Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Australian academics right to resist respected global warming skeptic

  • 03 August 2015

The spat over the Government's attempt to find a place in a university for Bjorn Lomborg's Australian Consensus Centre is a story that keeps on giving. Its rejection by academics at the University of Western Australia leading to the university's rescinding of the decision to house it caused widespread controversy.

Now the story is being retold at Flinders University, where the administration is weighing housing the centre, and academics have expressed strong opposition. It seems that it will be a brave university that allows the centre to call Australia home.

The objections have come on two grounds. The first is Lomborg's credentials for leading such a research institute in a university. The second is the propriety of the government offering to pay the university to establish a particular institute there, especially with a reputation for a tendentious line.

The government and its supporters in the media have criticised opponents of the centre of ideological bias, and claim that they have betrayed the responsibility of universities to represent freedom of thought and speech.

Much of the controversy has been fuelled by Lomborg's own profile. His field of teaching was in government politics and statistics. He has no background in science. Most of his energy has been given to promoting his institute, first in Copenhagen and then in the United States.

Lomborg's public profile was built by a book on global warming in which he accepted its reality, but argued that its effects would not be as catastrophic as predicted. He has since published many opinion pieces dealing with ways of addressing climate change. He is a good media performer whose métier is not scholarship but popularisation, and he could at a stretch be called a public intellectual.

To my mind a person with that background is admirably suited to accept private funding to sponsor and run a think tank, as Lomborg has done in the United States.

But universities, which claim that their activities are characterised by depth, not by superficiality, and by the search for truth rather than persuasion, appoint people with higher scholarly credentials and research experience to lead their research centres. And they would need to establish that the published work of the people they appoint meet high academic standards.

But the heat of the controversy about Lomborg derives from the conviction both of his supporters and his critics that their opponents are ideologically driven.

His defenders claim opposition to him reflects the desire to silence his