These problems include the fabrication of data, the selective and misleading use of statistics and sources, a misunderstanding of some of the natural processes discussed, and personal attacks on researchers.
Writeups are not replies
-- fb10101 on the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty's critique
, but the above must be quoted. The
of Bjørn Lomborg
's work, in fact the impetus
writing it in the first place, is not
that everything in the world is
. His thesis is that environmental
groups engage in
these same practices!
Let's recap a bit. Lomborg is indeed above all a statistician, not an environmental researcher. The Skeptical Environmentalist does not present any new and revolutionary research by Lomborg on topics like global warming or biodiversity, because he hasn't done any, and wouldn't know how to if
Instead, all the chapters of the book follow the same basic format: Lomborg takes an enviromentalist's claim and the
facts presented to back it up, determines how the data was obtained, and then considers the statistics involved.
Here is one particular example (Part III "Can human prosperity continue?",
Ch. 9 "Will we have enough food?", pp. 96-98),
picked more or less at random of the hundreds presented in the book. I've paraphrased Lomborg's words, the quotes are from his sources
unless otherwise noted.
In State of the World 1998, Lester Brown of the
Worldwatch Institute ask us to consider
the yields of Japanese rice and American wheat. In 1983,
America produced 2.65 tons per hectare, but "since then, there has been
no further rise." Japan's rice yield in 1984 was 4.7 tons/hectare;
"since then, it has plateaued". This is demonstrated with graphs
showing that, indeed, since 1983 and 1984 respectively there does not
seem to have been any gain in the yield.
"Farmers in the two countries appear to have 'hit the wall' at about
the same time."
"More countries 'hit the wall' in the years immediately ahead."
"Eventually grain yields will level off everywhere."
"The world moves into an age of scarcity."
This will create "unprecedented political instability in Third World cities."
Lomborg tracks down the 1998 USDA report these figures were taken from,
and gets the 2001 version for good measure. Turns out that 1983 was
the year of a bumper crop for wheat in the US, and 1984 a bumper crop
for rice in Japan. In fact, if Brown had picked any other
year than 1983, yields would have increased by 1997! And surprise
surprise, according to the new report, they did increase 10% past the 1983
level in 1998 (and 2000 and 2001 for good measure, so this isn't just
another bumper crop year). The same applies to rice,
where yields have been higher than 1984 every year since 1995.
Grain yields have on average increased 1% per year over the last 30
years, and the growth shows no signs of decreasing. Brown is lying
with statistics, either intentionally or through sheer ineptitude;
real trends can trivially be deduced with long-term averages, not by
selecting points that fit your hypothesis.
The book goes on and on like this, hundreds of pages, thousands of
footnotes. Now the bias that the Committee accused him of is introduced
through Lomborg's selection of the cases he skewer
s; obviously he has
opted to dissect distorted
claims, not mathematically
But Lomborg's point in the first place was that many, many of the claims
presented as solid "fact" by environmental groups are distorted or
outright made up (Lomborg documents a number of cases where numbers have
been wildly extrapolated or simply invented, most glaringly for the virtually incalculable rate of
), and that these claims are blindly
parroted by the media
with no fact-checking whatsoever.
Attempts to dispute these claims are usually met with "But please
won't somebody think about the CHILDREN?
"-type hysteria and
vitriol accusing the heretic
who does not agree with The Litany
(to use Lomborg's term) of being a paid stooge
Is Lomborg qualified to comment on the science of the studies he
examines? No, and the most dubious sections of the book are those
where he tries to. The above example would have been good enough as is,
but no, as a cherry on top Lomborg cites a few studies claiming that
rice yields still have another 50% to go -- a claim he is not
qualified to make, and "clearly contrary to the standards of good
Read The Skeptical Environmentalist
for the statistics
not the science