Lomborg-errors

How Lomborg benefits from support from an editor-in-chief
 
      How Lomborg cheats                                                                                                                                                    The Lomborg Story, page 2      



THE PREPARATORY PHASE - 1997

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.

 
THE FIRST DEBATE

    Immediately 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.
   Those who read only the printed version of the newspaper (i.e. nearly all readers) saw little debate there. Only after some very critical debate in another newspaper, Politiken was pressed to bring a few letters, with printed  extensive replies from Lomborg. No letters appeared from experts in the fields treated by Lomborg. On
8th Feb., six days after the last of the four `kronik´s had been printed, the newspaper had a long unsigned editorial which evidently was written by Tøger Seidenfaden (Lomborg himself may probably have contributed to the editorial text - it has a type of argumentation which is otherwise typical of Lomborg). Some excerpts from the editorial text read as follows:
"The first observation that one may make  - and we must admit that this does not correspond to our expectations when we decided to bring the texts - is that Bjørn Lomborg´s facts still remain practically unchallenged now five weeks after the publishing of the first `kronik´. No one has with reference to concrete data maintained that raw materials are closer to run out than they were 20, 30 or 50 years ago. No one has claimed that we are getting less food per person on the globe, or that more are starving. No one challenges the point that poverty in the world has declined more during the latest 50 years than any time before. No one maintains that there is less forest now than formerly, or that the last forests are disappearing. No one maintains by now that 40,000 species or anything vaguely similar are exterminated every year. No one denies that there is an even very large uncertainty concerning the greenhouse effect and climate changes. . . .
   . . . it is not healthy for the debate when, concerning important issues, concrete claims that things are not as bad as many believe are met primarily with arguments of authority, a search for motives or pure defamation. That fuels the point of view that increasing worry for the environment also has religious overtones . . .
. . . we had hoped for replies from the minister of the environment, the environmental organisations and other experts that were more matter-of-fact and concrete. . . . Concrete claims require concrete replies. Also when it is about the environment."
   Lomborg´s replies to his opponents in the newspaper were impudent. They had titles such as "More nonsense" and "When does the criticism appear?" Here, Lomborg turned around all arguments by linguistic equilibrism to make them sound absurd or redundant, after which he concluded that nobody had pointed out any factual errors in his presentations.


WHAT HAPPENED BEHIND THE SCENE

    To 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.
   Meanwhile, some persons were very active on the web site `The catastrophe is cancelled´ and discussed concrete details there. For instance, persons who checked Lomborg´s sources on the total forest area in the world, found evidence that he was wrong on this point. How, then, come that the editor writes in his editorial that "No one maintains that there is less forest now than formerly" - considering that people discussing on Politiken´s web site maintain exactly that? Did the editor disregard the information provided on the web site altogether? Apparently, yes, as if the establishment of the web site were just a red herring, deflecting critics from access to the printed newspaper.
   Actually, the editor received many reader´s letters from experts in some of the fields covered by Lomborg. Some of these letters had very precise criticism of concrete details in Lomborg´s text. In the very last days just before the editorial, the editor received such letters which precisely lived up to the motto: `concrete claims require concrete replies´. And these letters were rejected. A few persons, including the zoologist Carsten Rahbek, wrote personal letters directly to Seidenfaden, complaining that their letters were rejected. So Seidenfaden, who was responsible for the editorial, could impossibly be unaware that concrete replies had been sent. Therefore, the editorial was an offensive provocation to these people. It was also provocative to refer to Lomborg´s postulates as `facts´, when several of these had been very severely disputed. Even more provocative and offensive was the title of Lomborg´s subsequent article:  "When does the criticism appear?" - especially because Lomborg knew very well about all the rejected letters - one of the journalists at Politiken told in private to Carsten Rahbek that Lomborg phoned the editors nearly every day to hear how many letters had come in.
   At this point of time, the discussion on the web site was full of very angry letters criticising Politiken. The day after they could see Lomborg´s provocative title in the newspaper:
"When does the criticism appear?", one letter on the web site was an outcry of rage, for the following reason: "The reason why I am seriousloy angry is that in the outward appearance, all that I read, hear and see is the apparently unchallenged Lomborg being interviewed and apparently being right. . . All while the attacks on Lomborg on the internet remain unanswered." As a follow-up, another biologist writes that it has now been revealed that Politiken´s socalled debate on the internet is completely hollow. "By now there is no longer any doubt that Politiken cynically utilises the on-line debate as an indulgence for its biased journalism. I will no longer waste any time participating in that game. I will urge all other serious debaters to join my boycott." Other debaters subsequently write that they too will boycott the web site, and the editor of debate, Kresten Schultz Jørgensen, is obliged to enter the scene. His first attempts to calm down the agitated atmosphere fails, and the anger against the newspaper continues. Some debaters suggest that the newspaper edit a supplement of 4 or 8 pages where the many reactions to Lomborg´s postulates can be gathered. Schultz Jørgensen replies: "I think you are completely right, and I will try to have extra space granted. There will be an extra page on Sunday and hopefully some thematic pages next week. I will press extra - and use your arguments in the negotiations." This cooperative spirit from his side calms down the outraged debaters, and they accept to stay on the web site. But Schultz Jørgensen´s negotiations lead only to little. For instance, much space is given in the printed newspaper to a lengthy double-interview with Lomborg and an opponent. But the main contents of the two-page article is mainly that the journalist comments on the two parties´ body language, whereas she gives up totally referring the actual arguments forwarded by the two. So the effect is that Politiken can say that they have spent much space on the criticism of Lomborg, and at the same time prevented that any of the opponents´ arguments be heard.
   This is not to say that the female journalist writing that double interview was ignorant of the theme of the debate. She was a very engaged environmental journalist, and for a period she had been chairman of the `forum of Danish environmental journalists´. Apparently she was foced to omit details which seriously could undermine Lomborg´s postulates. We know that she and Kresten Schultz Jørgensen had very intense arguments with the editor-in-chief Seidenfaden; the debate editors were outrageous with Seidenfaden that he would not allow more space for critical comments from readers. Not very long after this, Schultz Jørgensen left his position at Politiken, probably in frustration with this.
   Although the number of printed reader´s letters critical of Lomborg increased somewhat after these controverses, the main impression still remained that Lomborg´s socalled `facts´ had not been challenged. Thus, after two month´s of debate, it was still possible for one of Lomborg´s few supporters to write in the newspaper: "Not one of the many critical contributions has been able to refute Lomborg´s arguments. The few concrete objections have concerned minuscule adjustments." This conclusion could be drawn only because of the interventions and manipulations of one man - Tøger Seidenfaden. What he did was beyond a normal editorial process and may better be designated as active distortion of the truth. 


MORE ON REJECTED LETTERS
   
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.
 
SEIDENFADEN´S  COMMENTS TO THE CRITICISM

    When relevant criticism of Lomborg could not be printed 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 was 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 1999):
   "One whole chapter in the book is devoted to `the opinion formation´, and this is dominated by criticism of Politiken in relation to the Lomborg debate. Dissatisfaction is expressed with our bringing as many as four `kronik´s by Lomborg, and it is thought that this is unique. Last year we actually brought no less than six `kronik´s by one author about Denmark´s birds . . . More severely, the opinion is expressed that we have suppressed or manipulated the debate to Lomborg´s advantage. The debate editors have counted that the letters that we brought during the first month after the `kronik´s were Lomborg-critical in the ratio of 10 to 1. If you include the four original `kronik´s, the ratio becomes four to one in the same direction. In addition we brought four `kronik´s that were reactions to Lomborg. Three out of four were strongly critical. Naturally, we have been unable to print all, but we have not suppressed any debate. Fortunately, this also appears from the contents of the book."
    Judging from Seidenfaden´s figures, there have during the first month been brought 16 letters that were critical of Lomborg, and two that supported him (these two were not written by Lomborg). This means that Seidenfaden does not count the letters from Lomborg himself. And out of the three critical `kronik´s, only one was published in the first month of the debate. The others were published later as replies to several further `kronik´s by Lomborg.
    The main defence given by Seidenfaden is that the newspaper brought many more letters against Lomborg than letters pro Lomborg. Seidenfaden brings no arguments to challenge the central postulate here: That precisely those letters that could have demonstrated concrete errors in Lomborg´s texts were rejected. He also does not challenge that the editorial was a deception - the postulate of no relevant criticism was humbug. And he does not challenge the postulate that the editors tried to create myths about the narrowmindedness of those `botanists´ who opposed Lomborg.


THE SITUATION IN THE TIME AFTERWARDS
  
   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.


CONCLUSION
   It was important for Lomborg, before he revealed his agenda, to avoid criticism from the largest slightly left-wing newspaper in Denmark. He was extremely successful at that.
   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.



Note:
The original texts were written in Danish. They
have been translated into English here by me.