|THE LOMBORG STORY
|The first debate in Denmark
In the first article, Lomborg postulated that the rain forests were not threatened, and that the total amount of forest on the globe was not decreasing. The editor-in-chief of Politiken had anticipated that this would provoke widespread protest, and a special debate section of the newspaper´s website was therefore established in advance, under the heading "The catastrophe has been cancelled". Within a few days, many people wrote protest letters and detailed rebuttals to this debate forum, but Lomborg answered only twice, after which he contributed nothing further to this internet debate. In addition, his answers, although detailed, where not of a kind that could lead to a consensus on the true state of the environment. First of all he stubbornly denied the existence of any flaws in his texts, and gave not an inch of ground on even the slightest detail. It soon became clear that any fruitful debate with him was impossible.
The editor of the newspaper received many letters opposing Lomborg´s claims. Only few of these were printed, and not the best ones. A few days after the last of the four articles had been published, the editor wrote a long leader in which he said that he would have anticipated that most of Lomborg´s provocative claims would have been disproved by contributions from the readers, but strangely, he could now conclude that nobody had been able to dispute any of Lomborg´s facts. In addition, Lomborg himself had a column under the heading "When will the criticism appear?", in which he denied that anybody had been able to prove him wrong. Simultaneously with this, the editor returned many relevant letters from the readers, refusing to print them*. There are therefore indications that everything had been pre-arranged between the editor-in-chief and Lomborg, viz. that mainly relatively subjective, emotive or ill-informed letters should be printed, and that Lomborg should win the debate.
In February another "kronik" was published in another large newspaper, written by some of Lomborg´s other students. In this case a group of four leading experts in that particular field joined forces to write an opposing article, but in vain. This was not accepted until drastically shortened, omitting a number of key points. The editor thus - again - prioritised the work of students who had just read up on the issues over that of leading national experts in the fields concerned.
Only one relatively small and intellectual newspaper printed severe criticism of Lomborg. Already on 30th Jan. they published a long article with detailed criticism of the way in which Lomborg distorted and manipulated his sources. This meant that an accusation of manipulating data sources hung over Lomborg´s head right from the beginning.
The debate did not die out, but continued throughout the spring of 1998, not only in all the newspapers, but also on radio and television. During all this debate, Lomborg never admitted to a single flaw or error. This was astonishing. It was less than a year since he had started to read critically about the global environment, and he was already claiming to know better than all the experts on every subject concerning every kind of environment on the whole of the globe. Instead of admitting flaws, he made counterattacks on his opponents, not only by slating them, but also by questioning their personal motives. Many opponents became very frustrated.
In the course of a few months, Lomborg had not only become widely known as a provocative person, but also generated a great deal of personal antagonism. His own interpretation of this fact was that people disliked him because he exploded the myths that they believed in. My personal interpretation is, on the contrary, that by treating his opponents very unfairly, and by claiming that they were driven by ulterior motives, he created much frustration and hatred. Leading experts in several fields decided that they would never engage in more debate of any kind with Lomborg, i.e. they withdrew from the "battle ground", which was possibly what Lomborg wanted them to do.
* The documentation for this is (in Danish) on p. 315-316 in K. Fog (1999): Chapter 11 in "Fremtidens Pris", edited by Det økologiske Råd & Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke. Available at www.ecocouncil.dk. The editor-in-chief of Politiken has read this text without protesting about my version of what happened.