The Tol controversy

Beyond the bounds of acceptable debate

Richard Tol, an economist at the University of Sussex, has waged a relentless campaign to convince the world that one of my published articles is illegitimate and must never be mentioned. (Frank Ackerman and Charles Munitz, “Climate Damages in the FUND Model: A Disaggregated Analysis,” Ecological Economics, 2012.) He has written to my employers and publishers, accusing me of libel for writing this technical article. This is a false accusation of a serious offense, no longer just an academic disagreement. It has gone far beyond the bounds of acceptable debate.

A statement of support has been signed by Terry Barker, Stephen DeCanio, Paul Ekins, Duncan Foley, Michael Hanemann, Matthew Kahn, Julie Nelson, William Nordhaus, Robert Pollin, J. Barkley Rosser, Juliet Schor, and dozens of other economists. It affirms that the Ackerman-Munitz article is a legitimate, peer-reviewed publication making a valuable contribution to the economics of climate change, and urges scholars to pursue criticisms of each other’s work through normal channels of academic debate. If you are an economist who agrees with this statement, please add your signature (e-mail frankackerman12 at gmail.com).

For more information

The Ackerman-Munitz article, as published in Ecological Economics
Response by David Anthoff and Richard Tol
Reply by Frank Ackerman and Charles Munitz

Following publication of the article, Tol asked the journal to issue a retraction or correction. The journal turned down this request, and published an editor’s letter on the controversy. Tol has circulated the editor’s letter widely, alleging that it proves the article is libelous; the letter says nothing of the sort. An e-mail from the editor who wrote the letter confirms his neutral intent and explicitly rejects the allegation of libel.

The article first appeared as a Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) working paper.  Tol sent numerous e-mails and letters to SEI - and to the Vice-Chancellor of Stockholm University, the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Swedish Minister of Environment, and the Minister of Education – demanding that SEI withdraw or rewrite the working paper, publish his reply, and apologize to him. See the statement on the controversy from SEI.

Tol e-mail to Synapse Energy Economics, my new employer, accusing me of libel
Response from Synapse Energy Economics

Tol e-mails to Routledge asking to review a book of mine they are publishing, and alleging that any mention of the Ackerman-Munitz article constitutes libel

Tol’s dispute with William Nordhaus

Nordhaus conference presentation, citing the Ackerman-Munitz article on slide 39
Complaint by Tol about the citation
Response by Nordhaus
DICE 2013 Users Manual, see comments on p.52

Tol’s invention of “Frank Ackerman Junior”

Responding to an anonymous critique of his work, Richard Tol wrote on his blog (June 4, 2014),

“The response is anonymous. Let’s refer to its author as Frank Ackerman Jr, who does not work at Tufts University. Junior is unrelated to Frank Ackerman. They just have a name in common…” – and continues with a long rejoinder to “Junior.”

My response, posted on his blog, is as follows:

“Richard Tol has received an anonymous critique of his work, and has decided to refer to it as being written by “Frank Ackerman Junior.” I am not aware of anyone by that name. I did not write this critique; in fact, I never saw it until Tol posted it on his blog. I think it would be helpful to avoid juvenile mockery of each other. The issues involved in understanding and responding to climate change are much too important to be smeared over with childish name-calling.”

Returning to substantive debate

This personalized conflict has been an unfortunate distraction from the important issues on which I disagree with Richard Tol. In an attempt to return to substantive debate, I have written a critique of one of Tol’s widely circulated recent articles.