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Science Technology

Skeptical Environmentalist Saga Continues 683

belmolis writes "In the latest episode of the The Skeptical Environmentalist affair, The New York Times reports (December 23, p. F2) that the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has issued a critique (five-page English summary [warning: MSWord document]) of the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty's condemnation of Bjorn Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argued that many of the concerns of environmentalists, particularly global warming, were based on poor science. The Committee had called for Dr. Lomborg's dismissal from the Danish government agency that examines environmental regulations." (Read on below.)

"The Ministry critique holds that the Committee's procedure was unfair. It does not address the scientific issues. Lomborg's book caused outrage among many environmentalists and scientists, while right-wing organizations such as the Cato Institute have defended Lomborg. Scientific American devoted eleven pages of its January 2002 issue to a critique of Lomborg. Lomborg was only allowed to publish a one-page rebuttal, to which Scientific American replied here. When Lomborg defended himself by posting the Scientific American critique on his web site and that of Greenspirit with his commentary [PDF file] interspersed, Scientific American threatened to sue and both sites took it down. It is, however, still available at the iGreens web site."

(Slashdot ran a review of Lomborg's book early last year.)

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Skeptical Environmentalist Saga Continues

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  • by dcw3 ( 649211 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @06:39PM (#7805083) Journal
    If he doesn't believe in warming, does that make him a cold danish?...
  • Article: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @06:44PM (#7805108)
    8 Summary of the assessment of the Ministry
    8.1 Regarding statutory authority

    Point 5.1.1. Legal basis for the work of DCSD:

    The opinion enclosed with the complaint of 13 February 2003 states the view that the legal basis for the DCSD making rulings regarding whether specific researchers have acted with scientific dishonesty is doubtful.

    The Ministry considers that the establishment of the DCSD was clearly provided for in the remarks on section 4e(4) of the Danish Act on Research Advice, and that the duties of the DCSD can be included under the advisory function, which was located in the Board of the Danish Research Councils and its sub-committees.

    With this background, the Ministry considers that the DCSD did have the necessary statutory authority for its general work.

    Point 5.1.2. Basis for statutory authority in Order no. 933 of 15 December 1998 and use of the term 'good scientific practice'

    The opinion enclosed with the complaint of 13 February 2003 argues that the authority of the DCSD is exclusively laid down in the Order concerning the DCSD. This means that the DCSD cannot take a position on whether the respondent has neglected standards for good scientific practice. The special aspect of this case is that the DCSD has included its position on breach of good scientific practice in the conclusion to their ruling.

    Irrespective of whether or not the Ministry finds that the DCSD has grounds to take a position on the issue of good scientific practice, there is an independent point of criticism if, in its assessment, the DCSD has applied a standard for good scientific practice in the individual specialist area that is not true and fair.

    The Ministry considers that the DCSD has not applied a completely true and fair standard for good scientific practice within social sciences in its examination, and that on the current basis it cannot be ruled out that this delusion could have led to an incorrect assessment of the work of the respondent. The seriousness of this situation is emphasised by the DCSD itself in that it makes this issue the pivot for the ruling in its conclusion.

    Errors such as these, that can influence the result of a ruling, must lead to the case being remitted so that the situation can be rectified.

    Point 5.1.3. The concept of 'objective scientific dishonesty'

    The DCSD divides scientific dishonesty into objective and subjective parts. Thus, the Ministry understands that, as part of its working methodology, the DCSD use the concept 'objective dishonesty'. The Ministry considers this the usual legal working methodology.

    However, the Ministry does not consider that the methodological division can be repeated in the conclusion, as this could present a misleading picture of the actual conclusion; namely that in the opinion of the DCSD there is no scientific dishonesty in terms of the Order.

    In the opinion of the Ministry, it is a mistake that the DCSD allows the methodological division to appear in the conclusion, but not to the extent that the mistake results in the case being remitted.

    Point 5.1.4. The ruling has not been made by one of the three committees under the DCSD

    With the basis that the complaints were aimed at the specialist areas of all three committees, in the opinion of the Ministry the three committees are jointly competent to address the complaint on the grounds stated. At the same time the Ministry must emphasise that this is a scientific issue, outside the authority of the Ministry. However, the Ministry points out that the procedures chosen to decide whether or not a case should be addressed by the committees jointly was, in the opinion of the Ministry, not correct. According to the information in the DCSD statement of 5 May 2003, the ruling was made by the committees jointly following recommendations from the chairman.

    The Ministry finds that the ruling must be made by the individual committee within whose area the respondent works, in that there is otherwise a r
    • by Testocles ( 735410 ) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @02:47AM (#7806985)
      Tehe! Whenever I hear this kind of environmentalist rabble, I can now clearly associate them with dihydrogen monoxide issues. The biggest green house gas in a newly discovered substance known as dihydrogen monoxide. Yet it is invisible to most environmentalists radar. They don't know it exists. Most media have never heard of it let alone mention it. Even if you were to mention that two thirds of the planet is covered with dihydrogen monoxide (or H2O as its commonly referred to) its somehow fogs out the core issues. There is plenty of steam in dihydrogen monoxide theories make it THE number one factor for global warming and since dihydrogen monoxide covers two thirds of the planet, there is nothing that anyone can or should be doing about it. Dihydrogen monoxide carries gigawatts of heat energy around the planet. It is responsible for all the heat retention of the planet and maintaining conditions suitable for life. Without it Earth would be cold and dead just like the Moon. Environmentalists leap at their sceptics as heretics - but in their haste to preserve their funding, they can't address dreadfully simple issues like dihydrogen monoxide. I can only hope they grow up some day and admit their childish pseudo science was all a waste of money and not real science.
  • That reminds me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Henry V .009 ( 518000 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @06:44PM (#7805109) Journal
    Jerry Pournelle posted a link to this on his site.

    Aliens Cause Global Warming [sepp.org]
    By Michael Crichton

    It is a very good read. Crichton claims that the public believes in things like Global Warming and Nuclear Winter for the same reasons that it believes in little green men. He says that science has failed to act as "a candle in the dark."
    • Very interesting link and worth a read by all. Thanks for posting it.
    • Re:That reminds me (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Malcontent ( 40834 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:11PM (#7805263)
      "Crichton claims that the public believes in things like Global Warming and Nuclear Winter for the same reasons that it believes in little green men."

      Really? What an odd claim to make. There is lots of evidence for global warming and many studies have been done on it. Maybe the evidence is not conclusive but it exists and is widespread.

      Lumping global warming with little green men seems like the stupidest thing I have heard in a long time.

      BTW over 90% of americans believe in god. If that's not a failure of science to act as a candle in the dark I don't know what is.
      • Re:That reminds me (Score:2, Insightful)

        by kevlar ( 13509 )
        Global Warming is a fact. Whether its caused by the greenhouse effect or not is debatible along with whether or not humans are the cause.
        • Science 101 (Score:3, Insightful)

          by xtronics ( 259660 )
          Global Warming is a fact.

          Uhh... you might want to look at this data from NASA before you say that.


          Am I blind? Because all I see is noise?

          To see a trend that is below the noise and then say that it's correlation with increase of CO2 (0.06% increase) is causing more of an effect than the increase in H2O vapor (almost 5%) is not science. Two trends being in the same direction have a 50% probability of being true. Also, a correlation does not show cause an

        • Re:That reminds me (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Malcontent ( 40834 ) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @02:11AM (#7806866)
          Right after 9/11 all air traffic was halted int he US for three days. During those days there was a measurable difference in the diurnal temprature variations due to lack of contrails.

          There is no question that human activity effects the atmosphere.

          If global warming is happening and it's bad then we should change our behavior to minimize or reverse the effect even if we are not the cause of it.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        What if you view God as the opposite of entropy?
      • Re:That reminds me (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GoofyBoy ( 44399 )
        >BTW over 90% of americans believe in god. If that's not a failure of science to act as a candle in the dark I don't know what is.

        Lumping science and faith seems like the stupidest thing I have heard in a long time.

        • Lumping science and faith seems like the
          stupidest thing I have heard in a long time.

          Why should faith be immune to the same sort of critisicm that science faces? Skepticism in environmental science, or any science, is a good thing (though I agree that the opinions of Lomborg are suspect).

          Religions can learn a thing or two from the open dialog we see in the scientific community. Imagine if environmental science was something we were asked to accept as a matter of faith. It would be ridiculous - as

        • Re:That reminds me (Score:5, Insightful)

          by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @09:23PM (#7805901) Homepage
          Why is that, precisely? What makes "faith" such a special way of knowing things that common reason no longer applies to it?

          The answer is, nothing. "Faith" is simply belief in a proposition which is not commensurate with the evidence. It makes no sense to have faith in a proposition when there is ample evidence that the proposition is true.

          When someone says, "I believe X," and their response to a request for evidence is "I have faith," they've merely restated the original point: They believe X.

          I have to agree with the grandparent post here: If people were more inclined towards reason and the scientific method, they would not believe things only insofar as the evidence justifies such belief. Since most religious people will admit that there is no direct evidence for God, belief in God would decline drastically.
      • Re:That reminds me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) * on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @08:10PM (#7805570)
        Huh, that'd odd. While I agree that there are quite a few nutty American creationists out in the Midwest and the South, the majority of Americans don't consider their religious faith and their acceptance of modern science and the scientific method to be at odds with each other (where "faith" is used the way Kierkegaard defined it - belief in something which we lack proof or evidence for).

        I also think most polls on religion fail to capture realistic world views. Think about it - the cost of professing belief in God is very low. The cost of leading a lifestyle strictly in accordance with biblical tenets is very high. If there is no God, your professed belief in life certainly won't make a hoot of a difference after you are dead and gone, but if there is, perhaps it will matter to him (in particular with the Christian conception of God). Thus many Americans will tell you they believe in God. Quite a few (though far, far fewer) might even tell you they believe the Bible is literally true. And yet these same people will almost without exception not lead very Godly devout lives. The real nutters, the evolution deniers, Bible thumping science-rejecters - those people constitute closer to 5% of the population than 90%. And most of those people are just too dumb to rectify the inconsistency of all the scientific and technological devices they use in their day-to-day lives with their religious rejection of modern science.

        A scientist of course would tell you there's not much evidence to support the existence of "God" in the Judeo-Christian sense. But I've never met a scientist who would tell you that the lack of such proof constitutes a disproof. And any economist would probably give you the explanation I provided above. :)

      • Re:That reminds me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by miyoo ( 672269 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @09:13PM (#7805845)
        There is lots of evidence for global warming and many studies have been done on it.

        Sigh. This is exactly what Crighton is talking about. Did you RTFA? You cannot simply say, "well, a lot of smart people say it is true, so it must be true." Science is about making testable hypotheses and then demonstrating the truth or falsehood of those hypotheses.

        In the case of global warming, it is scientifically impossible to assign any cause to a past trend in global temperature. In order to do so, you would need to have a controlled experiment, where you take two identical Earths, remove a hypothetical cause of global warming from one, and then observe the long-term climate change in each. At the end of the experiment, you could say whether or not the difference in initial conditions between the two Earths was the cause of global warming. That is science. The theory that human activity is causing global warming is an untestable hypothesis and is therefore outside the bounds of science and strictly a matter of faith.

        You can also scientifically address the question of climate change by applying a model: a collection of emperical observations about the components of a system that predict the behavior of the system as a whole. But the uncertainties involved in modeling future climate change are huge. I can say, "It will rain in Los Angeles on February 15, 2051," and I might even be right! Even if my prediction were true, it would not be science. It is possible to predict future climate scientifically, but not with much precision. A good scientist should understand that, and many, probably most, of the scientists who study climate change do. Unfortunately fear, not good science, generates headlines (and sadly, research grants) and so the public has a skewed view of what the scientific evidence really is.

        Crighton isn't saying that global warming or little green men don't exist. He's saying that a lot of people can make a some noise, use pseudoscience to back it up, and nobody speaks out to defend what true science is.

        I'm not sure if your last comment about belief in God is sarcastic or not, but the existence or nonexsistence of God is also an untestable hypothesis and therefore outside the bounds of science. Science is not a rejection of belief in God or any other spiritual belief. Put another way, there is no scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that there is no God.

        • Re:That reminds me (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @09:56PM (#7806036)
          Sigh. This is exactly what Crighton is talking about. Did you RTFA? You cannot simply say, "well, a lot of smart people say it is true, so it must be true." Science is about making testable hypotheses and then demonstrating the truth or falsehood of those hypotheses.

          In the case of global warming, it is scientifically impossible to assign any cause to a past trend in global temperature. In order to do so, you would need to have a controlled experiment, where you take two identical Earths, remove a hypothetical cause of global warming from one, and then observe the long-term climate change in each. At the end of the experiment, you could say whether or not the difference in initial conditions between the two Earths was the cause of global warming. That is science.

          Actually, I think you and Crighton (and the public) are missing a subtle distinction here. What you are describing is the second half of science. The first half is coming up with the hypothesis.

          In the old days, people would dream up whatever hypotheses came to mind. Birds have wings, birds can fly, ergo if you put wings on man, man can fly. If they were a Newton, they could make an instinctive good guess at what a correct hypothesis should be. If they were a Galileo, their instincts weren't quite so good so they relied on experiments to provide them with numerical data, which they could then use to create a fine-tuned hypothesis. That hypothesis could then be tested with similar but slightly different experiments for verification.

          Nowadays, most of the "obvious" science has already been discovered. It takes a brilliant mind to come up with something mindshatteringly new. So most of the science that goes on does things Galileo's way - collecting data to form a basis for a hypothesis, then testing that hypothesis against further data. This is where statistical correlation and computer modeling research comes in. Instead of dreaming up a thousand hypotheses that X_n causes lung cancer (where n ranges from 1 to 1000) and wasting time devising and running a thousand experiments to test for a causal relationship, you do an epidemiological study. Lo and behold, smoking is strongly correlated with lung cancer. So you concentrate on making and testing the hypothesis that smoking causes lung cancer.

          The point of harvesting long-term global temperature data, making climatic models, etc. isn't to test the hypothesis that manmade CO2 causes global warming. It's to fine-tune the hypotheses that (1) manmade CO2 is a significant contribution relative to natural sources, and (2) CO2 levels are a causal factor in changes to average global temperatures. Neither of these hypotheses are at the "test to prove/disprove it" stage yet, but it's being reported by the media (and those with an agenda) as if it were and the results already confirmed the hypotheses. The scientists aren't doing anything wrong, it's just that what they're doing is being misrepresented (deliberately or not) to the public.

          I agree with Crighton that shunning and gagging those who hold "unpopular" views at the hypothesis-making stage is wrong. But I disagree that anything which doesn't test a hypothesis is pseudo-science. Sometimes the hard part is testing the hypothesis. Sometimes the hard part is coming up with the hypothesis. Sometimes (as with global warming) both parts are hard.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Sure... but the big question is: can we cancel out Global Warming with a Nuclear Winter?
    • Re:That reminds me (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fermion ( 181285 )
      What the public belief of the scientific consensus is often different from reality. This is the fault of scientist, the persons who are afraid of the scientists, and the public. It is very easy to lead an untrained mind down a path of illogic, as clearly shown by those that fall for the Nigerian scams. Those that wish to confuse use this to subvert those that wish only honest exploration.

      The complexity of a truly logical approach can be illustrated by looking at ETI. Let's break it question up into t

  • When you have money.

    quick! I need a bigger SUV to pull my smaller but still large SUV down the driveway to check my mail! and where is my free H2!?!?
  • Shhhh! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gordgekko ( 574109 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @06:45PM (#7805117) Homepage
    The Committee had called for Dr. Lomborg's dismissal from the Danish government agency that examines environmental regulations.

    That teaches him for questioning orthodoxy.

    Lomborg's book has 2 930 footnotes which allows you to fact check every single assertion that he makes. I've never seen that level of detail from the environmentalist movement and I speak as someone who has read more than just their pamphlets.

    It should be noted that the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation published its own response to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty:

    "[T]he DCSD has not documented where [Dr Lomborg] has allegedly been biased in his choice of data and in his argumentation, and...the ruling is completely void of argumentation for why the DCSD find that the complainants are right in their criticisms of [his] working methods. It is not sufficient that the criticisms of a researcher's working methods exist; the DCSD must consider the criticisms and take a position on whether or not the criticisms are justified, and why."

    Oh, you mean the DCSD has done what they are accusing of Lomborg on? Right then...carry on!

    • Re:Shhhh! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Malcontent ( 40834 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:08PM (#7805250)
      "Lomborg's book has 2 930 footnotes which allows you to fact check every single assertion that he makes. I've never seen that level of detail from the environmentalist movement and I speak as someone who has read more than just their pamphlets."

      Are they disputing the individual facts or the conclusions drawn from those facts? Is it possible that the facts he footnoted have been found to be questionable upon further review?

      I remember reading that many of the facts he talked about were from flawed studies, maybe that's the problem. Did he knowingly choose the studies that advanced his pet theory while ignoring studies that might raise doubt? If so then he deserves to be rebuked don't you think?
      • Re:Shhhh! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @09:03PM (#7805793) Journal
        I recall criticisms by authors cited by Lomborg, who say that their work fails to support (or even contradicts) Lomborg's conclusions. To the extent that Lomborg claims their support, they say it is from sections taken out of context. This is hardly the work of an honest academic.

        A quick Google search for "Lomborg citations" came up with a piece on Lomborg's clever use of misdirection [gristmagazine.com] and this review with citations of critiques [earthlink.net]. Lomborg's complete failure to acknowledge disasters like the vanishing Aral sea, falling Ogalalla aquifer and other known problems with anything like the seriousness they deserve (how are you going to continue irrigated agriculture in Texas and Oklahoma if the Ogalalla is pumped dry?) proves that his "don't worry, be happy" conclusion is bunk.

        Perhaps the most colorful accusation against Lomborg is from that second link:

        It is as though he is affected with a form of academic autism; able to do the math better than most mere mortals, but unable to comprehend the connections ordinary people understand as part of daily life.
        I can't add much to that. Lomborg is no better than the left-wing moonbats whose attitudes and claims form a mirror-image parody of his own.

        (Damn, I've been spending a lot of time on Google for this discussion!)

        • Re:Shhhh! (Score:3, Informative)

          by Python ( 1141 )
          The Ogallala aquifer is not falling because of global warming or any other doomsdays environmental hogwash, its falling because the rain fall is not keeping up with demand caused not by communities, but by farming irrigation. The models clearly show that as well levels drop, and pump lift costs rise that total costs to irrigate, not supply water to towns and cities, will rise to shut down irrigation demand. In short, the system will correct itself because the cost of irrigation will rise to the point wher
        • Re:Shhhh! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ajs ( 35943 ) <ajs@nOspam.ajs.com> on Thursday December 25, 2003 @04:23AM (#7807195) Homepage Journal
          "I recall criticisms by authors cited by Lomborg, who say that their work fails to support (or even contradicts) Lomborg's conclusions. To the extent that Lomborg claims their support, they say it is from sections taken out of context. This is hardly the work of an honest academic."

          This is a common reaction, and not as much of a problem as you might think. If the man cites data from a valid source, I'll accept it. Conclusions have a context (and we must skeptically evaluate conclusions without bias). Data does not. People are often mad when their data is used to support conclusions with which they do not agee... too bad.

          "[... that there is an impending disaster] proves that his "don't worry, be happy" conclusion is bunk."

          No, it proves that there is an impending disaster, and one which should be evaluated for possible action.

          Let's look at global warming just as an example. There is a wide spectrum of warming activism. On one end you have the folks who would say, "Global warming is a fact; we must act; SUVs should be taken off the roads!" These people are wrong, but that's not terribly surprising, after all they are reactionary extremists. On the other end of the spectrum you have the people who would say, "Global warming is a myth; we must not act; environmentalists are a menace!" Guess what -- yep, wrong too.

          So, what is correct? I have no clue, and one of Lomborg's points in his response is that he doesn't either. All anyone can be sure of is that the people who tell you they have all the answers are full of it.

          The problem is that of validation and miscommication for the most part. For example, when warming activists are told they are wrong, they run to their thermostats and point, saying that it's warm out! What they often miss is that it was very warm out 1500 years ago when a period of global warming destroyed countless species and wiped out at least one culture. What many scientists have come to question is not, "is it hot", but "why is it hot?" The answer to that MUST start with a better understanding of the sun and how it impacts our climate. For example, this year we have seen the most activity ever recorded on the surface of the sun. If it is abnormally warm next year, we should begin with a simple question, "how does last year's solar activity play into this?"

          While there are many theories, interestingly none of them has been proven to the satisfaction if the majority of the community. Hmm... big ball of fusing plasma 8 light minutes away, and we blame SUVs for climate phenomena that have occured before, prior to the advent of the SUV.... interesting.

          I don't always agree with Lomborg, but SciAm (which has, IMHO, become a rag in the last 10 years) did its readers a disservice by trying so hard to discredit him, rather than to address the concerns he brings up.
    • Re:Shhhh! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      2 930 footnotes
      his choice of data

      So he "chose" data? Did this person perform any experiments or observations of his own, or is this more crack armchair science from a person who did all their research from the first 2930 hits on google?

      This exact same thing came up when someone presented "research" to the us government showing that nanoscale particles were harmful when inhaled (something that I suspect has been somewhat common knowledge since coal miners started getting black lung). The whole "resea
    • Re:Shhhh! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mr_Matt ( 225037 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @08:57PM (#7805754)
      Lomborg's book has 2 930 footnotes which allows you to fact check every single assertion that he makes. I've never seen that level of detail from the environmentalist movement and I speak as someone who has read more than just their pamphlets.


      http://www.ipcc.ch/pub/techrep.htm [www.ipcc.ch]

      If you haven't read these, then you're just whacking off. Of course, if you had read these, you wouldn't be accusing 'the environmentalist movement' of not being detailed.

      I'm curious - who exactly are you trying to impress with your post? DCSD have declared that Lomborg's book isn't scientifically honest (and with chapters titled 'Pollution, Does it Undercut Human Prosperity?' I'm tempted to agree) and you wish for...what? That a book primarily about cost-benefit analyses and socioeconomic impacts of environmental regulation parading as science be declared scientifically honest? Look, it's a fine book for policy wonks, but it ain't science, and it shouldn't be presented as such. So what do you want?
      • Re:Shhhh! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @12:40AM (#7806557) Homepage Journal
        The book does not purport to be science, but rather to be a review of the science, the players in the environmental conflict and the claims that are made.

        The book was a result of Lomborg attempting to REFUTE a series of claims counter to normal environmental doctrine. He was unable to do so, and in the process concluded, and documented, that a lot of the public statements are misleading. In doing so, he is talking to the public, not publishing in a peer reviewed journal, and he is taking on others who do the same thing.

        His level of honesty is far ahead of that of his opponents. That there may be weaknesses in the book is hardly surprising, given the vast area it covers.

        I do know that in the area of climatology, his conclusion are more consistent with what my climatologist researcher friends conclude than with what the environmental organizations are saying.

        There is no doubt but what he is being attacked for going against the orthodoxy. Many others publish far less carefully researched books that support the orthodoxy, and they are not investigated by committees. Nor does Scientific American devote 14 pages of criticism to those books - 14 pages which attacked BL but were almost entirely full of ad hominem attacks and nit picking of trivial points, but had little to say about the important conclusions.

        He is also probably being attacked for showing how the dynamics of the environmental movement work, how they lead to a crisis atmosphere, and how environmental organizations profit from made up or exaggerated crisis.

        Environmentalism has become a religion to many. It is no wonder that they want to burn him at the stake.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @06:54PM (#7805162)
    People trying to win ideological points will be disappointed to have to face the reality that science is not just another arm of politics... it actually a real discipline of proof and justification toward the evaluation of evidence. Whether you "think" there is global warming or not, higher degrees of scientific analysis should not be tossed aside on the basis of scatalogical arguments. Long live scientific inquiry and the scientific method (it's been on the ropes quite a bit these past years... starting with Cold Fusion... look at the junk reported in the mainstream press and it's nearly always slightly wrong, misguided, or flat-out incorrect).
  • There was an issue of scientific American where several respected scientists picked apart the book pointing out it's flaws is theory and conclusions.

    It might be worth a read for people looking for more information on this subject.
    • by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:05PM (#7805226)
      That was a very harsh critique, possibly even unfair. What was certainly unfair is (If I remember correctly) that SA refused to let him respond for about a year, and even then only let him use one page, when a rebuttle to his rebuttle was many pages and in the same issue. Supposedly SA also got lawyers involved to refuse him his fair use rights in his website rebuttle here:

      http://reactor-core.org/skeptical-environmentali st -defended/

      Personally, I think it's good to call BS on pseudo science and fusged stats (i.e. ALL mainstream science reporting), but when someone with only a highschool education in science starts rewriting the science books, we're in trouble.
      • "What was certainly unfair is (If I remember correctly) that SA refused to let him respond for about a year, and even then only let him use one page, when a rebuttle to his rebuttle was many pages and in the same issue. "

        Well he wrote an entire book espousing his point of view I don't think he needs a few pages in scientific american to further explain his position do you? What else does he have to say that's not in his book or his web site? I find it weird that scientific american only allocated a few pa
        • Somewhere in the 1980's, an article in SA used North Korea as an example of how planned economies were better than market economies.

          It also has been a couple of decades since they've correctly identified the name of the chunk of granite that the Palomar Observatory sits on. That's being nitpicky - but I figure if they're slopy about a simple thing as a place name, then where else are they falling down on accuracy.

          The correct name is Palomar Mountain - SA used to use that name.

      • I will remind you that both Ahnold and Jesse were in Running Man, also. I think Maria Conchita Alonso [imdb.com] needs her stay in the Governer's mansion, too.
      • by gessel ( 310103 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:55PM (#7805499) Homepage
        Really, SciAm's response was quite fair, and they rebutted the critiques of his rebuts by offering him as much space as he wanted on their web site.

        I read the whole mess. I'm not an expert, but I am a physicist and competent to review the work at a high level. My personal opinion is what follows:

        1) Lomborg's reasoning is specious and poorly connected. He extracts details out of context and puts them together to tell a rosy environmental picture that ends up being in diametric opposition to the best data. That is he builds up a lot of small anomalies in the data and ends up with an answer that a first order check against big picture data shows is false. He uses the specious conclusion to attack the first order results, which is anti-scientific.

        2) The political argument is that "environmentalists" somehow benefit from being alarmist, and are therefore all suspect. I have yet to figure out the reward mechanism for tilting against big business. The contrary position, engaging in research the findings of which support the activities of the wealthiest corporations on earth, has a direct and well documented fiscal reward system.

        3) The vast majority of environmental scientists have found data which supports the contrary argument, and present their data, both raw and refined, in support of those conclusions over many years, and to extensive review, both researchers in all fields.. Lombard has done no such research and merely picks and chooses among the data which supports his arguments and dismisses the majority that doesn't as false to support his alarmist argument that environmental regulations will be the ruination of us all.

        He does make some good economic arguments though - as much as his environmental science is as weak as one would expect from a young and inexperienced economist with no background in science, his economic arguments are both sensible and deserving of consideration.

        The argument of his that I find most persuasive, after the veil of poor science is brushed away, is that given finite resources, and given some calculation of risk*consequence (that is the statistically weighted risk of some particular outcome) it is not rational to squander finite resources on low risk outcomes. More precisely, the best answer is to carefully consider consequences and probabilities and rationally allocate resources to optimize future survivability.

        SciAm did not attack that foundation or reasoning, though they did fail to give it proper credit in their response to Lombard's science. Indeed, SciAm supports such rationalist arguments as they did in suggesting that asteroid monitoring is under funded due to the relatively low cost of doing so, and the high risk*result value of a very low risk, but catastrophic cost of a potential impact.

        Lombard's book got undeserved attention because it fits so well with the needs of polluting industries to refute the obvious damage done. It's really not his fault - he's got a limited education in science and he overstepped his expertise. This isn't new, and as pointed out over and over again in the response to this article, almost inescapable in popular science writing. Why he got unfairly crucified is because he was unreasonably lionized, and it all had little do with the content or lack thereof of his book. A more reasonable answer would have been a clear review of his scientific failings and a pat on the back for a nice first try, and an open hand from the scientific community offering to teach an obviously bright guy the basics of environmental and atmospheric science so he could give it a better go next time.

        Oh well.
        • by cirby ( 2599 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @08:59PM (#7805765)
          1) Actually, Lomborg's reasoning is quite sound and not hard to follow, and is mostly based on dismantling the assumptions made in the horribly bad "science" of Global Warming.

          2) There are thousands of environmental researchers out there in the world right now studying climate change, and many of them would have no jobs in the environmental field if they weren't working on GW. Add in the hundreds to thousands of people who are getting quite healthy paychecks running things like the Kyoto Treaty effort, and you're going to find literally *billions* in paychecks going to "research and fight" Global Warming. This is very different from when I was in environmental science back in the late 1970s, when you had to search long and hard to find any job at all.

          3) Lomborg's work was in analyzing the material put forward by environmental researchers to support GW, and he found large, gaping holes in it in many places. It's not the meta-analysis so popular in a lot of fields, it's direct commentary on bad science, very similar to the theoretical physics work done to dismantle cold fusion.

          The big problem with Lomborg's "science" is that the work done by the GW researchers that was so flawed. Look at the recent scientific collapse of the "hockey stick" graph in the IPCC report.

          It's also very funny that you, as a physicist, complain about an economist working outside of his field when you're also doing the same thing in analyzing his work...
          • by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Thursday December 25, 2003 @01:12AM (#7806666) Homepage Journal

            A climatologist researcher friend of mine was going along with the global warming consensus while he was running Global Circulation Models. Then he got deep into paleoclimatology and changed his position, because he saw first hand how terribly bad the historical climate record was, and what large, important conclusions were drawn from inadequate data coupled to very suspect indirect causation chains.

            Other acuaintances of mine in the field, at least during the Clinton administration, would not publish their skepticisms and didn't want to be quoted by name because being a GW skeptic meant not getting research grants!

            Another acquaintance doing research on increased CO2 on plant growth had trouble getting grants once he started showing very positive results.

            Global Warming "science" is already highly politicized. And I put "science" in quotes because forecasting something 100 years in advance is not particularly scientific, given the lack of testability in reasonable time frames. Furthermore, there is a sampling bias in the models... huge amounts of assumptions go into models, many in what is called "paramterization" - which means literally sticking in fudge factors to account for many phenomenon either too fine grained, too poorly understood or just too hard to model to put into the program. Naturally, those models which can "forecast" the historical record tend to be considered the best ones. However, given the level of tweaking the models require, this is more likely to be a matter of chance than to indicate that the model is really correct.

            Finally, what BL says about the Kyoto accords is true. Put in different terms, the change in temperature as a result of Kyoto would not be measurable (separable from noise) in 100 years. In other words, Kyoto does nothing to help the environment (the other formulation is to say it delays warming 6 years out of 100). If one pins down a knowledgable Kyoto proponent, they will admit that Kyoto doesn't achieve anything of significance with regard to the climate, but rather gives a start to what is really required, which (if you believe the IPCC models) is a reduction in CO2 emissions so great that with current technology it would destroy the economies of the world and result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the 3rd and 4th world.

            In other words, Kyoto was meant as a trojan horse (with goodies in there to make the US economy less competitive with Europe, and a complete lack of regulation of the largest and fastest growing countries). Its purpose was to get people used to suffering to reduce CO2, and to get agreements in place that could be used to tighten the CO2 rules over time.

            Finally, many environmentalists believe in the "precautionary principle" which in effect says that if we suspect something might be harmful, but can't prove it, we should stop it anyway.

            This sounds reasonable on the surface, until one realizes that it is applied to restrict CO2 emitting activity, but is not applied to the potential social impacts of those restrictions. In other words, precautionaryism (to coin a term) is okay for the environment, but potential harm to man does not receive the same level of caution. Furthermore, it is easy to extend the precautionary principle to end all progress. For example, the precautionary principle, applied to genetic engineering, would cause us to shut down all efforts in the area, because it is likely (yes, likely) that the technology will be used by terrorists to create dangerous pathogens.

            On another topic, I read the Scientific American criticism of The Skeptical Environmentalist. It almost caused me to cancel my subscription after forty years. It was an poor excuse for a rebuttal - it was an attack on the person, BL, more than on what he had to say. It ignored most of his main points and where it found specific fault (and there was almost none pointed out), it was on trivial details. And yet, they only gave him one page to respond. Furthermore, the threatened him with copyr
  • by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:01PM (#7805201) Homepage
    Well the upper atmosphere is warming, but that can be easily explained by the weakening of the magnetic field which causes more radiation to hit the atmosphere in turn increasing the temperature in that region.

    As for the ground data, Urban heat islands are the cause. The material used to build Urban areas retains the heat from the day, and radiates it at night. If you take the urban heat island data out of the ground temperature data, there is almost a zero increases in surface temperature.

    No need for CO2 in the equation at all, though, Green house effect and what I outlined above both have an equally strong base of evidence (each is a hypothesis to climatology). I think that the hypothesis outlined above makes more sense personally.
    • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @09:34PM (#7805952) Journal
      Well the upper atmosphere is warming, but that can be easily explained by the weakening of the magnetic field which causes more radiation to hit the atmosphere in turn increasing the temperature in that region.
      Excuse me, but exactly what kind of solar emissions are blocked by Earth's magnetic field, and how much energy do they account for?

      What? You don't know? I'm not surprised.

      As for the ground data, Urban heat islands are the cause.
      Heat islands have been the subject of intense discussion and research in this area for as long as I've been following it, and a quick search immediately turns up refutations of that claim. From physicist Martin I. Hoffert [commonwealthclub.org] (who is certainly more qualified to expound on the issue than Lomborg):
      (1) Land surfaces are only 30 percent of the Earth's surface; and the area of the U.S. is only a few percent at most of Earth's surface. Since area weighting of all global land and sea surface temperature data is used to get global data sets, this modifi ed urban heat island effect - if it's real - would have a very small effect on the computed global warming.
      Here's another take on the issue [whyfiles.org]:
      When the early global warming models, which did not account for cooling caused by aerosols (which are also produced by burning coal and oil), were changed, the new models have forecast average temperatures "right on the nose," says Schneider.
      and another independent measurement [nap.edu]:
      Borehole temperatures can also provide an independent instrumental validation of surface measurements. Pollack et al.'s (1998) analysis of underground temperature measurements from four continents indicates that the average surface temperature of the earth has increased by about 0.5 C in the twentieth century.
      (I can't believe the things that get modded up. Okay, given the lack of research obvious in what gets posted, maybe I can believe the credulousness obvious in what gets modded up. But it's still dismaying.)
    • " Well the upper atmosphere is warming

      Which planet are you talking about?


  • short-term view (Score:3, Insightful)

    by T.Hobbes ( 101603 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:04PM (#7805219)
    lornberg has always seemed like a bit of a paper tiger to me. first, a large part of his argument just that the scientsts are basically hyping the problem, and making it seem worse than it is. he's not, however, saying that the problem is not bad. second, much of his commentary about the actual state of the environment addresses the fact that it was worse in the past, or that control measures have curtailed the worst of a particular environmental problem. again, he is not addressing the problem itself - he's comparing it to the past. in both cases, he does not address the problem, but rather says 'relative to ________, it's not that bad'. the question that actually matters, however, is if the conditions to support life and, in particular, human life, will be maintained; if not, what damage will be done to life on earth.
  • Science vs Politics (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tauklon ( 19587 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:04PM (#7805221)
    This article shows the problem of seperating facts from politics.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_mull er 121703.asp

    It talks about a Medieval warm period and the problems of estimating temperatures from just a few hundred years ago. The hard part is to agree on the factual data.
  • by orionware ( 575549 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:07PM (#7805244)
    We've been keeping track of global climate for more than 140 years!

    Surely this is enough to be able to accurately predict the warming and cooling cycles of the Earth!

    You stupid people! Global temperature has risen almost 1 degree F in the past 140 years! (http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/nhs hgl.gif) Surely this is the sign of evironmental armageddon!

    • Sorry most of the data goes far further back in time than 140 years. For example you can pull C02 levels from ice core samples to see the level of C02 increase.
    • You have not been keeping track of global anything for more than 140 years because of the difficulty associated with measuring anything globally. I go to the web page and I see an impressive graph. Too bad there's no indication of where the data comes from. Even if I stipulate to your data, then the crucial question becomes "Why is it happening?" You seem to have concluded that it is due to humanity's release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Defend that conclusion.

      In defense of the other side,

  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:08PM (#7805249) Homepage
    on Monday, an earthquake shook the foundations of Diablo Canyon nuclear power station in California. This plant, if it had been built as originally planned, would likely have failed on Monday, likely contaminating hundreds of miles of pacific coastline with deadly radiation.

    Thank GOD the environmentallist wackos were there, in the 1970's, to halt construction on this plant, and force PG&E to redesign the plant so that it could withstand a 7.0 direct on it's location. The magnatude of the San Simeon quake was estimated to be in the 5.5 to 6.0 range on the site of Diablo Canyon.

    I personally don't mind having a nuclear power station in my "backyard". But that's because I've toured it, and I *know* they built it right.

    For all those who blamed the 2000 blackouts on environmentalist wackos - screw you. It was fradulent enerygy trading practices.
  • ...Danish Scientist offered top spot in Bush administration to head working groups on climate change including the Clear Skies and Healthy Forests initiatives.
  • Global warming? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MsWillow ( 17812 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:15PM (#7805284) Homepage Journal
    I'm not so sure that humans are the root cause behind any global warming, especially after seeing that Mars is just coming out of an ice age of its own. [space.com] Given that humans have had, like, zero impact on the climate of Mars, but solar output has impact on both Mars and Earth, doncha think that global warming might, just might, be caused by the sun, not humans?

    I'm not saying that humankind has no impact on Earth's climate, but that maybe blaming us for global warming is just another Chicken Little espousing that the sky is falling. We'll likely know better, in a few million years or so. Till then, I'm not holding my breath.
  • "right-wing organizations such as the Cato Institute" Cato institute is a think tank, i.e. it can be bought by intrest groups. At UN World Summit on the Information society they even sent SPAM letters to participants of the summit. Scientific American is a popular science magazine, so it seems to be no "real science" as it is used as a communication platform. Politics or Science? I don't believe he is a real scientist. Science shall avoid to deliver to the people what they want to listen to. But science i
    • Cato is not the sort of group to be "bought by interest groups." There are certainly some groups out there which are willing to change their principles for donations, but Cato isn't one of them Whether you agree with them or not, they are one of the most principled groups out there. Their positions do NOT change to follow changing whims of their contributors.
  • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:26PM (#7805340)
    That first paragraph was confusing so lemme post my summary:

    Bjorn Lomborg says evironmentalists are stupid.
    Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty says Bjorn Lomborg is stupid.
    Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation says Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty is stupid.
    Cato Institute says Bjorn Lomborg is not stupid.
    Scientific American says Bjorn Lomborg is stupid.

    okay makes sense now.
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:27PM (#7805347) Homepage
    There seems to be a misapprehension in many posts that the book is skeptical of global warming itself. It isn't.

    There are a *few* comments to the effect that the conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are not certain, or at any rate the *magnitude* of the warming is much disputed, but Lomborg's comments just mirror the ongoing debate in the meteorlogical community itself.

    Then he gets on with it and says, basically, "but let's just take the final conclusions of the panel as the best estimate we have" - the rest of the chapter is about the 1.5C-5.8C (most likely number : 2.2C) of warming we will see by 2100, according to the IPCC.

    What the global warming, ah, community(?) hates about Lomborg is that he takes a position against Kyoto, based on the models and figures in the IPCC report.

    In brief: that Kyoto is unlikely to delay that 2.2C warming by more than a miserable six years, at a cost of hundreds of billions that could be better spent preparing the hardest-hit nations for the *effects* of the warming, not to mention on R&D for wind turbines, solar power, safer nuke plants, fuel cells, etc.

    This, I found pretty convincing.
  • by DavidinAla ( 639952 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @07:38PM (#7805393)
    Anybody who would call the Cato Institute a "right wing" group is terribly, terribly ignorant. Cato is very pro-individual rights. On economic issues, they tend to agree with conservatives. On social issues, they tend to agree with liberals.

    Contrary to what some people believe, it's possible to have positions other than what most people understand to be left wing or right wing. That two-dimensional scale is terribly inadequate for explaining the range of possible political positions. See the following quiz from Advocates for Self Government for a more useful way to look at the choices:

  • i don't get it... (Score:2, Informative)

    brief look at the critique:
    12 pages long, a bit long-winded, and i'm too lazy to read it.

    brief look at Lomborg's Response:
    2 pages, including the editor's response, fairly to-the-point.

    brief look at the response to Lomborg's Response:
    15 pages long, even MORE long-winded, picking apart every work in Lomborg's brief response.

    i don't get it. why was Lomborg only ALLOWED 1 page in the magazine, while the critique to his book and to his response are so damned long?

    it doesn't seem like the magazine itself is
  • Anyone remember MIT's Jay Forester's Limits to Growth [clubofrome.org]issued by the Club of Rome?

    Well they were wrong in the sense that what they predicted didn't happen. Or were they?

    Well one reason that their prediction didn't pan out was that some of the behaviour / parameters changed due to the political impact of the book and the debate that followed. Same with Carson's Silent Spring.

    Now back to current debate. Given the latency in the system, the risk if indeed the Greenhouse effect is real and can run amok,

  • by WombatControl ( 74685 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @08:24PM (#7805626)

    After reading through Lomborg's book and the responses to it, I've determined that there is one tested scientific theory inherent in global warming. Unfortunately it has more to do with psychology than earth sciences.

    In 1972 a psychologist named Irving Janis developed the concept of groupthink, a theory that postulated that people within a group will think alike, or as he put it:

    [Groupthink is] a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. (Irving Janis, Victims of Groupthink, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972. pg. 9)

    In other words, when you get a group of people together with a similar worldview and ask them to process some information, they will process that information in such a way as to coincide with their worldview.

    The theory of groupthink is a tremendously useful model for analyzing public policy decisionmaking. Many articles have been written that apply this model to everything from the Cuban Missle Crisis (Graham Allison's indispensible Essence of Decision for those who might be interested in foreign-policy decisionmaking theory) to the decisions over the war in Iraq.

    Scientists are not immune from groupthink. The consensus in January of this year was that the incident of ice hitting the space shuttle Columbia was not a major issue of concern. Those who did believe otherwise were dissuaded by others. Of course, the consensus was wrong in the issue and the dissenters were correct.

    Global warming is more a consequence of groupthink than of sound science. It is pseudo-science to argue that a system as complex and chaotic as the environment can be predicted with any accuracy over long periods of time. We can't even predict the weather over a given chunk of territory with scientifically reproducable accuracy, yet one is to believe that we can say that the Earth's average temperature will rise x number of degrees by 2100?

    The fact is that such claims are unverfiable and irreproducable, and rely on computer weather models that would respond as a model would be expected to but could have no relationship with the real world. Yet we're being asked to base our entire way of life based around flimsy assertions that cannot be proven or disproven scientifically.

    So why are scientists behaving so unscientifically?

    Because they have been given a worldview in which "polluters" should be stopped using science. In essence, the people who grew up watching Captain Planet are now out there either consciously or unconsciously trying to make the evidence fit their preordained worldview.

    Those who dissent, like Lomborg, are practically apostates to the prevailing conventional wisdom. Lomborg is instantly assumed to be in the "pockets of big corporations" and trying to "defend the polluters." Lomborg's arguments are being treated as wrong on a prima facie basis and the prevailing conventional wisdom is being upheld - exactly the way in which Janis would describe for a group in the throws of groupthink.

    Certainly pollution isn't good, but the way in which critics have attacked Lomborg have shown a shocking willingness to abandon dispassionate and objective science in favor of using science as a tool of public policy. When such an attitude becomes prevalent, real science falls behind. The scientific community deserves a black eye for this, and the way in which global warming is treated as a prima facie truth rather than a flimsy scientific theory is not hard science - it's a function of personal and professional bias on the part of many in the scientific community.

  • by mwillems ( 266506 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @08:27PM (#7805647) Homepage
    I have, and I found it very interesting.

    Without taking sides, I would much rather talk about the facts quoted in the book. Is the air in London cleaner now than at any time since the 1700's (because sulfur-laden coal is no longer used for heating and making tea)? Do we have enough oil for at least another few hundred years (and it appears to be well argumented)? All a bit offtopic, but since it was started, let's all read the book (it is WELL worth it whatever you believe) and debate it.

  • Enviromental Bias? (Score:4, Informative)

    by argoff ( 142580 ) on Wednesday December 24, 2003 @10:46PM (#7806176)

    I think part of the problem is that most of us enjoy nature, the outdoors and the environment and most of us dislike some of the unethcial practices persued by industrialists in the previous century or so.

    The knee-jerk reaction is to cry out that we need the government micro-regulate every aspect of industry to "save" the environment. However, this is just plain wrong and has hurt society greatly.

    1) It has led to an entrenched system of government funded and institutional research that has little measurable accountability.

    2) The regulations that have resulted from this have often made the problem worse.

    #1) is the reason why Lomborg had such an easy time nailing them, and their response has been so hostile.

    #2) is the reason that so many people instantly embraced his book (even without reading it in many cases.)

    Consider the example of companies like Ford that promoted enviromental regulations to force used cars out of the marketplace, or other industries that when met with new and innovative competition cried out for environmental regulations that significantly increased the cost of starting a business in their industry. One of the worst examples of all is DOW chemichal - where Freon was outlawed the month after their patent expired, but DOW still held a new patent on the only known replacement that is scientifically speaking more harmfull than Freon was which scientifically speaking wasn't nearly as harmfull as it was portrayed to be when outlawed.

    Ironically, the best solution is a free market solution. For example, in Communist Russia - they had a horrible toxic waste problem (compaired to the US) because industries had no motivation reprocess industrial waste into other products. Where in the US a large amount of waste was being resold to other industries for other specialized uses.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham