Cennamology Chief Editor
Nearly six years after the over-hyped, sensationalized, non-story known as "Climategate" was all over the news, a real scandal about the climate change "debate" broke out to surprisingly very little media fanfare.
While "Climategate" was used by denialists as fodder to use against real science, the story discrediting the real junk science is hardly a footnote in this month's news. "Climategate" was used by skeptics to discredit climate scientists by claiming that they were fudging studies. However, the key point of the story was never reported in the media. "Climategate" surrounded emails by scientists who deleted a couple tables from their published study that showed that warming was not accelerating as fast as some predicted. Because of these emails, the media seized on it as proof that the data was fiddled with. However, any real scientist would know that the purpose of studies is to build upon past research, not simply to repeat it. The tables that were deleted from the study were already in another published study, so they took them out because all it did was rehash what was already published. So this "scandal" was complete baloney.
On the other hand, when "Soongate" surfaced (for some of you this may be the first time you are even hearing the word), the so-called "liberal media" apparently went into hiding as this crucial story is getting only a small fraction of the attention that Climategate received back in 2009.
Willie Soon was one of these "scientists" who was bought and paid for by a number of polluting companies, including Koch Industries and the Southern Company. The scandal arose after it was discovered that Soon, who was employed by the Smithsonian Institute and the Harvard Association of Astrophysicists, failed to disclose over $1.2 million in funding from fossil fuel companies when submitting his studies to be published in respectable scientific journals. Failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest is, of course, a gross violation of one of the cardinal rules of scientific ethics.
Soon's studies claimed that human activity has very little impact on the changing climate and that sunspot activity is what is largely responsible. These studies were previously criticized by other scientists as being based on out-of-date data and spurious correlations between sun activity and the climate. It's apparent that these studies were also all about the Benjamins.
Soon was known for being the climate change-skeptic "scientist" whose work was clung to as a white herring for Republicans who wanted to block any and all progress on cutting carbon emissions. He was the go-to-guy for these policymakers, testifying in front of Congress multiple times as well as several Republican-controlled state legislatures all over the country. Charts and results from his studies have been the centerpiece of many speeches on the U.S. Senate floor from Congress' most notorious skeptic, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Now that Soon's career is over, the skeptic crowd is desperate, with Sen. Inhofe now having to use a snowball as the focal point of one of his ludicrous speeches instead of one of Mr. Soon's fancy-schmancy charts.
Along with failing to disclose an obvious conflict of interest, Soon would also send drafts of his papers to the companies funding his research to edit or review his reports before submitting them to the journals. This means that he gave his papers, which records show he described as "deliverables," to the fossil fuel companies giving him money and asked if his results were acceptable to them and compatible with their goals. This is absolutely outrageous.
Corporations funding junk science conducted by sell-outs to give them ammunition in the policy debate is nothing new. Tobacco companies have been practicing these dark lobbying tactics since the 1960s, when they claimed that smoking was beneficial to your health. The game is to get someone who is willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder, who also has ties to very respectable institutions, in order to claim that their side has intellect behind it.
Soon's previously warm relationship with fossil fuel companies and their allies not just in Washington, but in 50 state capitols as well, is a scary picture of how pervasive the culture of doubt is among policymakers and why progress in clean energy legislation has largely stalled in recent years. Using faux-science as a tool of dark lobbying is designed as a game to trick policymakers into believing that blocking legislation to curb emissions or invest in clean energy will have no consequences. Sadly, Koch Industries and the Southern Company were winning. This story may change this, but only time will tell.
So why has the media largely ignored this very important story while they foamed at the mouth over Climategate not so long ago? Well one reason may be that this story surprised absolutely nobody. The public has suspected for years that corporations have been funding junk science like Soon's to suit their interests. However, the fossil fuel industry had done a good job of keeping the mechanics of this activity largely hidden until Soongate leaked. This was mentioned in the ONLY segment about the scandal that I saw on television, on "All in with Chris Hays."
Another reason is that the media wants to keep this issue a "debate." Bringing on a sell-out like Soon to debate a scientist who actually knows what he/she is talking about and watching them argue back and forth is great for ratings. Even though 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are contributing to climate change, the media likes to call everything 50/50. A reason "Climategate" received so much more media attention than "Soongate" ever will is because it added fuel to the fire of a very dim argument, and provided the crackpots with a talking point in the talk show debates. This story largely discredits many of the talking points that these dissenters have had, and providing extensive media attention to Soongate will make future debates between Bill Nye and some random weatherman from Nebraska less intriguing to viewers.
Also, the media may be avoiding reporting on Soongate to avoid accusations of bias. Since the perception of a liberal bias in the media, a myth largely proclaimed by Fox News, has led to a decreased trust in it, the media may want to use their lack of reporting on Soongate and their extensive reporting on Climategate as an example of why they do not have a liberal bias. This perpetual state of wanting to appear totally unbiased at all times does not lead to a more informative public, it leads to a media that is more focused on political correctness than accurate reporting.
Nevertheless, the media has a duty to report on this story more extensively. Money from the Smithsonian, a government institution, was used on Soon's studies, so public taxpayer dollars have funded his corporate junk science. There are many issues that are actually on a level debate field that can be better media argument fodder than climate change. Also, more extensive media coverage can also be devoted to how Soongate suggests that scientific journals perhaps have been too lax when it comes to their publishing standards. Journals and universities have a role to play in ensuring that all published research upholds the cardinal rules of scientific ethics and that papers that end up violating these rules do not go on to have a major influence in energy and environmental policy.
The media's failure to extensively report on Soongate may cause polluting industries to get away with finding a new Willie Soon to do their dirty work without the public noticing, starting the cycle all over again. Unless the public and policymakers are properly informed of the danger of deliberately misleading studies, no progress will be made on the environmental and energy policy that we need for the 21st century.