Lomborg Cleared, M'Kay
December 18, 2003 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Skeptical environmentalist cleared. The Danish panel charged with investigating Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, found the author not guilty of scientific dishonesty. Lomborg has his thoughts on the matter as well as English translations of the committee's decision available on his web site.
posted by bbrown (34 comments total)

 
Admittedly, the report does seem to clear Lomborg on technicalities and nuances of bureaucracy.
posted by bbrown at 6:11 AM on December 18, 2003


The article doesn't explain what a finding of "scientific dishonesty" means for Lomborg under Danish law. Is it just a notice to the public that the government thinks that the book is untrustworthy, or it is some kind of crime?

If it is the former, it might be defensible (if his science truly is awful, as it sounds like it might be), but if its the later, it seems pretty indefensible to have a such a law, particularly given how dependent science is upon the free exchange of ideas.
posted by boltman at 6:39 AM on December 18, 2003




Lomborgs book was initially accused of not living up to academic standards (which is not a 'crime' as such, but can get him fired from the university). This accusation was investigated by the panel of scientific dishonesty, who found him guilty. Now the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has cleared him of the charges.
posted by Eirixon at 7:22 AM on December 18, 2003


Here is the original decision from the panel
posted by Eirixon at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2003


Pretty much the entire scientific world is corrupted and thus you feel entitled to get your scientific validation elsewhere. Way to go, Mr. Lomborg.

/Make that "The panel investigating the panel investigating Mr. Lomborg ...", kinda puts things into their real perspective
posted by magullo at 7:49 AM on December 18, 2003


Note that the panel didn't find that he was honest, just that he hadn't been shown to be dishonest. You've got to love that the "Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty" did not manage to cobble together a scientifically sound argument supporting their position.
posted by skyscraper at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2003


skyscraper What makes you think that the Danish Science Ministry is being impartial? I'd read Eirixon's link to the original decision before jumping to conclusions. If I understand today's decision correctly, it's saying "Lomborg refutes established science and the original panel pointed that out instead of researching all that established science once again", which makes very little sense. The findings of the original panel are scientifically sound. It should be up to Lomborg to convince us that his own findings are up to scientific standards. There is only one way of doing that, and he has not taken it. The key questions here are why is he acting the way he is acting and why are people paying any attention to him.
posted by magullo at 8:20 AM on December 18, 2003


It should be up to Lomborg to convince us that his own findings are up to scientific standards.

Guilty until proven innocent?
posted by Asparagirl at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2003


I have no idea if Lomberg is right about anything at all, but it sounds much more like he is being accused of heresy than dishonesty.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2003


It should be up to Lomborg to convince us that his own findings are up to scientific standards.

Guilty until proven innocent?


You're confusing criminal rights with scientific validity. If he wants us to believe that what he says is valid he was to present a thesis with valid evidence to back it up. He has to be able to justify his methods for data collection and the application of the collected data in bringing him to his conclusions.
posted by biffa at 9:45 AM on December 18, 2003


Hey folks. Let's bring this down to Earth. Lomborg does not do peer-reviewed science - in any of the fields he presumed to speak for, or in any field at all, as far as I am aware. It was on this basis that he was roundly condemned by specialists in the various fields covered in his book. For that matter, his book was not a work of science per se, It was not subjected to any peer review process. I have heard it described as a "vigorous polemic" and that it could be, I guess. But "The Skeptical Environmentalist" is not a work of scientific research in the sense of that term employed by working scientists conducting research and then publishing their results through the peer-review process. Peer review has it's flaws, sure. But, as many have said - "Its the best system we've got". If Lomborg chooses to act as a scientist and submit work for peer review, I'll take him more seriously.

[ warning vitriolic personal attack ] "My greatest regret about the Lomborg scam is the extraordinary amount of scientific talent that has to be expended to combat it in the media. We will always have contrarians like Lomborg whose sallies are characterized by willful ignorance, selective quotations, disregard for communication with genuine experts, and destructive campaigning to attract the attention of the media rather than scientists. They are the parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval." - E.O.Wilson, generally recognized as one of the world's greatest living scientists.

Personally, I think of Lomborg as a sort of especially virulent strain of infectious yeast.

But sticking to actual facts - You can download a Detailed refutation of Lomborg's claims from the Danish ecological council. ( that link is to their website, the download file is down the page on the right, 1.1 mb PDF )

About the Lomborg refutation piece "Twelve Danish scientists – with backgrounds in natural as well as social sciences and economics – go over many of the subjects covered by “The Skeptical Environmentalist”. The state of the world is assessed in terms of resources of energy and raw materials, population growth, biodiversity, forests, fisheries and fish stocks, green house effect and climate change, acid rain and chemicals.

En route, they expose the methods used by Bjoern Lomborg. In his book, Lomborg concludes that the state of the environment is improving on most counts and also that many actions taken to improve the environment, including the Kyoto protocol, are waste of money. However, Lomborg often reaches his conclusions by excluding statistical uncertainty and by comparing figures calculated on different assumptions. For example, he states that the total area of the world´s forests has been constant or maybe even increased a little, allegedly on the basis of official data from the FAO. However, this is based on FAO data which, according to FAO itself, are very uncertain and even unreliable. FAO data, which are more reliable, show the opposite - viz. that the forest area is steadily declining."


Meaning - Lomborg does appear, per this report, to select data which serve his purposes. If true, he's dishonest. If false, then he's sloppy. But the thing to remember, again, is that Lomborg's work is not science - in the commonly accepted sense.

Here is what a few noted specialists say about Lomborg (from This article from Grist magazine) :

Stephen Schneider on Lomborg and Climate Change

Norman Meyers on Lomborg and Species Diversity : "Bjorn Lomborg opens his chapter on biodiversity by citing my 1979 estimate of 40,000 species lost per year. He gets a lot of mileage out of that estimate throughout the chapter, although he does not cite any of my subsequent writings except for a single mention of a 1983 paper and a 1999 paper, neither of which deals much with extinction rates. Why doesn't he refer to the 80-plus papers I have published on biodiversity and mass extinction during the 20-year interim?....In this respect as well as others, Lomborg seems to be exceptionally selective."

E.O.Wilson on Lomborg and extinction

Lomborg on deforestation "Lomborg is quoting the FAO's figure for tropical deforestation as a percentage of global forest cover, not as a percentage of tropical forest cover. The vast majority of forest clearance is occurring in the tropics -- forest area is actually expanding in most of the temperate zone -- so this error grossly distorts the rate of tropical deforestation. "

Here is an anologous series of refutations by Danish scientists

Here are heaps of praise for Lomborg - plus links to PDF files of his arguments - from Spiked Magazine

Here's a hard hitting attack on Lomborg published in Tompaine.org




posted by troutfishing at 9:56 AM on December 18, 2003


For that matter, his book was not a work of science per se, It was not subjected to any peer review process. I have heard it described as a "vigorous polemic" and that it could be, I guess. But "The Skeptical Environmentalist" is not a work of scientific research in the sense of that term employed by working scientists conducting research and then publishing their results through the peer-review process.

So basically Lomborg was censured for daring to publish a book on a scientific subject without having it peer-reviewed first, even though it obviously hadn't been and nobody would have confused a book for laymen with a scientific paper. Also, some people thing he's wrong, but that seems to be secondary. Do I have that right?
posted by kindall at 10:25 AM on December 18, 2003


I lost a lot of respect for various people in this lurid affair, none of whom were Lomborg.
posted by quercus at 10:48 AM on December 18, 2003


About the committee that investigates the scientific merits of the case. Are these specialists adequate to evaluate the scientific value of his writings?:

Chairman ?
Fellow Institute for Philosophy
Fellow Institute for Archeology/Ethnology
Fellow Sociology Institute
Fellow Institute for Political Science
Supplement Inst. for Philosophy/Pedogogy/Rhetoric
Supplement Institute for the Law
Supplement Institute for the Law
Fellow Biotechnology
Fellow Agricultural Research
Fellow Molecular Pathology
Supplement Natural History
Supplement Institute for Mathematics
Supplement Earth Sciences
Supplement Institute for Mathematics
Fellow Biochemist
Fellow Microbiology/Immunology
Fellow Dentistry
Fellow Biochemist
Supplement Immunology
Supplement Biology
Supplement Dentistry
Supplement Anesthesiology
posted by kablam at 10:49 AM on December 18, 2003


Incredible-I just clicked on a random troutfishing link-the one by Norman Meyers and Meyer states:

"As my 1979 book emphasizes, [my] estimate of 40,000 extinctions per year was strictly a first-cut assessment, preliminary and exploratory, and advanced primarily to get the issue of extinction onto scientific and political agendas"

Now that's scientific dishonesty. Indeed this is exactly what both sides on the global warming debate are doing today-putting the politics instead of the science.

Has Meyers stopped this practice? Was it wrong then? is it wrong now?
posted by quercus at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2003


quercus - which lurid affair would that be? Meanwhile, that was agenda driven behavior on Meyer's part, clearly. But - having put the issue of species extinction on the table, Meyers continued to do research in the subject and has published 80-plus peer reviewed papers since then - and refined his estimates in the process. Meanwhile, would you deny that species extinction is a rather important issue? - I am willing to cut Meyers slack in that case, although he was advancing an agenda. Lomborg, meanwhile, is not conducting scientific research in the strict sense, although he is also advancing an agenda. That is an important distinction. Meyers was making an initial and very tentative estimate based on very preliminary data. Lomborg seems to employ selective use of data. There is a difference there also.

Perhaps time will vindicate Lomborg, but he needs to start practicing real science first. If he does not make that effort, then he will be acting not as a scientist but as a propagandist.

["Norman Myers is an Honorary Visiting Fellow of Oxford University. He has served as Visiting Professor at universities from Harvard to Stanford and is a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He works as an independent scientist, undertaking research projects for the U.S. National Research Council, the World Bank, and United Nations agencies. He has received the UNEP Environment Prize, the Volvo Environment Prize, and, most recently, the 2001 Blue Planet Prize for being "the first to alert the world to the mass extinction underway, and warning of many other fundamental challenges."]

Kindall - But among the public Lomborg's book has been widely misperceived by the public as a work of science and Lomborg - as a totemic figure almost - has become widely cited by those who assert that environmental claims are bunk.

I can't answer for the Danish system, but I would assume that it demands a high level of honesty from state supported academics.

It's not exactly that Lomborg didn't have "The Skeptical Environmentalist" peer reviewed first - it's more that, since it's not science as such, it could never be peer reviewed. So what, then, were Lomborg's motives - as a scientist or at least as an academic with scientific training - in writing such a book which looked - to the lay public - an awful lot like science? A book which made sweeping assertions which seemed to have scientific grounding?

Perhaps the field the book covered is so wide that it was impossible to do as science - perhaps. But the reoccurring charge, by leading scientists, that Lomborg selectively quotes evidence when it supports his cause suggests to me that Lomborg intended that the book as a polemic, political work and calculated that it would cause a great sensation and advance his career.

I think was a stunning work of PR.
posted by troutfishing at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2003


You'd think internet folks new better ...

You got it all wrong Kindall. He was not censored - in fact his book was published by a respected scientific publishing house. It all boils down to a BIG MISTAKE on their part, as the book was immediately spinned as an alternative scientific view. Which is not, because it does not follow basic scientific procedures, like allowing any other member of the community to contest the methods, data and hypothesis of the work.

This is not a criminal or free speech matter, it is a simple procedural matter. It's a question of someone who, when asked for data to backup his claims, makes a big fuss but produces nothing of substance.

We call that trolling - don't we?

/On preview

"Now that's scientific dishonesty."

Nope, that's the scientific method at work: you advance and then refine preliminary estimations. As long as the figure is preceded by "an estimated" and represents your best shot at it, there is no lying. Admittedly, the use of that information in other arenas might serve political means. But that doesn't affect the integrity of science. If you show up with a better hypothesis and good data to back it up and are willing to submit the lot to the community for review, you can rest assured that it will win them over on its own merits.

posted by magullo at 11:29 AM on December 18, 2003


You'd think internet folks new better ...

Like how to spell ...

posted by magullo at 11:34 AM on December 18, 2003


Magullo-my preliminary studies- based on reading Mefi posts-is that you and Trout are spouting total crap "an estimated" 86% and 95% of the time, respectively. Hey, at least I'm honest.
posted by quercus at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2003


way to go ad hominem, quercus. that'll show 'em!
posted by clever sheep at 12:16 PM on December 18, 2003


Let's see the actual data and methods you used. I can't discard right that you might indeed be right 8?)
posted by magullo at 12:17 PM on December 18, 2003


You got it all wrong Kindall. He was not censored - in fact his book was published by a respected scientific publishing house. It all boils down to a BIG MISTAKE on their part, as the book was immediately spinned as an alternative scientific view. Which is not, because it does not follow basic scientific procedures, like allowing any other member of the community to contest the methods, data and hypothesis of the work.


I don't quite follow. He published a book, not a scientific journal in a pee-reviewed journal. Now, that the book has been published, people are free to question his methods. Is there really a problem here?
posted by gyc at 12:47 PM on December 18, 2003


Actually, Quercus, your post shows exactly why this is a fishy affair.

There is no scientific refute for what you just said - because we're not doing science here. You pulled exactly what Lomborg pulled: a non-scientific work disguised as science. Nothing wrong with it - as long as you do not call it science.

/gyc - once his methods were questioned, he cried foul and here we are ...
posted by magullo at 12:57 PM on December 18, 2003


"Magullo-my preliminary studies- based on reading Mefi posts-is that you and Trout are spouting total crap "an estimated" 86% and 95% of the time" - Y'know.....that's not a very persuasive argument there, quercus.

But while you're at it, you might as well mention that Magullo and I are actually demon spawn spewed up from the fiery pits of Hell !
posted by troutfishing at 1:29 PM on December 18, 2003


But while you're at it, you might as well mention that Magullo and I are actually demon spawn spewed up from the fiery pits of Hell !

Is there any public domain evidence that the theory doesn't fit with?
posted by biffa at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2003


You got it all wrong Kindall. He was not censored

I said "censured."
posted by kindall at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2003


Ooops

/My point still stands
posted by magullo at 2:51 PM on December 18, 2003


troutfishing: I wouldn't go *that* far. However, I might suggest that you two are contributing to global warming.
posted by kablam at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2003


What is very evident here is that too few people understand real science and its processes (peer review and skepticism) while being all too willing to accept psuedoscience as fact.

Perhaps it is a failing of the educational system but I'm leaning towards it being the result of far too many assaults on our senses by corporate advertisements which rely exclusively upon falsity dressed up as fact.

(4 out of 5 Madison Avenue suits agree...)

Carl Sagan would be very unhappy to read this thread, especially the ignorant trolls.
posted by nofundy at 2:57 PM on December 18, 2003


biffa, troutfishing is from Massachusetts. And while I'm sure MA is occasionally confused with the fiery pits of Hell, you can tell the two apart by the availability of recreational snowmobiling.
posted by clever sheep at 2:58 PM on December 18, 2003


clever sheep - there's more of that in New Hampshire though, along with a steady stream of incidents where people's heads get clipped off by random outcroppings, branches, cables - and so on - whilst recreationally zooming along snowmobile trails.
posted by troutfishing at 5:55 PM on December 18, 2003


That's very true, nofundy. The media often doesn't know how to deal with science. The public often doesn't understand how peer-reviewed science works. There are suggestions from a number of scientists that I've read and/or know regarding how to emphasize conservation priorities in the media. It might involve using a significance value greater than 0.05 in statistical tests where the study could mean the existance or extinction of a species. I could mean doing coarse "back of an envelope" estimates to illustrate concepts. The point is, all these methods are open to the public to comment on or try for themselves - it's not some big cover up. If you feel the 0.05 confidance interval is God's gift to science, then feel free the reject the findings of anyone who dares set it at 0.1.

There seems to be a trend at the moment, whereby when the findings of scientists happen to coincide with the beliefs of environmentalists, anti-environmentalists scream bloody murder and claim political bias. On the other hand, lonely (and sometimes dishonest) voices who claim theories of environmental destruction is the product of some grand conspiracy are immediately sainted and defended.

It's never healthy to believe in conspiracies. I've had anti-environmentalists make vague comments to me that "I must be funded by Greenpeace or something". Now, I know exactly where funding for my research comes from - from a government who refuses to sign the Kyoto protocol, amoung other potentially environmentally destructive policies. If some evil greenie puppet out there is controlling my research and coercing me into producing results that predict environmental damage, I'm not aware of it.
posted by Jimbob at 5:58 PM on December 18, 2003


I somehow doubt its some kind of vast corporate advertisement conspiracy nofundy, (not to say there isn’t good examples of companies using bogus survey’s to sell their wares), a lot of the time pseudoscience plays upon you're none critical thinking common sense. A good example is Moon landing TV shows, or Socrates’ physics (it was Socrates, wasn’t it?). Sure it’s scientifically wrong, but it makes sense based on my experiences in the past, what I know to be true due to those experiences and my expectations of the event in the future (Where will the ball fall while you’re running is a great example of that).
posted by X-00 at 6:38 PM on December 18, 2003


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