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A Disgrace to American Science
By Philip Stott 03/11/2002
The January 'issue' of the Scientific American was surely nothing less than
a disgrace to American science. The now notorious attack on the young Danish
statistician, Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, and his important book, The Skeptical
Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Cambridge University
Press), not only offended against the principle of open, vigorous debate in
science but, more importantly, also flouted the normal rules of natural justice.
I have very rarely been so angry over the blatant mistreatment of a colleague.
It will thus come as no surprise to many Americans to learn that, in the United
Kingdom, the Scientific American is itself currently under ridicule in journal
after journal, from the prestigious Economist to The Spectator magazine. The
former concluded that "science needs no defending from Mr. Lomborg"
but that "it may very well need defending from champions" such as
the Scientific American critics. Writing in The Spectator, the eminent author
of Genome, Matt Ridley, one of the best ever popularizers of science, concluded
the Scientific American articles are devastating not to Lomborg,
but to his critics. Again and again, before insulting him, the critics concede,
through gritted teeth, that he has got his facts right."
as an Editor
own anger, however, stems from another cause. I have myself been involved in
the editing of scientific journals for over fifteen years, and I could never
conceive of treating an author in the manner that the Scientific American has
dealt with Dr. Lomborg. If all that I hear is true, his treatment breaches every
good practice I hold dear.
First, it is alleged that the magazine refused Dr. Lomborg the right of reply
in the same issue. As an editor, I would have sought this as a matter course
and to promote reader interest. Surely readers have a right to make up their
own minds with a full airing of the arguments involved?
Secondly, it is alleged that the magazine initially refused to post his immediate
response on its Website, and then even threatened him with infringement of copyright
if he tried to reproduce their articles, with his responses, on his own Website.
If so, this is not science, but pure bullying. I have never heard the like.
Thirdly, not only did the magazine run an editorial criticizing Dr. Lomborg,
it gave space to four known environmentalists to write separate articles attacking
him with no balancing articles whatsoever from senior scientists who are likely
to support Dr. Lomborg's critique. Again, I have never heard the like. In a
so-called scientific journal, such a course of action beggars belief. I would
always give my worst enemy the right of reply.
Own Request, But Still No Reply
So incensed was I by such an approach that I quickly e-mailed the editors of
the Scientific American with the following, all-too reasonable demand: "I
am, therefore, formally requesting the right of providing a balancing reply
equal in length to at least one of the four articles critical of the book."
I waited one week, but received no reply. I then sent a second e-mail, as follows:
"I confess now to being dismayed on a second count. I am also editor of
a major international journal and I strive to reply to e-mails within three
days of receipt, especially when they are critical of my journal. I am therefore
most unhappy not to have received a reply to my own e-mail and important request
to the Scientific American sent on the 13th January."
"I accordingly repeat the e-mail and request below. I cannot stress enough
the widespread concern about the unfair treatment of Dr. Bjørn Lomborg
in your journal. I trust you are, at least, allowing Dr. Lomborg a full right
of reply, both in your journal and on your Website. Anything less would be outrageous."
To date (10th March), I have still received no reply.
my entire career, I can never remember having been treated with such discourtesy.
Yet, my tiny part in this sorry saga is utterly insignificant when compared
with what has happened to Dr. Lomborg himself. Moreover, to date, I have always
been critical of my own scepticism about some of the more extreme views of environmentalists;
no longer. The Scientific American has revealed these for what they really are.
This has been a dark episode for cautious environmental science, and for American
science in general, which has normally been such a beacon to the world.
Yet, it seems that God is just, for Dr. Lomborg is about to have the last laugh
after all. Apparently completely unswayed by the Scientific American and its
machinations, the Danish Minister of the Environment, Hans Christian Schmidt,
has just appointed Bjørn Lomborg to be head of the new National Environment
Evaluation Institute. All power to his elbow.
And, on this site, you have, of course, the right of reply (see below).
Philip Stott is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the University of London.
His latest book, with Dr. Sian Sullivan, is Political Ecology: Science, Myth
and Power (Arnold and OUP, 2000).
IN RESPONSE TO DR. PHILIP STOTT ARTICLE
Name: Jeff Harvey
Subject: Re: Lomborg
Message: I would like to comment on the latest in a depressingly long line of
anti-environmental nonsense promulgated by Philip Stott "A Disgrace to
American Science". By association, I must be one of the "environmentalists"
Stott refers to in his piece, since I have been one of Bjorn Lomborg's most
vocal critics and co-authored reviews of "The Skeptical Environmentalist"
[TSE] (with Stuart Pimm) in both Nature and with other senior scientists for
the Union of Concerned Scientists. I also co-authored a piece in the journal
Oikos (November, 2001, also with Stuart Pimm) in which we debunked some of the
purely-anti scientific rhetoric Stott promotes over his childish web site, "Anti-Ecohype".
Like most contrarians including Bjorn Lomborg), Stott is long on words and short
on data. He hasn't published anything in the various fields in which he professes
expertise (e.g. climate change or tropical ecology), and the only reason I can
imagine that he is sought out for his views by generally right wing sources
like Tech Central Station or the Wall Street Journal is because they find comfort
in corporate boardrooms and those who want to bolster a pre-determined worldview
to maintain the status quo. It certainly isn't based on his scientific credentials,
which, like Lomborg's, are wafer thin, nor on the 'science' he promotes, which
is virtually non-existent. The truth is that Stott's views are completely out
of line with the scientific consensus on most issues.
Yet in this editorial Stott attacks the motives of Scientific American for their
critical essays of TSE, and the integrity of some of the most esteemed scientists
in the world to make a point. Why not say that Tom Lovejoy, as an example, is
one of the world's pre-eminent authorities on tropical ecology, with several
books and over 300 peer-reviewed papers to his name on the subject? Why not
point out that one of his current affiliations is as biodiversity adviser to
the World Bank, hardly a temple of "green extremism"? Like most hypocritical
contrarians, Stott tries to take the moral high ground, claiming that, as editor
of the Journal of Biogeography, he would never allow the journal to publish
a scathing critique of an author's work without allowing the author space to
respond. However, why does Stott fail to defend the reputations of Paul Ehrlich,
Edward O. Wilson, and David Pimentel, three of the most esteemed ecologists
in the world yet who are at the end of ad hominem attacks from Mr. Lomborg in
TSE? Some of these attacks border on the ludicrous as when Lomborg claims,
citing a third party source of information (an article written by two known
contrarians, Charles Mann & Mark Plummer) that "Ehrlich and Wilson are
ambitious supporters of an ambitious plan, the Wildlands Project, to move the
entire population of the US so as to recreate a natural wilderness in most of
the North American continent". Yet neither scientist supports such a plan
because it does not exist. The co-founder and former head of the Wildlands Project,
Michael Soule, was incensed over the article because he was never contacted
for his views; essentially, the claim was made up by Mann and Plummer, who support
the objectives of Wise Use and other anti-environmental movements.
I don't have the space here to write a detailed critique of TSE, but it is filled
with distortions, misunderstandings, and omits stacks of "inconvenient"
data which do not support Lomborg's narrow views. The bottom line is this: TSE
was quickly whisked through the social sciences department of Cambridge University
Press, such that the environmental sciences division were not even aware of
its existence until the last minute. Thus, the book was clearly never reviewed
by qualified environmental scientists, and it is obvious that it would never
have seen the light of day in its present form if it had been properly reviewed
by experts in the relevant fields. So why doesn't Stott, as editor of a scientific
journal, defend the peer-review process in his editorial? Does he send new papers
submitted to Journal of Biogeography out to experts for review or publish them
without peer-review? Moreover, where is his defense of the senior scientists
who are trashed by Lomborg is TSE? The fact is that Stott is as ideologically
motivated as Lomborg: as soon as the arguments do not suit his own agenda, he
expresses rage and frustration.
Lastly, I find it amusing that Lomborg's most vocal defenders have been who
I refer to as "The Usual Suspects" a small coterie of known
anti-environmental writers and scientists. Since there are so few of them, they
tend to crop up over and over again in media circles. Scientists such as Philip
Stott, Matt Ridley, Pat Michaels, and David Wojick, and journalists such as
Stephen Budiansky and Ronald Bailey have been promoting this right wing trash
for years, so their views are hardly original. One thing that many of them have
in common is links with conservative groups and right-wing think tanks. Some
of Stott's and Ridley's material have been published through the far-right Institute
of Economic Affairs in London, Wojick and Michaels are with the Greening Earth
Society, funded in part by the Western Fuels Association, and Bailey is an adjunct
scholar with the corporate-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. Armed with
this knowledge, I would advise Tech Central Station to recruit some new faces
to promote the same old story, as Stott and his ilk lost any credibility years
ago. In fact, it is Stott who is a disgrace to British science.
Date: March, 20, 2002
Name: Philip Stott
Subject: Re: Re: Lomborg
Message: Dear Jeff,
Thanks for your posting. I am sorry, though, that you had to make it so ad personam,
something which I strive to avoid. When writing this piece, you were not in
my mind at all, I fear, and I was not making any comment about any specific
person. I was talking about a process of publication with which I passionately
disagree. I thought this was abundantly clear.
The great tragedy of the current debate is the inability of many 'environmentalists'
to understand that people may arrive at a completely different position from
their own for entirely honest reasons. I hope that is my position.
I am a totally independent academic, and, by the way, I vote Labour. Please
get your facts right about me.
I also recently listened to Dr. Lomborg lecture - he was outstanding in his
care and attention to the data.
I am happy to respect your position - but I don't agree with it. And I will
continue to argue vigorously for what I believe to be true. I may not be the
greatest scientist in the world (I would never claim such a thing), but I do
my best - that's all one can do.
Thanks again for exercising your right of reply - I am sure Dr. Lomborg would
appreciate the irony.
Date: March, 21, 2002
Name: Johan Bakker
Subject: Re: Re: Lomborg
Message: I find it deeply troubling that Jeff Harvey's response to this
issue is nothing more than a long litany of the credentials of those who disagree
with Professor Lomborg's book and its conclusions, together with a rather wearisome
train of ad-hominem insults. One had expected better of a scientist of his standing.
The point, Dr Harvey, was well-made around the watercooler at my place of work
the other day, where someone observed that, even if Professor Lomborg is dead
wrong, and provably so, the treatment he has received, from Scientific American
and from others such as yourself by your response, is nothing short of shameful.
There is no crime in being wrong, or in being wrong loudly and publicly. The
proper response is to point out the error, and to refute it with data - not
to question the motives, politics or funding of the person with whom you disagree.
But it appears that Professor Lomborg's crime here is to disagree with a certain
prevailing orthodoxy, and to buttress his disagreement with data. For this heinous
crime, he is apparently to be pilloried by a succession of supporters of that
orthodoxy, most of whom, as Professor Stott has pointed out, have to agree,
"through gritted teeth", that his data is substantially correct. Professor
Lomborg has already disposed of your charge of inaccuracy regarding Paul Ehrlich
et al, and supported his position with referenced data. Pardon me if I place
more trust in his data than in your unsupported assertions.
Science runs on rules. If you choose to go outside those rules to try and dispose
of a person whose questions and data trouble and discomfort your settled opinions,
may I refer you to the advice on "man's laws" expressed by Sir Thomas
More in Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons".
Have a fine day.
Brighton, MI, USA
Date: March, 25, 2002
Name: Jeff Harvey
Subject: Re: Lomborg
Message: Dear Mr. Bakker,
I would like to reply to comments you made in response to my harsh criticism
levied at Philip Stott for his, in my view, unprofessional piece "A disgrace
to American Science" on Tech Central Station. Most importantly, I would
like you and your colleagues to mull over some of these points over your next
"water cooler" discussion.
First, the criticisms levied at Bjorn Lomborg and his polemic, TSE, have been
predominantly scientific, and not personal, as Stott and other contrarians claim.
If you were to read a series of critiques published by the Union Of Concerned
Scientist (inlcuding one in which I am co-author) and Grist Magazine, in addition
to another in American Scientist (by Daniel Simberloff), you would clearly see
that Lomborg's 2,000 citations (many from unreliable thrid party sources) and
2,900 footnotes does not necessarily constitute balanced scholarship. Peter
Gleick's review alone fatally undermines many of Lomborg's arguments, but since
my area of scientific specialization is ecology, let me highlight some of the
more egregious distortions in Lomborg's chapter on biodiversity.
The chapter is so badly researched and written that I would fail one of my undergraduate
students were they to submit a report of this calibre. Lomborg even goes so
far as to admit that he bases the chapter on a similar chapter by Julian Simon
and Aaron Wildavsky in "Ultimate Resource 2" which itself is full
of distortions and errors. You'd think that he would have steered well away
from anything Simon was connected with, at least to give some faint impression
of "independence". Both chapters ignore piles of inconvenient data
to make their point - in each of the discussions on avian extinctions in North
America, Puerto Rico and coastal Brazil, Lomborg not only cited old, discredited
studies but failed to cite any more recent papers (e.g. Pimm and Askins in PNAS,
Brooks and Balmford in Nature, and a number of others by experts in the field)
which completely undermine the Simon and Wildavsky piece. These papers are not
in obscure places - type the key word "extinction" into the ISI Web
of Science search engine and they are clearly there. If he was the "hard-headed
skeptic" who has "tried to present all the facts" as he claims
in TSE, then of course these up-to-date studies would have been incorporated,
at least to strike a balance. In fact, many of his Danish colleagues borught
up the same examples after the original Danish edition was publsiehd in 1998,
but Lomborg has ignored the lot. How many more examples to do you want to read
of his gaffes? I could write a book (and I am tempted to do so) just to counter
all of the selective examples where Lomborg ignores inconvenient data. Thus,
it seems to me as if he has an agenda, in spite of the spin that has been endlessly
promoted in news releases of his green background, transformation etc. I don't
buy this creation myth, but the media has big time, because it makes great copy.
You also claim that scientists such as myself are allegedly losing the argument
when we resort to the kind of language used in the series of essays in Scientific
American, and to cite sources of revenue. First of all, I think that sources
of revenue are a valid concern in science as they are in other professions.
If I hire a lawyer, and accountant, or a plumber, they are working for me. Yet
why should the situation be any different in science? Many fossil fuel, automobile
and energy corporations stand to lose a considerable amount of profit if regulations
limiting fossil fuel emissions are mandated into law, and consequently they
have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to debunk the science they hate.
Their generous financial support to a handful of climate skeptics is an important
tool in their desire to maintain the status quo. Do you honestly think they
are going to invest in scientists who will turn and stab them in the back? These
scientists are, are Ross Gelbspan correctly observed, "interchangeable
ornaments on the hood of a high powered engine of disinformation". Most
importantly, if I wanted to retain credibility I would distance myself as far
as possible from the charge that my opinions might be compromised by my sources
of income. Wouldn't climate skeptics like Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Patrick
Michaels, Sallie Baliunas and Fred Singer be smarter if they distanced themselves
from industry funding? This would at least make them somewhat beyond reproach,
but they are all at the front of the corporate funding queue, and it doesn't
take much common sense to realize that they are speaking on behalf of their
"clients". Most of them have had to admit before congressional testimony
that they have received huge stipends from industries that benefit directly
from reduced regulations on carbon emissions. When a memo from Joe Walker of
the American Petroleum Institute leaked to the press in 1996 saying that industry
had to "recruit independent scientists" to cast doubt over climate
change, what he was effectively saying was that industry had to pay off scientists
to espouse the corporate view, irrespective of the mounting scientific evidence
for climate change.
Besides, science is not on the side of these climate skeptics. Tell me how many
papers the likes of Baliunas, Balling, Singer, Michaels and Lindzen have published
in peer-reviewed journals on the subject and you'll barely get a trickle. The
first three scientists don't even do any research in this area; instead, they
write columns and editorials for right wing newspapers, think tanks and web
sites like Tech Central Station and thus seem to profit from their "defiance".
Lindzen and Michaels are, at least, doing some research, but their views are
separated from the scientific mainstream by an enormous chasm. In explaining
this gulf, I feel that their corporate connections are indeed an issue.
With respect to Lomborg, he spends much of his book levying ad hominem attacks
at esteemed scientists who just don't happen to agree with him. Then, without
a shred of evidence, he claims that scientists such as myself must scare the
public over the seriousness of environmental problems because, as he puts it,
"there are many grants are at stake" (TSE, pg 254.). This is certainly
a weaker thread than I have used with scientists we know are bought-and-paid-for
by industry. However, why didn't Stott lower the boom on Lomborg for making
such an outrageous charge without any evidence to back it up? Lomborg needed
to grasp any straw to explain why his arguments run counter to the scientific
consensus in virtually every field, and the "scare the public to secure
funding" straw man was the best excuse that he could come up with.
Lastly, I find it amusing when contrarians smear scientists and environmentalists
with the charge that we are levelling our criticisms in an unprofessional manner,
failing to attack the arguments but instead making political hay at the expense
of the messenger. Try reading the anti-environmental book, "Rational Readings
on Environmental Concerns", published about 10 years ago, which, like Lomborg's
polemic downplays human threats to the planet's ecological systems. The book
is authored by a veritable "who's who" in contrarian science. Yet,
in this allegedly "rational" book, environmentalists are labeled as
"extremists', 'apocalyptics', 'alarmists', 'zealosts', 'emotional extremists',
'ignorant', 'chemophobes', 'insincere-environmentalists-for-a-weaker-America',
'fundamentally elitist', 'professional scaremongers', 'potential mass murderers',
who are 'assaulting reason', full of 'environmetal paranoia', 'nihilism', and
who are fighting an 'ideological battle against economic growth'. Check out
most other contrarian books and the same language pervades them. You'll even
find similar veiled language in Lomborg's book, which as I said before is a
one-sided and factually deformed tract. While defensively proclaiming himself
to be a liberal and an environmentalist, Lomborg has provided PR greenwashers
with their best manifesto to date. It is for these reasons that scientists such
as myself will continue to counter the damage Lomborg has done to poison the
well of public information.
Date: May 8, 2002
Name: Eduardo Ferreyra
Subject: Re: Lomborg
Message: Dr. Jeff Harvey's arguments could seem quite convincing to laymen
and unaware scientists, if he were not a contributor to the "Union of
Concerned Scientists" (UCS), the reknown doomsaying organization. The
UCS is supposedly supported by a large number of scientists and has had a powerful
impact on public opinion. But what the public, and apparently most of the press,
does not know is that the UCS represents neither science nor most scientists.
A research we conducted back in 1984, found that the UCS claim to have some
100,000 members (or sponsors, as they call them). These sponsors are common
people who have read the UCS mail solicitations and contribute an average of
$17 each. How do they recruit this people? "We trade mailing lists,
just like everybody else," said Howard Ris, UCS deputy director.
How many of these are scientists? The UCS does not know (and don't care as long
they get their money), and they refused to cooperate when two scientists (Stanley
Rothman and Robert Lichter, from Smith College and Washington University),
asked them to poll UCS sponsors to determine their scientific background.
Although five of the UCS nine members of the board of directors were scientists,
the directors have little to do with the day-to-day operations and nuclear energy
issues (the main field of work of UCS). These are left to the energy staff,
which consists of two lawyers, to non scientists researchers, a policy analyst,
two scientists, and a Navy trained nuclear engineer, by the the name of Robert
Pollard, a former project manager for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Perhaps the most important criticism of the UCS comes from a scientist who
have served as an adviser to the group. Nobel laureate Hans Bethe, a nuclear
physicist at Cornell said, "I agree with everything they say about
nuclear weapons, but disagree with everything they say about nuclear power."
Bethe thinks the UCS is exploiting fears of nuclear power (and other issues)
and distorting facts to support its cause. What people is unaware is that UCS
is heavyly funded by oil and other powerfull corporations and, as the "brownlash"
skeptical organizations do, engage scientists to push their anti-progress, anti-human
The behaviour of (Anti-)Scientific American in Lomborg's case resembles the
Soviet regime of the twenties and thirties, as stated by late french volcanologist
Dr. Haroum Tazieff when commenting on the scandal the Chemistry Nobel prize
given to F. Sherwood Rowland et al., in 1985 for their "merits" on
the ozone hole fraud: "I do not hesitate to compare this big brainwashing
enterprise and deliberate lying to that of the Comintern between 1920 and 1935,
which induced tens of millions of left intelectuals to transform themselves
into as many militants willfully made stupid".
Dr. Harvey's opinions on Lomborg are just that. Personal opinions. People with
the scientific knowledge enough to compare facts and scientific studies are
able to arrive at different conclusions than Dr. Harvey's. We at the "Argentine
Foundation for a Scientific Ecology" have being doing just that, and
that's why our website is called "Ecology: Myths and Frauds".
For English speaking people its address is http://mitosyfraudes.8k.com/ENGLISH.html
. We receive no funding from any industry or private business, nor shall we
accept donations or contributions of any kind --except in the form of articles
for publishing, after careful comparison with scientific facts.
Fundación Argentina de Ecología Científica
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