Phi Beta Cons

Not Silly, But Sad

An Australian university caves

Much of the news about politically correct campuses these days has an element of silliness. “Microaggressions,” “trigger warnings,” and the debate over a professor’s tweets about white males seem trivial and more to be laughed at than worried about.

That is not the case with the news from the University of Western Australia in Perth. The school has abandoned plans to start a research center that would address the costs and benefits of major policy proposals. Its goal would be to help set priorities for economic development, international aid, and other issues.

The center, housed in the business school, was to be operated in association with the Danish Consensus Centre, which has worked with numerous economists, including seven Nobel laureates, to weigh the cost-effectiveness of strategies to solve international problems.

But more than 6,000 people signed an online petition to reject the Australian center because the head of the Danish center, Bjørn Lomborg, is not fully on board with proper thinking about global warming. The petition, started by a student, said that Lomborg’s views are “dangerous,” “entirely out of step with scientific consensus,” and “an insult to our generation.”

What has he done to receive such opprobrium? According to the student, Lomborg “thinks that we can solve energy poverty with coal, that Pacific Islanders don’t care about climate change, and that taking action on climate change should not be a priority for governments.”

Translation: A major project of the Danish center was to weigh global warming against other environmental or health priorities; attempting to stop global warming came out as not very cost-effective.

Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), does not deny global warming—he’s just not apocalyptic about it. In fact, he is one of the most constructive environmentalists around. He defended his approach and his center in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

The opposition to Lomborg is not terribly surprising. The university’s cave-in is. As the vice-chancellor (who apparently recruited Lomborg) wrote in announcing the rejection:

… it is with great regret and disappointment that I have formed the view that the events of the past few weeks places the Centre in an untenable position as it lacks the support needed across the University and the broader academic community to meet its contractual obligations and deliver value for money for Australian taxpayers.

Translation: the inmates are in charge of the asylum.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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