The Duke Chronicle published a letter to the editor from the Sunrise Movement Durham and signed in solidarity by three Duke professors that called on the Center for the History of Political Economy to cancel a scheduled talk by Bjorn Lomborg. As the Director of the Center and the person who invited Dr. Lomborg to speak, I feel compelled to reply.
The letter chastised the Center for giving Dr. Lomborg a “platform” to share his views. Such censorship would deny speakers with whom the letter writers disagree the ability to express their views, and would set themselves up as arbiters of truth. Although such attitudes are increasingly expressed on university campuses, they should be anathema to anyone who values an open society. They have no place in a university dedicated to free inquiry, free and open discussion and debate, and the opportunity to confront views that one opposes with arguments. It is disappointing in the extreme that Duke professors should express their “solidarity” with such a call.
The letter writers proposed to de-platform Dr. Lomborg based on what they anticipated that he would say. We did not de-platform Dr Lomborg and now what he actually said is available in a video of his talk. I invite those who are interested to hear what Dr. Lomborg actually thinks to watch the video.
The Hayek Lecture Series, which has been sponsored by the Center since 2011, is supported by a grant from the Thomas W. Smith Foundation and not, as the letter writers falsely insinuate, by Charles Koch. The Center has a variety of funders, and none of them has ever tried to impose any ideological agenda on the Center. Neither we nor Duke University would accept their funds if they had.
The letter made a number of serious claims about Dr. Lomborg in order to justify why we should cancel the lecture. We feel no need to defend Dr. Lomborg or his particular claims, as we are open to hearing arguments that, in the end, we may not accept, and he is capable of responding on his own behalf. But it is worth noting that when asked during the question-and-answer session following the lecture about the specific claims made in the letter, he categorically denied two of them as false and described a third as intentionally misleading. And, although the letter writers called Dr. Lomborg a “climate denier” (presumably they mean a “climate-change denier”), in fact he began his lecture stating that climate change is real and is man-made. The lecture addressed, among other things, best strategies for dealing with climate change. Whether his own analysis and his own proposed strategy are right or wrong, is the question of the best strategy not something that honest people should want to discuss and debate without prior restraint?
Bruce Caldwell Director, Center for the History of Political Economy