Does "Superfreakonomics" Need A Do-Over?
Does "Superfreakonomics" Need A Do-Over?: I enjoyed the original Freakonomics quite a bit.... [I]t was clear Levitt was a clever economist who could gin up fascinating "natural experiments" to crack open everyday mysteries. So now Levitt and his co-author Stephen Dubner have a sequel.... Levitt and Dubner just parachute into the field of climate science and offer some lazy punditry on the subject dressed up as "contrarianism." There's no original research. There's nothing bold or explosive. It's just garden-variety ignorance. As William Connelly, a former climate modeler at the British Antarctic Survey says in his review of the book's climate chapter (which he has posted):
Diagnosis, in brief: (1) they write about stuff they clearly don't understand (2) they pick a catchy reverse-common-wisdom nugget as a headliner without the having the slightest interest in whether it is true or not (3) they pick an expert to talk to, but since they don't have a clue about the subject they don't know how to pick a good expert, or even understand what the expert says (4) there is a grain of sense in there, but so badly wrapped in trash it is nearly unfindable.
In just a few dozen pages, Dubner and Levitt manage to repeat the myth that the scientific consensus in the 1970s predicted global cooling (quite untrue), imply that climatologists are unaware of the existence of water vapor (no, they're quite aware), and traffic in the elementary misconception that CO2 hasn't historically driven temperature increases (RealClimate has a good article to help with their confusion). The sad thing is that Dubner and Levitt aren't even engaging in sophisticated climate-skepticism here--there's just a basic unwillingness to gain even a passing acquaintance with the topic. You hardly need to be an award-winning economist to do that.
What's more, as Joe Romm reports, the main scientist that Levitt and Dubner actually interviewed, Ken Caldeira, says they've completely twisted and mischaracterized his views—a glaring bit of journalistic malfeasance. And, as Matt Yglesias points out, one of Dubner and Levitt's arguments rests on the (demonstrably wrong) premise that solar panels are always black. Now, as a journalist, I'm all in favor of having people write about things they're not an expert in--and mistakes do happen--but this is a little absurd.
Meanwhile, over at The New York Times website, Dubner is complaining that critics are all engaged in "shrillness" (without linking to any of the criticisms of his book) and appears to be quietly removing comments when readers attempt to point to Connolley or Romm's critiques. Guess they don't make hard-charging contrarians like they used to.
UPDATE: And firstname.lastname@example.org emails:
I'm a little offended by the book's laziness. Had they wanted, they could've recruited some clever deniers to feed them material for the climate chapter. People like Chris Horner and Anthony Watts and Roger Pielke are dishonest and wrong, but they're not stupid or ignorant people—they engage in some high-level sophistry and deceit. But Dubner and Levitt didn't even know enough about the subject to seek out the A-list bullshit artists.
FURTHER UPDATE: Roger Pielke is unhappy with chunky (which I understand) and with my posting of chunky (which I understand), but then appears to go completely off the rails in email:
Roger Pielke, Jr. email@example.com Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 5:48 AM: I see that you have refused to post my comment on your blog. If you make strong accusations about a professional colleague it would seem appropriate to back that up. I await your reply which I'll prominatly feature on my blog. All best from Boulder, Roger Pielke, Jr.
Brad DeLong firstname.lastname@example.org Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 11:22 AM: I have no idea what you are talking about. I haven't done anything to any comments from email@example.com...
Roger Pielke, Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 11:24 AM: How about the comments that you posted on your blog about me? Specifically: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/10/economist-brad-delong-calls-me-stupid.html
Brad DeLong email@example.com Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 11:29 AM: Are you sane? I have not refused to post your comment on my weblog. My default is that everyone's comments are automatically published. (I do prune them later, if I think they are actively misleading. But I don't refuse to publish.)
Roger Pielke, Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 11:35 AM: Indeed I am sane. I believe you are ignoring the point of my email to you, you posted a comment on your site with some very strong (and misleading statements about me, here: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/10/does-superfreakonomics-need-a-do-over.html. Why did you do this? And will you correct the post or otehrwise explain this unprovoked attack? See: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/10/economist-brad-delong-calls-me-stupid.html
Brad DeLong email@example.com Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 12:11 PM: I repeat: I have not refused to post your comment on my weblog.
At this point I am thoroughly bemused...