From: bivalve (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Jan 17 2003 - 15:33:24 EST
Science and Nature both seem to agree that Lomborg's claims are
dubious but that the committee judging them did a poor job:
A Danish panel decided last week that Bjorn Lomborg's controversial
2001 best-selling book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, is
"scientifically dishonest." The government misconduct committee also
may be asked to examine whether Lomborg's views have colored the work
of the environmental institute that he heads. At the same time, the
Danish Research Agency plans to review the panel itself, which is
under fire for its vaguely worded report.
Nature 421, 195 (2003); doi:10.1038/421195b
More heat, less light on Lomborg
A Danish committee has picked an appropriate target and misfired.
Not surprisingly, last week's ruling by the Danish Committees on
Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) that Bj»rn Lomborg, in his controversial
book The Skeptical Environmentalist, selected data in a "severely
biased" manner and exhibited poor scientific practice (see page 201)
received widespread international media coverage. But whether the
DCSD emerged with credit also deserves reflection.
Lomborg's hypothesis that warnings issued by environmentalists and
scientists are unwarranted, presented in the book rather than in the
peer-reviewed literature, has been widely criticized by researchers.
But what is the DCSD's authority to tackle what many consider a
polemical rather than scientific book?
The DCSD was the first European body to be set up ˇ by the Danish
Research Agency ˇ to examine issues of scientific misconduct, and it
is still unusual in being mandated to consider any complaint about
any scientist, or any scientific work, emerging from both the private
and public sectors. A look at its guiding principles (see
http://www.forsk.dk/eng/index.htm) and its judgement (see
that the DCSD has the freedom to assess the case because, arguably,
Lomborg presented himself as an academic and his book as a scientific
argument. Appropriately enough, the DCSD emphasizes that it is
assessing Lomborg's scientific standards, not his conclusions.
The national context of this independent assessment is relevant here.
Lomborg was made director of the politically influential Danish
Environmental Assessment Institute, founded by the new right-wing
government after the 2001 elections, solely on the strength of it.
According to its own statutes, the institute must be headed by a
scientist of appropriate research experience, whereas Lomborg has
little additional experience.
Lomborg's claims in his book are certainly significant and
potentially influential. The Danish public, at least, has the right
to know whether he is arguing on scientifically rigorous grounds, not
least given the influence of his position.
Unfortunately, the DCSD has left itself in a weak position. It did
not conduct an independent analysis of the book but relied on
published criticisms, especially a controversial selection published
by Scientific American. Even to call this judgement's basis a
'meta-analysis' would be too generous: there is, for example, no
justification given for the particular selection of published
critiques. Furthermore, through a tangled combination of translation
and legalese, the committee's judgement characterizes Lomborg as
"objectively dishonest" while at the same time stating that they have
no evidence for what most people would call dishonesty: deliberate
misrepresentation. That subtle, not to say tortuous, distinction has
been lost in the media coverage.
There remains a need for rigorous scrutiny of Lomborg's methods,
given his prominence, his claims to serious analysis, and the
polarized debate surrounding his book. But this episode leaves
everyone little wiser, and the waters surrounding Lomborg even
Dr. David Campbell
University of Alabama
Biodiversity & Systematics
Dept. Biological Sciences
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0345 USA
That is Uncle Joe, taken in the masonic regalia of a Grand Exalted
Periwinkle of the Mystic Order of Whelks-P.G. Wodehouse, Romance at
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