Danish Environmentalist Work 'Unscientific'- Panel
PlanetArk.org, Aug. 27, 2003
COPENHAGEN - A panel of independent Scandinavian scientists said yesterday that recent reports by a controversial Danish environmentalist were unscientific and of dubious value.
The Danish government asked the panel of five academics to evaluate reports from an independent environmental institute headed by Bjorn Lomborg, after a prestigious Danish scientific committee earlier this year accused the environmental maverick of scientific dishonesty -- a charge he dismissed.
The 38-year-old statistician, author of the controversial book "The Skeptical Environmentalist," enraged the scientific community by saying that the dangers of global warming had been exaggerated and that trying to slow it was a waste of money.
"The panel must conclude that none of the reports represent scientific work or methods in the traditional scientific sense," the five scientists said in their report.
In his book, Lomborg said the world's forests are barely declining, few animals have become extinct lately and rivers and oceans are becoming cleaner.
Lomborg has also criticized the vast sums being spent on reducing pollution, arguing that the amount spent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be enough to provide every person in the world with access to clean water and sewerage.
The chairman of Lomborg's Institute for Environmental Valuation, created by the center-right government in 2002, said the board took note of the panel's evaluation, while the Danish opposition said the institute should be closed.
Environment and Science: Danes Rebuke a 'Skeptic'
The New York Times, Andrew C. Revkin, Jan. 8, 2003
A branch of the Danish Research Agency has concluded that Prof. Bjorn Lomborg, an author whose upbeat analysis of environmental trends has been embraced by conservatives, displayed "scientific dishonesty" in his popular book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist."
Professor Lomborg, who has a doctorate in political science and teaches statistics at the University of Aarhus, has portrayed the book as an unbiased scientific refutation of dire pronouncements by environmental groups. But it has been attacked as deeply flawed by many environmental scientists since its publication in English in 2001 by Cambridge University Press.
Many experts have said that environmental conditions, in most cases, are not nearly as good as Professor Lomborg portrays them, but also not nearly as bad as some environmental groups and scientists have said.
The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, after a six-month review following several complaints filed by scientists, issued a 17-page report yesterday concluding that the book displayed "systematic one-sidedness."
"Objectively speaking," the committees found, "the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty," as defined by Danish rules for scientific integrity.
But because Dr. Lomborg was not found grossly negligent, he could not be found formally to have been scientifically dishonest, the report said.
The committee said it found no evidence that Professor Lomborg deliberately tried to mislead readers, which would have been a graver issue, and settled on a relatively mild rebuke, concluding, "The publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice."
The committees, divisions of the Danish Research Agency, are composed of a variety of scientists and headed by a judge from the Danish High Court.
In a telephone interview, Professor Lomborg, 38, defended the book and challenged the committees to come up with specific examples of errors or bias.
"You can't say I'm scientifically dishonest or in breach of good scientific conduct unless you point the finger and say this is the smoking gun," he said. "It's like saying you committed murder but we won't tell you who you killed. It’s impossible for me to defend myself."
He said the committee's conclusion could get him fired from his new position as director of the Danish Institute for Environmental Assessment, in which he reviews the effectiveness of government spending on environmental programs. Government officials, however, told Danish news organizations that the criticism of the book did not jeopardize Professor Lomborg's job.
Cambridge University Press has also been criticized by scientists for publishing the book. Officials at the publishing house declined to comment on the findings, saying they had not had a chance to read them.
The report did not cite specific examples, but asserted that the book -- although presented in the style of a scientific treatise, with copious footnotes and diagrams -- was actually "a provocative debate-generating paper."
It extensively cited a long critique of Professor Lomborg's book that was published in Scientific American last year. Professor Lomborg and his supporters said that critique was itself biased and written by scientists who have long portrayed the environment as dangerously degraded.
The book -- a dense review of data on forests, climate change, food supplies, population growth and other issues -- has not been a runaway best seller but has been widely cited by conservative groups, commentators and elected officials who oppose strict environmental regulations.
At the same time, the book posed a sharp challenge to environmental groups and many scientists who have long spoken of looming ecological and climatic catastrophes that have yet to materialize.
"The environment is a field where, when people do some light calculations like Lomborg did, it's easy to argue for a happy-times kind of conclusion," said Dr. Peter H. Raven, the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
But such findings should not be portrayed as science, he said, adding, "This is a just outcome that ought to bring his credibility to a halt except for those who desperately want to believe what he says."