Willie Soon

Willie Wei-Hock Soon (born 1966) is an astrophysicist at the Solar and Stellar Physics (SSP) Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Ph.D., Aerospace Engineering, University of Southern California (1991)

Soon has been at the forefront of contrarian views that have appeared both in his opinion and [unusually] in the papers he has authored.

“The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic . . . It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of ‘preventing catastrophic climate change’.”

From his Desmogblog entry.

Soon’s funding links for research with Exxon and Koch has courted controversy.

Willie Soon in his own words.

The Soon and Baliunas controversy – a review paper that set out to show natural warming and the MWP were not unusual. The study in Climate Research was in part underwritten by $53,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, the voice of the oil industry.

Following the Cook et al 2013 study suggesting 97% consensus concerning AGW Popular Technology website contacted ‘skeptics’ including Soon to demonstrate their work was mis – classified.

Soon: “I am sure that this rating of no position on AGW by CO2 is nowhere accurate nor correct. Rating our serious auditing paper from just a reading of the abstract or words contained in the title of the paper is surely a bad mistake. Specifically, anyone can easily read the statements in our paper as quoted below:

For example, Soon et al. (2001) found that the current generation of GCMs is unable to meaningfully calculate the effects that additional atmospheric carbon dioxide has on the climate. This is because of the uncertainty about the past and present climate and ignorance about relevant weather and climate processes.

Here is at least one of our positions on AGW by CO2: the main tool climate scientists used to confirm or reject their CO2-AGW hypothesis is largely not validated and hence has a very limited role for any diagnosis or even predicting real-world regional impacts for any changes in atmospheric CO2.

The paper in question – rated in the abstract as holding no opinion – reads.

Calls to list polar bears as a threatened species under the United States Endangered Species Act are based on forecasts of substantial long-term declines in their population. Nine government reports were written to help US Fish and Wildlife Service managers decide whether or not to list polar bears as a threatened species. We assessed these reports based on evidence-based (scientific) forecasting principles. None of the reports referred to sources of scientific forecasting methodology. Of the nine, Amstrup et al. [Amstrup, S. C., B. G. Marcot, D. C. Douglas. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. Administrative Report, USGS Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK.] and Hunter et al. [Hunter, C. M., H. Caswell, M. C. Runge, S. C. Amstrup, E. V. Regehr, I. Stirling. 2007. Polar bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea II: Demography and population growth in relation to sea ice conditions. Administrative Report, USGS Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK.] were the most relevant to the listing decision, and we devoted our attention to them. Their forecasting procedures depended on a complex set of assumptions, including the erroneous assumption that general circulation models provide valid forecasts of summer sea ice in the regions that polar bears inhabit. Nevertheless, we audited their conditional forecasts of what would happen to the polar bear population assuming, as the authors did, that the extent of summer sea ice would decrease substantially during the coming decades. We found that Amstrup et al. properly applied 15 percent of relevant forecasting principles and Hunter et al. 10 percent. Averaging across the two papers, 46 percent of the principles were clearly contravened and 23 percent were apparently contravened. Consequently, their forecasts are unscientific and inconsequential to decision makers. We recommend that researchers apply all relevant principles properly when important public-policy decisions depend on their forecasts.

As to why an astrophysicist is able to write a paper on polar bear numbers is – in Soon’s own words-

“I don’t like to claim that I am an expert on anything, but I have enough knowledge about climate science and climate system to be able to write scientific papers and go to meetings and talk about monsoon systems and talk about any other things that you want to discuss about climate science issues. I’m as qualified as anybody that you know on this planet on this topic.”

A list of peer-reviewed papers that take a contrarian view of AGW are found here. It does not include the peculiar medical journal paper where he is the 3rd author to two physicians –

Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (PDF 5.6m download of complete paper)
Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Volume 12, Number 3, pp. 79-90, Fall 2007  Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson, Willie H. Soon

concluding with

There are no experimental data to support the hypothesis that increases in human hydrocarbon use or in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other green house gases are causing or can be expected to cause unfavorable changes in global temperatures, weather, or landscape. There is no reason to limit human production of CO2, CH4, and other minor greenhouse gases as has been proposed. We also need not worry about environmental calamities even if the current natural warming trend continues. The Earth has been much warmer during the past 3,000 years without catastrophic effects. Warmer weather extends growing seasons and generally improves the habitability of colder regions. As coal, oil, and natural gas are used to feed and lift from poverty vast numbers of people across the globe, more CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. This will help to maintain and improve the health, longevity, prosperity, and  productivity of all people. The United States and other countries need to produce more energy, not less. The most practical, economical, and environmentally sound methods available are hydrocarbon and nuclear technologies. Human use of coal, oil, and natural gas has not harmfully warmed the Earth, and the extrapolation of current trends shows that it will not do so in the foreseeable future. The CO2 produced does, however, accelerate the growth rates of plants and also permits plants to grow in drier regions. Animal life, which depends upon plants, also flourishes, and the diversity of plant and animal life is increased. Human activities are producing part of the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere. Mankind is moving the carbon in coal, oil, and natural gas from be low ground to the atmosphere, where it is available for conversion into living things. We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of this CO2 in crease. Our children will therefore enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we now are blessed

As a peer-reviewed science paper it fails to be either novel or focused and is more an opinion piece with the usual denier talking points. It is also unusual for a scientist to put themselves in the firing line with such absolutes – other leading climate contrarians  may say one thing in public but don’t dare make such statements in their peer-reviewed work which is open to direct professional criticism. Soon’s latest studies have now extended into health and chemistry with newspaper opinion pieces-

SOON: Bad science behind Florida mercury phobia

Proposed rules could raise electricity costs while harming human health

Soon appears to be defending the coal electricity generating sector which is the main [non natural] source of mercury.




  1. Corey Todnem

    From today’s New York Times article:

    Though often described on conservative news programs as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” Dr. Soon is not an astrophysicist and has never been employed by Harvard. He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering.

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