False Alarm over Environmental False Alarms

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Science  29 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5637, pp. 1187-1188
DOI: 10.1126/science.1086646

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A series of books, culminating most recently in B. Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist, assert that environmental scientists issue too many warnings that subsequently turn out to be exaggerated or false. We evaluate this claim in the framework of a cost-benefit analysis of evidentiary standards in the environmental sciences. Is the sensitivity of our environmental alarm set too high? We conclude that marginal benefits currently far outweigh marginal costs, indicating that evidentiary standards for reporting hazards are too conservative, not too liberal.