Saturday, March 24, 2007

Looking at Lomborg

Evolutionblog has a look at Bjorn Lomborg.

He has a claim to fame through his work to discredit environmentalist, focusing on mythifying global warming. He's wrote the book, Skeptical Environmentalist. A grating thought as he is focused more on debunking by any means than actually just applying critical analysis. If your skepticism is indistingishable from the working of denialist...well, you know.

Speaking of cranks, all of the recent fuss over Al Gore's testimony to Congress on the subject of global warming has seen the revival of statistician Bjorn Lomborg. You might remember him as the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, the book that was going to set us all straight on the subject of environmentalism. According to Lomborg, everything is much better than we've been led to believe.

I only made it through about half of Lomborg's book before conking out. I was not really in a position to assess a lot of his claims. There were some crank warning signs, like the conversion story about how he used to be an environmentlaist until he took a sober look at the evidence, and the sweeping commentaries contradicting the conventional wisdom in scientific disciplines different from his own. But these were inconclusive.

I read many of the hostile reviews of the book. Some of them were incisive and compelling, but others were far longer on invective than they were on substance. So I left it as an open question whether or not Lomborg was a crank.

As he did in the New York Sun last month, Lomborg played a savage game of scientific apples-and-oranges, accusing Gore of “wild exaggeration” in the process. The UN said sea levels might rise one foot--but Gore said twenty feet, Lomborg railed!

Of course, as we've noted, Gore was talking about what will happen if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets break away. By contrast, the UN report was predicting future sea levels if the ice sheets don't break off. (For the record, the UN report said that sea levels may rise by as much as 23 inches if the ice sheets remain intact.) Lomborg's presentation is baldly deceptive--a bald-faced scam on the American public. And no, it really doesn't make sense to think Lomborg doesn't know this.

So there was Lomborg, committing a crime against your nation's voters. But our sense of disturbance really took shape in the moments after his latest deception. Although the groaning problem with Lomborg's claim has been discussed at an array of web sites, Alan Colmes made no attempt to contradict his grossly misleading statement. Ditto Jon Coifman (the Natural Resources Defense Council), who was there to provide fairness-and-balance. (We'll post their “responses” tomorrow.)

Indeed, Lomborg's bald deception now rules discussion of this topic. In early February, he presented his utterly bogus claim in the pages of the New York Sun, where it would have done minimal damage. But last week, the New York Times' William Broad made a fateful decision; he wanted this nonsense in his paper too. So Broad used Lomborg's apples-for-oranges in his “Science Times” report about Gore. By yesterday, the Dane's poisoned fruit was being cited all over your struggling nation.

Global warming can be confusing. A lot of research is still needed. But results are coming in, confirming many troubling benchmarks. The fact many political and business interest are affected by what is happening makes it tougher. Businesses have been hiring scientist to muddy the water. If Lomborg wants to help, he should do more that just troubling the waters over minutia.

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