Energy Bookshelf: The Lomborg Deception … leads to a question: “Does the Washington Post have any honor left?”
April 21st, 2010 · 5 Comments
- The Guardian named him “one of the 50 people who could save the planet” in 2008
- Foreign Policy listed him 14th on its list of “the top 100 public intellectuals.”
- Esquire named him as one of the world’s 75 most influential people of the 21st century in 2008
- Foreign Policy and Prospect named him as one of the top 100 public intellectuals
- Time magazine named him as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2004
Many … studies published after Cool It confirm that Lomborg was wrong on virtually every major claim that he made about supposed exaggerated threats of global warming. In Cool It Lomborg argued that the issue of melting glaciers “
the favorable coverage of Lomborg and his books are to global warming what the triple-A ratings for mortgage-backed securities were to the U.S. financial system — misguided seals of approval with catastrophic conclusions. Even worse, financial systems and economies presumably can be reinvented and restored, but the Earth, its climate, and its environment–upon which economic well-being and human civilization ultimately depend–cannot. Lomborg’s success largely reflects an ability of elite publishing houses and news organizations to construct an alternative but counterfeit network of knowledge about an issue of the highest public importance.
What we’re talking about here are mistakes; however, my book about Lomborg’s scholarship is not about mistakes but rather a persistent pattern of misrepresenting his footnoted sources.
We are being told that the plight of the polar bears shows “the need for stricter curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions linked to global warming.”
Global warming could cause polar bears to go extinct by the end of the century by eroding the sea ice that sustains them, according to the most comprehensive international assessment ever done of Arctic climate change.The thinning of sea ice — which is projected to shrink by at least half by the end of the century and could disappear altogether, according to some computer models — could determine the fate of many other key Arctic species, said the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the product of four years of work by more than 300 scientists.
The sea ice in Hudson Bay, Canada, now breaks up 2 1/2 weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago, said Canadian Wildlife Service research scientist Ian Stirling, and as a result female polar bears there weigh 55 pounds less than they did then. Assuming the current rate of ice shrinkage and accompanying weight loss in the Hudson Bay region, bears there could become so thin by 2012 they may no longer be able to reproduce
I don’t want to be as trusting as the reviewers who praised Lomborg’s scholarship without (it seems) bothering to check his references, so rather than taking Friel at his word just as they took Lomborg at his, I’ve done my best to do that checking. Although Friel engages in some bothersome overkill, overall his analysis is compelling.
Is it worth spending a whole book dissecting the writing of Bjørn Lomborg, the “skeptical environmentalist”? Certainly not in terms of the quality of Lomborg’s argument, which simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But Lomborg’s writing has been permitted to exercise a widespread and harmful influence. For that reason Howard Friel’s painstaking book The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight About Global Warming represents time well and usefully spent. …Friel provides a telling analogy: “…the favourable coverage of Lomborg and his books are to global warming what the triple-A ratings for mortgage-backed securities were to the US financial system – misguided seals of approval with catastrophic consequences.” More catastrophic, he notes, in the case of climate change than in the case of financial systems which can presumably be repaired. His verdict on the part played by publishers and journalists: “Lomborg’s success largely reflects an ability of elite publishing houses and news organizations to contruct an alternative but counterfeit network of knowledge about an issue of the highest public importance.”
- First off, there are few who will find this an easy cover-to-cover read, in part because Friel is diligent. This is an extensively documented work, with many long extracts from articles and otherwise to bring clarity to how Lomborg misrepresented a specific work or misled readers with a comment. He isn’t covering all of Lomborg’s deceptions, yet this is an over 200 page book with 43 pages of endnotes. Writ large, it is easier for glib deceivers to create an entertaining best seller than for the fact checker to write something that will get a fraction of the attention …
- Endnotes are, fundamentally, more difficult for a reader than footnotes. In a work that is dissecting another’s deceit via creating false trails via endnotes, footnotes would have helped underline Lomborg’s fundamental deceptions. [Note: this is not Friel's doing, almost certainly, but a general failure, imo, of the publishing world.]
- Friel’s notes have at least a few problems . For example, on page 6-7 he discusses the (sadly) favorable Washington Post review of Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist and brands it as “in its review” without in the text or notes identifying the actual review author. (Note: this is almost certainly a publishing house issue, as end-notes about articles from newspapers do not have the authors identified.) In this case the review author is identified as follows: “Denis Dutton is a professor of philosophy who lectures on the dangers of pseudoscience at the science faculties of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He is also editor of the website Arts & Letters Daily.” Dutton also doted on Lomborg, with multiple published reviews, and is more accurately described as a “libertarian media commentator/activist.” While The Washington Post deserves a rebuke for turning its pages over to such an activist without identifying his agenda and bias to readers, this was a signed book review — not a Post editorial.