Guest essay by H. Sterling BurnettMore than 500 scientists, colleagues, and friends of Willie Soon, Ph.D. signed a letter sent, along with accompanying supporting documents, to the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents defending the award-winning solar physicist against false allegations he failed to disclose conflicts of interest in publications requiring such admissions. The letter notes Soon, a researcher at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has for a quarter of a century strictly followed Harvard-Smithsonian’s conflict of interest guidelines.
The letter was authored by Lord Christopher Monckton, David Legates, Ph.D., and statistician William Briggs, who had co-authored with Soon a highly popular study in the Science Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As the popularity and media coverage of the Science Bulletin article grew, mainstream media outlets began to publish years-old false allegations fed to them by a Greenpeace staffer. Rather than leaping to Soon’s defense, the Smithsonian said it was launching an investigation.
No investigation or waffling on the part of the Smithsonian was warranted. The Smithsonian itself had negotiated all the contracts in question under the condition the funder’s identity was not to be published, and all the money went directly to the Smithsonian, who then paid Soon out of the grants. The Smithsonian’s internal policies assured no conflict of interest. As the letter from Monckton et al. states, “The only papers in which Soon had not disclosed his funders’ identity were those papers covered by that contractual obligation of confidentiality, for which obligation the Smithsonian, not Soon, was entirely responsible.”
The Smithsonian’s failure to respond swiftly and appropriately to quash the allegations of impropriety further harmed Soon’s reputation.
To rectify this situation, the letter’s authors and signatories requested United States Chief Justice John Roberts begin independent investigations into the Smithsonian’s possible malfeasance. By the Smithsonian’s charter, the sitting Chief Justice is an ex-officio member of its Board of Regents. The letter specifically requests:
We now ask you –
1. To instruct the Inspector-General of the Smithsonian to investigate the co-authors’ findings (pages 3–4) and the evidence in support of the findings (pages 5–14) as part of his investigation of this matter;
2. To investigate Dr Alcock’s malicious and dishonest interview (overleaf) with the Chronicle of Higher Education; his refusal to make any correction of his falsehoods upon request by Dr Soon and separately by Dr Soon’s lead author; and his failure to forward to the Smithsonian’s general counsel the lead author’s freedom of information request;
3. To request the Attorney-General of Massachusetts to investigate those aspects of the conduct of the Smithsonian in general and of Dr Alcock in particular that constitute a criminal campaign of intentional, connected and co-ordinated deceptions, persisted in despite requests to cease and desist and, therefore, intended to cause not only reputational harm but also financial loss to Dr Soon; and
4. If the report’s findings be found in substance correct, to order the Smithsonian to apologize publicly to Dr Soon and to make just and full restitution to him for the loss and damage it and its senior management have intentionally caused.
Disappointingly, there has been no response to the letter from the Smithsonian. Shame on them.