Major newspapers boasted front page headlines shaking up the climate change denial community yesterday after Greenpeace released documents linking corporate funding to Willie Wei-hock Soon, a major source of science supporting the viewpoints of people who question whether mankind is causing global warming. The papers, acquired by Greenpeace via a freedom of information act request, demonstrate that the scientific publications resulting from this funding do not comply with ethical practices for disclosing conflicts of interest.
The Washington Post calls Willie Wei-hock Soon the "high priest" of climate change denialists. The New York Times compares the denialists to Big Tobacco, using money to generate the appearance of scientific doubt.
A look at the papers uncovered by Greenpeace indicates that these statements are not hyperbole. Of course, finding funding can be hard work, and a lot of what Willie Wei-hock Soon writes in his proposals could be mistaken as efforts to get money for serious science. We also want to emphasize that good science requires some people to investigate hypotheses that run counter to the accepted wisdom. But when corporate funding steps in, science goes terribly off track on a couple of key points.One could perhaps overlook the fact that calling research papers 'deliverables' makes it sound like a consulting effort rather than a scientific pursuit. Including power-point presentations for lobbying in the expected outcomes of the research rather puts the objectivity of the project in question.
But the real conflict of interest is apparent in the contract for the funding, which promises the corporate 'client' an advance written copy of proposed publications for input. Since when does a funding donor have the right to amend a scientific report in return for their support of the research?
And I guess it is clear why Willie Wei-hock Soon failed to comply with the ethical duty and publishing journal policy to disclose conflicts of interest: the contract for funding forbids the use of the donor's identity without express written consent.
The whole sordid mess hopefully will leave a lasting legacy for other scientists reliant on corporate money to fund their investigations: the principles of objectivity and disclosure of conflicts of interest must be respected. And for the corporate funders, here's a tip; "objectivity" means science cannot promise a result that will favor the interests of the donor. You pays your money and you takes your chances.