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"The Skeptical Environmentalist"
On January 8, 2003, The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD), operating under the auspices of the Danish Research Agency, denounced the scholarship in the 2001 book "The Skeptical Environmentalist." The DCSD undertook its investigation in response to three formal complaints filed with the Committees, including one submitted by Drs. Stuart Pimm and Jeffrey Harvey.
After reviewing the
publication by Danish statistics professor Bjørn Lomborg, the DCSD reached this
"Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty. In view of the subjective requirements made in terms of intent or gross negligence, however, Bjørn Lomborg's publication cannot fall within the bounds of this characterization. Conversely, the publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice."
The full text of this
decision can be accessed at:
< http://www.forsk.dk/uvvu/nyt/udtaldebat/bl_decision.htm >
Concerned about some of the media coverage its ruling had received, the Director of the Danish Research Agency issued a statement (1/10/03) clarifying the purpose of the DCSD decision: "In this, as in similar cases, DCSD's brief is solely to decide whether the procedures foresee ably adopted during the production of a scientific work have actually been observed." The criteria upon which the DCSD reached its decision are reiterated. The ruling did not, however, adopt a position on whether the book is right or wrong.
The press statement can be
< http://www.forsk.dk/uvvu/nyt/presse/lomborg_pres_eng.htm >
The DCSD ruling received considerable press coverage in the US, as did "The Skeptical Environmentalist" when it was originally released. The original media coverage included prominently placed book reviews, and Dr. Lomborg's nationwide book tour extended the publicity.
For your interest, a copy
of the recent New York Times article about the DCSD ruling is appended, below.
You may recall that the Union of Concerned Scientists worked with several experts in topics covered in "The Skeptical Environmentalist" to produce critiques of Dr. Lomborg's book in the areas of water, climate change, and biodiversity loss. To review these critiques, go to < http://www.ucsusa.org/ssi/resources/page.cfm?pageID=1100 > on the SSI website.
[When prompted for a username and password, enter "ssi" and "aristotle," respectively (Note: characters must be all lower case). This page is intended for SSI members only - please do not share the password.]
Other scientists and
environmental groups also critiqued the book. Some of these challenges can be
< http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?colID=1&articleID=000F3D47-C6D2-1CEB-93F6809EC5880000 >
World Resources Institute
< http://www.wri.org/press/mk_lomborg.html >
< http://www.gristmagazine.com/grist/books/lomborg121201.asp >
We have gathered all the information on this matter together in this notice and on the SSI web site for your easy access.
Environment and Science:
Danes Rebuke a 'Skeptic'
January 8, 2003
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
A branch of the Danish Research Agency has concluded that Prof. Bjorn Lomborg, an author whose upbeat analysis of environmental trends has been embraced by conservatives, displayed "scientific dishonesty" in his popular book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist."
Professor Lomborg, who has a doctorate in political science and teaches statistics at the University of Aarhus, has portrayed the book as an unbiased scientific refutation of dire pronouncements by environmental groups. But it has been attacked as deeply flawed by many environmental scientists since its publication in English in 2001 by Cambridge University Press.
Many experts have said that environmental conditions, in most cases, are not nearly as good as Professor Lomborg portrays them, but also not nearly as bad as some environmental groups and scientists have said.
The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, after a six-month review following several complaints filed by scientists, issued a 17-page report yesterday concluding that the book displayed "systematic one-sidedness."
"Objectively speaking," the committees found, "the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty," as defined by Danish rules for scientific integrity.
But because Dr. Lomborg was not found grossly negligent, he could not be found formally to have been scientifically dishonest, the report said.
The committee said it found no evidence that Professor Lomborg deliberately tried to mislead readers, which would have been a graver issue, and settled on a relatively mild rebuke, concluding, "The publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice."
The committees, divisions of the Danish Research Agency, are composed of a variety of scientists and headed by a judge from the Danish High Court.
In a telephone interview, Professor Lomborg, 38, defended the book and challenged the committees to come up with specific examples of errors or bias.
"You can't say I'm scientifically dishonest or in breach of good scientific conduct unless you point the finger and say this is the smoking gun," he said. "It's like saying you committed murder but we won't tell you who you killed. It's impossible for me to defend myself."
He said the committees' conclusion could get him fired from his new position as director of the Danish Institute for Environmental Assessment, in which he reviews the effectiveness of government spending on environmental programs. Government officials, however, told Danish news organizations that the criticism of the book did not jeopardize Professor Lomborg's job.
Cambridge University Press has also been criticized by scientists for publishing the book. Officials at the publishing house declined to comment on the findings, saying they had not had a chance to read them.
The report did not cite specific examples, but asserted that the book - although presented in the style of a scientific treatise, with copious footnotes and diagrams - was actually "a provocative debate-generating paper."
It extensively cited a long critique of Professor Lomborg's book that was published in Scientific American last year. Professor Lomborg and his supporters said that critique was itself biased and written by scientists who have long portrayed the environment as dangerously degraded.
The book - a dense review of data on forests, climate change, food supplies, population growth and other issues - has not been a runaway best seller but has been widely cited by conservative groups, commentators and elected officials who oppose strict environmental regulations.
At the same time, the book posed a sharp challenge to environmental groups and many scientists who have long spoken of looming ecological and climatic catastrophes that have yet to materialize.
"The environment is a field where, when people do some light calculations like Lomborg did, it's easy to argue for a happy-times kind of conclusion," said Dr. Peter H. Raven, the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
But such findings should not be portrayed as science, he said, adding, "This is a just outcome that ought to bring his credibility to a halt except for those who desperately want to believe what he says."