Don’t Forget Climate Change: Chapter 4 Willie Soon and the Sun

Previously…chapter by chapter I’m reading a dodgy book in which people try to pretend climate change isn’t really anything to worry about…

Intro, Ch 1, Ch2, Ch3, An Aside, …

Next in line is Willie Soon – a man notable for his fossil fuel industry funding.

Soon’s opening shot is at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

“The many, many thousands of pages of the Assessment Reports of the UN’s climate panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are the expression of the beliefs of a small circle of scientists and interested lobbyists who, against all evidence, have convinced themselves that humans are having a dramatic effect on the Earth’s climate.”

Note Soon’s characterisation of the IPCC as a small group in an attempt to imply that not many scientists actually agree with them. Which is an odd argument to make if consensus doesn’t matter but then maybe Soon thinks consensus does matter?

A few sentences later.

“The ‘principles’ under which the IPCC operates include the following: ‘In taking decisions, and approving, adopting and accepting reports, the Panel, its Working Groups and any Task Forces shall use all best endeavours to reach consensus.’ The IPCC’s objective of consensus is plainly anti-scientific.”

Soon is not ignorant, he is an experienced researcher and knows full well what the IPCC is and what its brief is. The IPCC isn’t a research institute, it’s job isn’t to create new climate science. Instead, it was set up world governments (including the UK and the US) to report on the current state of understanding of climate change. The ‘consensus’ clause is there because it has to agree on the wording for its reports – even if that wording covers contrasting views. Soon knows this but he wanted to trot out the consensus line while trying to use a lack of a consensus as an argument against climate change being true.

Anyway, it is about time we had a bit of history and philosophy of science paragraph. Soon wins 10 points for originality in this regard:

“In eleventh century Iraq, Alhazen, justly celebrated in the ummah wahida of Islam as one of the founders of the scientific method, wrote that the seeker after truth does not place his faith in any mere consensus, however widespread or venerable. Instead, using his hard-won scientific knowledge, he takes care to verify what he has learned of it. ‘The road to the truth,’ said Alhazen, ‘is long and hard: but that is the road we must follow.”

Well, that was fun. Meanwhile, Soon goes on:

“In my field, the physics of the sun, the IPCC asserts against all evidence that the sun has little influence on climate change.”

Which isn’t quite right. Our chums in this book will like to be careful with the phrase “climate change”, which in context can refer to the current changes in climate caused by global warming but in general, can mean any case of the climate changing – which would include ice-ages for example.

The rest of the chapter is a rather detailed complaint. Essentially Soon is arguing that the relative lack of importance placed on solar variation in the IPCC report is misplaced on the grounds that the evidence for a lack of evidence that it is playing a role is due to poor quality data rather than the Sun not playing a role in the change. OK, I didn’t phrase that very well. I’ll take this in steps:

  1. The sun obviously is important to climate because it is where the energy that drives climate comes from.
  2. The sun has its own ups and downs.
  3. The movement of the Earth also has an impact on the sun’s role (you may have noticed this whole night & day thing happening and also seasons occurring)
  4. However, currently there is no evidence that shows the current global warming is being caused by changes in what the sun is doing.
  5. Indeed there is some evidence that it definitely isn’t.
  6. Soon is arguing that the lack of evidence is because the IPCC hasn’t looked for it properly.
  7. That is a (valid) species of the ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ style argument but…
  8. Soon doesn’t make his argument very well and it isn’t clear that he is correct and there is good reason to think he isn’t.

The main thrust of Soon’s chapter is to state that various papers related to solar activity in the IPCC report are flawed or are misrepresented.

For example, Soon criticises the IPCC for not paying enough attention to orbital eccentricity:

“The relative importance of seasonal insolation on historical climate change can be readily demonstrated. During the warm Eemian interglacial period 130,000 to 110,000 years ago, the amplitude of the seasonal insolation was two to three times larger than today because the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit was 4 per cent greater”

Well, I guess that does help establish that warming might be due to orbital issues on some occasions (assuming Soon is correct) but it simultaneously shows why the IPCC would not see this as being particularly relevant. Soon’s own example shows why the current warming can’t have the same cause as the warming he is pointing at 130,000 years ago because the condition he says was the cause does not currently apply.

At the end of the chapter, Soon has got no further in showing that changes in the Sun is actually causing current changes in the climate.



  1. ligne

    a small circle of scientists and interested lobbyists […] against all evidence

    i always love these arguments. many hundreds of scientists have contributed directly to the IPCC reports as authors, drawing on papers by thousands more. so who are these secret masses of scientists who are being overlooked? and for that matter, where is all this contrary evidence they keep wittering on about?


    • camestrosfelapton

      They are mysteriously silent. They remind me of all the conservatives authors supposedly shut out of the Hugo Awards – but when asked for examples it is always the same tiny group of names over and over.


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