Science for Hire


My piece this morning about fossil fuel interests continuing to pay scientists to produce “studies” raising questions about the human influence on global warming fails to mention my favorite element in the story of Willie Soon. Not only has the Harvard aerospace engineer benefited from the largess of fossil fuel companies over the past decade; he’s also managed to style himself as an “expert” on a whole lot of things he doesn’t appear to have any qualifications to write about.

There was, of course, the 2007 paper claiming that polar bears weren’t actually harmed by climate change. That paper was backed by ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Charles G. Koch Foundation, which should have raised some questions about what exactly an astrophysicist knows about polar bears. Also dubious was Soon’s op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal last month claiming that mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants aren’t actually bad for people. This is supposedly because we have “proteins and antioxidants” in our bodies, he wrote, that “help protect us.” The EPA just made up the health concerns about mercury pollution to “punish hydrocarbon use,” he wrote.

The Journal touted Soon as “a natural scientist at Harvard” who is “an expert on mercury and public health issues”—a questionable claim at best. He also has a long history of working with groups that deny climate change. Paul Driessen, of the climate denial group Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, coauthored the piece. Soon also has a number of affiliations with groups that sow climate doubts: he has served as the chief science advisor for the Science and Public Policy Institute, a scientific adviser to the Greening Earth Society, and an expert with the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative think-tank. And it’s not hard to see why he’s become one of the go-to scientists for industry and conservative groups.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.