A Guide To Willie Soon’s Climate Research Funded by Fossil Fuel Companies

Without exception, the papers question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.

Credit: Paul Horn/InsideClimate News

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A watchdog group called the Climate Investigations Center alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by Willlie Soon, a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.

The letters grew out of the release Saturday of public records showing that Soon failed to disclose industry funding in 11 studies published by those journals.

Read: Documents Reveal Fossil Fuel Fingerprints on Contrarian Climate Research

Soon’s 11 papers show a spectrum of perspectives, from full-fledged denial of human-caused global warming to articles that downplay the role of climate change in ecological impacts. Many of the studies argue that changes in solar activity are responsible for rising global temperatures. Without exception, they question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.

Summaries of the 11 studies are listed in the chart and detailed further below: 

1. Reply to response to Dyck et al. (2007) on polar bears and climate change in western Hudson Bay by Stirling et al. (2008)

Journal: Ecological Complexity (2008)

Authors: M.G. Dyck, W. Soon, R.K. Baydack, D.R. Legates, S. Baliunas, T.F. Ball, L.O. Hancock

Summary: This study was written as a response to a critique of a 2007 paper co-authored by Soon. In that 2007 study, also published in Ecological Complexity, Soon and his colleagues dismissed the idea that polar bears in Canada’s western Hudson Bay were at risk from the impacts of climate change—and questioned whether the region was even warming at all. They provided alternate explanations for the decline of polar bear populations, such as stress from interactions with tourists, and suggested the bears could adapt to a warming climate by supplementing their diet with berries and vegetation. The paper acknowledged that Soon received grants from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, American Petroleum Institute and ExxonMobil.

The following year, four scientists led by Ian Stirling of the Canadian Wildlife Service published a critique that found “little support” for those conclusions. Research from the past 10 years has shown that climate change leads to longer seasons without sea ice, Stirling’s team wrote, “resulting in polar bears coming ashore to fast [go without food] for several months in progressively poorer condition.”

In late 2008, Soon and his colleagues responded to Stirling’s critique. They defended their original paper and said the Stirling study showed “uni-dimensional, or reductionist thinking, which is not useful when assessing effects of climate change on complex ecosystems.”

Soon listed his 2008 paper as a deliverable to Southern Company.

2. Centennial Variations of the Global Monsoon Precipitation in the Last Millennium: Results from ECHO-G Mode

Journal: Journal of Climate (2008)

Authors: Jian Liu, Bin Wang, Qinghua Ding, Xueyuan Kuang, Willie Soon, Eduardo Zorita

Summary: Soon and his colleagues ran computer simulations to study long-term patterns in rainfall from monsoons over the past 1,000 years. Their model found that the unprecedented increase in monsoon activity over the past 30 years is “due possibly in part to” the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere, but they said the result could be an overestimate because the authors didn’t consider the impacts of aerosols, which cool the atmosphere. They also concluded that long-term changes in monsoon patterns were more likely due to variations in solar activity than rising global temperatures.

3. Polar Bear Population Forecasts: A Public-Policy Forecasting Audit

Journal: Interfaces (2008)

Authors: J. Scott Armstrong, Kesten C. Green, Willie Soon

Summary: The authors reviewed nine scientific reports on polar bears commissioned by the U.S. Geological Survey. The reports were being used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help determine whether polar bears should be listed as a threatened species. As the agency worked on its decision, the state of Alaska—which opposed the listing—hired Armstrong, Green and Soon as consultants in 2007 to review the reports. Soon and his colleagues said the report’s authors used flawed methods to project future polar bear populations. The federal government ultimately listed the bears as a threatened species in May 2008.

Soon’s study acknowledged the financial support from Alaska but said the funding did not cover all the work that went into preparing the research for publication.

4. Solar Arctic-Mediated Climate Variation on Multidecadal to Centennial Timescales: Empirical Evidence, Mechanistic Explanation, and Testable Consequences

Journal: Physical Geography (2009)

Author: Willie W.-H. Soon

Summary: This paper provides an update to a 2005 study by Soon. The 2005 paper concluded that changes in the sun’s intensity—not rising CO2—was primarily responsible for trends in Arctic air temperatures over the past 130 years. Soon’s 2009 paper used computer modeling and ocean circulation patterns to bolster his 2005 conclusions.

5. Multiple and changing cycles of active stars

Journal: Astronomy & Astrophysics (2009)

Authors: K. Oláh, Z. Kolláth, T. Granzer, K.G. Strassmeier, A.F. Lanza, S. Järvinen, H. Korhonen, S.L. Baliunas, W. Soon, S. Messina, G. Cutispoto

Summary: The authors studied 20 stars including the sun, and found that the stars have varying cycles of stellar activity. The study does not mention global warming or climate and temperature trends on Earth.

6. Validity of Climate Change Forecasting for Public Policy Decision Making

Journal: International Journal of Forecasting (2009)

Authors: Kesten C. Green, J. Scott Armstrong, Willie Soon

Summary: The authors examined the 1992 climate change projections from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading body of climate scientists. They concluded that the IPCC’s methods were flawed and should not be used as a basis for policy decisions.

7. Avoiding Carbon Myopia: Three considerations for policy makers concerning man made carbon dioxide

Journal: Ecology Law Currents (2010)

Authors: Willie Soon, David R. Legates

Summary: The paper criticized world leaders and lawmakers who met in Copenhagen in December 2009 to try to work out a global climate agreement. The authors said the proposed policies “were premised on the flawed notion…that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations will change climate dramatically and thereby cause major ecological and economic damage.”

The paper urged policymakers to exercise caution when considering carbon regulations and warned that if “climate change regulation proceeds unchecked, it will likely produce policy that is out of touch with both the real world and objective science.”

8. Variation in surface air temperature of China during the 20th century

Journal: Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (2011)

Authors: Willie Soon, Koushik Dutta, David R. Legates, Victor Velasco, WeiJia Zhang

Summary: The paper concluded that between 1880 and 2002, surface air temperature trends in China were strongly influenced by natural variations in solar intensity. Future studies of climate change impacts in China should take this into account, it said.

9. Temporal derivative of total solar irradiance and anomalous Indian Summer Monsoon: An empirical evidence for a sun-climate connection

Journal: Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (2011)

Authors: Rajesh Agnihotri, Koushik Dutta, Willie Soon

Summary: The study found that unusually dry periods of little rainfall from India’s summer monsoons mostly occurred during periods of lower solar intensity. The authors said analyzing solar fluctuations could help future studies of natural monsoon variability.

10. Solar Irradiance Modulation of Equator-to-Pole (Arctic) Temperature Gradients: Empirical Evidence for Climate Variation on Multi-decadal Timescales

Journal: Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (2013)

Authors: Willie Soon, David R. Legates

Summary: The paper found that recent rising temperatures in the Arctic can be explained by trends in the amount of solar energy that arrives at the top of Earth’s atmosphere, and that the results may have applications for interpreting climatic trends in other areas of the world.

11. Indian summer monsoon rainfall: dancing with the tunes of the sun

Journal: New Astronomy (2015)

Authors: K.M. Hiremath, Hedge Manjunath, Willie Soon

Summary: The authors derived equations to explain how India’s summer monsoons are affected by changes in solar activity. The results are presented as an alternative to the idea that the monsoons are influenced by CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

InsideClimate News reporters David Hasemyer, Sabrina Shankman and Zahra Hirji contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Soon’s Astronomy & Astrophysics paper was published in 2009.