Climate skeptic’s fossil fuel funding puts spotlight on journal conflict policies

by David Malakoff,  Science Insider

In 2008, a small technical journal received a paper on climate science that required some special attention. The sole author was Willie Wei-Hock Soon, an aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The study argued that changes in the sun’s radiation output played a major role in influencing shifts in Arctic air temperatures – a view at odds with mainstream climate science, which fingered atmospheric carbon dioxide as a bigger player.

Geographer Carol Harden, the editor of the journal, Physical Geography, was aware that Soon was a vociferous critic of the idea that humans were causing global warming, and of proposals for the U.S. government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. So “I knew that paper was hot potato,” she told ScienceInsider.

Still, Physical Geography published the 40-page study in 2009 after peer reviewers gave a green light, and Harden persuaded Soon to “adjust some of the wording… and take out some pretty toxic language” involving climate research.  At the time, however, she didn’t inquire about Soon’s funding sources or potential conflicts of interest. The journal’s publisher had “no specific disclosure form that I know of,” she says. “It was pretty much the honor system.”

Yesterday, however, Soon’s paper once again became a hot potato for Harden, now retired from the faculty of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The New York Times and other outlets reported that Soon has received extensive financial support over the past decade from fossil fuel companies and others opposed to government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions– but has not always disclosed those financial links in his technical publications.  Read the entire story.

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