An academic well known for his climate-denial stance has had his research work funded almost entirely by the energy industry, recently released documents indicate.
Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who claims variations in the sun's energy rather than greenhouse gas emissions are behind global warming, has accepted more than $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry over the last decade, documents show.
Soon has received money from energy companies, lobbying groups and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, with the largest single funder of Soon's work being the Southern Company, one of the Unites States' largest electricity providers relying heavily on coal, the documents indicate.
Soon has presented his climate change denials on conservative news programs and has testified before Congress.
In many of his published scientific papers, Soon has failed to disclose what critics are calling an obvious conflict of interest, apparently in violation of the ethical guidelines of a number of journals in which his work has appeared.
The sources of Soon's funding were revealed in documents obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act, showing he received moneys from Exxon Mobil, the Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute, and a foundation run by the Koch brothers.
"The question here is really: 'What did API, ExxonMobil, Southern Company and Charles Koch see in Willie Soon?' What did they get for $1m-plus?" says Kert Davies, a former Greenpeace researcher who submitted the original freedom of information requests.
The documents include correspondence between Soon and the corporations funding his work, in which Soon characterized many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" completed for specific funding.
"What it shows is the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change," says Davies, now the executive director of the Climate Investigations Center.
Although Soon has not responded to repeated requests for a comment on the released documents, he has long denied that corporate funding has had any influence on his scientific research.
However, the director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center has acknowledged that Soon violated the disclosure standards required by some journals.
"I think that's inappropriate behavior," said Charles R. Alcock. "This frankly becomes a personnel matter, which we have to handle with Dr. Soon internally."
A number of scientist have called for Soon's papers omitting disclosure of his corporate funding sources to be retracted by the science journals that have published them.