Lomborg-errors

How Lomborg won a debate in Politiken
 
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THE COMPLAINT BY HERTZ AND STIESDAL

The following is a review of one of the cases lodged to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty. The complaint was submitted to the committees in 2002 by Mette Hertz and Henrik Stiesdal (see more on the complaints in "The Lomborg Story"). It was formulated in Danish (the texts have been translated into English here by me).
 
CRITICISM OF LOMBORG´S POSTULATES

    The relevant episode took place in 2000 - 2001 when Lomborg had a regular column in the Danish newspaper Politiken every third week. On 11th November 2000, Lomborg wrote in his column that when the Danish media reviewed a newly published EU report on the greenhouse effect, the media had a one-sided focus on the negative effects, whereas the positive effects of the greenhouse effect were neglected. Lomborg writes how a newspaper ascribes climate change to man´s strongly increasing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. He takes exception to this and points out that "the emission of CO2 has been declining in both 1998 and 1999, and the total yearly emission of greenhouse gases has declined since the 1980s by 25 percent." At that time, in 2000, it was still possible for him to postulate that, even though this postulate now, ten years later, appears completely outdated (see here on recent acceleration in CO2 emissions). Further, Lomborg criticised that the media suggested a connection between climate change and the recent floods in England due to unprecedented heavy rainfall. He pointed out that a flood catastrophe in England in 1953, when many people died, was much worse.

   These postulates provoqued Hertz and Stiesdal to send a long letter of criticism, which was printed in Politiken on 9th December.
   First, they pointed out that the second largest flood due to heavy rainfall was in 1947, and that more people died in the flood in 2000 than the flood in 1947. The flood in 1953 was a storm surge of sea water and therefore a completely different weather situation. Also, the death toll given by Lomborg for that flood was wrong (deaths in England were 307 persons, not several thousand as claimed by Lomborg).  
   Next, they protested against the claim of a recent 25 % decline in emissions of greenhouse gases and wrote that this decline could at least not be true for
CO2, where emissions are steadily rising.

CONTINUED POLEMIC

    After this first objection to Lomborg´s postulates, a lengthy polemic took place in Politiken´s columns as well as in private communication between the parties.
   Lomborg had printed comments in the newspaper on 17th December, 13th January, 24th February and 7th April. Hertz and Stiesdal had printed comments on 23rd December and 12th February. Thus Lomborg had the two last comments. Hertz and Stiesdal wanted to protest against the comments of 7th April, but their requests were not accepted.
   First, concerning the floodings, Lomborg completely rejected the raised objections. He maintained (erroneously) that the death toll in 1953 was 1,000 times higher than the death toll in 2000. Hertz and Stiesdal wanted to object once more, but were not granted space for this by the editors. Following a later telephone talk with Lomborg, they sent him extensive documentation that he was wrong. Lomborg replied by email: "Concerning England and the floods, thanks for what you sent - I will take a look at it all right, and if there is anything relevant, I will of course comment on it in a response to you." He never did. So the blatant errors were never corrected.
  


LOMBORG´S STUBBORNNESS CONCERNIGN EMISSIONS
   
   Next, there is the issue of whether the emissions of greenhouse gases had really declined by 25 percent.
   The first question is: Where on earth does Lomborg´s information about a 25 % decline come from? He revealed that in his first reply to Hertz and Stiesdal: It is a scientific paper by James Hansen et al. from 1998 on "Climate forcings in the industrial era". This was impossible to guess in advance, but Lomborg sneered at his opponents for not having guessed this: "It is naturally OK to have no knowledge of relevant facts, but it appears strange when one uses one´s own lack of knowledge as an argument that my writing is below standard."
   Now, how can Lomborg use the paper by Hansen et al. to support his claim? Well, what he does is to use data on climate forcing (i.e. the effect of gases on the Earth´s heat balance). Although the summed total forcing of greenhouse gases is steadily rising, the rate at which it is rising has leveled off since about 1980. In units of Watt/m²/year, the yearly increase was 0.04 around 1980, but only 0.03 in some years during the 1990s. This trend was partially due to a leveling off of the rise in CO2 (that is, by then the increment in CO2 forcing was the same year after year, and not accelerating any more). And partially due to that the yearly rise in forcings from methane and chlorofluorocarbons was becoming smaller. From this Lomborg concludes that if the yearly increase is slightly less than before, then the total emissions into the atmosphere are also smaller than before. This line of reasoning may hold true for the chlorofluorocarbons which stay in the atmosphere for many years, once they are there, but not for other greenhouse gases, which are translocated and transformed in many ways. Hansen states explicitly in the paper that the leveling off of the increase rate in CO2 happens in spite of ever increasing manmade emissions, and that there is no explanation at present for this discrepancy - there are so many complicated processes involved that no obvious explanation is ready at hand. In spite of this, Lomborg goes directly against the text of the paper and postulates that emissions can be calculated from the data on forcings.
   At this point of time,
the research leader from Denmark´s Climate Center, Eigil Kaas, gets involved. He read Lomborg´s postulates in the newspaper and took contact to Bjørn to correct his mistakes. He backed this up in a long series of emails where he went into details with the paper by Hansen et al. and asked politely why Lomborg does not simply use data for production of greenhouse gases. Lomborg, to his defense, claims that what he is speaking of is actually the "effective emissions", i.e. that part of the emisions which remain in the atmosphere and are not disposed of e.g. by absorption in the oceans. As soon as possible (i.e. three days after Christmas), Kaas sends another email in response and repeats that Lomborg´s indirect calculations of emissions from data on forcings are not valid, for instance because the equilibrium between concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the oceans depends on the temperature, which is not constant - and is also due to many other complications.
  Next, Lomborg has a short letter printed in the newspaper on 13th January. Here, he goes against Hertz and Stiesdal. And he adds: "As noticed by Eigil Kaas from Denmark´s Climate Center (private email) I must specify, however, that we are talking of effective emissions (minus uptake of greenhouse gases in oceans etc.) which may vary on a long term, and that only the most common greenhouse gases are included in the calculations."
   Reading this, Hertz and Stiesdal contacted Eigil Kaas and asked him if he had really said so. Kaas sent copies of his emails, and it was clear from these what Kaas had actually said. In one of the emails, Kaas had written to Lomborg: "With my understanding (which is somewhat limited concerning the carbon cycle) you cannot use the term effective emissions for that which you calculate." Conclusion: In the newspaper Lomborg writes that Kaas accepts the term `effective emissions´, which is directly opposite of the facts. Kaas had written to Lomborg, with emphasis, that he did not accept that term.
   Now Hertz and Stiesdal have a case - they can state directly that Lomborg has lied about his correspondence with Kaas. So they have a letter published (12th February) where they write inter alia: "Lomborg has before his latest contribution 13.01 been informed that he is wrong, and what is wrong. EK [Eigil Kaas] has to us expressed his regret that because he was pressed for time, he has not had time to protest against Lomborg´s contribution. What makes this case interesting is that it both demonstrates Lomborg´s method and his lack of honesty when the defects of the method are disclosed."
   Provoqued by this, Lomborg phoned Hertz and Stiesdal and asked for documentation. Within two days, they faxed extensive documentation to him with data on greenhouse gas emissions, and two weeks later, Lomborg responded by fax: "Thanks for what you sent. With regard to your request for correction of errors, I will naturally correct them in Politiken, if there are any. Basically I disagree with your assessment of EK´s importance - if he is not right in his criticism of my method/data, then your criticism does not hold up."
   At the same time - as was later revealed - there was a very intensive correspondence between Lomborg and Kaas, because they planned to produce a joint article on what they agreed upon, and what they did not agree upon. Kaas provided extensive data sets suitable for calculations of total emissions of greenhouse gases, but when the calculations showed that the emissions had not been declining, Lomborg did not accept them. In one of the emails from mid February, Kaas wrote to Lomborg: `It is OK if you quote as follows: Even though the calculations are technically correct, EK points out that the method cannot be used to say anything about the manmade emissions of greenhouse gases´".
   However, Lomborg wrote something completely different in a P.S. to his regular column on 24th February. He wrote: "PS: Mette Hertz and Henrik Stiesdal questioned 12.2 my credibility, based on a statement by one researcher about one sentence. Unfortunately that researcher has now gone on vacation without having been able to provide documentation for his statement. Therefore I have  not forgotten the reply, but regrettably I must postpone this until I get this documentation."
   When Kaas saw this printed in the newspaper, he got angry and wrote in private to Lomborg: "First I must say that after our long discussion some weeks ago I was somewhat offended by your exposing me in that way in the newspaper by saying that I had been unable to provide the necessary documentation. Actually we had come quite close to a result concerning the direct emissions and ended up concluding that these would rather be close to zero (plus - minus) than to a drop of 25%. This was based on figures that were much more complete than the documentation on which you yourself originally had based your own postulate of a 25% drop. So you shuffled onto me that you originally had incomplete data. I do not think that was fair. Remember that I actually wrote an email to you in which was said how you could refer to me."
   The end of the debate was a long article by Lomborg printed in Politiken on 7th April. This article is one large concentrated sneering at his opponents. There are sentences like: "It may seem surprising that H&S have not provided any better documentation for their central postulate." "H&S could have turned directly to me and got the reference without having to involve all the readers of Politiken." "Unfortunately, the figures that H&S use as their basis, are wrong." "The question about forests is surprisingly ignored by H&S, even though this is one of the very important sources to greenhouse gases." "The original point in my comment was that the media neglect or distort the information - and that understanding is decisive in this environmental debate. Might one maybe hope that H&S too would relate to this issue?"
   Hertz and Stiesdal wanted of course to have a reply to this article. That request was turned down by Politiken´s editors. 


 
IMPLICATIONS

    For years, Lomborg has had a close relation to the editors of Politiken. This is evident from this article on Lomborg-errors.  It is remarkable that there is never (neither in this case, nor in the many other cases) a case where Lomborg ends up as the loser; therefore it seems that he may have had some influence on what was printed, and what was not printed. He is allowed to get the last word, and when you have been granted the last remark, you can there put a lot of unsubstantiated accusations and derogations that the opponents have no opportunity to oppose.
   People should know that debate with Lomborg in a newspaper like Politiken, i.e. a newspaper where Lomborg has special connections to the editors, can never be won. Blatant errors made by Lomborg can never be corrected in such media. In the present case, Hertz & Stiesdal as well as Eigil Kaas spent a lot of time at no avail, debating with Lomborg, taking him seriously, and sending him lots of information. It was all a loss of time. Of course Lomborg would never admit that he was wrong, and all his apparent willingness to debate was just pretended.
  The conclusion from this and other cases is that it is a loss of time to debate Lomborg in such newspapers where Lomborg has already a contact to the editors. When the opponents present evidence that definitely disproves Lomborg´s postulates, Lomborg is allowed to have the last word, and he uses that to completely disinform the readers and deconstruct even the most solid proofs against Lomborg. The editors have the power to select what is printed and what is not printed, and with that power they can ensure that Lomborg will never lose. The consequence of that is that those who support him can live in the illusion that he has never been proven wrong.

  Does this matter at all? Does it matter if Lomborg formally wins every debate - most readers will anyhow not trust him, and at least they will learn that Lomborg´s postulates are disputed.
  Yes, it does matter. Consider these excerpts from Danish newspapers in the time after the episode referred to:

23th February 2002, interview with Lomborg in Ekstrabladet: "There are really many critics, but none of them have been able to point out concretely where I am not right. I can document everything, and up to now they have been able to point out only small trifling errors, which I have then immediately corrected."

Article by editor-in-chief Tøger Seidenfaden, Politiken 3rd February 2002: "Therefore, what one should watch carefully when Lomborg and his books are reviewed, is whether his data are disputed, or whether he has left out results that would paint a completely different picture of reality. . . In a full page article where many nasty things are said about Lomborg, there is one (1) concrete example of how Lomborg manipulates the figures. This is taken from Nature´s review [about the number of people starving in Africa, whether one should present the absolute or the relative figures] . . . It seems grotesque to call attention to this as an example of manipulation that questions Lomborg´s credibility."

Article by editor-in-chief Tøger Seidenfaden, Politiken 3rd March 2002: "For a long time the criticism was about that Lomborg´s facts and figures simply were wrong. As most people gradually realized that he uses the same generally acknowledged data series as all others in the field, that criticism has been replaced by the postulate that he manipulates and makes humbug by utilising the sources selectively, or by simply misunderstanding them. Here, too, there is a shortage of concrete examples, and it turns out every time that Lomborg had good arguments to do as he did."

Such statements are only possible if relevant criticism of Lomborg´s hundreds of errors is suppressed.