How TED Culture Destroyed the World, Literally

From The Lomborg Deception:

From these and many similar statements, we can identify “Lomborg’s Theorem,” circa 2001, which asserts that the Earth and its environment are not threatened in any fundamental sense by human activity and, for the purposes of this volume, that man-made global warming is not the catastrophe that the environmental organizations claim. Lomborg’s book, with its illusion of serious scholarship, given the number of endnotes, was influential in the United States throughout the presidential tenure of George W. Bush, who held power during a critically important window of opportunity to reduce greenhouse emissions to prevent the worst impacts of global warming. Probably more than any single published source, Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist marked global warming as a threat that was “exaggerated” by environmentalists, and helped justify the inaction on greenhouse emissions by the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress in the United States. Lomborg’s influence was such that in 2004 Time named him one of the world’s one hundred most influential people.4

It’s not just that TED gave this guy a platform in 2005, a fact that, were TED a journal or a newspaper, would require a retraction.

It’s much bigger. It’s the culture that surrounds TED. Because the culture of TED is what allows people like Lomborg to have more influence than actual experts.

Why? The idea of TED is that you’re smart enough to get it in 10 minutes or less, and the story that TED-ites love (b/c it supports that narrative) is the story of someone outside the “industry” or research area coming in from another area and declaring at a glance what everyone has missed.

So we get economists talking about global warming, game designers talking about learning, techies talking about political gridlock, and choreographers talking about physics. It’s so simple, they tell us.

Ah, say the TED-sters — us outsiders to the system, we can all see what the insiders can’t! Salman Khan is an expert because he knows nothing about learning theory. Lomborg is worth listening to because he doesn’t know about climate science. And I’m probably an expert too!

Everyone is happy. Ten years later, the planet is destroyed, and there’s no going back, but at least everyone felt smart for a bit.


4 thoughts on “How TED Culture Destroyed the World, Literally

  1. alternative hypothesis: Lomborg has influence because his views sometimes coincide with actual experts

    I feel your post is self defeating. To accept your views I would have to regard you as an expert on Lomborg. But there is little evidence here that your post is better researched than a TED talk. The only evidence really is that you have read at least a passage from a book purporting to expose Lomborg. But there is no evidence that your other comments are derived from the research of that book.

  2. Well, history since 2005 has proven Lomborg wrong, and in fact even Lomborg has had to reform his position b/c the weight of evidence against his previous position was so crushing.

    As far as this being a self-defeating argument, I don’t think so. I don’t claim that people outside of a discipline commenting on something is dangerous. I claim the romanticization of the “noble outsider” is dangerous. If you have a link to an expert in the rhetoric of TED talks that either contradicts or supports that, please share it. I love to read expert opinion on things like this.

    • I agree with you that the romanticization of the “noble outsider” is dangerous. I’m not sure whether TED does that in a general sense. I’m not a huge TED fan btw but I have seen insider experts on TED too. Your comments about TED could equally apply to mass media in general. The issue is not TED culture but mass media culture including blog culture, including the content of this particular blog of yours.

      I’d rather talk about Lomborg. My belief is that overall Lomborg has played a positive role in debate on environmental and social issues. Lomborg was an “outsider”. He drew attention to some exaggerations in the environmental movement. He has outlined a more practical approach wrt such issues.

      Rather than the romanticization of the “noble outsider” what may be happening here is a thinking outsider playing a positive role in challenging some inbred opinions.

      I don’t think that either the general alarmism suggested in your rhetorical flourishes – “Ten years later, the planet is destroyed, and there’s no going back” – or general denialism of important environmental issues is a good idea. The Lomborg response as illustrated by the Copenhagen Consensus 2009 has been more pragmatic: what can we do now with our resources to help those most in need.

      You say that Lomborg has changed his position “b/c the weight of evidence against his previous position was so crushing”. Not much nuance there. You seem to have a black and white view of Lomborg. That Lomborg has changed his position is surely a good thing, that is what thinking people do when confronted with new evidence. Lomborg does consult with experts on climate science and other issues, experts such as Richard Tol and Roger Pielke jnr. His opinions often reflect the opinions of those experts. Unfortunately, there has been a huge problem with experts in climate science. It turned out the IPCC consensus was not a consensus after all. Global warming has paused for the last 15 years. Are you keeping up with this issue?

  3. Kia ora e Mike

    That TED culture is spreading as you infer is not due to the culture of TED-sters. It is the culture that we live in today that permits ‘someone outside the industry’ to stand up on a soap box and spout like an expert. That same culture fosters the environment for people who are ignorant and who won’t think for themselves to listen and nod and say what a good fellow is on the soap box.

    When it comes to the influences – political, commercial, scientific or otherwise – that spread like mycelia throughout the world, “we stand on the shoulders of giants”. Unfortunately, the giants are not scrutinised the way they used to be, for y’know, like, anyone can be an expert these days.

    While looking for where the blame lies for destroying the world, perhaps we need to be more introspective and start thinking about who is listening to these so-called experts on TED and why they are so lazy to simply believe all that they hear instead of thinking for themselves.

    TED happens to be free but it is just another fast consumable. In this regard, TED is no different from fast food or alcopops. People need to start thinking why they are consuming this stuff and moderate their intake. The quicker the wider culture realises this, the better.


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