It was just reported in the Guardian that infamous and discredited environmental charlatan, Bjørn Lomborg, who has recently been given the green light to set up shop in Australia after the University of Western Australia‘s Vice-Chancellor, Paul Johnson, extended him an olive branch, and the Abbott-oir government gave him $4 million to do so. Yes, you read that correctly.
It’s telling in today’s political climate that such a man is not only welcomed to a leading (Group of Eight) Australian university by its own Vice-Chancellor, he’s given millions to undermine real science and societal progress by the federal government. It’s an understatement to say that I’m disgusted and ashamed to be Australian today.
I have just received some juicy inside correspondence from the School of Animal Biology at the University of Western Australia sent to the Vice-Chancellor. The School, suffice it to say, is not amused. I copy the letter itself below, as well as an internal e-mail sent to the University’s Heads of School by the Chief Advisor of the University’s Corporate and Government Affairs, Mr David Harrison.
On behalf of the School of Animal Biology, I write to express concern about the adjunct appointment of Dr. Bjorn Lomborg to UWA’s Business School as part of the Federal Government’s plan to contribute $4m over four years to bring the Copenhagen Consensus Centre methodology to Australia.
The School sees climate change and interlinked environmental factors as the major issue facing the planet and its inhabitants, human, animal and plant alike. It welcomes vigorous debate and different approaches to tackle this issue. The VC is recorded as saying that this initiative is not about the science but about the economics. We would argue that it is about both. Regardless of one’s viewpoint, the School’s major concerns regarding this initiative are as follows:
Research track record
- Dr. Lomborg, who will be appointed as adjunct at Level D, has 28 publications with 55 citations (h-index of 3; 1 paper accounts for 84% of citations). Dr. Lomborg’s h-factor is lower than the average of even the School’s Level B (h-factor = 8) appointees. 21 of Dr. Lomborg’s publications have no citations. Although not appointed to the Faculty of Science, his research performance would not reach their Level D KPIs.
- Dr. Lomborg’s track record is therefore unlikely to merit being a CI on, for example, a nationally competitive ARC Discovery grant.
- The above represents the majority best practice at Universities and we recognise that appointment of some staff may fall outside this framework. Nevertheless, even individuals with unconventional backgrounds should be subject to a rigorous process for appointment.
The School would therefore like to know by what process the appointment was made and did it take the quality of Dr. Lomborg’s research track record into account?
Award of $4 m in funding
- All academics involved in nationally and internationally competitive research currently have to perform at outstanding levels to attract funding. This is right, but becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in the current climate of ever decreasing relative research funds.
- However, it appears that $4m has been awarded without undergoing independent peer-review. Peer review is essential as it minimises conflict and bias and is at the very heart of Australian and, indeed international world class standards for the ethical conduct of research.
The School would therefore like to know by what process the award of $4m was made, in particular was independent peer review of the proposed research program undertaken?
- UWA holds its researchers to the highest academic standards and rightly prizes itself on robust debate and conducting research into areas that are not necessarily attractive for all. However, this debate has to be underpinned by internationally recognised professional standards.
- In 2003, the Danish Committee of Scientific Dishonesty released a ruling that found Dr. Lomborg’s book to be scientifically dishonest through mis-representation of scientific facts. Lomborg himself was found not to be guilty due to his lack of expertise. The potential for scientific dishonesty is inconsistent with University standards.
- The Federal Government is on record for removing funding of ~$1.5m pa from the independent Climate Change Commission. That UWA has now accepted $4m begs the question of whether our independence will be compromised.
- We note that the Australian Consensus Centre was funded ($4m) over four years and that this reportedly covers only one third of the total cost of the partnership between UWA and Dr Lomborg. We understand that UWA will seek the additional funds from the private sector.
There are two questions:
It seems that the standards applied to UWA academic staff are not being applied to Dr Lomborg. The School would like to ask whether the Danish Committee’s findings were taken into account during the appointment process?
With respect to the 2/3rd shortfall, where will the funds be sourced and will this affect other strategic research priorities at UWA?
Aside from the concerns expressed by others, the School is facing a difficult reputational challenge in terms of attracting high quality staff and students as well as establishing and maintaining national and international collaborations as a consequence of these events. As an example, an international Research Fellow has just informed us that, if Dr Lomborg’s adjunct appointment is confirmed, they will not bring their Fellowship to UWA but, rather, transfer it to a more reputable University.
Additionally, existing PhD students in the School are concerned that this appointment will tarnish their accomplishments as graduates from this University. In addition, staff in the School have been inundated by correspondence from collaborators and stakeholders concerned about the University’s decision.
The School would like to know whether the University has any risk management strategies in place to mitigate reputational harm?
Thank you for your consideration.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Professor Sarah Dunlop, Head of School, Animal Biology, Head, Experimental & Regenerative Neurosciences, The University of Western Australia
Makes you sick, doesn’t it? Go Sarah!
And this is the letter from Harrison that started it all off:
Communication Briefs is a new initiative from the Internal Communications Team for senior leaders. The Key Messages, below, are intended as a summary of the University’s position on current issues to help guide discussion with staff and students. The Background and FAQ sections provide more information on the topic, if required.
Over recent days there has been considerable media and social media attention about the creation of the Australian Consensus Centre at UWA, and the appointment of Dr Bjorn Lomborg as an Associate Professor. I hope the following is helpful in answering questions from colleagues, students or external stakeholders.
David Harrison, Chief Adviser, Corporate and Government Affairs
- UWA is pleased to join with Dr. Bjorn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus Centre to establish the new Australia Consensus Centre at the UWA Business School.
- Dr. Lomborg is an influential figure who is committed to finding practical solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems, including, but not limited to climate change.
- Dr. Lomborg is on record saying that climate change is real – it is man-made and an important problem.
UWA recognises that Dr. Lomborg is a controversial figure, but that should not discourage us from having full, frank and honest discussions about the global challenges that matter, and the best way to tackle them.
Earlier this month, UWA and the Copenhagen Consensus Center announced the establishment of a new policy research centre at the UWA Business School.
There has been some controversy in the press and on social media about the Federal Government’s funding the centre, particularly in light of the Director, Dr. Lomborg’s work regarding the prioritisation initiatives aimed at combating climate change. (see here, here and here).
Who is Dr. Lomborg?
- Dr. Lomborg is the Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School, and regularly works with many of the world’s top economists.
- He researches “the smartest ways to do good”, applying cost-benefit analysis to social initiatives to determine which produce the most social value per dollar spent.
Is Dr. Lomborg a climate change skeptic?
- No. Dr. Lomborg is on record saying that climate change is real – it is man-made and an important problem.
- Dr. Lomborg challenges how best to tackle and prioritise the problem, given limited resources and competing humanitarian causes.
How much is he being paid?
- Dr. Lomborg will be joining UWA as an Adjunct Professor – a position that carries no remuneration directly from the University.
- The University will be providing no cash support for the Australian Consensus Centre.
- The Centre will be largely funded through the Federal Government which has allocated $4 million over four years.
What is the new Centre going to do?
- The Australia Consensus Centre will focus on applying an economic lens to proposals to achieve good for Australia, the region and the world, prioritising those initiatives which produce the most social value per dollar spent.
- We don’t expect everyone to agree with the work of the Centre, but we are looking forward to the debate and the sharing of the ideas to find the best solution.
How did the Australia Consensus Centre come to UWA?
- UWA was approached by the Federal Government
- We saw it as a good opportunity, not only for the University’s reputation as a global leader in higher education, but also as a way we could make a positive difference in addressing some of the biggest challenges facing the world today.
- The Dean of the Business School and the Director of the Centre for Social Impact were involved substantively throughout discussions with the Government and the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.
Where can I find out more?
More information is available on the UWA Business School’s news site.