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Preface


                       

 

MAIN ISSUE:

In the preface of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", Lomborg purports to scrutinize the claims put forward by the American economist Julian Simon. Lomborg says that in February 1997, he happened to read an interview with Simon in Wired Magazine. The Wired article is available on the internet here. By reading the article, one will find many phrases and expressions that are very similar to what Lomborg now says in his book. For instance. the Wired article says:
"There´s just one problem with The Litany, just one slight little wee imperfection: every item . . . is false. Incorrect. At variance with the truth."
Compare this with Lomborg´s text on page 4:
"We know the Litany . .. . There is just one problem: it does not seem to be backed up by the available evidence."
Other sentences from the Wired article that mirror what Lomborg writes, are for instance:
"Simon started off as a card-carrying antigrowth, antipopulation zealot."
"Whenever he presents any data, his practice is to present the figures going all the way back to day one. . . You have to focus on aggregate trends over the long term, he insists."
"His statistics, his claims, come from the "official" sources, the standard reference works that everyone uses."
"Test for yorself the assertion that the physical conditions of humanity have gotten better."
"For each of Simon´s claims that I checked, the data in those volumes were identical to his."
"The world is not coming to an end. Things are not running out. Time is not short. So, smile! Shout! Enjoy the afternoon!"
Actually, in the left column of page 4, Lomborg brings what is essentially a short summary of the Wired article; but only those who check note 10 will see that the term "The Litany" was coined by the author of that article.
In many ways, Lomborg´s book is a repetition and extension of Julian Simon´s ideas, not a critical testing of Simon´s assertions. Lomborg writes on p. xix that when he and his students examined Simon, they found that "not everything he said was correct". However, not a single place in "The Skeptical Environmentalist" are we told where exactly Simon was wrong. Instead, there are several places in Lomborg´s book where he uses Simon as a source for his own assertions - which of course is completely against the purported idea of testing whether Simon is right. This is the case in chapters 11, 16 and 20 of Lomborg´s book. Also, many parts of his biodiversity chapter (chapter 23) are taken uncritically from Simon.
In conclusion, when Lomborg declares in the preface that he wants to examine if Simon is right, this is not true. Nowhere in his book does Lomborg mark any disagreement or dissociation vis-a-vis Simon, and instead he repeatedly rests on Simon and even uses Simon as a source.


P. xix left: ERROR

"I´m an old left-wing Greenpeace member". Error: Lomborg has - allegedly - paid contributions to Greenpeace, but he has never been a member of Greenpeace, and he has never worked actively in the organization. It is correct, however, that before 1997 he had been concerned about environmental questions. 

P. xix right: GROUNDLESS DEROGATION
"To begin with, I was surprised that the only reaction from many environmental groups was the gut reaction of complete denial."
Error: Lomborg tries to impart the impression that his opponents "to begin with" only reacted with complete denial and did not counter his data, i.e. that his opponents had no serious matter-of-fact criticism. This is completely wrong. The first debate between Lomborg and his opponents was that on the internet page `Katastrofen aflyst´ (the disaster is called off), which was established by the newspaper Politiken as a medium for discussing Lomborg´s first four articles. One of Lomborg´s opponents here was the chairman of the Danish department of WWF, and he protested against Lomborg´s claim that the global forest area has been roughly constant since about 1950. He said that Lomborg used data from FAO which are unreliable and  which include areas with as little as 10 % tree cover. Lomborg tried to defend himself by claiming that areas with 10 % tree cover are what he would consider to be "forest". He dismissed other data series which show a declining trend for the global forest area, but failed to give a good reason to dismiss these. Another opponent, experienced in problems in the Third World, protested against Lomborg´s postulate that "Indeed, an analysis from the World Bank shows that pollution in general declines when a society becomes sufficiently rich that it can afford to worry about the environment." This opponent tried to dig up Lomborg´s source and found that the World Bank study dealt with only 10 indicators of pollution, whereas many important types of pollution were not included (a further scrutiny of the World Bank study shows that only few of the 10 indicators follow that pattern postulated by Lomborg). These examples show that already the first criticisms discussed data in detail and challenged  Lomborg´s use or misuse of these data. Furthermore, they were not `complete denials´. But Lomborg replied only to few criticisms, and left the discussion altogether without having countered the factual criticism. Instead, he wrote articles in the newspaper - and had the editor-in-chief to write such articles also - which claimed that nobody had raised any serious criticism. At the same time, the editor-in-chief systematically rejected the most serious reader´s letters. Thus, the whole story was arranged so as to promote Lomborg´s provocations and unarm his opponents.
This is what happened "to begin with", and this is obviously complete different from Lomborg´s version in the preface in which he claims that complete denial was the only reaction. Lomborg´s version is so distorted and so far from the truth that it counts here as a
deliberate error.