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Who's being dishonest about the environment?

The Skeptical Environmentalist
Available from Amazone.com

January 20, 2003: "Bjorn Lomborg, a young statistics professor and political scientist at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, knows all about the enduring appeal -- for journalists, politicians and the public -- of environmental doomsday tales, having swallowed more than a few himself. In 1997, Lomborg -- a self-described left-winger and former Greenpeace member -- came across an article in Wired magazine about Julian Simon, a University of Maryland economist. Simon claimed that the "litany" of the Green movement -- its fears about overpopulation, animal species dying by the hour, deforestation -- was hysterical nonsense, and that the quality of life on the planet was radically improving. Lomborg was shocked by this, and he returned to Denmark to set about doing the research that would refute Simon."

"He and his team of academicians discovered something sobering and cheering: In every one of his claims, Simon was correct. Moreover, Lomborg found on close analysis that the factual foundation on which the environmental doomsayers stood was deeply flawed: exaggeration, prevarications, white lies and even convenient typographical errors had been absorbed unchallenged into the folklore of environmental disaster scenarios." Thus begins a positive Washington Post review of Bjorn Lomborg's book the Skeptical Environmentalist.

The book received an equally positive review in the Economist. However, others took a very different position. "The problem with Lomborg's conclusion [that, contrary to the gloomy predictions of environmental degradation, everything is getting better] is that the scientists themselves disavow it." So wrote the Editor of Scientific American in the introduction to a review of The Skeptical Environmentalist by four scientists described by the Scientific American as leading experts in the areas of global warming, energy, population and biodiversity. "Many spoke to us at Scientific American," the editor continued, "about their frustration at what they described as Lomborg's misrepresentation of their fields. His seemingly dispassionate outsider's view, they told us, is often marred by an incomplete use of the data or a misunderstanding of the underlying science. Even where his statistical analyses are valid, his interpretations are frequently off the mark--literally not seeing the state of the forests for the number of the trees, for example. And it is hard not to be struck by Lomborg's presumption that he has seen into the heart of the science more faithfully than have investigators who have devoted their lives to it; it is equally curious that he finds the same contrarian good news lurking in every diverse area of environmental science."

Following such an introduction, it comes as no surprise that the "leading experts" are severely critical, describing the book as muddled, unclear, elliptical, engaging in egregious distortion, unbalanced, liable to trick laypersons, and much else besides, nearly all of it uncomplimentary.

Now, primarily on the basis of the Scientific American critique, a Danish entity named the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty has issued a Decision regarding complaints against Bjorn Lomborg. Their conclusion is that Lomborg's book falls "objectively speaking,... within the concept of scientific dishonesty." Remarkably, this decision is not based on specific charges and is made without reference to Lomborg's point by point rebuttal of the claims of his Scientific American critics.

Following the Danish Committees' "decision," however, Lomborg has not been without defenders. In an editorial, the Economist called the decision an Orwellian exercise in thought control, and concluded that "science needs no defending from Mr Lomborg [but] may very well need defending from some of his critics."

Charles Paul Freund, writing in Reasononline asks "Did you see where the Greens in Denmark have burned Bjorn Lomborg at the stake?" and compares the Committees' pronouncement on Lomborg with the actions of the Counter-Reformation Church against heresy and of Stalinists in support of Lysenkoism.

But according to James K. Glassman, in an article for TECHCENTRALSTATION entitled Denmark's Ministry of Truth the campaign against Lomborg is backfiring: "in the two days following the news reports [of the Danish Committees' decision], Lomborg's book moved up 400 places on Amazon's bestseller chart." Glassman also notes that "despite being two years old, The Skeptical Environmentalist still ranks as the number-one Nature book on the Amazon site and number 209 overall."

naturalSCIENCE invites comments or questions relating to this or any other item. Please direct correspondence to publisher@naturalscience.com.


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