- About six weeks after it was revealed as a backer of his work, utility giant Southern Co. has decided to cut ties with a controversial climate change researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
- Researcher Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon is a climate change skeptic who produced reports for Southern, according to Inside Climate News, through agreements which allowed the company to review and comment on the analysis in advance of publication.
- Southern Co. was just one of a litany of fossil fuel interests revealed in February to be funding Soon's work. The Smithsonian Institute has opened an investigation into Soon's failure to identify to journals his funding sources.
The heat on Soon's skeptical climate change research may have gotten to Southern Co. A spokesman told Inside Climate News that the company will cut its ties later this year following delivery of a final report that looks at the sun's relationship to global warming.
"Our agreement with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory expires later this year and there are no plans to renew it," a spokesman told the news outlet. Observers say the utility did not want to be seen as influencing the science or having a corporate policy on the outcome of the research.
A Freedom of Information Act request filed by Greenpeace revealed that Southern Co., along with a variety of fossil fuel companies and secretive donor groups, had been funding Soon's research. The group also discovered Southern Co. had been granted pre-publication review of the research (described as a "deliverable" for the company in emails), and had agreements in place to ensure the company's anonymity as a backer.
Soon, an aerospace engineer and not a climate scientist, is a part-time researcher employed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., and pursues external sources to fund his research activity. The Smithsonian said in a statement that it "does not support Dr. Soon’s conclusions on climate change."
"The Smithsonian’s official statement on climate change, based upon many decades of scientific research, points to human activities as a cause of global warming," the Institution said.