Utilising a simple misprint to make UNEP´s Global Environmental Report look untrustworthy  
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The UNEP report `Global Environmental Outlook 2000´ was published in September 1999. Newspaper articles reviewed the report with terms like "The rate at which man destroys the environment is steadily accelerating . . "
   Bjørn Lomborg takes upon him the task of dampening that kind of hype about environmental issues. So Lomborg and his co-worker Ulrik Larsen wrote an article, a so-called `kronik´, about the UNEP report in the Danish newspaper Politiken on 3rd Dec. 1999. What they thought of the report was spelled out clearly in the title of the article: "A shrill outcry about doomsday".
   Lomborg and Larsen claim that the authors of the UNEP report are not experts, but just individuals, and they cite a sentence which in the original report reads: "GEO colloborating centres are multidisciplinary institutes with a regional outlook that work at the interfece between science and policy." In Lomborg´s and Larsen´s translation, this becomes ". . multidisciplinary centres that work in the grey area between science and policy." From this, the reader may get the conception that the report is not very credible. Lomborg´s and Larsen´s text then goes on as follows: "Unfortunately the report gives a long series of examples why it matters whether the authors are experts/scientists or politically motivated individuals."
   They then mention some examples and write "The report contains far too many of that kind of factual errors."
   Several alleged factual errors are mentioned. I will here focus on one of these. It concerns oil spills in the Persian Gulf and is described by Lomborg and Larsen as follows:
   "In the press release about the marine envrionment the authors [of the UNEP report] write that `some 1.2 billion barrels of oil are spilled into the Persian Gulf annually´ - a figure of a nearly absurd magnitude which - had it been correct - would correspond to that 4,500 tankers the size of Exxon Valdez run aground in the Gulf every year. The real figure is about a thousand times smaller and may also be found, that is, if you read sufficiently far into the report. "
Now, if you at that time (December 1999) actually downloaded the UNEP report (
here) and read it, you would easily find the sentence `some 1.2 million barrels of oil are spilled into the Persian Gulf annually´. So the correct figure of 1.2 million barrels was not hidden in any obscure way in the report, and there was no error there. Now, Lomborg did not actually refer to the report, but only to the press release. But if you checked the official press release that could be found at several web sites, this too did not contain any such error. From the web sites you might, however, go to a short overview report made by the UNEP centre in Nairobi, and this overview report did contain the misprint, with 1.2 billion barrels instead of the correct 1.2 million barrels (this error has been corrected since then).
   Now Lomborg could have written that the UNEP office in Nairobi had made a misprint with a single wrong letter (billion instead of million) in their short overview report. Instead, he writes that the true figure is `about´ one thousand times smaller - so the reader does not get the impression of a simple misprint which would make the correct figure exactly one thousand times smaller. Instead, by writing `about´ one thousand times smaller, he gives the reader the impression of an estimate which misses the mark by an enormous margin, i.e. an estimate made by somebody untrustworthy. Furthermore he hints that the authors had the sinister purpose to present a false figure to the press and hide the true figure deep in the text of the report where no journalists would find it.
   In this way, a regrettable misprint which is neither in the report nor in the press release is utilised to give the impression that the authors of the UNEP are not trustworthy.
   It should be added that the newspaper accepted a reply article of similar length written by Christian Ege, Kåre Fog and Knud Vilby, in which we criticised this point and several other points in the article by Lomborg and his co-worker.