Malaysian-born astrophysicist allegedly paid to write 'doubtful' climate change reports

PETALING JAYA - A Kangar-born astrophysicist took money in exchange for writing allegedly doubtful reports on climate change, the international media has claimed.

In a New York Times report, Dr Willie Wei-Hock Soon was alleged to have received more than US$1.2mil (RM4.36mil) from the fossil fuel industry over the past decade.

The report added that Dr Soon, who claimed that global warming was linked more to the sun than human factors, failed to report these contributions in his research.

"At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work," the report claimed.

Dr Soon currently works with the US-based Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Some of these fossil-fuel industry contributions, the report added, were from The Southern Company, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Donors Trust.

These documents on Dr Soon were obtained by environmental group Greenpeace via the United States Freedom of Information Act.

In 2013, The Guardian reported that anonymous billionaires allegedly donated some US$120mil to more than 100 groups to cast doubt on the climate change debate from 2002 to 2010.

This money was supposedly sent via two trusts, namely Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund.

A 2011 Reuters report said that Dr Soon also received US$131,000 from oil and gas company Exxon Mobil group in 2007 and 2008 to study the sun's role in climate change and global warming in the Arctic.

The article also quoted Dr Soon at the time as confirming that he received funding, but that it did not influence his reports.

The New York Times added that Dr Soon has had little training in climatology, but has been cited by some conservative US politicians in the sceptical side of the climate change debate.

It was reported that the centre's director Charles R. Alcock said Dr Soon had violated some of the journals' disclosure standards.

In a 2005 interview with The Star, Dr Soon said he was against "current alarmism" on environmental issues that supposedly misused science as covers.

"I want to find more time and fresh ideas to attempt a more serious book on the subject of global warming and various environmental concerns that are often blown off proportion," he said at the time.

He added that society seemed to be moving from science-by-evidence to science-by-public appeals, adding that the public would be ignorant if this "alarmism" was not "corrected and dispelled".

Born in Kangar, Perlis in 1966, Dr Soon attended the Khoon Aik primary school in Kangar, and moved on to the Syed Sirajudin and Dato Sheikh Ahmad secondary schools in Jejawi and Arau respectively.

He left Malaysia at age 14, and currently resides in the US.