Documents obtained by Greenpeace US allege that one of the most prominent climate change skeptics, Dr Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, has been on the big oil payroll to the tune of more than $1m, casting doubts onto the neutrality of his research. According to the investigation, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries are among the coal and oil industry heavyweights to bankroll Dr Soon's projects, with the suggestion that every grant he has received since 2002 was from their coffers.
Dr Soon is an astrophysicist at the Solar, Stellar and Planetary Sciences Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, and has become widely known in climate change circles for his controversial stance that solar variation, rather than CO2 emissions, are at the root of melting arctic sea ice. Among his more vocal opinions was the so-called "hockey stick controversy" which countered claims that global temperatures had sharply climbed in the second half of the previous century.
For his part, Soon is unrepentant, telling Reuters that "I have never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research" despite confirming that he had been funded by fossil fuel interests. "I would have accepted money from Greenpeace if they had offered it to do my research" he argued.
As for the companies themselves, although the investigation threatens to paint them as intrusively attempting to manipulate climate change research results they're aggressively defensive. "Greenpeace needs to get into the 21st century" Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers suggests, "they're still fighting a war to try to make a villain here, when there's a very serious issue about how you deal with emissions and energy needs that go with growing economies around the world."