) and Art Robinson of Oregon Instute of Science and Medicine (OISM), well-interconnected.  DDP invited Willie Soon to speak every year 2000-2014. His talks seemed Gish Gallops, but obviously well-received by the non-expert audiences. In 2000, DDP Vice-President Art Robinson took 2 minutes to introduce Soon in The Sun Also Warms: The Sun-Climate Link, saying:

00:37 “A couple years ago, during the Kyoto meeting, George Gilder suggested to Max Boot at the Wall Street Journal that we could write an editorial that might be good on global warming, and I got this phone call from Max Boot asking for it and of course I said it would be on your desk tomorrow morning.  So we had to work all night, but that's an even greater motivation, because if  we made a mistake there it would be extremely embarrassing.  So I called Sallie Baliunas, and she made sure  we didn't make any mistakes.1
When we decided later to do that petition project of scientists on global warming, I asked Sallie again, and she said 'Well, if you're going to write a review article and send it to tens of thousands of scientists, you need to know my colleague Willie Soon. He'll keep you out of trouble.'  And so, for the month we were working on that, we had the advantage of Willie Soon, who kept us completely out of trouble, and made sure we knew where all the data was, and got it right, and when we made mistakes, he fixed them.*  And  of course, when that paper ultimately appeared in the scientific literature,2 Willie Soon was the principal author.  Three years now, he's been a voice on the  phone that I can depend on for being absolutely perfect in everything and telling us where all the literature was.  He also does a lot of original research on the Sun and the temperature of the planet. It's very fine to have him today as a to tell us about it.”
02:05 Soon: “I'm very happy and very honored to be here.  I really first wanted to thank Fred Singer for giving such a fine and excellent introduction …”

Wall Street Journal (WSJ) OpEds, Ideology Trumps Science

The WSJ published the OpEd Science Has Spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth on December 4, 1997, saying “Arthur Robinson and Zachary Robinson are chemists at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.”  Arthur is a biochemist, Zachary got his PhD in veterinary medicine.  Chemist Noah Robinson starred for George Gilder in 2007's The Global Warming Myth (watch first few minutes).

On June 12, 1996, the WSJ had published Frederick Seitz's attack on Ben Santer, but the responsible editor is unknown.

The connections go further back.  Joseph Kunc was Soon's Phd Advisor at the University of Southern California, and they coauthored 10+ papers 1988-1992.  Around 1991-1992, Kunc was temporarily affiliated with “Harvard University and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” and Soon was at CfA, as seen in this paper.  By 1993 Soon was publishing with Sallie Baliunas, who had been publishing with George Marshall Institute Founder  and famed astrophysicist Robert Jastrow from 1990 onward.  This 1990 exchange of letters in Science is an early hint of discussions to come.

Meanwhile, Kunc signed the Oregon Petition (likely by 2000), the Heartland Institute-organized 2008 Manhattan Declaration and the 2009 Petition to the American Physical Society to weaken its climate statement.  Coincidentally, in 2011 he got involved with Edward Wegman via Donald Rapp, see p.15 of Strange  Inquiries at  George  Mason  University …and even stranger comments.  Soon also gave a 2007 talk at USC, perhaps at Kunc's invitation:

“The Secondary Role of CO2 and CH4 Forcing in Climate Change.” The Astronautics and Space Technology Division and Physics Department lecture by Dr. Willie Soon of Harvard Univeristy (sic)
November 26, 2007”  Note the incorrect Harvard affiliation.   CfA is not Harvard.

A 2009 paper by Soon illustrated his good connections, p.161:

“I also thank all colleagues whose works are cited here, and especially those who have allowed access to their hard-earned data series: Nicola Scafetta, Karin Boessenkool, Igor Yashayaev, Igor Polyakov, Mihai Dima, Lars Smedsrud, Jeff Knight, Rob Allan, Daniel Hodson, David Holland, Mads Ribergaard, Frank Kauker, and John Fasullo. I thank Scott Armstrong, Gene Avrett, Sallie Baliunas, Dan Botkin, Bob Carter, Shaun Cheok, Susan Crockford, Bob Ferguson, Dave Fettig, Kesten Green, Joe Kunc, Keith Lockitch, Christopher Monckton, Lubos Motl, Jane Orient, Eric Posmentier, Art Robinson, Mitch Taylor, Bin Wang, and the late Robert Jastrow for their encouragement, and Gene Avrett and Steve Cranmer3 for their editorial help. I further thank Than, Lien and Julia Pham, Chiew-See Chua, as well as Benjamin and Franklin Soon for motivation.  This new synthesis was based on a presentation at the 33rdInternational Geological Congress held in Oslo, Norway, August 6–14, 2008, as well as by another presentation at the International Symposium on Climate and Weather of the Sun–Earth System held at Jakarta, Indonesia, November 24-26, 2008. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are independent of sources providing support.”

From quite early onward, Willie Soon was well-positioned to become a cog in the machinery of climate anti-science.

======

1The original 1998 version was by ARTHUR B. ROBINSON, SALLIE L. BALIUNAS, WILLIE SOON, AND ZACHARY W. ROBINSON. Baliunas and Soon gave a George Marshall Institute (GMI) affiliation.  DDP mentioned GMI and Gregory Canavan (long-time GMI Director) in a July 1991 newsletter, HOMELAND DEFENSE IN THE AGE OF SCUDS.”  As per the spreadsheet attached to Was Willie Soon Paid For Science…Or Anti-Science? GMI (or close, such as Singer) people spoke for DDP:
1994  Fred Singer
1995  Sallie Baliunas
1996  Singer, Baliunas and Robert Jastrow
DDP got 501(c)(3) status in 1984, and it seems quite plausible that they intersected with GMI then.  In any case, Art Robinson  and GMI were well-connected years before the Oregon Petition, whose funding remains unclear.
 

2That paper by Willie Soon, Sallie L. Baliunas,  Arthur B. Robinson,  Zachary W. Robinson was part of  the  “Pal Review” of Chris de Freitas.
Soon and Baliunas used their CfA affiliation and wrote: “Acknowledgements  We are grateful to Sherwood Idso for his illuminating advice and comments on this paper. This work  was supported by the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium (MIT grant 16717049) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (grant One more verson appeared in 2007, in AAPS' journal, edited by Jane Orient. No affiliations or acknowledgements were given, except: “Arthur B. Robinson„ Ph.D. Noah E. Robinson, Ph.D, Willie Soon, Ph.D  Contact Arthur Robinson at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.”
(From other data, about this time Soon stopped using his CfA affiliation for such  things. It would be interesting to know if this was ever included on a not-yet-seen funder's  report.

3 Along with CfA's Baliunas, Soon and Martin Zombeck, CfA astrophysicist and Lecturer at Harvard Steven Cranmer also signed the 2009 APS PetitionHis Home Page said during much of 2008-2010:

“I'm also a member of the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and I'm serving as an Associate Editor for the AGU Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. My membership in these societies does not imply that I endorse any of their occasionally misguided and erroneous position statements.”

The “misguided” links to the APS statement on climate and “erroneous” to that of the AGU.

Update 08/13/15: fixed error: Soon and Baliunas did not sign the 2009 petition, although they seemed likely connections.,

Get DeSmog News and Alerts