583 of 650 people found the following review helpful
Staggering research boiled into all the key information,
This review is from: The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Paperback)
Worthy causes, whether religious, political or moral tend to see themselves as above the duty to provide evidence to substantiate both their claims about reality and the suitability of their proposed measures to improve said reality. To their believers, the state of the world is obvious (usually bad), and they are genuinely astonished to find that most people are unconcerned about the grave issues that drive them. Their natural reaction is to become even more feverish about their respective causes and to step up efforts to proselytise and convert the benighted masses.
Bjorn Lomborg started working on the issues that would eventually make up the content of his book by leading some of his statistics students into debunking some claims made by University of Maryland's professor Julian Simon. Julian Simon had claimed that things were actually getting better rather than worse, and that most negative environmental indicators were connected to poverty, violence and bad government rather than consumption or wealth. To their surprise (for he initially took Simon's claims as evidence of typical American arrogance), Lomborg and his students found that Simon was roughly right. It was true that things were getting better, and that many of the claims coming from environmental advocates were contradictory (for example they both dreaded global cooling in the 1970s and global warming in the 1990s as absolutely negative, although clearly both have benefits compared to each other, and neither is all bad), or tendentious (for example, advocates for particular causes often choose particular extreme years to show a negative tendency in a variable, while ignoring the long term trend), or simply shoddy (such as using a report on a tiny plot of slanting land in Belgium to extrapolate the global impact of erosion on land fertility). Lomborg published some articles discussing his findings on a left-leaning newspaper in Denmark, that greenest of countries, and was astonished at the public reaction. He decided to take upon himself a Gargantuan project, one that (I think) he couldn't possibly have thought through before embarking on it, or I predict he wouldn't have done it. He decided to review the state of the world from many, many angles, including humanity, all types of resources, animals and plants, as well as their interactions. The amount of work required to cover all these subjects, and to come up with data to back up his conclusions, must have been staggering. I have sometimes done this type of work, and I am in awe at Lomborg's achievement. It is truly a tour de force.
While I don't claim that everything Lomborg says makes perfect sense, or that all his data are correct (surely he won't deny his readers the right to apply skepticism to his own claims as well, and it is quite easy to use the WWW to check out his opponents' arguments), this is a rare book that attempts seriously to consider all facts from a variety of angles, which tries to answer objections or qualifications from opponents, and which carefully connects all the variables into a global picture, incorporating the temporal dimension both past and future. Lomborg is truly skeptical, in the sense of taking nothing for granted and approaching all the issues dispassionately. These are, as Descartes told us in his Discourse on the Method, some of the conditions for true knowledge. Reading Lomborg one sometimes feels like the light has been turned on or the mists have cleared on many topics. One is surprised to find many catastrophe-peddlers (such as Stanford's Dr. Erlich, who is unrepentant of the obvious failure of his predictions for the 1980s of widespread famine and scarce resources due to population growth) are still around and doing fairly well. At least Lomborg takes them to task, and finds them wanting in logic and veracity.
I predict (and it doesn't take Nostradamus to figure this out) that this book will be purchased by many people who normally wouldn't think of reading even a newspaper article on environmental concerns. Many of these probably won't make it through the entire book. In spite of Lomborg's great asides about his debates with WorldWatch and with Danish government ministers and his glee in demolishing yet another sophism, he is sometimes prolix, and there is a point were yet another chart showing that some metal's price has not gone up but down in the past hundred years is one too many. But let's not forget his calling (he is a statistician, although an unusually lively one), and let's not ask him from more than what he offers (which is a rational, dispassionate look at the environmentalist discourse). His chapter on global warming is both exhaustive and exhausting. I predict also that Mr. Lomborg will become a darling of the libertarian think tanks in the US and elsewhere, and a villain in the eyes of environmental organizations and their supporters. Both attitudes are mistaken. The only way to dismiss Mr. Lomborg is by showing that his data or his inferences from them are wrong. And, although roughly aligned with them on most issues, Mr. Lomborg is probably not of the libertarians' perspective (they should be scared if Mr. Lomborg decides to write a book testing many of the libertarian's claims, such as the trickle-down theory of economic development). Everything else is just taking things on faith, something Mr. Lomborg hasn't done. He is entitled to the same treatment.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 3, 2006 2:42:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 3, 2006 2:45:46 AM PST
Khanh B. Nguyen says:
Nice review. I read an interesting rebuttal by a number of scientists to this book, titled "Misleading Math about the Earth" in Scientific American (http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2007 6:45:09 PM PDT
J. Saxton says:
Scientific American is increasingly losing its credibility, as far as I'm concerned.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2007 6:50:33 PM PDT
J. Saxton says:
Excellent review. I just finished this book, and I generally share your sentiments.
Posted on Sep 11, 2007 8:54:45 AM PDT
Having read the book, I have been browsing others' comments. I found yours excellent, accurate, and engaging. It lead me to read your other reviews, which I also enjoyed.
Like you, I am impressed by the body of evidence which Lomborg has assembled, his discipline in referencing all his sources, and the liveliness of his prose. Very few recent books have achieved this level of excellence, in particular this blend of academic soundness with a popular style.
Posted on Jan 4, 2008 8:15:57 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 20, 2008 7:08:15 AM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2009 7:03:30 PM PDT
Darrel Smith says:
and a reavealing analysis of SciAm's rebuttal can be found here..
Posted on Mar 4, 2010 10:55:53 PM PST
Stephen Pletko says:
Dear Antonio Nunez:
Lomborg is not a statistician. He is a political "scientist."
Stephen Pletko (AKA Uncle Stevie)
Posted on Apr 15, 2012 8:36:31 AM PDT
Sanford D. Larsen says:
Before buying or reading this book, I recommend checking Bjorn Lomborg's credentials in Wikipedia.
Also, be aware that the content of this book was investigated in 2003 by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) which cited The Skeptical Environmentalist for:
1. Fabrication of data;
2. Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation);
3. Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods;
4. Distorted interpretation of conclusions;
6. Deliberate misinterpretation of others' results.
Lomborg successfully petitioned to have the ruling reversed by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MSTI), which has oversight over the DCSD, due to several procedural errors. MSTI then handed the case back to DCSD for reinvestigation. DCSD decided not to act further, reasoning that renewed scrutiny would, in all likelihood, result in the same conclusion. (Source: Wikipedia)
Posted on Mar 16, 2013 11:37:59 AM PDT
We libertarians are not afraid of Mr. Lombard using his stats to explode our trickle down theory because it doesn't exist. It is a straw man that goes back to Roosevelt's day. It's weird that since we have a president who's been running against it for five years now that this fallacy is so widespread. It's almost as if economic illiteracy and media bias are at work here. Same deal with women's pay.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2014 5:41:53 PM PST
J. Grasso says:
Yes I would highly recommend that people actually do read the wikipedia extract, because it gives the reader a highly different interpretation as to the outcome of this accusation and subsequent investigation/s, than that which Sanford D Larsen is attempting to portray. Talk about selectively quoting an article. Larsen him/herself is guilty of items 2,4 and 6 of the citations above.
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