"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics." Mark Twain
This past Friday Bjorn Lomborg had a thoughtful editorial entitled Technology Can Fight Global Warming. As a professional technologist and futurist, I couldn’t agree more and I have written about this idea frequently. Nevertheless, I find Lomborg’s use of statistics highly unprofessional. To wit, as the basis for his argument, he claims that a high CO2 tax “will reduce world GDP a staggering 12.9% in 2100–the equivalent of $40 trillion a year.”
It is amazing to me that the editors of the Wall Street Journal allow such drivel to be published. No one—and I mean no one—can predict what the future will be like in 91 years. (To understand why see my recent article The Future is Unpredictable). It is even more ridiculous that Lomborg pinpoints the figure at 12.9%. I mean, really, if you are going to guess what impact a future tax is going to have on the economy why not have a little intellectual humility and give yourself some leeway by suggesting the economy will drop by a more rounded figure such as 13%.
There is a famous quote by Andrew Lang that bears repeating here: "An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination.”