The Soon Scandal Is Very Spiro Agnew

And for those of you who don’t know who Spiro Agnew was, this is what I’m referring to. Recently, I asked this about the scandal enveloping climate change denier Dr. Willie Soon and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophyics:

what the hell was the Smithsonian thinking? Again, this isn’t very much money per year–tarnishing your reputation for this little money just isn’t worth it. I wonder if his denialist ties helped him in that the Smithsonian was afraid to let him go as it would be seen by the right as politically motivated. At best, the Smithsonian got greedy–and in a Spiro Agnew sort of way. At worst, this is a real failure of scientific oversight.

It really was chump change (boldface mine):

The records showed that Mr. Soon and the Smithsonian had received money from groups that included the energy conglomerate Southern Company, the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and Donors Trust, a fund for anonymous contributions identified by a 2013 Drexel University study as the largest single provider of money to political efforts to fight climate-change policy.

Mr. Alcock confirmed through a spokeswoman that the donors disclosed by Greenpeace had provided Mr. Soon and the Smithsonian with a total of $1.2-million over a period of 10 years. He also confirmed that, under standard observatory procedures, less than half of that amount was passed through to Mr. Soon as salary. Most was kept by the Smithsonian to cover facility operating costs.

Most Smithsonian researchers receive their compensation through such “soft money” payments rather than a salary from the institution, Mr. Kress said. But unlike Mr. Soon, most of those at the observatory draw funding heavily from government sources, such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation, which in turn rely on peer-reviewed award processes.

In a typical year, the Smithsonian observatory receives about $95-million in grant support, said Mr. Alcock’s spokeswoman, Christine Pulliam. “Only a small fraction of 1 percent of that figure comes from corporate sources,” she said.

So, over a decade, Soon brought in $1.2 million, which is about one-tenth of a percent of HSCA’s total funding. And the Smithsonian risked its reputation over that. Insane.

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2 Responses to The Soon Scandal Is Very Spiro Agnew

  1. colnago80 says:

    The real scandal involving Soon isn’t that he performed research paid for by the Koch brothers amongst others. The real scandal is that he submitted articles to peer reviewed journals on his results without disclosing who paid for the research. That’s a no no.

  2. arborist says:

    While the sums of money given directly as grants to Soon was relatively small, there’s a possible quid-pro-quo in funding things like the Koch human origins hall, etc. From what I’ve heard from people working at the Smithsonian, there’s a lot of “Hey can you give us some money for this?” informal type stuff going on where that kind of thing could be easily hidden.

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