• Why I defend Bjorn Lomborg

    I knew this would happen.  The instant I started defending Lomborg, I would find someone, in this case someone in the Slymepit, complaining that I’m defending a climate denialist.  I have said that the lowest form of corruption is to subordinate science to politics, so why should I defend a climate denialist?  Well, first of all, Lomborg is not a denialist.  He fully accepts that global warming is real and manmade.  There are real denialists out there, like the contemptible Ian Plimer.  Look  here to find George Monbiot making lasagne out of Plimer.

    Now in my post on P.Z. Myers, I said that he’d used a popular press article to level a serious charge of scientific dishonesty, without doing even the most basic research on it.  The article is Sharon Begley’s review of Howard Friel’s “The Lomborg Deception”.  It levels a series of very important charges, so I decided to get myself a copy of Lomborg’s book and see for myself.   (Let the record show that Myers was levelling these charges based on stuff that was at least three steps removed).

    1.  Polar Bears  


    ““For his claim that the polar-bear population “has soared,” Lomborg cited a  1999 study (scroll down to the paper by Ian Stirling). But that study described declining birthrates and other threats to the bears, blaming warmer spring temperatures that cause the sea ice to break up.”

    You can see that study here.   None of the above is disputed by Lomborg in the text.

    None of which is disputed by Lomborg in the text. What he points out is that the story repeated very often is that the population has declined overall from 1987 to 2004, what is not mentioned in an increase from 1981. And while the bulk of the study does follow the lines that Begley says – which, again, Lomborg, does not dispute – it also provides the data that back him up:

    Figure 6, p 302.

    On the subject of Polar Bears, Begley says:

    “Lomborg opens Cool It with a long discussion on polar bears, arguing that no more than two (of 20) groups are declining in population, that their numbers are not falling overall, and, in places where they are, that it is not a result of global (or Arctic) warming. In fact, polar-bear populations in warming regions are rising, he argues, suggesting that a warmer world will be beneficial to the bears. As Friel shows, Lomborg sourced that to a blog post and to a study that never mentioned polar bears. But he ignored the clear message of the most authoritative assessment of the bears’ population trends, namely, research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It found that bear populations are indeed declining where the Arctic is warming. In fact, concluded the IUCN, polar-bear populations “have declined significantly” where spring temperatures have risen dramatically. It also offered an explanation for Lomborg’s claim that numbers are falling most where temps are getting colder: that area happens to be where there is unregulated hunting

             Well, everything is wrong with this.  Lomborg does not cite a study that ‘never mentioned polar bears’, the study Lomborg cites is entitled Proceedings of the 13th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group, 23–28 June 2001.  This may look vaguely familiar; it is, in fact, the very study that both Friel and Begley are claiming he does not cite.  More importantly, if you go as far as Table 1 in the study, you find that, out of twenty populations, the Proceedings, list five as ‘unknown’, two as increasing, eleven as stable, and two as declining – which is exactly what Lomborg claims.   The – gasp! – blog post that Lomborg sources and the study that “does not mention polar bears” is a study of which parts of the Antarctic are getting colder, something not discussed in the IUCN.  It is absolutely true that increased polar bear deaths are from poaching; given that Lomborg’s argument in the section in question is that, if we want to save polar bears, we’re better off cracking down on poaching, this is something less than a knock-down argument.  So, no matter which way you look at it, Friel & Begley are inventing entirely new ways of being wrong.

    2.  Cold deaths vs Heat deaths

    So much for the Polar Bears. Next up is the following paragraph, concerning:“One of Lomborg’s most interesting claims […] that global warming will avert more deaths (as fewer people die of cold) than it will cause.”

    It continues:

    “Of the other two studies Lomborg cites for the claim that averted cold deaths will outnumber heat deaths, he told me by e-mail, “there is no question that they support my point. Indeed their support is so explicit that I am at a loss to see how Friel could have construed it otherwise.” One study, he said, is “the only peer-reviewed study to calculate all extra heat deaths and avoided cold deaths globally.” The two studies are here from 2006, and here from 2000. But the 2006 study concludes that 850,000 deaths from cold will be averted in a warmer world, not the 1.4 million Lomborg says, and it estimated deaths from only six causes (cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, diarrhea, and three tropical diseases), not from everything. The 2000 study offered death-rate estimates only for people 65 to 74, so it is hardly a full population-wide analysis. Finally, Lomborg cites a report by the World Health Organization to support his claim that cold claims millions of lives—1.5 million in Europe every year, he writes. But the WHO report says nothing about that. (Lomborg told me he cited WHO “solely to provide an estimate of Europe’s population” but, as with other source notes, it appears to support his controversial claim, not something as unobjectionable as Europe’s population.)

    Let’s take a closer look at those studies shall we? Look at the 2006 study, Table 1, interestingly titled: Health Impacts of Climate Change.

    Top Column, under cardiovascular, all entries are negative, because this is the number of deaths that would be prevented by a warmer world. Look to the bottom of the Cardiovascular column. 1,764,202. Round that up, and what do you have? 1.8 million. This table also shows that Begley was making the schoolboy error of confusing Gross with Net, and is simply looking at the wrong damn column.
    It is certainly true that the major study of causes of death ‘only’ lists Malaria, Schisto, Dengue fever, Cardiovascular failure, Respiratory failure, and Diarrhea – but that would a) be relevant if these were not major killers, and b) if either Friel or Sheron could produce a more comprehensive study. Failing that Lomborg is simply working with the best data available.
    It’s not too surprising to find that the second study is also misconstrued by Sheron. Sheron complains that it only ‘considers people aged 65 to 74’. Wrong. It lists the number of deaths in the group aged 65 to 74 per million population, not per million of 65 to 74 year olds. And the reason it does this is that younger people, quote: “show too little heat related mortality to analyze”.
    Now Sheron is complaining that Lomborg is just citing the WHO in order to get the population of Europe – but the Keatinge study does not list the total deaths in Europe, so what Lomborg is doing is taking the average number of cold deaths per million and multiplying it by the WHO estimate of 878 million people in Europe (the WHO seems to include Russia in its definition). Given that Lomborg is excluding the harshest measurement from his average – that of London – the accusation of dishonesty is doubly flawed. In fact, I begin to wonder if the distortions are solely a matter of screaming incompetence…
    And as though this weren’t bloody stupid enough, Sheron says: “One of Lomborg’s most interesting claims is that global warming will avert more deaths (as fewer people die of cold) than it will cause. But three of the five sources he cites (including this and this) reached the opposite conclusion, Friel shows. (Lomborg told me he included the three to criticize them, but a reader flipping to the endnotes might get the impression that they supported his claim.)”

    Sheron’s record so far makes it a little difficult to know which ‘five sources’ she means. Of the two she links to, one – Kristie et al, 2006 – is not, in fact, cited by Lomborg. The other – Basu et al – is, as even Sheron mentions, cited in criticism. It’s certainly true that ‘a reader flipping to the endnotes might get the impression that they supported his claim’, but a reader who actually read the book would not get any such impression. What Lomborg writes in the section that references these is “In the U.S. 2005 Climate Change and Human Health Impacts report, heat is mentioned fifty-four times and cold just once.” Even in the endnotes he writes: “See also — which only talk about heat-related deaths”. These statements are entirely accurate and not open to misinterpretation, unlike the scribbling of Sheron.

    3.  The Larsen B iceshelf.

    I don’t even require a reference to disprove this:

    “Lomborg also went to town on the 2002 breakup of Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf, which environmentalists blamed on global warming. “The Larsen area” has been breaking up for centuries, he argued, so the huge breakup cannot be blamed on man-made global warming. But the study he cited for that statement, writes Friel, “was not a study of the Larsen B ice shelf…Thus, while supposedly demonstrating that the 2002 [breakup] had a precedent during the Holocene, Lomborg dropped the specific reference to Larsen B, inserted the broader ‘Larsen area’ reference, and cited a study about the Larsen A area as if it supported his claims about the Larsen B area.”


    Got that?  A claim that the whole “Larsen Area” broke up, says nothing about whether or not the “Larsen B” area did.  Just in case anyone thought differently, here is a map of the area:



    So Friel and Begley are claiming that B is a subset of A, that all of A broke up, but that B remained pristine and whole. Even as a matter of internal logic this doesn’t pass muster.

    This is the sort of hackwork that Pope Myers takes seriously.  This is supposedly sufficient to charge someone with fraud.  And this is why I think Myers is an intellectual disgrace.

    In conclusion

    I’ve been going over Lomborg’s references piece by piece, checking whether or not he cites them accurately.  I’ll try to put these up one by one here, but so far it all checks out.  That isn’t the same thing as saying that Lomborg is right about everything.  Take the study on polar bears; after Cool It was published, another one came out that paints a bleaker picture.

    But there is a world of difference between someone being wrong about this or that, and someone being dishonest.  As I’ve pointed out before, Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph has been overhauled.  That doesn’t make him a bad scientist.  He pioneered an important new way of looking at temperatures across history.

    In the same way Lomborg is doing us all a great service, by trying to break out of the ridiculous logjam that the debate has been stuck in between those who think that human activity cannot affect climate, and those who think it is the doom of all things.



    Category: APGWSkepticism

    Article by: The Prussian