When a researcher’s work is relevant to a publicly controversial issue, you can expect to hear accusations about his or her funding. Those who reject the conclusions of climate science may claim that the desire for federal funding compels scientists to exaggerate the impacts of climate change. Baseless cheap shots aside, funding is something we rightly take seriously. A Pepsi-funded study finding that Pepsi is the best soda, for example, should draw even more scrutiny than an independent study would.
Greenpeace recently obtained the details of the funding of an astrophysicist and climate contrarian named Willie Soon. The information, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, is causing a bit of a stir. Soon, who has authored a handful of papers attempting to show that the Sun—not greenhouse gases—is behind recent global warming, had received some $1.2 million over the last ten years from fossil fuel companies, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and a source-obscuring system called Donors Trust.
It wasn’t actually news that Soon had gotten fossil fuel industry money to support his research—that's been known for years—but some of the details were new. It appears that Soon failed to make the appropriate conflict-of-interest disclosures required by some of the journals he published in. It was also surprising to discover that some of the funding agreements gave his industry funders the opportunity to review and comment on his publications before they were submitted to journals for review.