Did naked tourists cause the Sabah earthquake?

Shortly before the Sabah earthquake that has claimed the lives of around a dozen climbers on Mount Kinabalu, a group of European tourists posed nude at the summit. Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the Deputy Chief Minister of the state and Huguan Siou (paramount leader) of the local Kadazandusun ethnic groups has publicly blamed these tourists for the earthquake, stating that they awoke the wrath of the mountain spirit.

Why would Pairin, a Christian lawyer who studied at Adelaide University, make such an apparently ludicrous claim? Certainly, this claim has been circulating the internet since the pictures of the tourists emerged. But to understand the particular sensitivity of this act, we need to place it within its local political context, where ethnic revivalism is as much a political as a cultural phenomenon. Continue reading

Risking development? Further thoughts on Cost Benefit Analysis for global development challenges


In this post, I look again at the use of Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) for ranking and prioritizing global development challenges. While it was written in the context of the ongoing debate over Bjorn Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), it is not written as a critique of that specific approach. Rather, I am seeking to engage with the general methodological issues around development priorities, and I do so in this post with a particular focus on the issue of risk. Nonetheless, given the context and the fact that I have been reading through the CCC output, it is my clear and explicit referent for the discussion. Continue reading

What else should social science learn from the faked Science study on gay marriage?

The Stanford political scientist Donald Green has retracted a paper from Science co-authored with a graduate student after the student failed to produce the raw data when concerns emerged over the project.

Columbia’s Chris Blattman – whose blog I highly recommend as a great source of insights on development, conflict, social science, and the occasional cracking gag – is of the opinion that there is not much that social science can learn from this case. I am not so sure. Continue reading

Consenting to inequality: The distributional consequences of Copenhagen Consensus approach


Bjorn Lomborg is, undoubtedly, seriously concerned with poverty and inequality. Both in the work of the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) and in his popular writings, this is a common theme. In this context, he has championed some very progressive ideas, including eradicating barriers to international migration.[1] Unfortunately, he has also used rather distorted arguments about inequality to attack some of his favourite bugbears, such as subsidies for renewable energy.

The problem I want to address in this post is that the central methodology of Lomborg and the CCC is at best blind to inequality and, in its application, could tend towards policy prescriptions that increase inequality. Moreover, as we shall see, there are good arguments to suggest that if we take a broader view of inequality to include intergenerational equality, the CCC methodology is not even equality-blind; it is equality averse. Continue reading

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind: Lomborg on Renewable Energy Subsidies


This post was written, along with a previous post, in the context of the University of Western Australia’s decision to accept $4 million of federal funding for an Australian Consensus Centre built around the work of the controversial public intellectual Bjorn Lomborg. Since I completed the initial draft, UWA has decided to rescind the centre and return the funds, citing the widespread opposition to the centre among staff at the University.

Given this decision, I had initially thought not to publish this post. I have decided, however, to do so after all. My main reason for this is that in certain sections of the Australian media and the wider public debate, opposition to the Centre has been portrayed as the ideological hysteria of a closed club of humanities academics who ostracise and demonise anyone who fails to follows their left-wing orthodoxy. I hope that these posts go some way towards demonstrating that concern over Lomborg’s credentials is not mere ideology but the outcome of serious engagement with his output, on his own terms. Continue reading