Objective:

Conduct a critical analysis for one of the counter-claims offered by Bjorn Lomborg in his 2001 article ‘The Truth About the Environment’ in The Economist (1500 words max, excluding any tables, figures or references).

Background:

The course is presenting global environmental problems as products of human institutions that reflect individual and social values and behaviour. Efforts to “solve” environmental problems are often aided by understanding how people develop and express their knowledge of relevant issues—of what truth is. This assignment requires an analysis of claims about the truth of global change.

What is required:

Read Lomborg (2001) ‘The Truth About the Environment’. Lomborg argues that the “litany of environmental fears” is not factually supported, including fears that:

  • “natural resources are running out”;
  • human “population is ever growing, leaving less and less to eat”;
  • “species are becoming extinct…forests are disappearing and fish stocks are collapsing”; and “the planet’s air and water are becoming ever more polluted.”

Conduct a critical review of one of the following four empirical counter-claims Lomborg makes by finding evidence from credible sources that supports or denies it:

  1. “energy and other natural resources have become more abundant, not less so”
  2. “more food is now produced per head of the world’s population than at any time in history; fewer people are starving”
  3. the “threat of biodiversity loss is real, but exaggerated”
  4. “pollution is also exaggerated”

Your paper should be organized as follows (using these section headings):

  1. Background (approx. 15-20% of paper’s content, about 1⁄2 page): Introduce the counter-claim that you are selecting from the Lomborg reading. Summarize which global environmental problem it relates to, and how this fits in with REM-100.
  2. Critical review (approx. 50-66% of paper’s content, about 2 pages): Discuss at least four credible sources (including at least two peer-reviewed scholarly articles) that evaluate the counter-claim you have chosen. Summarize the arguments made by each source, including whether they support or negate Lomborg’s counter-claim. Note that REM100 lecture slides are not an appropriate source. Also describe why the source is credible and critically consider if it may have any bias and why. Possible biases may involve opinion-based claims that have no scientific-proven facts behind them or research that might have been not completely objective because it was funded by a special interest group.
  1. Conclusion (approx. 15-20% of paper’s content, about 1/2 page): Offer a clear conclusion, based on the evidence you identified and assessed, about whether the counter-claim you evaluate is more likely to be true or false (or a combination of both).
  2. Reference list! Including all articles, reports and websites cited in the body of your assignment.

Resources:

The REM Liaison Librarian has kindly prepared a web page with useful references and tips to help with this assignment. You can access it at: http://www.lib.sfu.ca/help/research-assistance/ subject/rem/rem100-term-paperor by going to the main library page, hit ‘Research Guides’ under Research Help, choose REM and then click on ‘Term paper’ in the REM100 section under the ‘Help with Course Assignments’ heading.

If you have any questions about the assignment, get in contact with your TM.

Steps in critical thinking

(Source Karen Warren)

  • Identify and evaluate premises and conclusions in an argument.
  • Acknowledge and clarify uncertainties, vagueness, equivocation and contradictions.
  • Distinguish between facts and values (can assertions be ‘tested’?).
  • Recognize and interpret assumptions (do these reflect bias?).
  • Distinguish the reliability or unreliability of a source (how expert are the sources?).
  • Recognize and understand conceptual frameworks (where is the author coming from?).

Symptoms of Doubtful Assertions and Weak Arguments in Media Articles

(compiled by Marcie Dumais and Tamara Hansen)

  • The main point is unclear.
  • Evidence provided to support the argument is inadequate.
  • Analogies used are illogical.
  • Opinion and fact are intermingled.
  • Uses celebrity to endorse argument.
  • Vague references are used in place of specific references, e.g. “Most dentists agree that …”. Author is unaware of own biases.
  • Author is affiliated with or seeks to profit from a stakeholder in the argument.
  • Graphs are used to distort the appearance of results.
  • Evidence from an experiment fails to mention the ‘control’ group.
  • Attributes stereotypical characteristics to members of a particular group.
  • Scientific information may contain misconceptions or be misleading.
  • A percentage or fraction is given without the total sample size, e.g. “9 out of 10 dentists …”.

Along with these guidelines for critical thinking, consider the following:

1. Accuracy:

  • Are the statistics and facts stated accurate?
  • Can you verify these facts and/or statistics elsewhere?
  • Does the information presented seem credible to you? Does the article contain much opinion and few facts?

2. Authority:

  • Can you tell who the author of the information is?
  • What are the qualifications and reputation of the writer?
  • Is the writer an expert in his or her field?
  • What is the author’s point of view? Is the author’s bias clearly stated?
  • Is the author affiliated with an organization that might have an interest or stake in the information presented?
  • What is the author’s motivation for writing this article?

3. Currency:

  • Is the information up-to-date?
  • Is the author quoting older studies whose findings may now be out of date?

4. Completeness:

  • Does the information presented seem complete or does it seem that something might be missing?
  • Has the author made a selective reference to only one part of published work, perhaps creating a misleading impression of what that work stated?

5. Documentation:

  • Does the article explain how the information was obtained?
  • Do the authors provide specific, named references to other information resources which show where their information comes from?
  • Are you able to check and see that these references exist and that they seem credible?

6. Level:

  • Who is the intended audience for the information?
  • Is the level of treatment academic or popular, expert or novice?

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