The setting was not unusual for a scholarly conference: a bland ballroom in a Houston hotel. But Willie Soon’s presentation was anything but ordinary. As PowerPoint slides flashed on a screen, his remarks crescendoed into a full-throated denunciation.
“Those people are so out of their minds!’’ exclaimed Soon, a solar researcher at the prestigious Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge. He assailed former vice president Al Gore, among others, for his views on climate change, calling predictions of catastrophic ocean tides “crazy’’ and scornfully concluding: “And they call this science.’’
Never mind that Soon, an astrophysicist, is no specialist on global sea levels, and his most notable writing on the subject was an op-ed article in the conservative Washington Times last year.
He has, nonetheless, established himself as a front-line combatant in the partisan crossfire over rising oceans, melting ice, and other climate issues beyond his primary expertise. Coveted for his Harvard-Smithsonian affiliation, and strident policy views, he has been bankrolled by hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy industry grants.
Working in close coordination with conservative groups in Washington, he passionately seeks to debunk the growing consensus on global warming before audiences of policymakers, at academic seminars and conferences, and in the media.
Polar bears? Not threatened. Sea level? Exaggerated danger. Carbon dioxide? Great for trees. Warming planet? Caused by natural fluctuation in the sun’s energy.
Soon’s views are considered way outside the scientific mainstream, which makes him a prophet or a pariah, depending on which side you ask. Some say his work simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, that his data are cherry-picked to fit his thesis.
Written By: Christopher Rowland
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