on May 23, 2004
....that Scientific American and The Star Chamber (Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty) piled on Lomborg with polemic statements and petty arguments against The Skeptical Environmentalist. I have a physics degree and currently study politics with a stastistical approach, and I appreciate the effort Lomborg put into his comprehensive survey so that we now have a dispassionate reference of the state of the environment.
Read Lomborg's careful rebuttle to Scientific American on the web, and watch him debate a Berkeley professor of Ecological Studies on PBS's Uncommon Knowledge (where you can view 25 minutes on several topics -- just enter Lomborg's name in the web site serach engine). Lomborg doesn't simply win the debate but utterly smashes these scientists' feeble arguments, all while gracefully taking their cheap shots. To some extent the lopsidedness is funny, but deeper down it is disturbing. I still have respesct for science in general although worry when many prominent scientists have inexcusable lapses in reasoning. But then again, Lomborg has one clear advantage over many scientists he debates: He understands basic economics and benefit/cost analysis while too many bright scientists obviously do not.
Long live science, but live longer the intelligent skeptics.
on April 15, 2004
Poverty, infectious diseases, hunger and pollution are serious problems for the humanity. The good news is that all these problems are getting smaller and smaller all the time. The problems have become extraordinary smaller during the last century, and are likely to get even smaller during the next one. That is one of Bjorn Lomborg's messages in this highly controversial book. He is attacking a lot of high-flying pessimist like Lester Brown, Al Gore and UN's climate panel (IPCC), and has therefore been portrayed as a liar, amongst them the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (before the ministry cancelled their verdict). Their official reason is that the book is one-sided and contains some (a lot of) factual mistakes. My oh my. As he writes himself: the intention is to correct the usual picture painted by the environmental movement and the media, and that must necessarily mean a bias. And the book certainly is biased, but the trouble is that Lomborg is biased the political incorrect way. That there are some factual flaws shouldn't surprise anyone, because the book is so full of facts. However, with his 3000 footnotes and 70 pages of references, the facts are very easy to check.
I was planning to give this book four stars, but after checking the some of the allegations other reviewers have posted on their sites, I changed my mind. Lomborg is one place attacked for 'deliberately not' having rounded 174,600 into 175,000 hectares, meaning Lomborg have given the number far to much credibility (Lomborg's footnote number 78). At another point, Lomborg is attacking the IPCC for having a hidden agenda. He accuses the panel's 2001 report for being concerned about consumption in general, and comes up with a lot of fantastic quotations, like "it's doubtful that this trend (of higher speed in transportation) really enhances the quality of life". I couldn't really believe this, but yes, it was true. The IPCC, which I until yesterday believed consisted of natural scientist, has used a lot of their latest report to mourn about how the TV are fooling us to believe that consumption is the road to happiness. The IPCC! The revelation of the UN priorities stunned me a bit really.
The book is highly recommended. It's a thorough investigation into the all of humanities greatest concerns, and a highly usable reference. If you doubt any of the claims Lomborg makes you could always check out the primary source.
on April 13, 2004
I won't add much to the many notes here. This is a book that is important to read to get some perspective on the exaggerations and distortions fed to us and repeated uncritically by the mostly mindless press.
As Lomborg points out more than once in the book, there is real environmental work to do and there are real environmental decisions to be made, but there is so much noise and so much distortion by advocacy groups competing for money and others competing for publicity that it can be hard to get government to do what will really work instead of wasting needed money on foolish enterprises.
The "review" by the appropriately-named Mr. Fog is nothing more than a hatchet job by someone who helped launch the now-discredited Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty and who helped contribute to a lengthy book in Danish attacking Lomborg's. Lomborg's response to the book shows some of its inaccuracies and distortions and can be found on his web site <[...]
The policy stakes here are high. Even higher is the cost of the intellectual pollution offered by dishonest "activists" to the information level of some important pubilc debates. If a closer look isn't given to these issues, lives, health, and money will all be squandered.
Read Lomborg's book carefully. Check it against its critics and them against his rebuttals and all of them against what facts can be nailed down.
on January 1, 2004
It is true that Lomborg's book does contain some errors. And that is why I am giving it only 4 Stars. But Lomborg has freely admitted them; More importantly, however, these minor mistakes do not undermine his main conclusion that the Earth's Environment is improving, rather than declining. We have had predictions of mass famine in the 1960's too due to the growing world population but the subsequent Green Revolution boosted crop production and supported the increased population. My point here is that Scientists and Prognosticators cannot predict the future. Personally, I do think that we should do more to curb Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions and increase Fuel Economy Standards in both Canada and the US. Having a higher gas or electric bill tends to focus one's mind on buying energy saving devices, light bulbs, etc. Having said that, we should equally NOT Demonise individuals such as Bjorn Lomborg who argue that the Earth's Environment is gradually improving rather than going to hell in a hand basket. Rather we should rationally examine the scientific facts first and then form a conclusion as Lomborg attempts to do in his book.
Some critics of Dr. Lomborg have referred to the January 2003 report by the Danish Commitee on Scientific Dishonesty(DCSD) as essentially discrediting the entire basis of The Skeptical Environmentalist. But, in fact, many lay people have pointed out serious flaws in the Methadology of DCSD's conclusions and on its refusal to give Lomborg prior to the release of their critical report. The Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has now(December 2003) intervened to harshly criticised the DCSD's methadology and to repudiated its findings on Lomborg's book. here. Among the points cited(cf. a very useful web story by Ian Murray(my thanks to him for his insightful analyses of the DCSD situation) ...is that firstly, the DCSD failed to substantiate its case against Lomborg's book and did not state where Lomborg committed his alleged mistakes. In such a situation, Lomborg could not be expected to respond to the DCSD's critiques--which some have said merely copy Scientific American's previous critiques of Lomborg's work.
Secondly, while DCSD emphasised that all scientific work should go through a peer review, they omitted to examine whether such a procedure had been done in Lomborg's case. In fact, Lomborg's book had, in fact, been reviewed by 4 recognised scientists prior to its publication by the Cambridge University Press. Thirdly, the Danish Ministry of Scienace, Technology and Innovation criticised the language and tone of DCSD's report as being highly emotional and error prone--in other words, somewhat unprofessional for a scholarly Committee.
Fourthly, DCSD's procedure of presenting Lomborg's case before 3 separate scientific Committees instead of the usual one was unusual and procedurally incorrect. Moreover with this new situation, a ruling which was issued by the Individual Committee within whose area of study Lomborg worked could be overturned by the 2 other Commitees. Fifthly, it was "clearly wrong" to deny Dr. Lomborg an opportunity to defend his book in front of the Commitee of Scientific Dishonesty prior to the DCSD's ruling. Finally, the Chairman of the Sub-committee in the Lomborg case came from the Health Sciences, rather than from the Social Sciences Department, which is Dr. Lomborg's field. I thought it was quite funny that this was the case--it wld be like asking a Biologist to study the work of Chemist and makes no sense at all!
In summary, the Janury 2003 DCSD ruling seems to have been intended as a hatchet job on Lomborg's work. Perhaps it was an attempt to discredit the views of those who don't subscribe to the Environmentalist viewpoint. But fortunately, there is some justice to this world and the DCSD report has now been publicly repudiated by the DCSD's own superiors. As Lomborg states after the release of the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation's report: "It has been hard, but I am happy that we now have confirmation that freedom of speech extends to Environmental debate. Now that this distraction is behind us, we can concentrate our efforts on matters of importance--namely how to prioritize our effort for the earth." I think he couldn't have said it better. One should let the scientific facts on the ground--rather than the angry rhetoric and threats emanating from Environmental groups and their supporters against both Lomborg or his publisher, Cambridge University Press--to control the debate over how to preserve the Earth's Environment for the benefit of our future generations. Such a move strikes me as an attempt suppress dissent over such a topic.
on May 25, 2013
In our politically correct world, where special interests work so hard to manipulate us to match their thinking, we need more and more balance. This book does not debunk or preach, it gives a grounded alternate view of environmental reality. Strip away the retoric of various groups, and you will see what really needs to be done. If we viewed the world with this sane and rational approach, we would make much more headway.
on August 10, 2003
It is very interesting to read the many reviews of Bjorn Lomborg's book. The remarkable thing is how polarised the reviews are. There are many 5 star reviews, and just as many 1 star reviews, with only a few giving a score in between. Most of the 5 star reviews compliment Bjorn Lomborg for his intelligent discussion of the issues, and for his integrity and honesty in his presentation.
The 1 star reviews on the other hand are clearly the work of people who don't want to accept Lomborg's positions. However, the Lomborg opponents don't seem to be able to come up with specific examples where Lomborg is wrong. Instead they resort to emotional language, and say things like "there are simply too many errors and distortions to list them all." Excuse me? It would indeed be very helpful if those who take such a position would provide clear, objective, unemotional instances of where Lomborg is wrong, with page number references, contradicting data etc. As a review of his reply to the Scientific American articles attacking him will show, Lomborg has been able, in nearly every case, to effectively argue for his conclusion over the viewpoint of his opponent.
For the rest of us, the obligation is, as it always must be if we are to avoid being conned by propaganda from either side, to find out for ourselves. For example, an area where Lomborg may not have it right is his acceptance of the IPCC Summary Report position that there is evidence for global warming, and that that warming is caused by anthropogenic activities. Examination of the DATA itself, especially that collated from rural stations or the satellite record, shows that there is very little, if any, evidence for secular global warming at all. And even if one accepts the flawed record that includes stations subject to urban heat island effect, the record shows that it is only average night time temperatures that are increasing, not the average daytime temperature which just goes to show the merit of the urban heat island argument! The best that can be said about global warming is that there may be a cyclical fluctuation in the climate that appears to correlate with cycles of solar activity. But it behooves all of us to find out for OURSELVES.
The conservation movement has made a major contribution to the quality of life on the planet over the past 30 years. As a result of their efforts we all enjoy cleaner harbours and beaches, streets free of litter (at least in Australia), and much improved air quality. There is much to be done yet, but there really has been a major change in the awareness and concern of the general population regarding conservation issues.
Bjorn Lomborg's work has been effective in stimulating discussion, and challenged interested parties to develop a better understanding of the issues. That has to be a good thing.
on July 24, 2003
If you want to hear the truth about the environment, read this book. There is increasing interest in environmental studies these days. Many of the environmentalists tell us that we are destroying hour planet. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lomborg takes all the major fields of concern and shows there is nothing to worry about. Let me give you an example. It is often said, even educated people tend to believe it, that the oil is not going to last. There is going to be scarcity of oil in the future. Lomborg points out that the best indicator of scarcity is the price. When supply goes down the price goes up. For the last decades the price of oil has been going heavily down. That means that there is more and more oil available to us in this world. In fact, all these government projects about hydrogen or solar power are a waste of taxpayers hard earned money. In fact, if oil would be scarce, the price of oil would get higher and private firms would have an incentive to spend money on new ways of energy.
Lomborg also talks about the Kyoto-protocol and shows how stupid it really is. What the environmentalists talk about is the cost of global warming. But they never mention the cost of stopping global warming which is enormous. In fact, Lomborg shows that the cost of stopping global warming is probably much more than the cost of global warming itself. This means that the Kyoto-protocol is in fact nothing but the biggest government waste in history.
on July 17, 2003
This book is well written, scientifically and statistically pretty sound (I've a PhD in engineering, and apply the models, statistics, and arguments Lomborg uses here on a daily basis), and is for a book with a lot of facts and nearly 2000 citations rhetorically witty, and very enjoyable to read. The negative reviews wouldn't be so strident if this book was not effective and interesting!. If you are an environmentalist, read this book to help you figure out the things that you (and I) should work on to actually improve the environment rather than wasting our time and resources on efforts that may have only marginal (or negative!) effects on things that aren't even problems!
No book of this size, with this much information, could every be 100% correct but this type of even-handed, open-minded analysis and clearly laid out discussion (from a Liberal-left Scandanavian university professor, no less!) has been what's missing from the rather totalitarian environmental movement (think my statement is too strong? Read the book yourself, then check out some of the reviews here!).
This book is not a slam-dunk refutation of all of us with an environmental sensitivity. It is certainly not scientifically, statistically, or rhetorically deficient. It IS an effective antidote to the extremely unscientific fear-mongering and outright lies made by some scientists and pseudo-authorities to effect popular activism and strict regulation that they favor. It does call into focus the "Quo Vadis?" of how some people and environmental groups increase their contributions and power base by inflaming fears (often wtih incorrect or stilted "facts"). It does bring up the correct point that, given that we are skeptical when business advocacy groups say "everything is peachy", shouldn't we try to not accept so gullibly negative pronouncements by groups or experts whose revenue stream is enhanced by making folks believe that the world is going to hell? Paul Ehrlich, for example, earns fees by writing books predicting starvation, disaster, and environmental despoilation within five years. Seems to write a new one every five years!
As a technically trained person who enjoys the outdoors and loves and wants to protect the environment, I am often frustrated by ignorance in popular media (and indeed, even in some science-trained friends). One can read, almost daily, some incorrect or impossible claim about the environment. This ignorance is illustrated by the story of a city council member who, upon hearing testimony that indicated that reduced emissions had lowered a stream's acidity from pH 9 to 8, insisted that "we won't be satisfied until that pH is zero!"*.
The anecdote illustrates another of Professor Lomborg's points, which I think is this: if you don't accurately know the real problems, chances are that any actions you take to fix things may not have beneficial effects, and you will have wasted resources.
I suggest that you read the book. If you disagree with points Lomborg makes, research these issues as thoroughly as he has and work as hard to understand and explain the proper point of view and conclusions from the facts and explicitly stated assumptions. If you do this, I believe that Lomborg will have succeeded in his overall goal: to insist on a science based, rational, and rigorously reasoned environmental viewpoint.
*pH is a measure of acidity. pH 7 is neutral (your tears and saliva are both near 7). Higher numbers are alkaline, lower numbers are acidic. A solution of pH zero would be about as strong an acid as there is. Not good for fishies!
on June 18, 2003
In "The Skeptical Environmentalist-Measuring the Real State of the World," Lomborg makes a valiant attempt to be objective. He does a good job of exposing more easily debunked myths such the one that 40,000 species go extinct every year. He falls short however when addressing more complex issues. His major shortcoming in this regard is that he is a statistician, not a scientist with the expertise to explore extremely complex scientific issues that too often seem paradoxical to all but the specialists who spend years studying them. In his chapter on global warming, Lomborg details his argument that the phenomenon is real, but hardly the threat that most climatologists claim it is. This is a little like a dentist explaining that a rare new type of cancer is not as bad as oncologists say it is.
Although, as a professor of statistics, Lomborg does a commendable job of documenting his figures, the figures don't always tell the whole story. One of the more glaring examples is his argument that the world has plenty of water. In his chapter on water, Lomborg goes to great lengths to show that there is enough surface water to support human life on earth, but only superficially delves into the subject of ground water, and barely mentions the fact that aquifers are sinking all over the world from overpumping. He completely ignores the subject of how much water is required to
support freshwater aquatic life (fish, etc.) or any of the natural systems that depend on fresh water to exist. He seems to be unaware of "subsidence"- a phenomenon that results from too much extraction of groundwater. Subsidence is causing a number of areas of the world to sink and the substrata to harden so that it cannot reabsorb as much water. Lomborg seems equally oblivious of salinization of coastal river deltas when their flow levels decrease, or of any other water problem not directly demonstrable by numbers to affect humans.
A major weakness of this book is that statistics can't support every argument. More abstract, but vital, aspects of the state of the world, such as beauty, justice, the human spirit and the value of animals are conveniently sidestepped. Lomborg often uses one criterion-- the length of human lives / how many deaths result from x, y or z--as the paramount measurement of our success or failure.
A magician tricks our senses by his skill at hiding vital parts of unfolding events. Similarly, when Lomborg fails to reveal vital parts of environmental issues, he presents a deceptively convincing case to the uninformed. Because it contains so much information and is so thoroughly referenced, "The Skeptical Environmentalist" should be read by anyone seeking the truth about environmental issues, but it should be balanced by such books as Paul and Anne Ehrlich's "Betrayal of Science and Reason."
The central point of Lomborg's book is very valid-that we need to make rationally prioritize our problems based upon facts instead of upon myths. But his incomplete approach leaves too many "myths" still in question.
on June 6, 2003
"The Skeptical Environmentalist" presents a plethora of arguments (nearly 3,000 footnotes and a 70 page bibliography) to confirm what saner environmentalists have always suspected: the environment and life on earth are improving! Bjorn Lomborg's critics would do well to begin reading his book. His critics sadly will look to his title and simply assume that because he is a professor of *statistics* that he could never make an intelligent argument on the environment. Yet, Lomborg's analysis is based on statistical evidence taken around from the world and hundreds of different sources. One suspects that even if Lomborg was the most honored environmental scientist on earth, his critics would still disparage him for no other reason than his conclusions are actually positive and not comprised of Doomsday scenarios.
Even if we were to assume that Lomborg's optimism is naïve, that some of his conclusions are incorrect, or his interpretation of statistics proves wrong, his often repeated point is the same: the environment certainly needs to be cared for, and we still have much work to do, but nonetheless the state of our air, water, food production, life expectancy, income, etc. have given us some reason to be proud. Surely this should be cause for SOME celebration! Lomborg should be praised and admired at minimum for not running with the herd and instead looking at facts and reality to come to his conclusions. In this way, "The Skeptical Environmentalist" is an excellent book, and definitely worth a read (or two). If environmentalists would only take his lead and present the status of the environment fully and completely, they would gain much more credibility.