RealClimate Reveals Willie Soon’s “Scientific Sleight of Hand”

RealClimate Reveals Willie Soon’s “Scientific Sleight of Hand”
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Willie Soon has been an individual of significant interest lately in climate circles. Last week, he spoke at the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate change, or as we like to call it, Denial-a-Palooza. A recent Greenpeace report found that Soon accepted over $1 million in funding from fossil fuel interests, including Koch Industries

To top it off, RealClimate released a report yesterday revealing new issues with Soon’s 2007 paper on polar bears. The non-peer-reviewed paper has been cited extensively before, notably by Sarah Palin, as proof that polar bears are not endangered by global warming. The paper includes skeptical co-authors M.G. Dyck, R.K. Baydack, David Legates, Sallie BaliunasTim Ball and L.O. Hancocks.

While the paper’s central claims have already been disproven, the remaining issue is what appears to be Soon’s willing disregard for data. RealClimate found that Soon had cherry picked data showing the highest level of Arctic Oscillation (AO), a natural variability that he blamed for any increases in temperature in the Hudson Bay area:

The evidence of the cherry-picking of data for the sake of an (irrelevant) higher correlation from the files is a very clear black flag.”

More importantly, RealClimate found evidence that Soon had access to more relevant data but chose not to use it. Rather than use data from Churchill which borders the Hudson Bay (an area that experienced little impact from Arctic Oscillation), Soon examined an area over 1000 miles away:

So, the picture here is quite clear. Soon knew that the relevant data series for discussing the AO influence on Western Hudson Bay temperature (and by proxy, sea ice) was from Churchill and despite being reminded of the fact by the first set of reviewers, nonetheless continued to only show the AO connection to a site 1000 miles away, which had a much higher correlation without any discussion of whether this other data was at all relevant to Churchill or the bears nearby.” 

Although it is worth mentioning that the paper was funded by Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and ExxonMobil (see the paper’s “Acknowledgements” section), it is what RealClimate describes as Soon’s “scientific sleight of hand” that most tarnishes his credibility. 

When it comes down to it, the quality of the science is what matters. And skeptical science regularly resorts to misdirection and junk science as a mode to influence popular opinion. That is why we need scientists like those at RealClimate to break through the skeptical static and reveal the truth.

RealClimate Reveals Willie Soon’s “Scientific Sleight of Hand”

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