Update: In addition to the conflict of interest issue, RealClimate shows how wrong Soon is about our climate being driven mostly by the sun.
One of the favorite denialist arguments is that the climate scientists who accept the evidence for catastrophic global warming have a conflict of interest, that they are raking in large amounts of money from the government for their research. They are arguing that the true motive of these scientists is to make money and that they have to believe in global warming to make that happen, to get that government largesse.
To believe that argument, they have to misunderstand how the process works. These researchers are getting money for assistantships, computer time, and equipment for data gathering. Their university salaries are often replaced in part by the government grants, but they aren't making any more personal money than if they were to pursue some other line of enquiry. Bottom line: they aren't getting rich off this research. Their true motives are to follow the evidence they come up with and thereupon draw conclusions. And evidence overwhelming supports global warming. The conclusions are difficult to avoid, that if we do nothing to stop CO2 from entering the atmosphere, the consequences are going to be dire.
It turns out, though, that there is at least one scientist who is getting rich from research on our climate. He is however, someone who denies there is global warming. The New York Times this morning published an article describing the career of the climate scientist, Wei-Hock Soon,
"a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming."
Moreover, the Times reports,
"He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work."
Nor does he hide what is behind his work.
"The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress."
Calling it a "deliverable" discloses perhaps more than he would have liked about the motive behind his work. It reveals a far more direct connection between the money and his work output.
The denialists need to postulate a conspiracy by climate scientists supporting global warming because their number is so much larger than those that deny global warming. What other reason could there be for so many to support global warming? Well there is another reason, that in fact the biosphere is warming, and it is the scientists denying global warming that have the conflict of interest.
And while Dr. Soon is a scientist, he is not a climate scientist:
"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."
In the last century, as research began to show a relationship between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, tobacco companies hired scientists to present countervailing research. They may have felt that they were performing a worthwhile service, but in fact, their work was responsible for countless additional deaths from lung cancer for which they were never held responsible. For Dr. Soon, his work is serving to delay or even eliminate efforts required to avert a global catastrophe. Of course, he will never be held responsible.