Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Andrew Sullivan's Book Club includes a wide variety of responses to his review of the Skeptical Environmentalist. Most are complimentary to Bjorn, and this doesn't exactly surprise me, considering that he's basically confirming their own views.

A few examples:

The general tone and findings of the Skeptical Environmentalist pretty much confirmed my own views of the state of the environment; however, it seems that my views of the environmental movement were pretty naive and far too generous.

First of all, thank you, Andrew, for choosing this important book. For me, reading "The Skeptical Environmentalist" has been like finding a friend - finally, and at long last.

And bringing politics into it:

So here is the puzzle. Why is Lomborg's book just now attracting such controversy when all it does is review and rehash well-known, old arguments (and update some statistics and controversy)? Why did Simon and Kahn's work not [receive] massive hostility from "Scientific American"? . . .
I speculate the reasons for the reaction involve leftwing politics. Many viewed Kahn and Simon as "American rightwing ideological economists," as Lomborg admits he once viewed Simon. (Kahn may have partially inspired the title character of "Dr. Strangelove," to give a sense of how he was regarded.) Thus, the left wing could dismiss their views as inherently without merit and unworthy of response or consideration. Censorship via silence. But Lomborg was a progressive Social Democrat and member of Greenpeace from politically-correct Denmark. For Lomborg to change his mind and to reject publicly the "Litany" made him not merely an adversary but a heretic and apostate. The only appropriate response was burning at the stake.

Their responses to the Scientific American rebuttals (and re-re-rebuttals) follow a similar vein, usually arguing something along the lines of "why are they so harsh? Bjorn must have ticked them off because he had a point!" There's also an element of anti-scientism, as seen here:

we live under a political system that gives the public substantial say in formulating social and economic policy. Scientists make important contributions to this process by helping to characterize the consequences of various alternatives. Their expertise ought to be respected, but it can never be a substitute for politics, because scientists cannot tell us what to value or how to make appropriate tradeoffs between multiple and conflicting goods.

This misses the point, which the Scientific American articles tried to get across and I guess failed. (One apparent anti-environmental zealot actually called it "the misnamed 'Scientific American'"; while I'm not one for arguments from authority this is pretty damned ignorant). It's not that the discoveries and research of scientists are being accepted and weighed against others... they've being utterly ignored. Most of the letter-writers on that page haven't demonstrated that they know enough about the issues and the research to be able to draw an educated conclusion about practically anything in environmental science, yet they seem blithely willing to do so, assuming that a heavily criticized, non-peer-reviewed polemic that reconfirms their own prejudices is somehow more authoritative than decades of confirmed and reconfirmed environmental research. Once again, the question arises: why the hell should anybody bother actually doing research if people are simply going to ignore it and respond to those who attempt to explain it with namecalling?

I can once again see why Paul Krugman goes through such hell.

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