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Bjørn Lomborg
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Bjørn Lomborg

Bjørn Lomborg (born January 6, 1965) is a Danish political scientist and former director of the Institute for Environmental Assessment in Copenhagen. In 2001, he attained significant attention by penning The Skeptical Environmentalist, a controversial book whose main thesis is that many of the claims and dire predictions of environmentalists are exaggerated.

Lomborg later founded and acted as director of the Copenhagen Consensus project, and served as editor of the resulting book, Global Crises, Global Solutions (2004).

His professional areas of interest include the simulation of strategies in collective action dilemmas, simulation of party behavior in proportional voting systems, use of surveys in public administration, and use of statistics in the environmental arena.

Lomborg was selected as one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2004.

Contents

Biography

Bjørn Lomborg spent one year as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia, earned a Masters in political science at the University of Aarhus in 1991, and earned a Ph.D. at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, 1994. He taught as an associate professor, lecturing in statistics, in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus. In 1998, he published four lengthy articles about the state of our environment in the leading Danish newspaper Politiken, which according to him "resulted in a firestorm debate spanning over 400 articles in major metropolitan newspapers."

In November 2001, he was selected "Global Leader for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. In March 2002, the newly elected center-right prime minister appointed Lomborg to run Denmark's new Institute for Environmental Assessment.

Lomborg declared on the 22nd of June 2004 his decision to resign from his post to go back to the University of Aarhus, citing that his work in the Institute was done and that he better could service the public debate from the academic sector. But he left the University on February 1, 2005.

Controversies

Accusations of scientific dishonesty

Complaint to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD)

Several environmental scientists brought a complaint to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCDS).

6 January 2003: The DCDS reaches its decision in the complaint against Bjørn Lomborg’s book The Sceptical Environmentalist. The book was published by the Cambridge University Press in 2001.

The main point of the DCDS’s decision of 6 January 2003 is that from an objective point of view, it was a question of scientific dishonesty on the part of Bjørn Lomborg, because, among other reasons, the book was based on a systematically biased choice of data.

Because of Bjørn Lomborg’s lack of scientific expertise in the themes treated in the book, however, the DCDS did not find that Bjørn Lomborg had shown intentional or gross negligence. Bjørn Lomborg was therefore acquitted of the accusations of having acted in a manner considered scientifically dishonest. But the DCDS stated, at the same time, that he had clearly acted contrary to good scientific practice.

13 February 2003: Bjørn Lomborg files a complaint with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation against the DCDS’s decision of 6 January 2003.

17 December 2003: The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation makes a decision in the case. The Ministry finds that the DCDS has made a number of procedural errors namely:

  • The DCSD did not use a proper standard for deciding "good scientific practice" in the social sciences.
  • The DCSD did not evaluate its authority to decide the case in regards to the order stipulating that "The case must be of importance to Danish research.".
  • The DCSD did not document, where the defendant (BL) was biased in his choice of data and his argumentation, and that the decision lacks any argumentation for, why DCSD finds that the complainants are right in their criticisms of BL's working methods. It is not enough, that criticism of a researcher's scientific working methods exists; DCSD must adopt an attitude to the criticism and take a stand to whether or not the criticism is just, and why. It is exactly these tasks that are DCSD's primary duty to solve, and since this has not occurred, the decision must be remitted to DCSD, cf. what has been quoted above from administrative law of the consequence of neglecting the investigative principle. Such an considerable breach in DCSDs consideration of the case is in itself to be critiqued.

The Ministry therefore remits the case to the DCDS. Furthermore, the Ministry’s decision states that it is up to the DCDS to determine whether it will re-examine the case. The Ministry explained at a later date that the decision of the Ministry must be taken to mean that the DCDS’s decision of 6 January 2003 is invalid.

12 March 2004: The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DSCD) have finally ended their case, rejecting the original complaints. They have decided that the original decision is invalid and has ended any further inquiry.

Reactions to the initial verdict of the DCSD

The DCSD's decision regarding Lomborg provoked a signature collection [1] (http://www.math.ku.dk/~dlando/indsamling.htm) amongst Danish academics. 308 scientists, many of whom were from the social sciences, criticised the DCSD's methods in the case. As a reaction to this, a new group of Danish scientists collected signatures in support of the DCSD. The 640 signatures in the second collection came almost exclusively from the medical and natural sciences, and included the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Jens Christian Skou, former University rector Kjeld Møllgård, and professor Poul Harremoës from the Technical University of Denmark.[2] (http://www.ulnits.dk/biologi/frame298.htm)

Among the critics of the DCSD's decision are The Economist news magazine, Patrick Moore, a founder and former director of Greenpeace Canada and some scientists who are members of HAN (Heidelberg Appeal Netherlands). Favorable comments have also appeared in Wired and other periodicals.

A list of reactions of academics around the world.[3] (http://www.stichting-han.nl/Commentaren/algemeen/6.%20Result%20survey1.doc)

Detailed examination by HAN academics

In response to the first verdict of the DCDS, Heidelberg Appeal the Netherlands examined the accusations against Lomborg. They found:

On a total of 27 accusations that have been identified, two are not specific and one is not to the point. Among the 24 remaining specific accusations, two may be proven if further sustained. But they are of little significance, if the scope of the book as a whole is considered. So at least 25 out of 27 accusations are not substantiated or are simply invalid.

and futhermore found:

Having reached the conclusion that the concrete accusations against Lomborg largely don’t hold, it is legitimate to question the approaches of Lomborg’s opponents. Using some historical examples it is argued that almost all opponents use discussion tactics, which come very near to those of dogmatically driven pseudo-scientists. The inevitable overall impression of the debate is, not that Lomborg has deliberately been twisting arguments, but many of his opponents have. This is somewhat more than embarrassing. And most probably for DCSD not the expected outcome of his investigation when it stated: The interested public will thus be granted an opportunity to have full access to the facts of the case.[4] (http://www.stichting-han.nl/Commentaren/algemeen/2.critical%20concideration1.doc)

Discussions in the media

From the release of The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001, Lomborg was subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism in the media, where his scientific qualifications and integrity were attacked and defended. The DCDS episode served as fuel and a focus for this debate, as played out in major news and scientific media.

The Economist

The Economist defended Lomborg in this way:

The material assembled by the panel consists almost entirely of a synopsis of four articles published by Scientific American last year. (We criticised those articles and the editorial that ran with them in our issue of 2 February 2002.) The panel seems to regard these pieces as disinterested science, rather than counter-advocacy from committed environmentalists. Incredibly, the complaints of these self-interested parties are blandly accepted at face value. Mr. Lomborg's line-by-line replies to the criticisms (see www.lomborg.com) are not reported. On its own behalf, the panel offers not one instance of inaccuracy or distortion in Mr. Lomborg's book: not its job, it says. [5] (http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=1522706)

Showtime Channel

On Showtime's "Penn and Teller's BS", episode entitled "Environmental Hysteria" [6] (http://www.sho.com/site/ptbs/topics.do?topic=eh), Lomborg had this to say:

A lot of environmentalists will tell us "you know, if this is a good cause, we should do it. It shouldn't matter how much it costs." It somehow puts a price tag on life or a price tag on birds singing, and that seems immoral. I can certainly understand that *emotional* response because I feel exactly the same *emotional* response. But my argument is to say the danger of "the Doomsday is waiting around the corner" is that we end up prioritizing incorrectly.

Later in the show he went on to say:

We need to get the debate back to a level where we say: "Oh, this is a good idea; this might be a little better; this is certainly not worthwhile doing right now; this is a very important issue." That we can discuss this in a fairly level-headed manner, that's the only way that we ensure that we get a correct or a good prioritization into democratic debate.

Scientific American

An issue of Scientific American featured strong criticism of his book, which Lomborg rebutted on his website, quoting the Scientific American article at length. Lomborg removed his rebuttal from his website following Scientific American's threat of bringing a lawsuit over copyright infringement. The rebuttal has since been published in PDF format on Scientific American's website [7] (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00000B96-9517-1CDA-B4A8809EC588EEDF). The magazine also printed a response to the rebuttal [8] (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00040A72-A95C-1CDA-B4A8809EC588EEDF&sc=I100322).

Union of Concerned Scientists

UCS Union of Concerned Scientists examines The Skeptical Environmentalist:

These separately written expert reviews unequivocally demonstrate that on closer inspection, Lomborg’s book is seriously flawed and fails to meet basic standards of credible scientific analysis. The authors note how Lomborg consistently misuses, misrepresents or misinterprets data to greatly underestimate rates of species extinction, ignore evidence that billions of people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and minimize the extent and impacts of global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases. Time and again, these experts find that Lomborg’s assertions and analyses are marred by flawed logic, inappropriate use of statistics and hidden value judgments. He uncritically and selectively cites literature -- often not peer-reviewed -- that supports his assertions, while ignoring or misinterpreting scientific evidence that does not. His consistently flawed use of scientific data is, in Peter Gleick’s words "unexpected and disturbing in a statistician". [9] (http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/archive/page.cfm?pageID=533)

It is perhaps worth noting that some of the scientists involved in the UCS report were also named and criticised in The Skeptical Environmentalist. Thus some of them had a vested interest in discrediting The Skeptical Environmentalist and its author. Lomborg's response can be found on his site:[10] (http://www.lomborg.com/files/BudianskySciAmerLomborg2.pdf)

Miscellaneous trivia

Lomborg is

He has claimed to have been a former member of Greenpeace. When challenged that Greenpeace had no record of him ever being a member or supporter, he stated that he had given money to Greenpeace collectors.

According to an interview published in 2005 by the San Francisco Examiner, the book he would most liked to have written is Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Society, by Jared Diamond.

References

  • Bjørn Lomborg: The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge University Press 2001 (ISBN 0521010683).
  • Nichola Wade: "From an Unlikely Quarter, Eco-Optimism". The New York Times, 7 August 2001.
  • Stephen Schneider, John P. Holdren, John Bongaarts, Thomas Lovejoy: "Misleading Math about the Earth". Scientific American, January 2002.

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