Bjørn Lomborg, just a scientist with a different opinion?

Bjørn Lomborg is a well-known media personality who argues that there are more important priorities than reducing emissions to limit global warming. In a recent controversy centering on him, the Australian government (known for its contradictory position on climate change) offered the University of Western Australia (UWA) $4 million to make Lomborg professor – which UWA first accepted, but then after massive protest from its staff and students refused. The Australian government was quick to label it a “freedom of speech” issue that Lomborg should get a university position, and vowed to find another university that would host him. However, free speech doesn’t guarantee everyone a university position; there are also academic qualifications required.

Lomborg’s publication record

Let us thus start by looking at Lomborg’s track record in the scientific literature. This is where original research results, i.e. new findings, are published. One can look this up in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science, the main data base of the scientific literature. According to this Lomborg only has published 20 papers, of which 15 have never been cited by anyone (Fig. 1). The number of citations shows whether any other researchers in the world have found the results interesting enough to discuss them in their own papers (whether critically or otherwise). Only one of Lomborg’s papers has a reasonable number of citations: 42. This is on a problem of game theory, apparently resulting from his PhD thesis. On closer inspection, the other articles appear to be merely opinion pieces that made it into the Thomson Reuters data base by appearing in periodicals that are indexed there, including Forbes, Foreign Affairs or New Scientist.


Figure 1 Lomborg’s citation record in Web of Science, as viewed on 22 Aug 2015. The ten most-cited papers (out of 20) are listed. Click to enlarge.

That means that apart from one paper in 1996, Lomborg has never published anything in any field of science that was interesting or useful to other scientists, or even just worth the bother of contradicting in the scientific literature. PhD students at many universities are expected to publish two or three original research papers from their PhD, and without that, they are generally uncompetitive for a postdoc position.

For comparison I also show a snapshot of the publication record of an economist who really studies the economics of climate change: Gary Yohe (Fig. 2) – to give readers unfamiliar with bibliometric data an idea of what they look like for a regular scientist at professorial level. One number illustrates the point: Lomborg’s papers were cited once last year, Yohe’s 608 times.

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