|How Lomborg benefits from support from an
|How Lomborg cheats The Lomborg Story, page 2|
Bjørn Lomborg´s sudden change in his attitude to environmental issues happened in February 1997 during a study tour in the USA. When he returned to Denmark in the summer of 1997, he already had plans to write newspaper articles against the common beliefs on the environment. To publish such points of view would be no problem in the largest right-wing newspaper, but a main obstacle would be the opposition to be expected from the major Danish social liberal newspaper, viz. Politiken. This obstacle disappeared, however, when Lomborg made contacts to Politiken´s editor-in-chief, Tøger Seidenfaden.
Seidenfaden has later written about the start (Politiken 22./9. 1998): "When lecturer Bjørn Lomborg in the late summer of 1997 phoned me because he and his students had made it their task to investigate the basis of environmental pessimism from end to end, I gave him a `half promise´ to have it published here in this newspaper." . . . "At that time, I did not know Lomborg (I still have only talked with him by telephone) . . . ". [note: Seidenfaden´s stressing that he had even then not met Lomborg is remarkable and might be an attempt to conceal that the two might possibly have some unusual kind of contact].
Some years later, Seidenfaden wrote more about the start (Politiken 3./2. 2002): "When Bjørn Lomborg for the first time phoned me to describe his ideas about a series of articles . . my reaction was for one thing that the project was enormously ambitious, and for another that it might ultimately lead to an unavailing mud slinging where Lomborg´s figures and facts would be countered by other figures and facts without any possibility to decide who has got the upper hand. Lomborg´s first article manuscript convinced me that I was too pessimistic . . . ".
Lomborg wanted to be the author of a regular, permanent series of articles, and sent in 7 or 8 such articles. Although he was not immediately given what he wanted, he was allowed to write four so-called "kronik"s in January 1998. A "kronik" is a kind of feature article, which, in the case of Politiken, is typically 2,000 - 2,500 words. A few months after that, the debate editor, Kresten Schultz Jørgensen, wrote on Politiken´s web site: "Lomborg had four `kronik´s printed. I think personally that was two too many - but as I am not the editor of `kronik´s, my point of view in a way does not matter." It seems from this that the space given to Lomborg was decided by Seidenfaden himself, not by the debate editor.
The four `kronik´s appeared in 1998 on 12th, 19th and 26th Jan and 2nd Feb. The editors expected considerable debate and therefore they made preparations for this by establishing a web site (which was something rather new at the time). The web site was called `The catastrophe is cancelled´ as if to draw the conclusion already before the debate started.
after the first `kronik´ was printed, an intensive debate started
on the web site. Within the first week, Lomborg put two replies there,
but he had difficulties defending his points of view vis-avis the
many letters there, some of which were from leading experts in their
respective fields. So after the first week, he stayed away from the
debate on the web site.
the general reader of the newspaper it appeared strange that nobody
was able to expose Lomborg´s inaccuracies and erroneous
statements. I personally (Kåre Fog) had an extensive knowledge on
many of the fields covered by Lomborg´s four `kronik´s and
could see at once that many statements were erroneous. Why, then, did
nobody correct the errors in public? My own attempt to do so was
rejected by the editors.
The monthly journal `Forskerforum´ decided to have a `Lomborg theme´ in its April 1998 issue (which must have been written at the start of March 1998). There were interviews with Lomborg himself and with Kresten Schultz Jørgensen, the debate editor at Politiken. In addition a few comments were included from the zoologist Carsten Rahbek, one of Lomborg´s opponents and the person most critical of the editing process at Politiken.
Some excerpts from the interview with the editor are as follows:
"The debate editor tells that Politiken received 8-9 times as many letters against Lomborg as they received pro Lomborg. The newspaper has brought as many contributions representative of the criticism as it was possible for them. "When some critical voices have not been accepted then this is because of the large amount of subject matter, and not my own attitude to Lomborg. But I will of course not exclude that there may be some botanist thinking that precisely his angle has not been included in the debate. A group of botanists from Aarhus thus sent already at the start of the debate a letter, but that was rejected by the debate editors because it was much too long and in addition questioned Lomborg´s `professional qualifications´. And the opponents reacted with rage when they realized that their objections would not be accepted - neither wholly or in part." . . . "Contributions must be popularized without necessarily being oversimplified. I would of course have liked to shorten some of the contributions if it could have been done meaningfully. But nearly all contributions to the Lomborg debate have been hopelessly formulated. It is of course a total disrespect for Politiken when we receive a contribution of 9 A4 pages with a covering letter : `We want the following to be brought unabbreviated.´ That must come from a person who has never read Politiken or a person who has no contact with reality, when he or she believes that Politiken is edited from the Botanical Institute . . . ", says Schultz Jørgensen, who criticises the natural sciences for being to bad at communicating: "Of course it is not enough that things are matter-of-fact and meaningful. They also have to be readable!"
I have at a later occasion had the opportunity to read the manuscript that was sent to Politiken from Carsten Rahbek (two A4 pages, i.e. half the size of a `kronik´) and the manuscript sent by a group of three botanists from Aarhus (half a page). Both manuscripts are full of concrete criticism of specific points in Lomborg´s articles. They are also, in my opinion, well written and readable. Others have expressed doubt about this evaluation, but when I sent the manuscripts to them and they read them, they have agreed.
Apparently, the debate editor does not like `botanists´. This term apparently includes Rahbek, who, although applied at the Zoological Museum, is also called a `botanist´ in the article.
I have tried energetically to find out if the alleged 9 page manuscript from some `botanists`has ever existed, but I have found no trace of such a mansucript.
The strange thing about all this is that what Schultz Jørgensen apparently says in the interview, are lies, and that it also goes against what we otherwise know about Schultz Jørgensens attitudes. Either somebody must have forced him to say something against his own attitudes, or the text was manipulated afterwards. The article where he is interviewed tries to circulate myths about completely self-absorbed botanists with no sense of reality who are unable to write anything readable. The fact is, however, that if the two rejected letters which I have seen had been printed, they would have seriously undermined Lomborg´s credibility. Considering that the letters are exactly what the editors say that they want, being concrete, matter-of-fact, readable, and of suitable length, it is obvious that the reasons given for rejecting are fictitious, that is, the real reason for rejecting is hidden. Considering that the letters would have been effectful if they had been printed, the real reason is most probably that the editors did not want Lomborg to lose the debate. Those letters that did make it to the printed pages were formulated in rather general and soft terms and on-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand type of reasoning. The editor-in-chief and Lomborg tried to give the impressions that all opposition against him was based on emotions rather than facts.
in Politiken, the
solution was to publish a book against him. I contributed to the
editing of this book, which was published in May 1999 (Fremtidens Pris, published by the
Danish Ecological Council). Here, I wrote a chapter on the opinion
formation and Lomborg´s relation to the media. I presented the
same criticism as on this web page, but in some more detail. This book
reviewed by Tøger Seidenfaden in Politiken, and Seidenfaden also
commented on the "opinion formation" chapter in which he is criticised.
Here is what Seidenfaden says to my accusations (Politiken, 19th May
Politiken continued to be highly supportive of Lomborg. When the first Danish version of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" was published in September 1998, Seidenfaden himself wrote a lengthy and very positive review, and Lomborg was granted two more `kronik´s. During the following months, he had additional `kronik´s printed. Subsequently, Lomborg was finally given what he wanted: a regular column, with one contribution every third week for many years.
On 13th January 2002, when the Danish Committes for Scientific Dishonesty had just issued their verdict that Lomborg was `objectively dishonest´, Seidenfaden filled one and a half page of the newspaper with a defense of Lomborg. The article had the title "Anklage" (i.e. `accusation´) with record size letters in full page width, and the content was that the decision against Lomborg was an assassination on scientific freedom of speech.
Whereas Lomborg has obtained enormous exposition of his views in Politiken for many years, it has been quite difficult for his opponents to have letters against him accepted, and for me personally it has been extremely difficult to get letters accepted when these are about Lomborg. Once when I sent a reader´s letter criticising Seidenfadens contention that Lomborg´s facts had never been challenged, I was contacted directly be Seidenfaden who urged me to admit that I could not possibly mean that (in the end, however, that letter was printed). In other matters, it is probably very unusual that the editor-in-chief of a leading newspaper discusses single reader´s letters. But obviously, Seidenfaden is extremely engaged in the defense of Lomborg, and still, after all these years, does not acknowledge that some of Lomborg´s facts have been challenged.
Already four months ahead of the printing of the first `kronik´, Lomborg was in principle supported by Seidenfaden, who - allegedly - did not at all know him at that time. But there must soon have been a close cooperation between the two. The strongest indication for this is the editorial in which it was claimed that no precise criticism has been raised against Lomborg, at the same time as many relevant precise criticisms were rejected by the editors; if Seidenfaden had acted alone, he would hardly have made such a deliberate deception. The web site forum was also a deception, giving critics space to write criticism which was not taken seriously by the newspaper and practically not replied to by Lomborg himself. The debate editor lies about the character of the rejected letters, and repeatedly talked of the prospects of giving more space to the criticism, but never realized these.
Altogether, it was crucial for Lomborg´s very first appearance on the scene that Politiken repressed relevant criticism. The big question is: How did Lomborg obtain this? Journalists would say that it is always interesting when a person is in opposition to mainstream science and contradicts what everybody else believes. However, this cannot fully explain the extreme extent to which the newspaper, and especially the editor-in-chief, supported him. It cannot explain why the usual critical sense of journalists and their obligation to ask critical questions to both parties was suspended here. Seidenfaden always has believed firmly that Lomborg´s socalled facts remain unchallenged. It is also unconceivable that an editor-in-chief should use deliberate deception in his extreme efforts to support a person who is criticised heavily by practically all experts in the fields touched upon, and instead completely trusting a person with nearly no scientific merits, postulating that it is more interesting to hear the claims of a person who is good at communicating with the-man-in-the-street than to hear what experts and scientists have to say on the same matters.
Some of all this may be explained by Lomborg´s unusual ability to communicate statistical matter, and by his personal charm. But even so, it is hard to believe that all this could happen without some special efforts of third parties promoting Lomborg.
In any case, a main reason why it is so difficult to oppose Lomborg in public debate is that the most influential media support him selectively and suppress criticism. Politiken is the first example of this. Many more examples have appeared afterwards. One should seriously wonder how come this is so.
The original texts were written in Danish. They have been translated into English here by me.