Smithsonian's Inspector General to Probe Willie Soon

An immediate response to troubling allegations around Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his contrarian climate change research.

David Skorton, who takes the helm as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution later this year, speaks at a press conference. On Feb. 23, the Smithsonian opened an investigation into the ethical conduct of Willie Soon, one of its part time scientists and a climate skeptic who has failed to disclose funding from fossil fuel companies in papers he published. Credit: Smithsonian

The Smithsonian has opened an investigation into the ethical conduct of Willie Soon, one of its part time scientists and a climate-change skeptic who is facing scrutiny for failing to properly disclose his work was funded by fossil fuel interests.

The Smithsonian probe follows disclosures this weekend—through the release of public documents—that Soon failed to divulge industry funding for 11 studies that were published in nine scientific journals.

"The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research," according to a statement released by Smithsonian.

"The Smithsonian is taking immediate action to address the issue."

Smithsonian's Acting Secretary Albert Horvath has directed the organization's Inspector General to review the allegations against Soon.

Failing to disclose the source of funding for research is a violation of ethical guidelines of many of the journals that published Soon's work.  They require authors to identify their funders and potential conflicts of interest.

Horvath will also lead a review of Smithsonian ethics and disclosure policies governing the conduct of sponsored research to ensure they meet the highest standards, according to the Smithsonian announcement.

Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which houses the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

The Smithsonian side employs Soon, but he relies on grants from outside funders for his research and salary.

Between 2008 and 2011, Soon solicited several fossil fuel interests to pay for studies that show how the sun affects climate change, according to the documents and other public records, which were obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center.

Since 2008, Soon received more than $800,000 from ExxonMobil, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the electric utility Southern Company Services Inc., and Donors Trust Inc., an organization that facilitates contributions largely toward conservative causes from donors who wish to remain anonymous, according to the documents.

In his proposals, Soon told funders that the projects would result in scientific papers published "in leading scientific journals," tools to influence policymaking and public education efforts, the documents show.

He also provided annual progress reports to Southern Company and Donors Trust, describing the work he completed for each project as his "deliverables."

Soon remains a member of the staff, though Smithsonian distanced itself Monday from his work.

"Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon's conclusions on climate change," according to the statement. "The Smithsonian's official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming."

Smithsonian's full statement:

Feb. 22, 2015

Smithsonian Statement

The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research. 

The Smithsonian is taking immediate action to address the issue: Acting Secretary Albert Horvath has asked the Smithsonian Inspector General to review the matter. Horvath will also lead a full review of Smithsonian ethics and disclosure policies governing the conduct of sponsored research to ensure they meet the highest standards.

Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon is a part-time researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. He was hired to conduct research on long-term stellar and solar variability. The Smithsonian does not fund Dr. Soon; he pursues external grants to fund his research. <

The Smithsonian does not support Dr. Soon's conclusions on climate change. The Smithsonian's official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming.

Smithsonian Statement on Climate Change:  

http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/smithsonian-statement-climate-change

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