links for 2009-10-16
Solar Panels: John O'Donnell on Nathan Myhrvold, Steve Levitt, and Steve Dubner

Levitt and Dubner Disarm Themselves in Their Battle of Wits with Joe Romm...

Joe Romm writes:

Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places. « Climate Progress: The reason I’m calling Levitt and Dubner Superfreaks for short is that Chapter Five of SuperFreakonomics, the “Global Cooling” chapter — aka “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?” — has precious little economics, and what it does have is simply wrong.  So the book could easily have been titled Superfreaks.  [Note:  Most of the book is searchable online.  At the request of the publisher, I have taken down the PDF of the chapter]...

I want to read the Superfreakonomics chapter on climate change this morning. Steve Levitt and Steve Dubner's publisher is now keeping me from doing so.

That is a bad thing to do--and something that is, I think, very bad for Levitt and Dubner (if possibly good for their publisher's bank account). I can read Romm on Levitt and Dubner. I can't read Levitt and Dubner. And that is very bad for Levitt and Dubner: if I can't read them, Romm's argument that they (a) were sold a bill of goods by Nathan Myhrvold and company who do not understand orders of magnitude and (b) misrepresented the views of Stanford's Ken Caldeira win by default.

UPDATE: And Paul Krugman weighs in:

Paul Krugman:

A counterintuitive train wreck - Paul Krugman Blog: Uh oh. I trust Joe Romm on climate — and his verdict on Superfreakonomics is pretty damning. I’ll get to work on the book myself, but it doesn’t look good.

At first glance, though, what it looks like is that Levitt and Dubner have fallen into the trap of counterintuitiveness. For a long time, there’s been an accepted way for commentators on politics and to some extent economics to distinguish themselves: by shocking the bourgeoisie, in ways that of course aren’t really dangerous. Ann Coulter is making sense! Bush is good for the environment! You get the idea.

Clever snark like this can get you a long way in career terms — but the trick is knowing when to stop. It’s one thing to do this on relatively inconsequential media or cultural issues. But if you’re going to get into issues that are both important and the subject of serious study, like the fate of the planet, you’d better be very careful not to stray over the line between being counterintuitive and being just plain, unforgivably wrong.

It looks as if Superfreakonomics has gone way over that line.


Climate Progress: [S]ince my original post and various other debunkings around the web, the publisher has stopped Amazon from allowing people to search the book.... I don’t know of a single instance where searching was allowed and then stopped.  It seems to me the publisher must be concerned that bloggers and others could actually see and quote the myriad errors and sheer illogic and patent nonsense for themselves...

This is very bad for Levitt and Dubner. They need to get on the horn to their publisher immediately, and get access restored.

To respond by shutting off internet access to the book may or may not be good for short-term sales, but it means that Romm's story becomes the default story for all time...