Statement from the Vice-Chancellor on current academic discussions

Informal discussions have been taking place among groups of Flinders researchers about the potential for collaboration with the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and this has attracted some attention in the media and the wider community.

Let me say at the outset that Flinders has not formed a position. The discussions within our academic community have been across a range of relevant disciplines and have included the relative merits or otherwise of any such engagement. Such discussions are entirely appropriate in the context of our University.

We have in turn sought information from the federal government, to inform those conversations across the university community.

Debate will no doubt be vigorous – I believe our staff will rigorously assess the facts of this matter, independent of the many motivations that could cloud this issue.

Flinders has a strong record in a number of research areas relevant to the discussion about a potential collaboration.

If a group of academic staff within the University were to propose to pursue this particular opportunity to engage with the CCC, we expect it would be with the intention to build on already active programs of engagement with the issues that could be investigated.

Underpinning this is the notion of academic freedom being applied to seek solutions to some of the big issues of our time.

One of the roles of a university is to encourage the pursuit of policy excellence and innovation.

As Vice-Chancellor I am entirely comfortable that these discussions should be taking place. I encourage staff and students to have their say.

Our founding Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Karmel, once said that Flinders University “should experiment and experiment bravely”. This is a philosophy of which the University can be rightly proud as it encourages us to tackle some of the world’s most difficult problems. This is precisely what universities should do.

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13 thoughts on “Statement from the Vice-Chancellor on current academic discussions

  1. Dear Sir

    Congratulations on your appointment to lead Flinders University. I too have commenced here this year, as a PhD candidate in Humanities. I am looking forward to meeting you at some stage during my candidature and wish you well for your time in this institution.

    I am sorry that my first contact with you has to be under such circumstances. Even as a non-scientist, I have heard of Lomborg’s failures as an academic and science communicator. He is far more adept at generating self-aggrandizing publicity which achieves little more than shoring up demonstrably flawed arguments and what seems to be a bit of a victim-complex. (Poor man). His version of “consensus” is not what most sensible people would understand as the generally accepted meaning the word. May I draw your attention to this article from ANU specialists:

    As I’ve said, I am new here and it has been 20 years since I was last a student. I the meantime, I’ve enjoyed a career in museums, galleries and festivals as well as a prolonged stint in government. Needless to say, this has necessitated the development of a finely-honed instinct for BS. However I’m not so academically rusty as to believe that entertaining such roundly discredited intellectuals is indeed pursuing academic freedom. All the evidence points to a pursuit of tailored conclusions for vested interests.

    If I could find results from the CCC that have the majority support from the academic community, I could be convinced otherwise and would not feel deeply embarrassed by the news that my university could be seriously considering becoming a platform, no worse, becoming synonymous with such flawed practice.

    Good luck with all this. Its one hell of a way to kick off.

  2. Flinders University “should experiment and experiment bravely”. So true! However, experiment bravely does not mean “attract here a highly controversial scholar” whose best-selling book was formally judged scientifically dishonest (DCSD ruling, 2003), and let him establish here a government-funded research centre. It is true that the debate on global warming is often polarising and overheated by opposite ideas. This makes further research in the field urgent and necessary, but all care should be taken to appoint who carries out such research. Prof. Lomborg is not the right person to be funded for such research, for a number of reasons. If Prof. Lomborg comes to Flinders, this would be an insult:
    a) to scholars who believe in academic integrity and who for decades have been demonstrating we need to act before the effects of climate change become dramatic;
    b) to Flinders University, which prides itself for research excellence. Flinders University’s local and international reputation would be doomed by having the Copenhagen Consensus Centre established here. It would be interesting to study the impact of this decision on Flinders’ academics decision whether to stay here or to go somewhere else, and also on student enrollments;
    c) to Flinders University academics, who trust their university, are proud of being part of it, and would have lots of suggestions about how to use AUD 4 million;
    d) to the taxpayers, which would find it hard to justify the spending of AUD 4 million on a very controversial issue.

    The Copenhagen Consensus Centre has already been rejected by UWA. In addition, the decision of opening the Consensus Centre in Australia is essentially political and ideological, as it is sponsored by a federal government claiming in the 21st century that “coal is good for humanity” and trying to repeal public funding of green energy solutions, from wind turbines to solar. This is even in contrast with Flinders University’s own research, which for example is also studying solar-powered cars. Accepting a clearly politically-motivated funding would have the unpleasant consequence to push Flinders University become part of a political game and loosing our academic freedom.
    In conclusion, as a proud Flinders University PhD student and part-time teacher, I do not see a single reason why the Copenhagen Consensus Centre should be part of our university. I am not saying that academic discussions on climate change and its economic impact should be avoided altogether, but at least let affirmed scholars and Nobel laureates lead them.
    Thanks for your consideration and kind regards.

  3. Professor Stirling,

    Having spent my weekend looking into the arguments for and against Bjørn Lomborg and the proposed Consensus Centre being located at Flinders University, I wish to provide the following comment in response to your statement. Please note, I write as a concerned individual professional staff member, not in my capacity as Flinders’ Branch Secretary of the NTEU.

    Any plans to associate Bjørn Lomborg with Flinders University must be rigorously opposed. The potential for reputational damage to those associated with Flinders University is very real.

    Lomborg’s academic credibility is questionable at best. Lomborg has a h-index of (if we are generous) no more than 4. A Flinders’ PhD postdoc with an h-index of only 3 or 4 would probably not be considered competitive for a post doc position within this institution, let alone a professorial appointment and all the trappings of a centre.

    There is ample information available that questions both the quality and credibility of Lomborg’s publications and academic capacity. For example:

    Under the remit of the Danish Ministry there reside the Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD). Of these one is the UVVU (Udvalgene Vedrørende Videnskabelig Uredelighed). The UVVU consists of a chairman, who is a high court judge, and three committees, made up of people with expertise in medical sciences, natural sciences, and social sciences. UVVU concluded that what Lomborg had written in ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ was “misleading”, and described as “objectively dishonest”. They also judged that he was guilty of systematic bias in his choice of data and line of argument, thereby acting at variance with what they call “good scientific practice”. Source:

    Professor John P Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is also Professor of Environmental Science and Public Policy in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Visiting Distinguished Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. Trained in engineering and plasma physics at MIT and Stanford, he co-founded in 1973 and co-led until 1996 the interdisciplinary graduate-degree program in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and he chairs the NAS Committee on Inter-national Security and Arms Control and the NAS/NAE Committee on US/India Cooperation on Energy. He was a member of President Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) from 1994 to 2001 and chaired PCAST studies on nuclear materials protection, the US fusion R&D program, Federal energy R&D for the challenges of the 21st century, and international cooperation on energy innovation. He has been the recipient of a MacArthur Prize, the Volvo Environment Prize, the Tyler Prize for Environment, and the Heinz Prize for Public Policy, among others. In December 1995 he delivered the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture in Oslo on behalf of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which he served as Chair of the Executive Committee from 1987 to 1997.

    He had this to say about Lomborg, with regard to the ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’:

    The Skeptical Environmentalist…his energy chapter is so permeated with misunderstandings, misreadings, misrepresentations, and blunders of other sorts that it cannot be considered a positive contribution to public or policy-maker understanding, notwithstanding its managing to get right a few (already well known) truths about the subject. Many of his mistakes are big ones: he bungles the issues involving reserves and resources that are critical to his core argument about oil remaining cheap; he drastically misleads his readers about the extent to which sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning have been reduced; he trivializes the climate-change risks from coal and carbon dioxide emissions by suggesting we know the impacts will be worth only 0.64 cents per kilowatt-hour. Other mistakes that are individually less important add up to a pattern of random incompetence…. Subsequent reviews by natural scientists which have appeared so far in Nature, Science, Scientific American, and American Scientist have been blistering. They have called attention to more or less “evenly distributed errors” across Lomborg’s treatment of population, food, forests, air pollution, acid rain, climate change, and biodiversity loss, among other topics; errors including all of the types I identified in his energy chapter, and more, even while acknowledging, as I did, that in this potpourri Lomborg manages to get a few things right. Source:

    Former Australian of the Year, Professor Tim Flannery said: “Mr Lomborg’s views have no credibility in the scientific community”. Source:

    Flinders own ‘Academic Integrity policy states: All students and staff have an obligation to understand and respect the rules and practice of academic integrity. It is therefore expected that students and staff will adhere to high standards of academic integrity. Source:

    In the ten years plus that I have worked providing support to the Australian research community (7+ years with Flinders), the peer review process has formed the foundation for the awarding of funding. The process of applying for funding is a grueling one and incredibly competitive. Have I been remiss in my duties and missed an extraordinary reorganisation as to the competitive funding process? If not, can you tell me why Lomborg is special and exempt from this requirement?

    Is it a coincidence that Flinders’ Chancellor Stephen Gerlach is the former Chairman of Santos and Lomborg is high-profile proponent for pro-fossil fuel lobby and climate change nay-sayers?

    It appears patently obvious that the current federal government seeks to legitimise their regressive pro-fossil anti-renewable energy stance by finding a home for Lomborg and his centre within an Australian university. I am astonished that Flinders would even consider being exploited as part of the Abbott government propaganda machine.

    Whilst having the discussion may be entirely appropriate and welcome; acceptance of this tainted money and offering a position to the highly contentious individual that is attached to it is certainly not. Unless he of course is required to navigate and satisfy the same competitive and rigorous peer review standards and processes expected of other academics.

    Has Flinders conducted the required due diligence and risk analysis – including analysis of the potential for risk to reputation?. In my view, the potential risk to Flinders’ reputation as a credible research institution is significant. I for one would be seeking alternative employment for fear of guilt by association should Flinders University proceed with this lunacy.

    No, no, no.

  4. I agree that Flinders should experiment bravely, but I worry that this is experimenting unwisely.

    Please consider the reasons why the CCC was rejected at the UWA (a sandstone university!). UWA Academic Staff Association vice president Professor Stuart Bunt stated:

    “Once you become attached to a university, you’re given a kind of credence by that university; people would expect an adjunct professor at UWA to be working in a professional manner and that their statements would be evidence-based.” and “Lomborg would be using the name of the university, to put what are largely political opinions, rather than evidence-based statements, using the university’s name.”

    “This isn’t about censorship at all … Lomborg is not a climate [change] denier; he believes the scientific evidence which overwhelmingly shows that climate change is happening, he just debates the economics of how we should deal with it.” and “The difficulty is he is neither a scientist or an economist, he’s a political scientist.”

    I read this as – Lomborg is certainly unqualified to do this research. Should Flinders use its reputation to bolster his unqualified opinions? Is it really worth $4 million?

  5. A reminder of the debate on Bjorn Lomborg possible arrive at UWA three months ago: A useful and well documented reading. His academic career is appalling in terms of double blind peer reviewed publications, and he is more an entrepreneur than a scientist or even an economist. For sure he is able to attract attention. But is attention more important than a solid reputation built by Flinders University in fifty years of hard work by its academics?

  6. A post about Bjorn Lomborg that doesn’t mention Bjorn Lomborg anywhere? Won’t someone address the large, trunked proboscidean in the intramural cuboid structure?

  7. I think we should be experimenting and experimenting bravely in a completely different way. The Federal Government is not renowned for experimenting bravely in the area of climate change, clinging stubbornly to fossil fuels. The face that they support this ‘initiative’ (if it can be called that in the light of what I have just said above) is a very big concern, and the fact that Bjorn does not appear to be particularly respected by academics who have expertise in this area is another. On a personal level, I am very disappointed that Flinders is considering this initiative, as it is important for me to work for a university/workplace whose values I respect. To me, this is energy wasting in another form. We need a thinktank that thinks big not small.

  8. Today the idea of replicable research includes making data and the method of analysis publicly available. Often, but not always, this involves depositing at a github site.
    There are claims from CCC that public moneys would be better spent on things other than mitigating climate change. It is important that the validity of these claims be assessed, and that is a task that universities can do, and are rightly expected to do.
    Associating Flinders University with CCC may be seen as dangerous, but it brings to mind a motto of the London fire-wardens during the blitz: “When danger threatens, get up close and control it.”
    If we insisted (perhaps among other things) that the data and analysis software for positions adopted by CCC were made publicly available on a site hosted by Flinders, so that claims and counter-claims could be publicly debated with supporting evidence, then we would be doing what universities are funded to do.

  9. I cannot believe that discussions are even taking place. Open mind, yes BUT the research has been and is being done with overwhelming results on climate change.

    What information from the Federal Government?

    Experiment bravely, yes, but form collaborations with politically motivated groups, NO

    Surely this University should maintain its independance in the area of reseach.

    Susan Aldhous
    Research Assistant

  10. I struggled to find this item about the Copenhagen Consensus Centre under this title. If you are truly seeking staff feedback, I think this title is somewhat opaque. Staff have recently received a number of direct emails requesting feedback about other issues. I recommend that a direct email to all staff about this issue would provide useful feedback to Flinders’ management and our Governing Body.

    We have been told in previous addresses from the VC and the DVC/R that Flinders is in a healthy financial situation, given our size and location. Surely we don’t need a relatively paltry amount of $4mill. if it comes with strings?

    Our current Research Performance Expectations exercise will seem inequitable if the same expectations do not apply to all academic appointments. So, this means that ERA qualified publications and Cat 1 grants outputs are required for Professorial appointments. The academic community is vocal in its indication that Bjørn Lomborg does not fulfil these criteria that other professors are required to meet.

    A true, Flinders consensus centre, led by an internationally acclaimed researcher, perhaps in the field of ethics, or philosophy, or science, or perhaps a multidisciplinary team of leaders- well, that would be a different proposition that would be worth a healthy debate.

    I have read Julie Petticrew’s letter. I agree with her observations, and I agree with her opposition to the proposal to have a Bjørn Lomberg led Copenhagen Consensus centre hosted at Flinders.

  11. I am deeply disappointed that this university that I have always admired and enjoyed being a part of may now include an institution that will bring shame and ridicule upon it. Bjorn Lomborg has been universally condemned by many people whose own academic practice is rigorous, and transparent, who are respected leaders in their field and whose work is widely respected and admired. Why are they now being put in a position where their own hard won intellectual integrity is being threatened by being associated with someone who seems to have none?

  12. I am unfortunately not surprised that I am the only person writing in favour of the proposed Bjorn Lomborg-backed Australian Consensus Centre. Such is the debilitating and permeating nature of groupthink based on misinformation and ideologically driven attacks. It is somewhat ironic and confounding then that Bjorn is NOT in fact a right-winger by any stretch of the imagination, but admittedly a LEFT-wing, former Greenpeace member who simply holds different views to the mainstream as to how to solve climate change. Typical of the scourge of groupthink, he is therefore deemed a climate heretic by those on the Left, and should be banished from the public debate.

    Furthermore, he is NOT a supporter of the fossil fuel lobby (as was mentioned above), to the contrary he actually advocates for global fossil fuel subsidies, which are touted to be in the range of $550 billion, to be CUT. (This is not to say he doesn’t believe fossil fuels can play an important role in lifting many out of poverty, as India and China, for example, can certainly testify to). The whole purpose of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre is to provide policy-makers with cost-benefit analyses of various development, aid, trade and climate funding. He is falsely claimed a sceptic or worse, a denier, despite him fully believing in anthropogenic climate change. His solution: adaptation in the short term, mitigation via radical new technologies in the long term. Sure you can disagree with his position but that is not to say his proposed solution won’t work, nor is it easily disproven.

    As for his average H-index score, it completely overlooks the popularity of his best-selling books, some of which have been published by Cambridge University Press, one of the most prestigious publishing houses. He has copped whatever criticisms have been made of him as his work him and his Centre produces is truly open and accountable. Some may question his academic credibility but it is true that his work has received intensely more scrutiny than most academics because of his position. Upon appeal to the Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty his case was actually overturned. If making mistakes were the basis for banishment from the academic community we would be doing an injustice to everyone, as a chilling effect would take hold and silence on controversial matters (perhaps the most important matters to have rigorous debate on) would surely follow.

    He is furthermore a political scientist and not an economist or scientist, as has been pointed out above, and much of his work at the Copenhagen Consensus Centre involves editing the research of of Nobel Laureates (of which seven are involved at the CCC) and the world’s top economists. In the last 18 months this Centre has produced over 100+ peer-reviewed articles from 82 of these economists. Indeed our DVCR, at one of his many sessions attempting to dispel some of these myths, has admitted that he is as academically experienced and decorated as half of Flinders’ academic staff is.

    But this is all beside the point really because those who have actually looked at the Centre’s research areas will find that its focus is not on climate change. Health, education and nutrition are the Centre’s specialties. But even if the Australian Consensus Centre did focus its research on climate change, so what? Subjecting funding directed at tackling climate change to cost-benefit analyses should be welcome by all rational academics seeking “robust, evidence-based knowledge and advice”, as the University of Western Australia’s Vice Chancellor believed.

    Lastly, it is greatly disturbing and a hysterical overreaction to claim that Flinders University’s reputation will be damaged over the acceptance of an ACC that has Bjorn’s name attached to it. Individual shout-down campaigns against individuals do nothing to further debate; our collective efforts should be focussed on debating his conclusions, not his integrity. His work is valuable in teaching critical thinking and is employed by numerous academics at this very university. I suppose by the same logic that because those academics are associating themselves with his work their reputation will also be tarnished and they also ought to be discredited. Equally nonsensical are the claims that the $4m proposed funding is “tainted” or has “strings attached”. We should have greater respect for our own academics rather than painting them as though they were unable to think critically and independently without being blinded by the prospect of funding and led down a garden path. Universities receive funding from a range of sources and in no way does that source discredit the research produced out the other end.

    I implore a rational, fact-based debate on this matter, void of inflammatory untruths. In the spirit of experimenting bravely, I commend the idea of an Australia Consensus Centre at Flinders University and finish off with this quote from Professor Alice Dreger:

    “If you must criticize scholars whose work challenges yours, do so on the evidence, not by poisoning the land on which we all live.”

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