Reason Writers About Town: Ron Bailey on Obama's Pick for Science Advisor


Writing today at Forbes.com, Reason's science correspondent, Ronald Bailey, takes a look at what the activist career of President Barack Obama's new science advisor, John Holdren, tells us about how open he is to scientific and policy debates: 

Holdren early on exhibited an unlovely tendency to try to enforce ideological conformity on his fellow scientists and activists. Back in 1972, he and Ehrlich disagreed with environmentalist Barry Commoner on whether population or technology was worse for environment. This dispute exploded into the public when Commoner disclosed a letter Ehrlich and Holdren had sent to numerous scientific colleagues revealing that the two had pressed Commoner not to debate in public which of the factors was most important because that would undermine the realization of environmental goals.

Commoner was outraged that the two wanted to shut down debate and enforce an environmentally correct united front. If this is what Holdren would attempt to do to an errant fellow environmentalist, it's no surprise the fury he visits upon those who don't accept the environmental litany of doom, such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Lomborg had the temerity to cite Holdren's humiliating lost bet with Simon in his book. In a 2002 Scientific American attack piece, Holdren characterized Lomborg's chapter on energy as being "devoted almost entirely to attacking the belief that the world is running out of energy," which "only a handful of environmental researchers, if any at all, believe this today."

Actually, the chapter can be far more accurately described as critiquing the concept of peak oil. Lomborg opens it by citing a 2000 article from E: The Environmental Magazine entitled "Running on Empty," propounding the "peak oil" hypothesis. Clearly, some prominent environmentalists do still believe the world is running out of oil.

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