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Superfreakonomics: It's getting hot in here.
October 18, 2009 8:22 PM   Subscribe

The Freakonomics follow up, Superfreakonomics, contains a chapter on climate change that lives up to the best selling contrarian style of authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. However actual climate scientists were not pleased with the chapter. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the book "repeats tired global cooling myths," "unfairly trashes climate models" and "advocates rolling the dice on unproven technology" among other faults. They have also been accused of misquoting climate scientist Ken Caldeira. Levitt and Dubner respond to their critics, Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear.

Full critique from climate progress 1 2 3 4 5
posted by afu (128 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Krugman weighs in:

Legalistic quibbling about who said what in an email isn’t going to help Dubner and Levitt here: in this crucial chapter, there’s an average of one statement per page that’s either flatly untrue or deeply misleading.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 8:32 PM on October 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


Good riddance to humanity. Couldn't take a fucking clue.
posted by fuq at 8:41 PM on October 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


There are really too many people talking about this that I wasn't sure what to include. Brad Delong is a good source.
posted by afu at 8:43 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ken Caldeira's succinct home page statement.

You have to read Brad Delong on this: Six Questions for Levitt and Dubner; Paul Krugman Goes Meta; All Right. One More, I Gotta Correct the Record;
*Sigh* Last Post on Superfreakonomics, I Promise

... oh, jeez, just scroll through his blog.

He also offers a link to a clean PDF of that chapter that won't crash your browser.
posted by maudlin at 8:48 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Economist John Quiggin:
The main point, though, is that the fuss over the global cooling chapter in Levitt and Dubner’s new book is the first occasion, I think, where the refutation of specific errors has taken a back seat (partly because, in this case, it’s so easy) to an attack on contrarianism, as such. The general point is that contrarianism is a cheap way of allowing ideological hacks to think of themselves as fearless, independent thinkers, while never thinking (in fact reinforcing) the status quo.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:49 PM on October 18, 2009 [36 favorites]


Far and away my favorite title for a reaction, from the otherwise generally discreetly snarky Think Progress:

SuperFreakonomics Gets Climate Change Super Freaking Wrong
posted by HotPants at 8:50 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Particularly loathesome on Dubner and Levitt's part: they are removing comments critical of that chapter from their blog, apparently.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 8:50 PM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sorry, the Ken Caldeira link is borked. Once again, his succinct statement.

Are these two going for the gold medal in FAIL this year? Given their generally weak arguments, their incorrect claims that there was a comparable consensus on global cooling in the seventies, the misrepresentation of Caldeira's writing, their whiny response to criticism, and what appears to be heavy-handed moderation for no damn good reason -- ah, they'll do well enough in interviews as journalists once again "cover the controversy". Meh.
posted by maudlin at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was thinking of posting this, but I didn't want to round up all of the blog posts relating to it. That's the problem with blog controversy, there's no good way to link to "it"

Here's a recent Andrew Gelman, and a And another. Dunbar defends himself here. I've seen a bunch more posts about this.

Here is a post from Matt Yglesias, here is another post by Ezra Klein talking about how the rest of the book also sucks.

Matt Yglesias also made a good point about Contrarianism:
I think from a standpoint of pure rhetoric the key issue here is that you need to correctly identify the status quo. If your position is that we should allow people polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses to continue doing so unchecked, then you’re reenforcing the status quo. That’s fine. Sometimes the status quo is right. Sometimes all the money and political expediency and the overwhelming biases of the political system are on the right side. But still, if you take up the side of the status quo and join forces with the politically and economically powerful, you don’t get to don the mask of the bold truth-teller willing to speak out against ingrained prejudice.
That's something I've noticed as well, that people often get well positioned in society by being "counterintuitive" in a way where they are actually defending the rich and powerful, the elites against their obvious (indeed, intuitive) shortcomings.

The worst, and most obvious example are those who run around cheerleading for war, while working at think tanks funded by the defense industry. It's obvious that war is bad, so these people need to come up with "counterintuitive" reasons why it's a good idea.

I don't think Dunbar and Levitt were thinking things through here, they were probably just on autopilot. They may have just stumbled into the success of the contrarian, but I think they bit off more then they could chew here. Global warming has been under attack for so long by these fake-contrarians that people who favor trying to stop it have a hair trigger response. And there are a lot of very important people who also favor climate mitigation. People take it seriously because it's a very serious issue.
posted by delmoi at 8:58 PM on October 18, 2009 [20 favorites]


Sorry, the Ken Caldeira link is borked. Once again, his succinct statement.

Er, I do see the quote:
"Carbon dioxide is the right villain," says Caldeira, "insofar as inanimate objects can be villains."
But the rest is just his resume and bio.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 PM on October 18, 2009


I wish all these bloggers would just shut up. Dunbar and Levitt finally made me feel good about using Pam again.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:02 PM on October 18, 2009


I think this highlights why it's best that experts who happen to be good at making things accessible are the best people to do that, rather than ignorant laypeople who happen to be experts at something else. Of course Levitt et al got this wrong. Bloody hell, scientists who do it for a job have gotten it wrong.

Furthermore the idea that everything makes the best sense through the lense of contrary economics is a silly one in my opinion. Whilst the lateral ideas that can be generated from a disciplinary side-step can sometimes be quite thought-provoking, to accord them legitimate place in a discourse as informed and complex as climate change (for example) , would be a pretty grievous mistake.

Sounds like Dubner and Levitt started believing their own press releases.
posted by smoke at 9:03 PM on October 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think that post by Klein hits it bang on: "The problem with Super Freakonomics is it prefers an interesting story to an accurate one. "

On preview: delmoi, that was exactly what I was referring to. I just really appreciate the subtlety of that statement suddenly appearing on his home page after all this fuss was kicked up over Levitt and Dubner's misrepresentation of his views, which is why I reposted my borked link. I am easily amused.
posted by maudlin at 9:07 PM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I find it funny that the American Enterprise Institute, which has published lots of commentary warning people away from major health care reform because its too complex and will have unintended consequences, thinks that we should cover the whole planet in clouds.
posted by gsteff at 9:08 PM on October 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


I was just composing a nearly identical FPP, after reading The Importance of Being Earnest: How Superfreakonomics killed contrarianism and following the trail.

It's crazy just how terrible these authors are: Levit & Dubner, Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Anderson, etc. — they feel the need to present just-so stories to a large audience of yuppies, to affirm to them that their neurotic biases are somehow grounded in science.

They aim to write pop-science self-help books for the likes of Jason Kottke, but they're employed by huge publishers, not research institutes — so they repeatedly find themselves doing what journalists do best: act as stenographers to assholes with agendas.
posted by blasdelf at 9:11 PM on October 18, 2009 [23 favorites]


Interesting that they are critiquing it before the release date. Did someone leak review copies or something?
posted by smackfu at 9:12 PM on October 18, 2009


But still, if you take up the side of the status quo and join forces with the politically and economically powerful, you don’t get to don the mask of the bold truth-teller willing to speak out against ingrained prejudice.

This pretty much sums up Penn and Teller's non-magic shtick for me as well. Come to think of it, they had some of that in their magic act as well, but it was aimed at other magicians.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:16 PM on October 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


You can see why geoengineering is attractive to an ideological economist: there's a price tag, and it suggests that because of the march of technology we can abuse the environment more and enjoy it more at the same time. It's like a "green revolution" for environmental degradation. Take that environmental malthusians!

I changed fields because of bozos like these guys. Krugman put it succinctly and well:

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.
posted by ~ at 9:18 PM on October 18, 2009 [4 favorites]




The review by John DiNardo in the dsquared post blasdelf links is long but good.
posted by kenko at 9:28 PM on October 18, 2009


Well, I read the links, and this is what I think now:

YOUR CHILDREN WILL DIE.

YOUR CHILDREN ARE GOING TO BE MURDERED BY MY ACTIONS. YOU ARE NOT STOPPING ME.

I WILL BE DECEASED BY THE TIME MY EVIL DEEDS DESTROY YOUR CHILDREN.

I LAUGH AT THEIR SUFFERING BECAUSE I SHALL NOT SUFFER, NOR SHALL YOU.

YOU REJOICE WITH ME EVERY TIME WE DEPLETE THEIR RESOURCES AND POISON THEIR PLANET.

SEE YOU IN HELL.

posted by fuq at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


I actually know some global warming deniers. To a one, they all had the "computer programmer who figured out computers, and subsequently thinks they can figure out anything" personality. They think that because they read an article that "debunks" global warning, and it makes sense to them, then QED, no global warming. (Incidentally, people with this personality always exhibit the same sad and fascinating behavior when they apply this kind of thinking to the stock market.)

Thing is, climatology is COMPLICATED. People study this stuff for years and do it for a living. It's not the kind of thing that a dilettante can figure out just from reading a few blog posts. And you would be hard pressed to find real climatologists (i.e. not working for some conservative think tank) who doubt anthropogenic global warming.

Sometimes, you want to trust the experts, because they know more than you do.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:36 PM on October 18, 2009 [44 favorites]


It's a very freaky book, the kind you don't take home to mother.
posted by jonp72 at 9:36 PM on October 18, 2009 [15 favorites]


I just really appreciate the subtlety of that statement suddenly appearing on his home page after all this fuss was kicked up over Levitt and Dubner's misrepresentation of his views,

It is a nice statement (nice as in Agnes Nutter). However, the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford inexplicably blocks the Wayback Machine. Is it clear that the quote is a recent addition?
posted by Chuckles at 9:38 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


“A lot of the things that people say would be good things probably aren’t,” Myrhvold says. As an example he points to solar power. “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12% gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributed to global warming.”

That certainly points to a rather spectacularly poor understanding of climate science.

On the plus side, all those windmills will keep us cool.
posted by justkevin at 9:41 PM on October 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


It's a very freaky book, the kind you don't take home to mother

Lead: The kind of book you read about...
Band: ...in new age magazines!
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:41 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


YOUR CHILDREN WILL DIE...SEE YOU IN HELL.

The most memorable expression of this worldview vis a vis climate change that I've read came from the incomparable Fafblog a few years ago.
posted by gsteff at 9:43 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Superfreakonomics is freakonomics.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:46 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


From Stephen Dubner's first "Freakonomics" post on the New York Times website in March 2005: "Every parent thinks he has the most beautiful baby in the world. Evolution, it seems, has molded our brains so that if you stare at your own baby’s face day after day after day, it starts to look beautiful. When other people’s children have food clotted on their faces, it looks disgusting; with your own kid, it’s somehow endearing."

I liked the dsquared post and the DiNardo article as well. I picked up the Freakonomics a while after it first came out, started reading, and when I encountered the self-congratulatory anecdotes and self-puffery that DiNardo refers to, I stopped. I will defer to economists and scientists as to whether Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are correct or not. I just find them insufferable.
posted by blucevalo at 9:47 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is a nice statement (nice as in Agnes Nutter). However, the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford inexplicably blocks the Wayback Machine. Is it clear that the quote is a recent addition?

The Climate Progress blog has this post about Caldeira, which says that he "has himself updated his website ... to debunk the book’s characterization of his views. He puts under his picture the following quote: 'Carbon dioxide is the right villain,' says Caldeira, 'insofar as inanimate objects can be villains.'" I couldn't find an earlier version of Caldeira's bio, so I'm taking CP's account at face value.
posted by maudlin at 9:51 PM on October 18, 2009


Contrarianism is bullshit.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:53 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I actually know some global warming deniers. To a one, they all had the "computer programmer who figured out computers, and subsequently thinks they can figure out anything" personality."

Nailed it. Thank you, I now have a giant stick with which to thrash my denier friends to within an inch of their deluded attitude.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 10:07 PM on October 18, 2009


Glad to find that I'm not the only one that found these guys to be insufferable. I couldn't believe the raving reviews of Freakonomics. Who the hell fills half their books with gushing praise of their own genius? I also found a lot of their arguments to be pretty thin. Happy to see scientists calling them on it.
posted by meta87 at 10:11 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I will defer to economists and scientists as to whether Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are correct or not. I just find them insufferable.

That was pretty much my reaction, too, though I managed to finish the book.
posted by Forktine at 10:16 PM on October 18, 2009


It's a very freaky book, the kind you don't take home to mother.

Actually, I let my mother borrow my audiobook copy for a trip several years ago.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:19 PM on October 18, 2009


Thanks maudlin, I see.. I didn't realise that the "right villian" talk was directly referencing the book. Too much blow by blow for my attention span, I guess :)

Anyway, on the subject of climate change deniers, whatever happened to Energy Probe? Weren't they a serious voice of reason at one time!?!? Ahh, perhaps not (from wiki):
Its plans to break up Ontario Hydro's monopoly and end support for nuclear power were endorsed in 1984 by the leaders of the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario New Democratic Party, the two opposition parties at that time. Later, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, led by Mike Harris, formally adopted Energy Probe's positions in its Common Sense Revolution. Under this model, the grid would be operated as a separate regulated entity while the generating units would operate in a competitive marketplace.
That is a complicated question though, because anybody who looks at the cityscape arround Queen's Park can clearly see that Ontario Hydro was out of control.
That huge modern all windows building that stares almost straight at the Ontario Legislature Building was the headquarters of Ontario Hydro. Swing the Streetview around to get an idea. It is even more dramatic in real life.
posted by Chuckles at 10:22 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's very bad for you: Romm's posting your chapter and a link to it is a way for him to establish credibility--"see for yourself"; your publisher's pulling it down is a way to diminish yours.

Yes indeed not posting a pdf of your unreleased book on the net severely damages your credibility. Throwing around all kinds of incendiary accusations about someone's credibility based on what goes on on FUCKING AMAZON on a fucking weekend is just bullshit. It's all very well for DeLong to talk science and truth out of one side of his mouth while engaging in pure demagoguery out of the other. Seriously take a chill pill. I mean, fine you want to post 15 times to your blog on the weekend based on screencaps forwarded from your buddy go ahead but to seriously suggest that you get to impugn people based on "search inside" is BS.

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.

Yeah, or maybe until people read the chapter in the book and not in some fucking screencaps that you "finally" got your hands on. It's like the CNN headline news version of science.

Everyone in those links sounds like an asshole.
posted by Wood at 10:22 PM on October 18, 2009


The one thing that always comes to mind for me in this debate...I'll try to work it into a soundbite, though I may miss the gist of it:

1. Humans are fucking up the weather.
2. Nope, they aren't going to do much about it.
3. Yeah, it's going to suck for our great-grandchildren.
4. But it's not going to kill off all humans, not the majority of the rest of life on this planet.
5. So hopefully future-humans will learn a little something from it.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:26 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


unpossible!

Man, the only book I read that irritated me more than Freakonomics in the past decade was Gladwell's Tipping Point, but I would place the blame for the irritation on me. I had hoped to find higher authorial and journalistic standards in the works than that found in the corpus of Seth Godin. I am, and shall remain, a fool.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 PM on October 18, 2009


I actually know some global warming deniers. To a one, they all had the "computer programmer who figured out computers, and subsequently thinks they can figure out anything" personality. are Republicans.

Seriously, I know actual PhD physicists, people who would be rightly insulted if some economist or TV talking head poo-pooed their work, take the word of right-wing economics, the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, and Bill O'Reilly(!) over the work of the vast majority of actual climate scientists, solely because of their political ideology. It's far more frustrating to hear them vomit out the latest right-wing anti-science than it does my friends and family who have no real science background.

It's kind of like if, say, Stephen Hawking decided to take up the cause of electromagnetically-induced tornadoes, and started quoted balloon-dad as proof. It just blows my mind.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:32 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Free speech is all well and good, but I'd be very happy to have every bit of climate change talk censored for the next few years. Delete every blog post, wipe every news story, and burn every newspaper column. The peer-reviewed science journals can remain, and we'll give the scientists of the world the chance to nut things out. Let them play with the data, evaluate how reliable it is, consider all the various influences and effects, and then come out with a worldwide press release, at which point the censoring will stop. Specifically, I'd like them to let me know how much of a factor human produced CO2 is; how much of a reduction is possible, given current technologies; and what the results of that reduction would be.

At the moment there's just so much noise it's damn near impossible to figure out how trustworthy anybody is.
posted by twirlypen at 10:45 PM on October 18, 2009


Why, this controversy is sure to be bad for the book.

It's nice of everyone to give them so much free publicity.
posted by sien at 10:49 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It's kind of like if, say, Stephen Hawking decided to take up the cause of electromagnetically-induced tornadoes, and started quot(ing FTFY) balloon-dad as proof. It just blows my mind.": dirigibleman!

eponysterical, amirite? You could prolly sign Gasbag Pop up as a PR client, d.m., and I know from LTA. Up ship!
posted by mwhybark at 10:50 PM on October 18, 2009


Also, although I should inform America in the Balloon Boy thread, Richard Heene's new official handle is Gasbag Pop, as seen in my post moments ago.
posted by mwhybark at 10:52 PM on October 18, 2009


twirlypen: "At the moment there's just so much noise it's damn near impossible to figure out how trustworthy anybody is."

I couldn't disagree more. There's no reason to censor anything or anybody: the climate-change denires are craven economically motivated liars, and in the wrong. Let them speak. They damn themselves, and I sincerely doubt that they endanger us. The danger comes from our actions - our consumption - not speech.
posted by mwhybark at 10:56 PM on October 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


d-e-n-i-e-r-s, deniers. d-e-n-i-e-r-s.
posted by mwhybark at 10:56 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sien: It's freaking Freakonomics, it's going to be big regardless of whether or not it's a crock of shit and whether or not we've inadvertently given it a pinch of additional publicity by talking about how it's a crock of shit. This isn't some unknown bullshit... it's the follow-up to a well-known NYT best-seller. I'd much, much prefer having the stray Google hits (the Climate Progress debunk is currently the fourth result) for "Superfreakonomics" clearly indicate precisely why it's a crock of shit rather than silence the discourse for vague fears of publicity-mongering.
posted by Keter at 11:03 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Their first book had substantial factual errors surrounding Stetson Kennedy and his role 'infiltrating' the Ku Klux Klan that had to be corrected in a second edition. Of course in that go around, the man had simply lied to the authors (and several others), and the errors were not terribly material to their main thrust in the chapter (ironically that information assymetry exists and people exploit it). But the notion forming in my head is that they are starting with a mark against them in the realm of not fact-checking their interview results before sending them off to be published.
posted by Bokononist at 11:10 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is a nice statement (nice as in Agnes Nutter). However, the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford inexplicably blocks the Wayback Machine. Is it clear that the quote is a recent addition?

Keep in mind the Superfreaks summarize his views as exactly the opposite: that "Carbon Dioxide is not the right Villain" The fact that it mirrors the most obvious error indicates it's new.
posted by delmoi at 11:14 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You'll be telling me I can't make all my decisions by blinking next.
posted by Artw at 11:18 PM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Contrarianism is bullshit.
But often very marketable bullshit, at least the only Contrarianism that sees the light of mass-media day. I am happy that as accurate a MeFi bullshit detector as Astro Zombie agrees with my assessment that "Penn & Teller's Bullshit" too often refers to their own arguments... even when I agree with them, they make me cringe. (Wake me IF they ever challenge Scientology or The War on Terror) But I digress.

Remember, if "Economics is the Dismal Science", then Freakonomics is Freakily Dismal. Always has been. What we need is someone to speak up for the Freakology (get it, Economics/Feakonomics, Ecology/Freakology? If somebody uses that word in a book title, they'll have to pay ME now)
posted by wendell at 11:24 PM on October 18, 2009


Yeah, or maybe until people read the chapter in the book and not in some fucking screencaps that you "finally" got your hands on. It's like the CNN headline news version of science.

Since Levitt and Dubner have failed to respond substantively to the scientific criticisms (and since they appear to have no ability to discern scientific data from conjecture in the examples given), my guess is that nothing exists in the book which will shed any new light on the subject.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:41 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brad DeLong> That's very bad for you: Romm's posting your chapter and a link to it is a way for him to establish credibility--"see for yourself"; your publisher's pulling it down is a way to diminish yours.

wood> Yes indeed not posting a pdf of your unreleased book on the net severely damages your credibility.

One, the chapter was excerpted already. If Levitt and Dubner didn't want to be judged on the basis of the excerpt, they shouldn't have allowed their publisher to do so. Two, it's incorrect to claim that they didn't "post a pdf", their publisher allowed for the entire book to be searched on Amazon.com, and people used that to read the entire chapter.

wood> Throwing around all kinds of incendiary accusations about someone's credibility based on what goes on on FUCKING AMAZON on a fucking weekend is just bullshit. It's all very well for DeLong to talk science and truth out of one side of his mouth while engaging in pure demagoguery out of the other. Seriously take a chill pill. I mean, fine you want to post 15 times to your blog on the weekend based on screencaps forwarded from your buddy go ahead but to seriously suggest that you get to impugn people based on "search inside" is BS.

Oh, bullshit. Again, Joe Romm read the chapter in "search inside" and commented on it. Dubner and Levitt whined about it. Then the publisher disabled the "search inside" capability on Amazon.com. The "screencaps" are Levitt and Dubner's writing, and it's fucking ridiculous to claim that they don't contain the chapter in question.

And guess what? The entire pdf of the chapter is now linked to on DeLong's blog. And it's every bit as retarded as Joe Romm said it was.

wood> Everyone in those links sounds like an asshole.

Uh huh. It's Joe Romm and Brad DeLong who sound like assholes?
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:44 PM on October 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


And one more thing. Joe Romm's comments were based on a .pdf of the chapter that he had got his hands on. At no point as far as I can tell have Levitt and Dubner claimed that Romm's comments were based on an incorrect text of that chapter.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:47 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


the only book I read that irritated me more than Freakonomics in the past decade was Gladwell's Tipping Point, but I would place the blame for the irritation on me. I had hoped to find higher authorial and journalistic standards in the works than that found in the corpus of Seth Godin.

You're welcome to complaints about Gladwell, but putting them all in the same boat seems like a pretty big mistake to me. And I think it's hard to argue there aren't higher standards in Gladwell's work than Godin's. Yeah, he draws sweeping conclusions and can be more than a little breathless where it's probably not deserved, but he does a decent job pointing to research and researchers where you can find out more if you decide you're interested in diving into the topic with a higher degree of rigor.

Godin is marketing himself as a marketing guru. It seems to me everything he's writing about comes out of his own head or is an echo of someone doing the same kind of thing. I can't think of an instance of him pointing to actual research. There's nothing pointed to but the text of his books and the subtext of his career (though I think one can probably learn a thing or two from that if you're willing to think about it on a meta level).

Dubner and Levitt... I think they're actually close to what Gladwell's doing, it is social science journalism, but there's a lot of criticisms that I think apply to their work that I'm not sure fit Gladwell's as well. They have a problem: they're representing an academic discipline in the popular sphere while they're experimentally applying it outside of its purview, in which it's not all that fantastically settled in the first place. It's an interesting shtick, and not without merits, but the criticism blasdelf linked seems most apt to me.

("When future generations ask the economics profession 'What were you doing while the great bubble built up ahead of the Second Great Depression?', and we have to reply 'Lots and lots of quirky little working papers about sumo wrestling and speed-dating', it is going to be really, really, fucking embarrassing." Yeah.)

Seriously, I know actual PhD physicists, people who would be rightly insulted if some economist or TV talking head poo-pooed their work, take the word of right-wing economics, the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, and Bill O'Reilly(!) over the work of the vast majority of actual climate scientists, solely because of their political ideology.

In my experience, physics is suffused with only a marginally more humble view of the intellect of its participants than egomaniacal economics. No small number of physicists consider their discipline king.

At least they deserve their pride more than the computer programmers do.
posted by weston at 11:54 PM on October 18, 2009


Yeah, he draws sweeping conclusions and can be more than a little breathless where it's probably not deserved, but he does a decent job pointing to research and researchers where you can find out more if you decide you're interested in diving into the topic with a higher degree of rigor.
Gladwell's problem is this: he tends to gather interesting research, explain it carefully to readers, and then spend three chapters explaining some fascinating Grand Theory Of How Things Work that is only anecdotally connected to the research he just explained. The Tipping Point was particularly bad in that regard. He opened on section with a story about the inexplicable explosion of Hush Puppy shoes in hipster circles, and discussed how it gave the brand a new lease on life. But how did it actually happen? How, he asked, can we better understand things like this?

He spent the next several chapters talking about six-degrees-of-separation type stuff and social graphing -- even going so far as to explain a complex taxonomy of social interaction, classifying people by their types of connections and their theoretical roles in theoretical social networks. By that time, he had drifted away from actual research and was just theorizing, but he's a good storyteller and based on the lead-in, a reader could be forgiven for assuming that he was setting things up for a reveal regarding the behind-the-scenes story of how the opening anecdote happened.

Then, he dropped his bomb: "We don't know why Hush Puppies took off, but I'll bet it was because this theory is true."

Thanks, Malcolm. How about you just summarize abstracts? You're good at that.
posted by verb at 12:09 AM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Economists like Levitt and Dubner make the same kinds of mistakes that Gladwell does, and that all shoddy social scientists do: they find a cute correlation between A and B and trumpet it as having discovered the true, shocking cause of B. On their good days, they say, yes, yes, we know correlation doesn't prove causation, but see, we included these 6 controls, or see, we have a nice little natural experiment that controls for everything else. And sometimes they're even right -- but when they are, it's not because they did things the way real science does, with dozens of different tests under all sorts of various circumstances by different teams using differing datasets. They just find their cute result and call it a day -- or rather, call it a brilliant breakthough with grand and immediate policy implications. It's the prematureness and grandiosity, even more than the meagerness of their results, that makes what they do not just bad science, but socially damaging. Sadly, the more complex and noisy the system (such as human society), the less able a cute little natural experiment is going to be able to provide all by itself a wonderful, clean answer. (And this is just a critique of their own research; the climate critique stuff is a whole other class of garbage.)
posted by chortly at 12:22 AM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


What is or is not included in Amazon's "search inside" (TM) is not a legitimate issue of academic credibility.

What's next? Reading the text off of promotional posters at Barnes and Nobles and then calling up the academic honesty committee when the posters aren't still there a week later?

It's hardly credible that they're hiding something, it's a chapter in a freaking book. This 10-part weekend blog/email saga is headline news BS. It's academic livejournal.

DeLong's hosting a pdf chapter of someone else's book on his blog? Classy.

Here's a quote from DeLong's blog

Dubner's "nobody stopped anything" is simply wrong. Romm posted a .pdf of Freakonomics chapter 5. Somebody--Dubner and Levitt's publisher--then did require Romm to take it down. That takedown is in sharp contrast to the behavior of some other publishers these days, who are eager to offer sample chapters online.

But lo and behold the pdf is still on DeLong's blog. To hell with climate change, DeLong's standing up for for file sharing. Get on the cluetrain, stupid dead tree publishers!
posted by Wood at 12:25 AM on October 19, 2009


And one more thing. Joe Romm's comments were based on a .pdf of the chapter that he had got his hands on. At no point as far as I can tell have Levitt and Dubner claimed that Romm's comments were based on an incorrect text of that chapter.

I have the PDF, someone linked to it in the thread. It's actual photographs of the book, ala the harry potter leak.

Saying that you shouldn't base your comments on photographs of the pages of a book, rather then the book itself makes little sense.
posted by delmoi at 12:28 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


wood> What is or is not included in Amazon's "search inside" (TM) is not a legitimate issue of academic credibility.

What is included in Amazon's "search inside" is the chapter of the book, period. And what's in the chapter absolutely and legitimately speaks to Levitt and Dubner's academic credibility, or rather the lack thereof.

wood> DeLong's hosting a pdf chapter of someone else's book on his blog? Classy.

Did you even bother to read the back and forth on his blog? DeLong has been in contact with Levitt, and it's a fair guess that he's hosting the pdf chapter with Levitt's permission. If you have any evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it.

wood> But lo and behold the pdf is still on DeLong's blog.

No, the pdf was posted on DeLong's blog after DeLong pointed out to Levitt that his credibility was minimal compared to Romm's.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:32 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wood: What exactly is your point? The people reviewing the word are doing so based on the finished text of the book.
posted by delmoi at 12:34 AM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is a clear correlation between the fall from grace of Levitt and Dubner and that of the entire economics profession for not having seen the recession coming. Perhaps there is a causal link that Levitt and Dubner can illuminate, one that involves prostitutes somehow.
posted by vanar sena at 12:55 AM on October 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


There is a clear correlation between the fall from grace of Levitt and Dubner and that of the entire economics profession for not having seen the recession coming.

Right, that's it. I'm going to go renew my course of study in Sovietology.
posted by 7segment at 1:02 AM on October 19, 2009


the only book I read that irritated me more than Freakonomics in the past decade was Gladwell's Tipping Point
posted by mwhybark at 10:56 PM on October 18 [+] [!]

My family always kept on bothering me to read these books. Now I'm glad I never did.

Unfortunately I have somehow assumed that legalized abortion was responsible for a drop in crime in the 1980s thanks to these assholes. Anyone know where I can get that statistic either verified or corrected? Finding a reliable answer will help me stop feeling stupid.
posted by Pseudology at 1:03 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wish I could remember which brilliant acquaintance of mine asked whether climate change deniers were doing the rational thing by speculating in under-priced coastal land.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:06 AM on October 19, 2009


I wish I could remember which brilliant acquaintance of mine asked whether climate change deniers were doing the rational thing by speculating in under-priced coastal land.
i thought the 'status quo' was there was no climate change so wouldn't land be correctly priced under the no climate change assumption.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 1:25 AM on October 19, 2009


Anyone know where I can get that statistic either verified or corrected? Finding a reliable answer will help me stop feeling stupid.

Does Abortion Prevent Crime? An email debate between Steven Levitt and Steve Sailer.
posted by afu at 3:01 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


To a one, they all had the "computer programmer who figured out computers, and subsequently thinks they can figure out anything" personality.

Oh, so they're all doctors, then.
posted by rokusan at 3:27 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The other funny thing is that the authors in the book have to add the caveat of "we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve." So it seems like the entire premise of the book is, "we're not total fools and know that global warming is happening [or at least we don't want to look like total fools], but we think this 'contrarian chapter' will appeal to the prejudices of our readership."

Admitting that global warming is happening doesn't get you invitedon TV and get you publicity. Being "contrarian" in a way that just so happens to line up exactly with the WSJ editorial page is the path to fame and dinner party invitations, it seems.
posted by deanc at 4:35 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Anyone know where I can get that statistic either verified or corrected? Finding a reliable answer will help me stop feeling stupid.

>>Does Abortion Prevent Crime? An email debate between Steven Levitt and Steve Sailer.


In the endnotes of Freakanomics there are citations to various academic papers that argue the point for and against. All the research in favour was done by Levitt, if I recall correctly.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:16 AM on October 19, 2009


hello Mefites

1st post, be gentle

this is a fascinating thread. I am unsure if i have understood correctly, are the publishers issuing takedown notices on the pdf of chapter 5 to the bloggers who have it on their site? or will they allow it to stay up?

thanks
posted by marienbad at 5:32 AM on October 19, 2009


"I just don't know very much about the field of economics. I'm not good at math, I don't know a lot of econometrics, and I also don't know how to do theory." - Steven Levitt

... and given that he actually studied economics, he presumably knows even less about climate science.
posted by markkraft at 5:49 AM on October 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


At the moment there's just so much noise it's damn near impossible to figure out how trustworthy anybody is.

I don't think any statement could bring a smile to Roger Ailes face faster. There is no sense - EVER - refuting an argument coming from the right wing because they already know it is a lie. Their only goal is to muddy the water enough to get the uninformed to question the truth. One day the left will wake the fuck up and realize this and stop chasing these red herrings. The first thing we need to do is realize that any representative who accepts corporate money is merely playing the role of an adversary in a script produced by the corporations to create the illusion of an opposition party.
posted by any major dude at 5:49 AM on October 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Levitt and I – and Nathan Myhrvold, and maybe even Ken Caldeira – look forward to debating the content of the chapter itself, the actual ideas and conclusions.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:13 AM on October 19, 2009


Leavitt was on NPR Saturday morning and I have to say I was not impressed. The piece starts out talking about the Law of Unintended Consequences, and Leavitt himself displays ignorance about unintended consequences in his glib comments about climate change solutions and how cars "solved the problem" of horse manure in 19th century urban areas. I was shaking my head in dismay by the end of the piece that NPR's Scott Simon would let someone say shit like that without further question.

Also, I'd like to see the cite for his claim that walking home drunk is eight times more dangerous than driving home. That sounds like an irresponsible generalized or out of context misrepresentation of a very specific study conclusion, to me. Again, that Leavitt was not asked to back up the claim amazes me. Not knowing anything about Freakonomics or the new sequel, I just came away from the piece thinking Leavitt was a jackass and Scott Simon was a credulous dupe.
posted by aught at 6:33 AM on October 19, 2009


You just need to buy the book to get the details. Comes out tomorrow!
posted by smackfu at 6:45 AM on October 19, 2009


It kind of sounds like the Superfreakonomics people have fallen prey to the same problem as Stone and Parker of South Park; they've started to believe their own press. Not that South Park doesn't have its moments, still, but when they get something wrong they really go whole hog. (I'm thinking of the episode where Alcoholics Anonymous is described as a cult and all a problem drinker has to do is decide to stop drinking after a few beers, which completely misses the whole point of what an alcoholic is.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:15 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's kind of like if, say, Stephen Hawking decided to take up the cause of electromagnetically-induced tornadoes, and started quoting balloon-dad as proof.

I understand what you mean. It's as if climate change denialism is the secret handshake that proves you're not one of them, one of those dirty liberal tree-huggin' hippies. In fact, I wonder if the sales figures for Freedomnomics, the book-length right-wing attack on Freakonomics by John Lott, weren't a motivator for Dubner and Levitt in leading them to climate change denialism.
posted by jonp72 at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2009


My current conjecture is that Levitt and Dubner wrote this chapter for perfectly rational reasons:
  • Something like 98% of scientists say anthropocentric global climate change is real and scary.
  • However, media hype is allocated roughly 50/50 between scientists representing the consensus and between deniers with some vaguely science-sounding credentials.
  • If they include a chapter reflecting the scientific consensus view on climate change, or do not mention it at all, it will receive marginal attention and fail to shift public opinion enough to make any noticeable improvement to our odds of taking meaningful action to counteract climate change.
  • If, however, they hype denier talking points, they will receive a ton of attention and sell more copies of their book than they would have otherwise.
  • Granted, they make meaningful action even less likely, but at least their own grandchildren will inherit more money than they otherwise would have, which makes it more likely that they will be able to personally cope with the resulting effects.
  • Got mine, fuck you. Q.E.D.
posted by nicepersonality at 7:33 AM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately I have somehow assumed that legalized abortion was responsible for a drop in crime in the 1980s thanks to these assholes. Anyone know where I can get that statistic either verified or corrected? Finding a reliable answer will help me stop feeling stupid.

Someday, I should write an article debunking the Freakonomics abortion-crime link, but the basic gist is that the abortion/crime link doesn't hold up if you look at other countries besides the United States. According to the Freakonomics theory, a country should experience a drop in crime approximately 16-24 years after legalizing abortion, because many of the potential criminals would have been aborted. France is a counterexample, because it legalized abortion in 1975, just two years after Roe v. Wade, but it experienced increases in crime during the 1990s (a crime wave that helped pave the way for Sarkozy), completely at odds with the Freakonomics theory about the abortion-crime link.
posted by jonp72 at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also, I'd like to see the cite for his claim that walking home drunk is eight times more dangerous than driving home.

it doesn't matter - him walking home drunk is not 8 times more dangerous to ME over him driving home drunk, if i'm on the road
posted by pyramid termite at 7:53 AM on October 19, 2009


Well, from an academic peer review perspective, the "now you see it, now you don't" coyness with PDFs of a book chapter is really suspicious. People who actually write about their research, rather than write NYT bestsellers promiscuously spread drafts around. This is perfectly understandable in terms of enlightened self interest because tenure, promotion, grant funding, yadda, yadda, yadda, can be influenced by how many times you get cited. Academics and academic publishers often work at cross-purposes as a result, but for many people out there, writing for a living pulls in significantly less cash than one would working at a retail store, with fewer benefits and job security.

Not really weighing in on what Levitt and Dubner have to say, but it's not at all uncommon for people to read pre-publication work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:59 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heck, good old APA has a system for citing forthcoming and in-press works.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:02 AM on October 19, 2009


Good point, nice personality. I get the feeling they liked all the political attention they got from their first book's chapter on abortion being responsible for the drop in crime, so they're trying to stir it up again.

I don't think that Levitt and Dubner are trying to take on the environmental movement or are trying to push deregulation. They're just in an area that's a hot issue, but they don't understand it. While economics are the biggest obstacle in fighting global warming (IE how can everyone afford to pay for cleaner equipment/adapt to using less? can taxation help?), it seems like most of the nuts and bolts of climate change comes down to technology and climate sciences. Those are complicated things for an outsider to understand, and it's easy to be mislead, as shows up in the article where Levitt describes solar cells as radiators of heat, when in fact the materials they cover up are almost as dark in the first place.

As economists, you would think they'd be more interested in instead running a straightforward cost-benefit analysis of global warming, to come up with a rough ideas of what technologies are worth installing in today (the low hanging fruits, like wind power and white roofs), and what research should be invested in to clean up other sectors of the economy in the future. The issue right now is that it's confusing to figure out what to buy into if you want to help the environment. The goal is to make the easy and sustainable choices ASAP so that we don't need to go for esoteric geoengineering when things get out of hand. Nobody really wants to spray sulfur in the air to blot out the sun or dump iron oxide in the ocean to spur on plankton growth, but that might be what happens if this gets out of hand.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:04 AM on October 19, 2009


Saying that you shouldn't base your comments on photographs of the pages of a book, rather then the book itself makes little sense.

Ceci n'est pas un livre?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:16 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


they all had the "computer programmer who figured out computers, and subsequently thinks they can figure out anything" personality

Somehow relevant:

Applied Philosophy, a.k.a. "Hacking"
posted by dragonsi55 at 8:23 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This kind of argument is sort of what drives me nuts about the whole climate change thing. Because there is, I believe, a position that is sanely scientific -- and science is at heart a skeptical pursuit -- without disagreeing with any of the important conclusions of anyone who believes wholeheartedly in the worst doomsday predictions of Global Warming.

I occasionally try to explain my view of this to certain close friends, and it usually doesn't really go well. So what the hell, right, I'll try it here amongst strangers too. I expect it won't go well. Please try to read what I'm actually saying:

Things I believe:

* The pollution and generalized havoc that humans have wrought and continue to wreak upon the earth's land, water, and atmosphere are a very bad idea, and they have and will continue to fuck us unless we change our ways.

* All the things that climate change promoters (for lack of a better term) tell us we need to do are good ideas.

* Global CO2 (and other greenhouse gas) concentrations are increasing at a rate beyond any we could reasonably expect to be "natural", as far as we are able to measure and discover from other climate records.

* The temperature of the earth's atmosphere is rising, and appears to strongly correlate with greenhouse gas concentrations.

So, in effect, I have no practical argument with anyone who accepts as permanent truth the current scientific consensus on climate change. What you're all saying we need to do? I agree. We need to do that. There are any number of excellent reasons that we need to change the way we treat the only world we have.

And most of the time, I stop there. Cause the rest generally gets me branded a climate-change denier and chased out of town with torches and pitchforks. But that's not right, because the last thing I believe is what any scientifically-minded person should believe. Which is that the earth's climate is really unbelievably complicated, and we have just the faintest, foggiest idea how it might work. I do not, deep down, believe that we currently know the whole story. And what we don't know might turn out to be much, much worse than what we think we know now. But, too, it might not. I just can't put any sense of abiding faith in even the most well-meaning and thoughtful consensus of a science that is younger than my dad.

And this seems pretty reasonable to me. But as it superficially resembles the "Well let's wait and see" nonsense of people who have short-sighted reasons not to make changes we self-evidently should make, it sets off "denier!" alarms in a lot of people who really ought to know better. And that means that there isn't really any way to say, in polite society, that we might not know all there is to know. And most of the time I don't even think it's worth it, because doing something now is more important than a fairly academic distinction between science and Received Truth. But the underlying position of ignorance that says no one may say such heresy still bothers me. So... try not to be that person that sacrifices reasonable scientific skepticism on the altar of necessary social engineering. I guess that's all. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.
posted by rusty at 9:10 AM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Superfreakonomics

Not to be confused with another book with the same name by Rick James.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:14 AM on October 19, 2009


Hm. Since it's probably not at all clear from the above -- what's I'm responding to here is Levitt and Dubner's characterization of the climate change movement as a religion, which is exactly the feeling that bothers me about it, and is generally one of the triggers that get peple attacked and branded deniers. To put it more succinctly: The science is real and scary, as far as we can tell. But the movement is a religion, and that kind of creeps me out. I have made my peace with it, as I wholly agree with its goals, but I don't really like it.
posted by rusty at 9:15 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The science is real and scary, as far as we can tell. But the movement is a religion, and that kind of creeps me out. I have made my peace with it, as I wholly agree with its goals, but I don't really like it.
Aren't people with that kind of attitude that you reflect the sort of people who Leavitt and the WSJ editorial page is sort of appealing to in order to make converts? Basically the people who might under normal circumstances accept the reality of human-caused climate change but are looking for another "tribal identity" that will accept them. And there is another "tribal identity" for those people: it's called climate change denialism! And it's conservative! And populated by rich people! And you get to hate hippies! And people will think you're oh-so-transgressive and contrarian!
posted by deanc at 9:28 AM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


- what's I'm responding to here is Levitt and Dubner's characterization of the climate change movement as a religion, which is exactly the feeling that bothers me about it,
I'm really at a loss to figure out how one could categorize claimate change researchers, findings by the IPCC, and advocates of lowering carbon emissions through various mechanisms (eg, cap & trade) as "a religion." Do you have any specific examples?
posted by deanc at 9:32 AM on October 19, 2009


Have any of the 'climate change' models accounted for the Little Ice Age?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:37 AM on October 19, 2009


I'm really at a loss to figure out how one could categorize climate change researchers, findings by the IPCC, and advocates of lowering carbon emissions through various mechanisms (eg, cap & trade) as "a religion." Do you have any specific examples?

No (mind you, I'm not the person you're asking), but I think the 'religion' bit revolves more around the perceived reactions to disagreement among those who believe we're causing climate change. That is to say, they get righteous angry about it.

That's how I took it, anyway.
posted by Pragmatica at 9:44 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm really at a loss to figure out how one could categorize claimate change researchers, findings by the IPCC, and advocates of lowering carbon emissions through various mechanisms (eg, cap & trade) as "a religion."

I think you're missing his point. Given that most people lack the background to critically evaluate something like the IPCC reports, one more or less have to rely on their conclusions. He's uncomfortable with people who are the most zealous about global warming, because they, like him, probably don't actually understand the science behind it.
posted by electroboy at 9:45 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I couldn't disagree more. There's no reason to censor anything or anybody: the climate-change denires are craven economically motivated liars, and in the wrong. Let them speak. They damn themselves, and I sincerely doubt that they endanger us. The danger comes from our actions - our consumption - not speech.

Actually they do endanger us, because the FUD they create allows our businesses and governments (and us) to keep on delaying any sort of real meaningful action to try to mitigate climate change. We wasted the last eight years, just treading water. Lots of words, lots of doubt, study after study, but no real action. The deniers are getting exactly what they want.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:09 AM on October 19, 2009


I think global warming is more credible than not. I think you don't demand certainty on this sort of stuff, if there was a comet that had a 25% chance of hitting earth and doing the kind of damage that global warming could do we wouldn't say "we need to be 100% sure before we even lift a finger". I think people including scientists might be overconfident about global warming and it's effects. Maybe, I don't have anyway of knowing for sure. But so what? In the absense of complete confidence the correct answer isn't do nothing. These are the same people who thought that we should invade Iraq on the slim chance that they in the future developed a nuclear weapon and might use it on us somehow. They couldn't have been sure it was actually going to happen. They didn't need to be 100% sure before they actually took innocent human lives to try a solution that might not even fix the problem if it existed in the first place. But now they need certainty before we do anything as conservative as a revenue neutral carbon tax. Even if they roll the dice and it works out that global warming isn't really happening their entire decision making hueristic is broken.
posted by I Foody at 10:18 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


> The peer-reviewed science journals can remain, and we'll give the scientists of the world the chance to nut things out. Let them play with the data, evaluate how reliable it is, consider all the various influences and effects, and then come out with a worldwide press release

You mean things like this and this?
posted by Bangaioh at 10:20 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


And that means that there isn't really any way to say, in polite society, that we might not know all there is to know.

I think your ire should be directed at the people who take your sentiment and use it to manipulate and deceive, rather than the people who accidentally lump you in with the intentional deceivers.
posted by diogenes at 10:24 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


it was my impression that they weren't denying climate change or being contrarians for the sake of it - no, the main point of that chapter is that they're wondering if it might be more cost effective and politically possible to pump something into the atmosphere that would reduce the greenhouse effect than to reduce it by regulating industry

i have a lot of doubts about that, but it would be better if people could discuss that issue than all the he said/he said, holy eco-cow tribal stuff that this seems to be centered on
posted by pyramid termite at 10:25 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those freakonomics guys have proven time and time again that they are total idiots.
posted by snofoam at 10:30 AM on October 19, 2009


And yet they make lots of money - it's freakanomical!
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on October 19, 2009


Aren't people with that kind of attitude that you reflect the sort of people who Leavitt and the WSJ editorial page is sort of appealing to in order to make converts? Basically the people who might under normal circumstances accept the reality of human-caused climate change but are looking for another "tribal identity" that will accept them.

Yes, probably. I'm not climbing on board that train, though. I hope that my viewpoint won't coax anyone else aboard either.

I think the 'religion' bit revolves more around the perceived reactions to disagreement among those who believe we're causing climate change. That is to say, they get righteous angry about it.

Exactly. The actual scientists virtually never hit this note. Brad DeLong's blog, linked copiously above, is a veritable symphony of it. It's all insinuations and "I believe that [blah blah blah...] am I wrong?" To be read in proper faux-solicitous voice of someone who damn well knows that he's repeating what his audience wants to hear. If DeLong wanted to debunk particular claims, why isn't he doing it? If the science is there, show it to me. I want to see it. But he's not doing that -- he's just adding to the circus.

And, having now read the rest of the chapter I have to say that Dubner and Levitt hit it too, on the other side. Wouldn't it be so pleasant and just so to think we could solve this whole problem of pumping one chemical into the atmosphere by pumping another chemical into it? Blah.

My point is that the things we don't know, we actually don't know. You don't get to start by dismissing coarse atmospheric models, and then say that releasing sulfur dioxide is no biggie. You don't effing know that either.

He's uncomfortable with people who are the most zealous about global warming, because they, like him, probably don't actually understand the science behind it.

Exactly this.

Actually they do endanger us, because the FUD they create allows our businesses and governments (and us) to keep on delaying any sort of real meaningful action to try to mitigate climate change.

And that is why I rarely even mention this little footnote to my own thoughts on climate change. Because even if it turns out to be a mistake, or be compensated for by some other process we don't know of yet, there is no reason not to change the way we act, and as soon as we possibly can. So the zealots' goals and my goals are the same, and I also don't believe that the goal of reducing worldwide carbon emissions necessarily dooms billions of human beings to a lower standard of living, which is the main argument against it. We can waste a whole lot less. I, personally, probably waste sufficient resources to bring ten other people up to my standard of living, without me noticing any decline.

The aura of science-as-revelation that surrounds climate change right now, though, is disturbing. Science doesn't play very well as religion, and when it's treated as religion, trouble tends to follow.
posted by rusty at 10:47 AM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


If DeLong wanted to debunk particular claims, why isn't he doing it?

All the particular claims that Levitt and Dubner make in their chapter have been debunked many times over.

For example, they lead off the chapter talking about the 1970s "global cooling" scare. That is the claim that leading climate scientists published research in the 1970s that said the earth was about to head into an imminent global cooling. Since the earth actually got warmer, deniers use the global cooling claim to say "we can't trust the climate models" or "first the experts said cooling, now they say warming. They don't know what they're talking about."

The claim that there was a consensus in the 1970s that the earth was about to cool is total bunk and has been known to be bunk for many years. Not one peer-reviewed paper has ever been found that claims the earth was headed toward imminent cooling. Coolling as we head into the next ice age in several thousand years yes, but not an imminent cooling.

If it has been known to be false for years why did Dubner and Levitt repeat it? The definitive debunking is easy enough to find. It seems to me they were either lazy or the false claim just happened to fit their narrative. Either way it doesn't say much about their scholarship.
posted by plastic_animals at 11:25 AM on October 19, 2009


The aura of science-as-revelation that surrounds climate change right now, though, is disturbing.

Science often includes a certain level of revelation for lay people. For example, I have to take the word of cosmologists on pretty much everything they say. But I'm confident that the scientific method produces truth over time. I have no choice but to have some faith in the consensus opinion of experts. I do my best to understand things myself, but at a certain point of complexity that isn't an option.

In the case of climate change, yeah, I have to rely on scientific consensus. What other choice do I have? If that consensus changes, I'll change my actions accordingly.

I think it's unfair to call people who put themselves in the same camp as the current consensus view zealots. And maybe you're not doing that. Maybe you're only referring to a few bloggers, but I'm unclear on how broad your brush is.
posted by diogenes at 11:27 AM on October 19, 2009


The aura of science-as-revelation that surrounds climate change right now, though, is disturbing. Science doesn't play very well as religion, and when it's treated as religion, trouble tends to follow.

I think that's a categorization that's better applied to the climate change denier set, with the religion being conservative/libertarian politics. The idea of climate change, and its potential impact on business-as-usual, plays havoc with certain fundamentalist ideas like: there are no limits; markets are great and must be completely de-regulated; markets can solve all problems; governments shouldn't interfere in economic systems; human ingenuity can overcome all obstacles. The people that I see in the media and on the Net (and those I know personally, for that matter) who argue against climate change are almost without exception people who started with a right-wing political mindset, and I find it hard to believe that they are simply and dispassionately engaging with the scientific evidence and finding it wanting, and that their opposition has nothing to do with their religious faith, sorry, political beliefs.

This really shouldn't be an issue. The science is pretty clear, and it's a controversy only because fundamentalism is involved, and powerful special interests are threatened by a change to the status quo.

Have I hammered home the equivalence between climate change deniers and creationists sufficiently for everyone?
posted by daveje at 11:28 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rusty: If you want to feel secure in understanding climate science, why don't you make the effort to learn it?
posted by delmoi at 11:40 AM on October 19, 2009


From my point of view, having read multiple books climatologists have written on this issue, they've taken great pains to point out the reasons why they feel the global warming trend is real, and why they consider CO2 to be a major culprit. The major uncertainties right now isn't "if," it's "how much," "how fast," and "what will happen beyond 2100?"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:41 AM on October 19, 2009


Hahah, speaking of Denialist news There was a hoax press release about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce no longer opposing climate change legislation, and lots of news organizations fell for it. This is obviously going to draw even more attention to their denalism.

(Is it just me or does it seem like there have been a lot of big hoaxes lately?)
posted by delmoi at 11:44 AM on October 19, 2009


I think that's a categorization that's better applied to the climate change denier set

In all fairness, it's a categorization that can be applied to any 'set' that begins with a conclusion and reacts violently to any conflicting information.
posted by Pragmatica at 11:46 AM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This really shouldn't be an issue. The science is pretty clear, and it's a controversy only because fundamentalism is involved, and powerful special interests are threatened by a change to the status quo.

Have I hammered home the equivalence between climate change deniers and creationists sufficiently for everyone?


Yes, but of course this happens not it's just on climate, but in any instance where science clashes with the industrial status quo. There are books, magazines, journals and academic departments devoted (in part or in whole) just to this topic.
posted by peppito at 11:52 AM on October 19, 2009


no, the main point of that chapter is that they're wondering if it might be more cost effective and politically possible to pump something into the atmosphere that would reduce the greenhouse effect than to reduce it by regulating industry

From RealClimate: "Geo-engineering is neither cheap, nor a fix, and the reasons why it is very likely to be a bad idea are ethical and legal, much more than its still-uncertain scientific merits"

Royal Society report on geoengineering.
posted by Bangaioh at 11:52 AM on October 19, 2009


Real climate change zealots aren't religious in the sense of treating a particular text as revealed truth, but they do have a certainty of belief and reaction to criticism that mirrors that of, say, a doctrinaire Communist from the 1970s. The views of sympathetic moderates (like rusty) are attacked for being insufficiently radical - isolating the zealots in a defensive, even paranoid, belief structure that prevents them from being able to make their case effectively.

Example: the C-word exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol, which I saw the other day. It was - and I say this as someone with a strong green streak - absolutely insufferably self-righteous, mixing up attacks on air travel and car use with attacks on medical innovation (a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies) and mobile telecommunications (entirely wasteful and unnecessary). I don't think you need to be the American Enterprise Institute to doubt the directness of the link between my iPhone and catastrophic climate change.
posted by athenian at 12:43 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Example: the C-word exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol, which I saw the other day. It was - and I say this as someone with a strong green streak - absolutely insufferably self-righteous, mixing up attacks on air travel and car use with attacks on medical innovation
So on one hand, you have the American Enterprise Institute, Chamber of Commerce, spokespeople for the RNC, and right-wing talk radio personalities with millions of listeners on the "fanatics denying the reality of climate change with quasi-religious fervor." And on the other hand you have some guys who got an art exhibition in Bristol on the "fanatics overreacting to the reality of climate change."

Yeah, I'm really thinking this is all about "balancing against the two sides."
posted by deanc at 12:56 PM on October 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Real climate change zealots aren't religious in the sense of treating a particular text as revealed truth, but they do have a certainty of belief and reaction to criticism that mirrors that of, say, a doctrinaire Communist from the 1970s.

Jeez, you guys are hanging out at the wrong parties. I hang out in do-gooder circles, but so far I've managed to avoid this plague of climate change zealots.
posted by diogenes at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2009


Diogenes/deanc - don't get me wrong, I don't think that the artist/activists should be stopped, are everywhere or are as much of a threat as the well-funded denier lobby. I'm just saying that they do exist.
posted by athenian at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2009


Diogenes/deanc - don't get me wrong, I don't think that the artist/activists should be stopped, are everywhere or are as much of a threat as the well-funded denier lobby. I'm just saying that they do exist.
Fair enough, you're right. But there is a big temptation to make a false equivalence between some artists somewhere and a well-funded corporate lobby and talking points machines actively lying about the reality of climate change. It's tempting to want to position yourself as "the reasonable person" between two "extremes," but in this case they're in no way equivalent.
posted by deanc at 1:18 PM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rusty: If you want to feel secure in understanding climate science, why don't you make the effort to learn it?

Because without getting a degree in meterology, oceanography or a related science, working in the field and keeping up with the current state of the science, you're an advanced layman at best. I'm certainly not saying it's unknowable, but I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect more than a basic functional understanding of it.

However, I think most reasonable people would agree that: a.) the consensus scientific opinion is that global warming is real and a serious problem, and b.) the stakes are so high that we can't afford to ignore it. The really difficult part is figuring out how bad it's going to be and how much we should spend/do to mitigate it.
posted by electroboy at 1:19 PM on October 19, 2009


The views of sympathetic moderates (like rusty) are attacked for being insufficiently radical - isolating the zealots in a defensive, even paranoid, belief structure that prevents them from being able to make their case effectively.

Given the overwhelming scientific consensus, it seems to me that the climate change denier community is having absolutely no problem in making its case, if media coverage is anything to go by. The problem isn't inability to make their case. The problem is media attention that's out of proportion to our current scientific understanding of the issue.

The climate change deniers need to do two things. First, poke successful holes in the existing theories. Secondly, come up with an explanation for the recent temperature rises and climate changes that are already happening that:

a) fully explains the observed phenomena, and;
b) outweighs the known and well-understood impact of massively increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

They haven't been able to successfully do either of these things, but it's certainly not from lack of ability in getting across their message.
posted by daveje at 1:24 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, they're smearing all the criticisms as a "smear" while avoiding substantive responses completely.

Revealing, that.
posted by mediareport at 1:29 PM on October 19, 2009


The way things are going, I think we're going to need both CO2 reduction and geo-engineering. Reducing CO2 isn't going stop global warming right away, and anyway, people are just talking about the stopping the growth of CO2 emission.
posted by delmoi at 1:31 PM on October 19, 2009


The climate change deniers need to do two things. First, poke successful holes in the existing theories. Secondly, come up with an explanation for the recent temperature rises

The climate change denier movement is not interested in the scientific method or evidence-based inquiry. The entire point of this top-down, pseudo-grassroots movement is to create enough noise to confuse people, and to obfuscate the issue in the media, IOW to play up the controversy. Their goal is to kill any related legislation which would deal with the issue and potentially have a negative effect on their corporate clients, not to engage in scientific research. If they need research, they can always pay someone to do it in a way which most scientists would dismiss but which might convince a lot of non-scientific people, and of course which would come up with the same conclusions that they wanted to begin with. They don't seek truth or need evidence: if they need to, they'll make it up, without hesitation.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:18 PM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I was thinking of posting this, but I didn't want to round up all of the blog posts relating to it. That's the problem with blog controversy, there's no good way to link to "it"

That is, until someone does a Metafilter post.

-
posted by General Tonic at 5:17 PM on October 19, 2009


I think this bears repeating:

The trouble is that it only takes one wrong person in a room of 100 right people to turn a "consensus" into a "debate".

Rational minds just cannot win - hyperbole and blatant contempt of the facts are displayed unashamedly by those without the data on their side but if those on the side of consensus stoop to the same tactics they immediately get balled out for it.

And I've just tied myself into a knot here. My stance is that climate science should be left to those who study the climate, not armchair critics with the scantest association with the data and their own greedy agendas. Somehow the whole debate has been framed so that I appear to be some loony pinko treehugging terrorist if I say so and the self-same armchair critics get to call themselves skeptics who are bravely fighting against some murky groupthink agenda.

It would be great if we could just ignore the blow-hards and get on with trying to do somethng about the state of the environment, but somehow they seem to be winning. Even doing nothing lets them win and yet they are the brave contrarians?
posted by JustAsItSounds at 5:37 PM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


me: I would place the blame for the irritation on me. I had hoped to find higher authorial and journalistic standards in the works than that found in the corpus of Seth Godin.

weston: "You're welcome to complaints about Gladwell, but putting them all in the same boat seems like a pretty big mistake to me. And I think it's hard to argue there aren't higher standards in Gladwell's work than Godin's."

Mea culpa. My rhetoric stands proven overly rhetorical. Again, I would place the blame for the irritation on me. I still start in with the tooth-grinding when reading any of the cited authors.
posted by mwhybark at 7:35 PM on October 19, 2009


apparently climate change isn't the only field in which these guys are rather clueless
posted by Think_Long at 11:36 AM on October 20, 2009


w.r.t contrast of gladwell w/ levitt/dubner, i've been on threads discussing gladwell's work where he showed up & proceeded to actually have a discussion w/ critics. i.e. he seems more driven by desire to know & tell stories than to be right.
posted by lodurr at 7:51 PM on October 21, 2009


Rusty above reflects my own position so precisely that I had to check I was not him.

Another thing that depresses me is the constant tarring and feathering of any scientist that contests, however slightly, the consensus models on climate change, as a "denier" and a deliberate fraud.

I live on a coastal town. I have a six-months-old daughter. I worry. That for me is a reason to double- and triple-check the models, and to contest them at every chance, to poke at them and kick their tires till we not only have a better idea of what's going on, but what can we do to fix it (or to survive it, I am kind of a pessimist there). Shouting down every voice that says "yes, but what about..." is not the way to go.
posted by kandinski at 9:06 AM on October 22, 2009


Shouting down every voice that says "yes, but what about..." is not the way to go.

true enough. but neither is glib advocacy of outrageously dangerous and consequence-laden "quick"/"cheap" fixes.
posted by lodurr at 9:14 AM on October 22, 2009


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