TCS Daily


A Smear Continues

By Nick Schulz - January 8, 2003 12:00 AM

When Bjorn Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist was published a little over a year ago it caused an immediate sensation in the United States and Europe for its unconventionally optimistic take on environmental matters.

At the time, I asked Ronald Bailey, the author and editor of two books on the environment and the foremost expert in the United States on the intersection of science policy and political controversy, what he thought of the book.

"Lomborg doesn't have a clue what's about to happen to him," Bailey said. "I feel sorry for him."

Bailey was right.

In a little over a year, a global smear campaign has attempted to discredit the Danish academic who had the audacity to question the hysterics and distortions of the modern day environmental movement. So threatened were the professional environmental pessimists in academia, NGOs and think tanks by Lomborg's arguments and ideas, they lashed out and viciously attacked him, seeking to destroy his credibility. The attack included a one-sided smear in the pages of Scientific American, protesters throwing pies at him at speaking engagements, and a website, www.anti-lomborg.com, devoted to discrediting him.

The smear has now reached a new low, with the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) playing the 17th Century Catholic Church to Lomborg's heretical Galileo. The DCSD has written a 16-page book report denouncing the Dane for publishing a book that they say falls "within the concept of scientific dishonesty."

"The publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice," the Committees concluded. This smear was then picked up and amplified by The New York Times, Washington Post, and other publications.

But the Committees' report is nothing more than a rehashing of the complaints already lodged against Lomborg, complaints that are largely without merit or that he has refuted.

For example, the Committees rely heavily on Stephen Schneider's complaint about Lomborg's treatment of climate science in The Skeptical Environmentalist. The Committees describe Schneider as "a particularly respected researcher who has been discussing these problems for 30 years."

But Schneider is hardly always a paragon of scientific integrity. In a now famous interview with Discover magazine, Schneider showed his true colors:

"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but - which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people, we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that, we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. ... Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Would the Committees deem that admission within "the standards of good scientific practice"? It is those "scary scenarios ... simplified, dramatic statements" that Lomborg sought to address in his book.

But what the Committees and others who perpetuate the smear against Lomborg don't realize just yet is they have a bigger problem on their hands. The extreme pessimism of the environmental movement doesn't stand up to scrutiny, and more and more scientists who refuse to be cowed by academic bullies and their lapdogs in the press are speaking out.

This April, Jack Hollander, the distinguished emeritus professor at Berkeley, is publishing a new book "The Real Environmental Crisis: How Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment's Number One Enemy." An early draft of the book shows it deepens our understanding of many of the same themes Lomborg discussed in The Skeptical Environmentalist and denounces in convincing fashion the extreme pessimism of the environmental movement typified by Schneider and others who have attacked Lomborg.

In the meantime, in the effort "to capture the public's imagination," as Schneider so honestly put it, the smears against Lomborg and others will no doubt continue.

Editor's Note: For More on the Lomborg controversy click here.
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