The goal is to see at what point the limits of the jar - air, food, space - begin to affect the ability of the fruit flies to exist. At some point, the jar becomes inhospitable and the flies die en masse.
If Bjorn Lomborg, Danish author of Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, were to write up that high-school experiment, he would focus on the point just before the flies began to hit the limits.
He would wax on about how the population of flies had never been stronger, trot out statistics to show how astoundingly well the population had reproduced over time, and gush boyishly about the excellent living conditions in the jar. And he would be right. Given those facts, examined at that specific point in the arc of the experiment, he would have drawn the correct conclusions.
But he would have missed the facts that the food supply was getting low, that the air was becoming fouled and that fruit-fly catastrophe loomed.
In other words, he would be correct on carefully selected points of fact, but fatally incorrect about the larger picture, or the meaning of the information he was looking at.
Ms. Mitchell concludes with:
So, the fruit flies are doing great! We'll be just fine as the climate changes and we really don't need to spend all that money cutting carbon.
It would be possible to go point by point through the many similar flaws in each of Lomborg's arguments, but frankly, the book is too pitiful to merit it. It's not that his analysis is controversial - that would be fun - but that it is deeply dissatisfying, ignorant and shallow.
I remember wondering, after I interviewed Lomborg, whether he was intellectually dishonest or just not very bright. Cool It has convinced me that it doesn't matter. Lomborg has now proved beyond a doubt that he is incapable of contributing anything of merit to scientific discourse."