Guess Who’s Been Secretly Funding a Famous Climate Change–Denying Scientist?

Officials wanting to stymie global-warming legislation often cite the work of Wei-Hock Soon, who has received more than $1 million from the fossil fuel industry.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Feb 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

As the book-turned-film Merchants of Doubt exposed, corporations such as tobacco companies have found a way to muddle the science on issues affecting their profits: Throw some money at it. (Full disclosure: Merchants of Doubt was produced by Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company.)

In the midst of a climate-change crisis, that’s just what the fossil fuel industry has been doing. And the latest scientist linked to the clandestine practice is Wei-Hock Soon.

According to The New York Times, politicians fighting climate-change legislation often cite the work of the scientist, who is employed by the Smithsonian Institution on a part-time basis. Though he’s often referred to as a “Harvard astrophysicist” on conservative news shows, Soon has never worked for the Ivy League school. His degree is in aerospace engineering.

According to recently released documents, he’s received at least $1.2 million from fossil-fuel companies while omitting that connection in the majority of his scientific papers over the past decade. Since 2008, he failed to disclose conflicts of interest in at least 11 studies—a violation of the guidelines of the journals that released them.

The documents, acquired by Greenpeace through the Freedom of Information Act, also show that Soon referred to his papers as “deliverables” in communication with his funders. His biggest sponsor: the Atlanta-based Southern Company, which has given him more than $400,000. It’s one of the biggest utility holding corporations in the United States, with major investments in coal-burning power plants.

Soon also received more than $200,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the founder of which amassed wealth in the oil-refinery business.

Politicians who repeatedly cite Soon’s work include Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahama, who in a Senate debate in January pointed to photos of scientists who doubt climate change. One of them was Soon.

“These are scientists that cannot be challenged,” Inhofe said.

Congress continues to delay regulations designed to curb climate change proposed by the Obama administration. On Feb. 11, Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee argued that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan—intended to limit carbon pollution from power plants—doesn’t offer tangible benefits. Inhofe again expressed his doubt about global warming, saying that he wants to hold a climate science hearing.