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« Lord Stern FRS | Main | Ye olde techniques - Josh 273 »
Wednesday
Apr302014

Newtonian facts

A gentleman named Steven Newton of the US "National Center for Science Education" has been taking a pop at Bjorn Lomborg today, bringing up all those canards such as the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty with which greens like to assail him. (As an aside, greens' enthusiasm for this particular kangaroo court is yet another reason for doubting their attachment to a free and - in the UK sense - liberal society).

Still, Bjorn is quite capable of defending himself and he has pointed out one fairly glaring issue with Mr Newton's critique. This concerned what Mr Newton alleges was the fact-checking to which he and his students subjected Lomborg's magnum opus, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

In about half the cases, Lomborg’s citations either could not be found (for instance, they linked to non-existent websites) or did not say what he said they did.

Some examples:

In citation #596, Lomborg claims that lethal work-related accidents have declined 85%; his source claimed 46%.

Now one might have expected Mr Newton to offer up quotes from both Lomborg's book and the source book so that we can judge for ourselves, but he does not. Fortunately, Lomborg has now done so:

I would have liked a more extensive quote, but fortunately the source is online here and seems to check out. I don't understand why Lomborg says "more than 85%" when the source says 90%, but I can't see the 46% mentioned by Mr Newton at all. Lomborg may have erred on the side of caution. I'm not sure what the story is for Mr Newton's 46% though. I wonder if he does?

After this, I thought I'd look at the next of Mr Newton's allegations:

In citation #863, Lomborg talks about a 1972 book, Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, and notes that, “Once again, we were told that our resources would soon run out.” But what Limits to Growth actually said was, “The point is not that the world is about to run out of natural gas” [italics mine].

Once again I checked to the text of the Skeptical Environmentalist. On p. 121, having explained that Limits to Growth predicted that oil would run out in 1992, Lomborg discusses the 1992 revised version of that book, which is entitled Beyond the Limits, noting that it predicted that oil would run out in 2031, while gas would be gone in 2050. 

We might be able to postpone the pain somewhat, but gas consumption grows by 3.5% a year, i.e. consumption doubles every 20 years. Thus every 20 years we have to find as much new gas as our entire cumulated consumption up till now. "Thus is the nature of exponential growth" as the book puts it.

The citation is to p. 74 of Beyond the Limits. Unfortunately (or, more accurately, "mercifully") I don't have a copy, but some of the text can be seen online at Amazon here (search inside for "gas"). Here we  see that a discussion of depletion of oil and gas reserves covers pretty much the ground that Lomborg does:

Later on, we see Mr Newton's quote:

I don't know about you, but I read this as saying gas is not going to run out imminently, but in a few decades time. Unfortunately, that's where the Amazon extract ends. If anyone has access to this tome then I'd be glad to know what is on the next page.

But in the meantime, it looks as if Mr Newton is skating on very thin ice.

 

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Reader Comments (37)

When you pre-determine the outcome of any research it normally ends up what you expected, no matter what the data says.

Zealotry does not allow critical thinking and so the data is bent into shape to make sure the story is correct. Sounds like Orwell's 1984 to me!

May 1, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

I think Lomborg is simply doing his maths properly. A drop in fatal accidents from 37 to 4 per 100,000 means a reduction of 33/37, which is (about) 89.2%.

"More than 85%" is accurate, and in fact conservative: "Nearly 90%" would have been fine.

May 1, 2014 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterM Hall

Lomborg was indeed rather cautious.
By my calculation the fall in worker death rate was 89.2%
Newton (there's a mis-name if there ever was one) and his students should go back to elementary school.

May 1, 2014 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterLevelGaze

And 89.2% would just be nit picking :)

Regards

Mailman

May 1, 2014 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Seems like this Newton sat at the foot of a mountain instead of a tree.

May 1, 2014 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterDEEBEE

So he assigned the fact-checking task to 'diligent freshmen' and couldn't be bothered to check if they were just trying to please him by making stuff up. Nevertheless, still with no actual checking on his part he goes public because his belief system told him Lomberg must be wrong.

What Lombergs critics ignore is that he too was surprised by the real numbers behind the enviro myths when he started the project because it's the standard environmental mantra that everything, everywhere is getting worse because the IPAT formula tells them so; none of them bother to check basic facts because they all assume someone else did. All they do is read tracts and books from other 'concerned' people who also never bothered to check the real numbers. The Bullshit episode on environmentalism by Penn & Teller is a hilarious collection of examples of the grasp of truths versus trendy untruths of the basic enviro fanatic.

May 1, 2014 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Like Andrew I couldn't find a justification for the 46% figure.
My initial reaction was that it might have been the common misunderstanding of how percentages work (is a drop from 50% of something to 40% a 10% reduction or a 20% one?) but there's no way to make that error on the figures presented.
We are left either with JamesG's conclusion that Newton's researchers are a, dim; b, trying to impress their boss or c, simply careless or alternatively that Newton believes Lomborg is wrong because ... well, he just has to be, doesn't he?
Unfortunately for Newton facts are what they are, no matter how counter-intuitive they might appear at first sight.

May 1, 2014 at 10:35 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

It's obvious that sir Newton did not check anything himself but relied on the (the best possible group - cheap labor plus the efect of early indoctrination) freshmen's "discoveries". A Big Fail. But the other disturbing element coming out of this is the witch hunt. Does he also assign his students to check the quotes of environmentalist or climate alarmist books? What an academic...

May 1, 2014 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterSven

Newton is merely smearing for the already fully committed to the cause , therefore he needs no facts.
The attacks on Lomborg show us two things , like any other religion those that fail to believe in 'the right way ' are always given a harder time those those that do not believe at all , and what he says offers a real challenge to 'the cause ' hence the need for all the attacks.

May 1, 2014 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

The "running out of something" meme seems to be baked into human psychology - just like the "golden age several years ago" meme and the "true love will win in the end" meme.

Most of us know what it's like to run out of petrol in a car and it's easy to think that the world will run out petrol in the same way - a few minutes of spluttering then everything stops and you have to coast off to the side of the road.

The reality is that this is totally the wrong metaphor.

Julian Simon demolishes this way of thinking - well described in the doomslayer article

http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon_pr.html

May 1, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

The climate obsessed are now turning to an inquisition style assault on those who dare disagree with their fanatical outlook. And of course an inquisition requires inquisitors: faithful relentless immune to facts and ethics free.
Mr.Newton is a fine example of that.

May 1, 2014 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Since the rates are only quoted as 37 and 4 per 100,000, presumably they could be anywhere between 36.5-37.5 and 3.5-4.5, giving a range of reduction of 87.7% to 90.7% (to 3 s.f.). 85% seems like a safe lower limit.

May 1, 2014 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

They really hate Lomborg because he is one of them, and are so anxious to attack him they can't take the time to look for actual facts. If they did, of course, they'd have problems.

The initial attacks on "The Skeptical Envionmentalist" were on the basis that his science was wrong, as if the book was a new theory of GW, when in fact it is an investigation of the warmists' own claims, many of which turn out to be basically made up.

In the same way the Stern report is often cited as proof of the science, when it is in fact a study of economic impacts based on the assumption that the CAGW science is correct. The fact that the economics in it are apparently flawed is a separate issue.

May 1, 2014 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Their website is a pretty depressing place and some of the posts on there are just plain daft.

It is such a shame that "debates" seem to become so polarised in the US ( and yes they try it in the UK too) where you wind up with two camps hurling grenades at each other: abortion is another example.

Moreover, how come it has taken someone more than a dozen years to try an debunk Lomborg like this ? I'd have thought that in the high-octane super-charged world of climate and environmentalism, the science would have moved on by now and Lomborg would be rendered obsolete by some new orthodoxy.

May 1, 2014 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

That's the thing, they have nothing really new. They have never accepted the conclusions of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" because to do so leaves them with nothing.

It is only on sites like this that things have moved on, in the mainstream the greens are still bashing away at the same old discredited stuff.

This was apparent at the Glasgow debate last year, the warmist speaker was years behind the rest of the speakers.

May 1, 2014 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Fans of Lomborg might like to check out the Lomborg Errors site. Or not, as the case may be.

May 1, 2014 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

The extract from "Beyond the Limits" continues...

On the scale of human history, the era of fossil fuels will be a short blip, either because of their source limits or their sink limits. A society that expands its fossil-fuel burning capital without planning ahead to renewable substitutes is likely to find itself very suddenly beyond its energy limits.
There are renewable substitutes for fossil fuels. There need not ever be global energy scarcity. Two energy options are available that are sustainable from the source, environmentally supportable, techni...
at which point my "look inside" ends, at the end of page 74.

[Interestingly, shortly after this excerpt, the authors are extolling the ability of renewable sources to provide for all our energy needs, as the total influx of solar energy is huge compared to current energy consumption. Page 76 contains the following statement: "Some calculations suggest that with improved efficiency the world as a whole could keep its total energy throughput at or below the current level with no reduction in productivity, comfort, or convenience in the rich countries, and with steady economic growth in the poor countries." It seems a double standard then, to assume exponential growth in demand for fossil fuels. At 3.5%/year growth (doubling in 20 years), even total conversion of all incoming solar radiation would be exhausted in 14 doublings (280 years), using their figures of 80,000 TW solar influx and 5 TW current demand.

But this is a digression from Newton.]

May 1, 2014 at 3:16 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Have you checked out the 'Lomborg Errors' site, Chandra?
And if so, have you then taken the trouble to check that all the "errors" are in fact "errors" and not more of the sort of drivel that Newton was regaling everyone with earlier?
Or do you assume, because Lomborg has the brass neck to query some aspects of the global warming mantras, that everything on the site must be true?

PS Have you taken the trouble to read Lawson's article at Standpoint? Why not do so and then come back and tell us — with proper citations — which bits you disagree with and why. Carry out some positive, mind-expanding investigation for a change. You might learn something.

May 1, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Chandra,
You are almost reasonable- a rare trait in a troll. You give hope, every once in awhile, that you are not immune to reason.

May 1, 2014 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Projecting that gas would suddenly run out at some point before 2031 if consumption kept on increasing at 3.5% per annum doesn't imply that that will happen. What a reasonable person would expect, under that assumption about total gas supply, is for gas consumption to go sub-exponential and then fall well before 2031 as a response to rising gas prices and/or declining production forecasts. Without full access to the book, the principle of charity suggests that this is part of what the authors were referring to when they said "The point is not that the world is about to run out of natural gas". (It's hard to be sure, though, given their apparent fondness for the idea of resource overshoot in the absence of government intervention.)

If so, that would make Lomborg's description pretty inaccurate, though again it's hard to be sure without actually seeing <cite>Beyond the Limits</cite>, and it also depends on how you interpret Lomborg's "We might be able to postpone the pain somewhat". Bluntly, there's not going to be any substitute for reading the thing if you want to comment seriously about whether Lomborg misrepresented it.

In passing, while I'm sure that <cite>Beyond the Limits</cite> contains many entertaining hostages to fortune by now (the Club of Rome was a pioneer in the free-wheeling use of computer models), <cite>The Sceptical Environmentalist</cite>'s cornucopian view of energy prices doesn't look great at present either. Oil back or the low $20s, or even $30, by 2020? Doesn't look like it.

May 1, 2014 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Questions of funding, on either side of the debate, are of course of very secondary importance. But the American NCSE is a high-class group which doesn't play for free, so I confess I am a bit curious who's funding their jazz odyssey into climate change. Their members? The AAAS?

On the bright side, they did remove Peter Gleick again from their board pretty sharpish after the Heartland emails to-do. Later in the year they put in a replacement. Ben Santer.

May 1, 2014 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Mike Jackson, no I haven't, it is true. But of the two discussed by the Bishop only the first seems a clear fail for Newton. I can't see where 46% comes from. One could argue that the total number of deaths has not dropped 85% but instead from 14,500 to 5100 in a 3x workforce, but only a pedant would think the total more significant than the rate. The second example is confusing in that the Bishop is justifying Lomborg's statement about one book (Limits to Growth, “Once again, we were told that our resources would soon run out.”) on the basis of what he wrote about a different book (Beyond the Limits). That makes no sense to me.

> Or do you assume, because Lomborg has
> the brass neck to query some aspects of the
> global warming mantras, that everything on
> the site must be true?

I actually bought The Skeptical Environmentalist many years ago. I was at the time inclined to think there was a lot of truth in what he said, but then I knew nothing about the subject and was very much inclined to a free-market, liberal mindset. I never followed the references, assuming as is normal that they did say what he claimed. However, if more than a few of his references don't actually support what he wrote or any of his claims are deliberately misleading then the whole thing becomes invalid for me. Check the six examples on the Lomborg Errors site and make up your own mind.

I'll look at Lawson's article if I have the time/energy.

May 1, 2014 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

Chandra:

The Limits to Growth/Beyond the Limits confusion is Newton's (or his freshman informant's), not BH's. (Possibly just a simple slip-up on Newton's part.) There's a similar argument about Lomborg's representation of what the '72 Limits to Growth said about oil reserves, but what Newton quoted is clearly Lomborg's criticism of BtL, not LoG '72.

May 1, 2014 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

I think this post misses an important aspect of this affair: the claim that "AGU", which I understand to be the American Geophysical Union, was responsible for disseminating this attack. ISTM that putting out dumb statements on AGW is well within the remit of the AGU, but a scientific society disseminating poorly researched smears against individual scientists? This seems to be a new, extremely disturbing, development to me.

May 1, 2014 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveJR

I very strongly disagree with Lomborg about the evidence for cAGW. In spades. He's wrong, IMO. So I don't need to read outdated arguments from internet hate-sites criticising his misunderstandings about global-warming (or at least, there seems little constructive purpose to do so).

I can therefore agree with Lomborg's attempts to highlight the ill-begotten policy responses to this non-existent problem.

I can therefore sympathise with Lomborg regarding the brickbats hurled his way by opponents as a result of his non-conformism.

I can easily admire Lomborg for the continuing resilience he has displayed. Here is a man who does not have a slush-fund to sue critics, and seems only to use his dignity to support him.

But for some reason, the troll thinks everybody at BH loves Bjorn Lomborg and wants to have his babies. Entropic Man, where are you when we need you?

May 2, 2014 at 2:06 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Yes, it was painful, Chandra but I did read something from the link you posted. To whit

"On pages 238 - 241, Lomborg deals with the subject of declining semen quality. This subject is important because if the levels of poisonous chemicals to which we are exposed are causing a reduction in the production of human sperm, then we must take the threat from these chemicals very seriously. Lomborg, however, claims that there is no danger from synthetic chemicals. One of the things he must do to maintain this claim is to demonstrate that there is actually no decline in semen quality."

With specific reference to the last page, when you had the time/energy to check that out, what was it that made up your mind? I mean. Seriously.

It is a good example of the wanton stupidity in much environmentalist paranoia and propaganda. Yes, it seems likely to me that it helped sell his book, and Lomborg may have made himself look foolish in some eyes by even addressing the issue. But the criticisms of him plumb the usual depths, and a little bit further.

The author of that site actually states that it is up to him to prove those (inadequate) studies wrong. Reversing the null-hypothesis. Where have we heard that one before in climate science?

Note that the criticism includes studies from the inventor of the “anogenital index” who used “male play behaviour” as diagnostic evidence in proof of her theories about environmental poisoning in greenpeace-strength 'scientific' studies. You can find her research discussed/disputed in many places on the internet, but, frankly, I suspect that the Bishop would not wish us, or allow us, to take the discussion to named people or named sites.

I suspected I was foolish to follow up a reference from you Chandra. I did it for as long as I was able to bear. Unfortunately you proved me correct.

May 2, 2014 at 3:18 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Chandra, taking the page Lomborg errors at face value and linking to it as a proof of anything speaks a million. I've been following the Lomborg saga over the last 13 years now. When his book was published there was a shock wave in the environmental establishment who started an intensive smear campaign. AGU, Scientific American, Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty and so on, ending up with this site that you link to and Mark Lynas the pie man. Lomborg won on all fronts. Including in the court after many years of uneven battle against the Danish Committee on ...

Newton is just another instance of parroting the old meme just as is the site Lomborg errors. But they can't let go as Lomborg (who used to be an environmentalist and a Greenpeace member) undermines the very basis of their religion. Go and try to reason with a new age loonatic and you'll see a very similar reaction.

May 2, 2014 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterSven

Religions fanatics hate heretics and apostates more than outright atheists.There is hope an atheist can become a believer. Heretics and apostates knew the one truth and fell away into error or unbelief. As we see from trivial examples like the trolls posting here to the US President and his advisers that climate obsession has many religious aspects to it. For the climate obsessed, Lomborg is at best a heretic, if not an outright apostate.
So it is no surprise that an unoriginal fanatic like Newton is going to be attracted to Lomborg like iron filings to a magnet.

May 2, 2014 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

"In citation #596, Lomborg claims that lethal work-related accidents have declined 85%; his source claimed 46%."

It's one of those things that make you wonder why there's an argument over this particular bone. In first world countries industrial deaths are way down. In the UK for example there been a 70+ percent fall since the HSaW act in 1974 let alone since the days of the chimney boy and the flying shuttle.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/history/historical-picture.pdf

Now doubtless some of the fall is due to exporting work to third world crapholes, where the local Gradgrinds have them falling in heaps. But still the reduction in fatalities here and in Europe and the US is real and undeniable.

May 2, 2014 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Ozanne

"Since the rates are only quoted as 37 and 4 per 100,000,"

I'm surprised that the claim wasn't "the actual reduction was 0.033 %".....:-)

May 2, 2014 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Ozanne

Chandra
Thanks for that reply. The figures you quote can be manipulated to give 46%, believe it or not. But I don't even think that could be called 'pedantry' — downright dishonesty, more like. Which is why the rate per 100K is the one that gives a true picture.
But you must remember, as Sven says, that Lomborg is a rebel, traitor, turncoat, apostate ... pick your own description, and as such is considered fair game by the whole enviro-community.
Which only shows just what ludicrous people they are.
"When the facts change I change my mind" is usually attributed to Keynes. The environmentalist version is "when the facts change I thcream and thcream and thcream till I'm thick* ... and then throw all my toys out of the pram."

*©Richmal Crompton - Violet Elizabeth Bott, Just William

May 2, 2014 at 10:49 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"The figures you quote can be manipulated to give 46%"

How?, I've tried three methods (all of which are bullshit) and can get 35, 54 or 65. It's not vital but I 'm always willing to learn new methods of deviousness.

May 2, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Ozanne

Mike Ozanne
How did you get the 54? 46 is the inverse calculation from that.
The Moscow police took a call from an old lady who complained that from her window she could see a man getting undressed in his flat. They found it impossible to "replicate" this observation until she told them to put a chair on the table by the window and lean out while holding onto the window frame.They would then just be able to see him reflected in a shop window at the street corner.
The 46% is like that!
The difference between the old figure of 14,500 and the new one of 5,100 is 9,400. 5,100 is 54% of 9,400 so the difference between the two is 46% of 9,400.
In what way this is relevant to anything in mathematics, statistics or the real world I don't know but you can create "46 per cent" out of these figures.
Should you be so inclined :-)

May 2, 2014 at 2:00 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson, I don't imagine I can persuade you that Lomborg is wrong on many things, but as a skeptic I hope I don't have to persuade you at least to question him. Of the six examples I linked to, there is no point in reading the last (AGW). The semen example is weak, as m hart said, as is the rice yield example. But the global forest area, London pollution and extinctions examples must surely give you cause for doubting Lomborg.

May 2, 2014 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

"The difference between the old figure of 14,500 and the new one of 5,100 is 9,400. 5,100 is 54% of 9,400 so the difference between the two is 46% of 9,400."

Damn didn't think of that one, and I used to have to sneak stuff past Ford Q1 inspectors..

May 2, 2014 at 4:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Ozanne

Well, Chandra, I had a look at the Lomborg 'errors' site, as you suggested. I didn't get past the first one, on rice (which you now tell me - too late - wasn't a good one). I didn't follow the argument fully (my laziness, almost certainly) but I was put off by the contention that Lomborg 'must' be being deliberately dishonest. "If what I have said is wrong, point it out - if not, why do you strike me?" Even supposing, what I greatly doubt, that the 'six errors' were genuine, that's not a high proportion in a work that tackles the whole gamut of environmental scares, and has over 1000 references (many of them, I believe, peer-reviewed).

May 5, 2014 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterosseo

Still no reply to your question over on Newton's page, Bish. And no sign of a correction.

I came hoping that he had answered you here.

Nope.

I guess noble cause means you don't have to defend your credibility.

May 6, 2014 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Man

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