About deliberate errors

Lomborg´s texts have many errors

It has been richly documented that Lomborg´s claims are often erroneous and misleading. When his book `The Skeptical Environmentalist´ was reviewed in 2001/2002, it got favourable reviews in newspapers and other lay journals where readers were impressed by the amount of technical details, notes and references. But in Scientific journals, not least Nature, Science and Scientific American, the reviews were very negative because specialists were able to see that many of Lomborg´s claims simply were not true.  Likewise, the more recent book by Howard Friel, `The Lomborg Deception´, documents many errors, especially in Lomborg´s book `Cool it´. And here at the Lomborg-errors web site are listed a total of more than 500 errors for the two books, some of them minor errors, but others are gross and severely misleading. To this may be added the manipulated and misleading outcomes of the Copenhagen Consensus conferences.

Lomborg´s response has mainly been to refuse to acknowledge the errors.

Many of the errors are of such a type that if they were corrected, then Lomborg would no longer be able to make the points that he is making. So there is an obvious suspicion why he would not acknowledge them – if he did, he would have to change or modify many of his conclusions – just those conclusions that appeal to many readers.

It is my assertion that in general, the errors presented on this web site do hold up under scrutiny. There have been a few attempts to  question the error claims (most notably by A. Rörsch et al., see Journal of Information Ethics 14(1): 16-28 (2005)), but these attempts have been repudiated by me (see K. Fog in Journal of Information Ethics 14(2): 66-76 (2005)), and the situation at present is that all claims of errors on this web site have been maintained. A few claims have been modified slightly in response to comments, but none has been modified in any essential way. Some issues may always be debatable, but most issues are about matters of fact, and here it seems possible to reach a final conclusion about what is true and untrue. If  Lomborg quotes a text, and the original says something different from Lomborg´s quote, then this for instance is an unequivocal error.

Many errors are deliberate

Nearly all errors go in the same direction – they give a bias in disfavor of the environmental cause.  This overall bias suggests that the errors are probably not just accidental, but deliberate attempts to distort the evidence in this particular direction. Furthermore, in some cases there is  more direct evidence that errors are deliberate. In the error catalogues on this web site, these cases (about one hundred cases) are emphasized with color markings. The reader may scroll through the pages where the markings help him to find these cases, and he may then for himself judge if the evidence for deliberate misleading is convincing. He may also study for instance this more elaborated example.

Furthermore, it also seems that the Copenhagen Consensus conferences have been manipulated deliberately by Lomborg in order to mislead people – see for instance this debate between Lomborg and me. In short, I suggest that Lomborg has a certain agenda, and that he was and still is willing to manipulate and distort the evidence in order to reach his goals.

The difficulty to prove that errors are deliberate

Right since 1998 when Lomborg started to write about the environment, my personal impression was that he misled deliberately. After the publishing of his first book in Danish in September 1998, we were a group of people who organized the work to debunk his book and produce a counter-book which was published in 1999 (the English edition of that book appeared in 2002, see this link). In those chapters that I wrote for the counter-book, I used formulations like “Lomborg misleads deliberately”. However, the main editor always deleted these formulations and said to me: “Can you prove that he did it deliberately? If not, then don´t write it”. So I had to omit these formulations.

This changed, however, when Lomborg published his first book in English, `The Skeptical Environmentalist´. This time evidence had accumulated that the misleading was deliberate. For instance, if experts had pointed out to Lomborg certain incorrect postulates in his Danish book, and had done this with professional authority and with reference to scientific sources, and Lomborg still maintained the same postulates in his English book, then you have a proof that Lomborg writes in bad faith. And then you know why he avoids criticism by not publishing in a scientific forum, and publishes instead for lay people who do not know the matters of fact.

When I worked around New Year 2001 / 2002 on the revision of my chapters of the Danish counter-book to produce a counter-book in English, I discovered many such cases where Lomborg´s dishonesty could be proven. At the same time, Lomborg was about to become the director of a new environmental institute established especially for him. Therefore, time was ripe to lodge a complaint to the Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). The complaint that I lodged (and one of the two other complaints that followed) focused on proofs that some texts were not just misleading, but deliberately misleading. What happened is described here. The DCSD ruled by common consent that Lomborg had acted contrary to the standards of good scientific practice by being selective and thereby creating bias. However, when it came to decide if this bias was deliberate, they flinched and did not pronounce any assertion. It seems that they partly had become frightened, and partly felt pity with Lomborg, feeling that the verdict that he was objectively wrong should be strong enough. This, however, was a blatant mistake on their side. It is of course difficult to know an other person´s motives – who can see what happens inside the brain of another person ? – but it was precisely the duty of the DCSD to decide on that, and they failed to do their duty. In the end, it led to the suspension of their ruling. See here.

I was frustrated by the fact that much evidence had been presented to the DCSD that the errors were deliberate, but that they failed to go into depth with this evidence. This frustration was the reason to produce the Lomborg-errors web site. Here, I have subsequently gathered much more evidence that Lomborg is not in good faith. This is true not only of his books, but also of the Copenhagen Consensus conferences in 2004 and 2008, where Lomborg fiddled with the crucial discount rates (see here).

Based on all this evidence, I have come to expect in advance that all what Lomborg does and says is carefully thought out and deliberately misleading. The problem for me is that it is so hard to make others see this in the same way. For some strange reason nearly all people expect in advance that when Lomborg says something particular, then he means it (for instance, if he says that we should have more wind power, then he means it).

People may think that even if it is not completely true what Lomborg says, at least he believes himself  that he is right. In my opinion, that is also a naïve way of thinking. Rather, I would suggest that you think of Lomborg´s saying and doing as spin. Spin is about manipulating public opinion. Spin implies promoting a hidden agenda.

The `father of spin´, Edward Bernays, wrote in his book `Crystallizing public opinion´ (1923, p. 212) that “ the only difference between `propaganda´ and `education´ really, is the point of view. The advocacy of what we believe in is education. The advocacy of what we don´t believe in is propaganda.” In my view, Lomborg advocates what he does not believe in. Put more precisely, he does not care if any postulate is true or false. All he cares about is how he can make the general public react the way that he wants. All that he says and does has the purpose to further certain assertions in those people who have sufficient power and influence to be of interest. Whether these assertions are true is of minor importance, as long as they cannot readily be disproved (Lomborg has several techniques to avoid that false claims are readily disproved, for instance referring to a source which few people will bother to check).

As a critic of Lomborg, I am facing this problem: When I on this web site have documented abundantly that Lomborg´s books are full of errors, and that many errors are deliberate, then I would anticipate that people conclude that you cannot trust that person. But many people do not conclude that. Why not? If the alleged errors hold up, how come that Lomborg is not effectively called out on his errors?  If you know that a man lied to you yesterday, and two days ago, and three days ago, how can you be so naïve that you believe that what he says today is true?

What could be the explanations that people still trust Lomborg?

Ordinary people have no chance at all to judge the correctness of what Lomborg says. They cannot go into details and check who is right. They have to trust other peoples judgment. What determines whom they trust?

One important factor is that Lomborg appears as a very professional person. His books are full of (overly) precise figures, very technical notes, and thousands of references, so obviously this man is not just a shallow or superficial charlatan. And people think that if he is not superficial, then it must be true what he says. He has checked the official statistics for us, hasn´t he?

Another important factor is the importance of his language, his voice tone, and his body language. People perceive him as a lively, open and spontaneous person. He looks directly at the audience with open blue eyes. A man who is spontaneous and lively cannot at the same time be cynical and thinking things out coldly, can he? A lot of people judge other people from their body language, and on the basis of the body language they beliveve that Lomborg cannot possibly be calculating and designing. Actually, however, a careful analysis of his replies in public debates often will reveal that he is very calculating, but people do not notice that in the heat of the debate.

Some of the reviews of Lomborg´s film `Cool it´say that he is mild-mannered (here) or `he actually seems rather kind´ (here). People with no prior knowledge about him think that he looks like a nice person whom they would like to chat with and who would be good to others. Sadly, that is not so. He may be kind to those who support his agenda or who are of help to him, but  his treatment of those whose agenda he does not like, may often be described with words like sly, scheming or vicious. This is not to say that if somebody opposes him, he gets angry at them. Not at all. Rather, in a number of cases, he has been the one who instigated conflict and deliberately insulted others, thereby turning people into enemies. For instance, one Danish scientist who helped Lomborg with a lot of information and references for `The Skeptical Environmentalist´, subsequently found that Lomborg´s book - and a long follow-up newspaper article written by Lomborg -  contained a character assassination on him. Another example where Lomborg is certainly not kind is here. Time and time again, Lomborg has written or said things which he knows will frustrate and infuriate scientists, often in a way which goes unnoticed by the general public, but is very insulting to the scientists. The purpose may be to make the scientists react emotionally in order to undermine their authority in the minds of lay people. Also, Lomborg seems to be sensible, balanced and authoritative when he speaks. Only when you check the source information do you discover that the evidence has been manipulated. In short, people who just judge him from his appearance are deceived. 

I recall the time in May 1999 when our counter-book against Lomborg had just been published, and when public hearings were arranged. I attended a hearing in a lecture hall at Copenhagen University. Four experts each made a lecture where they advanced their professional criticisms of Lomborg. He sat at the desk, looking down on the table top, his head coming further and further down, especially during the last of the four lectures, which was a scathing hatchet job exposing error upon error. Next followed a 15 minutes break, and after the break it was Lomborg´s turn to reply. He entered the lecture hall happily smiling, completely unaffected, as if nothing had hit him, and he delivered his defense so well that the audience would believe that the poor man had done nothing wrong. To be able to do so is a fantastic talent  - ordinary people do not have that total control of their body language. And it has its effect on the audience, maybe more than any arguments. 

Likewise, if you point out to an ordinary person that he has made an unequivocal error, he will admit that and maybe even be shameful. We count on people behaving like that. If you attend a debate meeting and do not fully understand the science that is being debated, you judge who is the loser by looking at the body language. The loser bends down, makes some admitments, and has a feebler voice. But not so with Lomborg. He never shows that kind of body language. He has debated very complicated matters about the state of the whole globe and every environmental issue with lots of experts knowing much more than him. But he has never in his words or in his body language acknowledged that he was wrong on anything. So you simply cannot use his body language to judge who is right. But people think you can, and therefore they misinterpret the situation.

How does he get away with it?
If Lomborg is really so wrong, if there really are so many errors, why is he not called out on it? Well, he is, but somehow he avoids that criticism has any serious effect. A list of methods whereby he avoids that criticism hits him is presented here on Lomborg-errors.
When Lomborg appears on electronic media, he somehow manages to persuade others that they should not even try to hear what his critics say. For instance, one of Lomborg´s most severe critics, Stephen Schneider, appears in the film `Cool it!´ in some kind of interview. Actually, the interview was made more or less against Schenider´s will - the filming team simply entered Schneider´s office without his permission (see here). No wonder that Schneider does not appear as a kind and happy person in that interview. When Lomborg later spoke of Schneider on TV (Danish TV2News, 23-05-2011) , he said that Schneider was the most important of his critics, and called him a `grumpy old man´. So the audience will understand that the most important criticism came from a grumpy old man, so why even bother about what the critics say?
Another example from Danish media is a radio interview where he manages to put the web sites opposing him in such a ridiculous light that nobody who hears the interview will even dream of consulting those ridiculous web sites (more details here).

The hidden agenda

If it is true that Lomborg misleads deliberately, then you might ask: what are his motives to do that? Is there a hidden agenda? This is discussed here.