Lomborg-errors

Lomborg and the media: Britain
 
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LOMBORG´S RELATIONS TO THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA:  BRITAIN
   Being based in Denmark, I have only a fragmentary knowledge on how Lomborg uses the printed and electronic media internationally. But with the information available to me, it is interesting to ask: Is there any indication that the situation in Denmark, where relevant criticism is often held back and not allowed to come to the attention of the general public, is also true elsewhere? I will here write about the situation in Britain, while the situation in USA is described on another page.


CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS

   Whereas the first Danish version of `The Skeptical Environmentalist´ was published by a non-scientific publishing house, owned by one of the large newspapers, Lomborg managed to have the English version of the book published in one of the world´s most prestigious scientific publishing houses, the Cambridge University Press (CUP). How was this possible ? It seems that  Lomborg somehow persuaded the editor of the social science section, Chris Harrison, to support him eagerly. There has been some speculation (see here on Lomborg-errors) that the manuscript bypassed the usual process of peer review. This claim was repudiated by Chris Harrison, but Harrison also stated that all four reviewers had political interests besides their scientific work. So it is possible that the reviewers were carefully selected to be in favour of Lomborg´s agenda. In any case, no experts from the natural science section of CUP were consulted before publishing. Afterwards several scientists from the natural sciences have written letters to CUP heavily criticising the publication of the book and stating that they will henceforward boycott the publishing company.

 

ADVANCE PUBLICITY IN BRITISH NEWSPAPERS

    The British public first heard of Lomborg on 10th June 2001, about three months before publication of "The Skeptical Environmentalist". The Observer had a long article saying that "A new book is about to overturn our most basic assumptions about the world´s environment" and listed a long series of indicators that are getting better. It admitted that many of these improvements are due to the successes of the environmental movement - this admission is contrary to the actual theme of Lomborg´s book. On the same day, the Sunday Times had a slightly shorter article (to be seen here) headlined "Cleanest London Air for 400 Years," stating that "If you want to taste clean air, go to London. According to new research, the capital´s atmosphere is cleaner than at anytime since 1585." This is based on Lomborg´s curve showing how air pollution in London has changed over time, a curve that results from very gross manipulation (cf. this text in Lomborg-errors). This cheating is called `new research´ by the journalist. The article also said "His work will also call into question the basis for the Kyoto protocol" and adds "George W Bush, the American president, will fly to Europe this week and Kyoto will form a major part of negotiations with the EU. Bush has refused to sign up Kyoto, arguing that it is based on unproven science." Thus, the article was placed in the newspaper just in time to justify president Bush´s contention that the Kyoto protocol is not backed up by science. It is natural to ask, therefore, if the placement of the advance publicity just then has been arranged by groups interested in shooting down the Kyoto protocol. 
   According to an article cited by Wikipedia, The Times followed up the report the next day with a news article further detailing the book's Kyoto protocol angle. With The Times reports, Lomborg and his claims had made the Anglo media agenda. As is typically the case, other media outlets followed the reporting of the elite newspaper. Articles pegging the claims of The Skeptical Environmentalist to Bush's European visit ran later that week in the U.K's The Express and Daily Telegraph, and Canada's Toronto Star.


THE ECONOMIST
 
   In Britain, Lomborg made espcially close contacts to the influential newsweekly The Economist.
   On 2nd August 2001, a month before publication of `The Skeptical Environmentalist`, Lomborg (falsely designated as a professor) had a long article in The Economist titled `The truth about the environment´. This was an extensive review of a series of issues related to the environment, based on the
same manipulations that we know from the book, for instance with a deliberately misleading curve showing how air pollution in London has changed over time (cf. this text in Lomborg-errors). This article certainly challenged common conceptions on the state of the environment and was therefore a good advance publicity.
   When the book came out, on 6th September 2001, The Economist reviewed his book in glowing terms. On 31st January 2002, when Lomborg´s book had just been heavily criticised in Scientific American, The Economist discussed that in two articles in its leader pages and in the Science and Technology section
. Both articles defend Lomborg´s book as a very well documented text. In the leader, one of his critics are slated under the heading `Leeches of the world, unite´. Another passage of the text reads: "The authors, all supporters of the green movement, were strong on contempt and sneering, but weak on substance."
   In 2004, The Economist sponsored Lomborg´s first Copenhagen Consensus conference, and the newspaper wrote a couple of articles on the conference and its outcome.
   In later years, there has been gradually less support to Lomborg´s points of view in The Economist. On the other hand, there has been very little criticism of Lomborg either.
  There has been very little opportunity to advance the point of view in The Economist that some of Lomborg´s postulates could be directly untrue. After Lomborg´s first article in 2001, there were just a few small reader´s letters. On 14th February 2002, after the leader article on the criticism in Scientific American, the newspaper printed six readers´ letters, three against Lomborg, two pro-Lomborg and one neutral. The longest letter, of nearly 300 words, was by Jeff Harvey, one of the persons accusing Lomborg of scientific dishonesty. In other cases, Harvey has certainly been able to direct concrete and factual criticism against Lomborg, but with this limited space, all he could do was to write: "I have not the space here to debunk the vast amounts of disinformation in Mr Lomborg´s book", and then instead use the authority of those who criticise Lomborg as an argument. This, in turn, hit back on Harvey in a subsequent reader´s letter on 28th February in which he was criticised thus: "While notions of unquestioned authority and infallible oracles have long been shunned outside fundamentalist religious circles, apparently they have found a comfortable home among some scientists. You must have been shaking your head in disbelief at such an egregious example of the kind of person against whom science must be defended. Men such as Mr Harvey do not deserve to call themselves scientists". Clearly, the argument of authority failed here, and space did not allow debate of the matters-of-fact. It is impossible in 300 words to convince anybody that a whole book is permeated with errors. In conclusion, relevant criticism could not be advanced in the newspaper´s columns.
 
MISUNDERSTANDINGS IN THE SUNDAY TIMES
 
    In its issue of 1st January 2005, the Sunday Times had an article about Bjørn Lomborg , in which it acknowledges the evidence on the Lomborg-errors web site. It is mentioned that contrary to Lomborg´s postulates, the world´s forest cover is shrinking, and the IPCC has done a remarkably good job of modelling global warming.
   In spite of this, the article says that Lomborg "wins" because of his trumph card: the claim that environmental scientists for decades have overstated their case. Here, the logic of the presentation fails. Well, Lomborg gives a lot of examples of purported overstatements. Some of these examples are true to some degree, but most of the examples are not. And, most notably, in main part of the climate scientists have NOT overstated their case - the first preliminary predictions of future temperature rises have become more and more firmly corroborated by subsequent research.
   The article says it is about right to call Lomborg "eager and honest", that his intentions are good, and that there are no reasons not to believe him. If one studied those 101 errors and 183 flaws that were documented on Lomborg-errors at that time, one would see that at least 1/3 of these were claimed to be deliberate.
   So, when Lomborg has overstated his case and the IPCC have not, how can the article argue that politicians should listen to Lomborg and not to the IPCC? To use a phrasing from the article and turn it around: It should make you uncomfortable when Lomborg gets away with a lot more than we´re willing to let the scientists get away with.

CONCLUSIONS
   
   Go here to read the conclusions concerning Lomborg and the media.