Error-riddled ˜Superfreakonomics, Part 3: It takes a village to debunk their anti-scientific nonsense, but why did they stop Amazon from allowing text searches?

First a favor:  Please digg my original debunking of Superfreakonomics by clicking here.

I’m trying to draw as much attention as possible to the post since the book comes out Tuesday, it has a huge media blitz, and will be heavily reviewed.   My post already been referenced by Nobelist Paul Krugman on his blog (“A counterintuitive train wreck“) and Mother Jones (“The Freaky Science of SuperFreakonomics“) and Think Progress (“SuperFreakonomics Gets Climate Change Super Freaking Wrong,“Ž” among others.

What’s interesting is that since my original post and various other debunkings around the web, the publisher has stopped Amazon from allowing people to search the book.  It’s fairly common for publishers to allow such searching, though not all do — see Amazon bestseller list here.  But 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 and not bother buying the book, which at least for now has dropped down to #9 on Amazon (it was 3 or 4 over the weekend).

Obviously, a book that contains the sentence, “Any religion, meanwhile, has its heretics, and global warming is no exception,” is anti-scientific.  But probably the worst thing about the book from the point of view of spreading anti-scientific disinformation is the use of the phrase “global cooling” in the subtitle, SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.  Millions of people who never even buy the book will now be subjected to that long-debunked piece of nonsense in book reviews and elsewhere.  The book hits the trifecta of global cooling mistakes:

  1. The climate chapter begins with a full page pushing the myth that there was some sort of scientific consensus about global cooling in the 1970s.  Not — see “Killing the myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus.”  The chapter leads off with a NYT article, but, as we’ve seen, even The NYT‘s climate coverage in 1970s was a megaphone for science, not ‘global cooling’ alarmism.
  2. The chapter pushes the “we’re cooling now myth.”  On page 186, Levitt and Dubner write, “Then there’s this little-discussed fact about global warming: while the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature during that time has in fact decreased.”  Sadly, it isn’t “little discussed” — the deniers and media have been pushing this for months now, so it doesn’t even qualify as a contrarian view, just utter rubbish, the kind of conventional wisdom these guys used to debunk.  See The BBC asks “What happened to global warming?” during the hottest decade in recorded history! and Skeptical Science explains how we know global warming is happening: It’s the oceans, stupid! and NYT‘s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation.
  3. The chapter pushes the dystopic notion that the only “cooling” strategy we need to address global warming is pumping massive amounts of acid rain pollution into the atmostphere, which I (and Caldeira and Robock) debunk in Part 1 and Part 2:

Frankly, it’s not possible for one person to debunk every error and illogical statement in just that one chapter — and I haven’t even gotten to the economics, which has one of the biggest blunders of all, as we’ll see.  Fortunately, lots of other people are joining in.  The Union of Concerned Scientists has a thorough debunking of the science here,  summarized below:

New Book “SuperFreakonomics” Mischaracterizes Climate Science

A follow-up to the bestselling book “Freakonomics” features a chapter that grossly mischaracterizes climate science, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The new book, “SuperFreakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, is slated to be officially released on October 20, 2009. Experts at UCS found that the fifth chapter of the book, “Global Cooling,” repeats a large number of easily discredited arguments regarding climate science, energy production, and geoengineering.

The authors appear to have taken a purposefully contrarian position on climate change science and economics. While such a position may help draw attention to their book, their reliance on faulty arguments and distorted statistics does a disservice to their readers.

In chapter five, the authors:

Please put links to any other debunkings into the comments section.

And please digg my original debunking of Superfreakonomics by clicking here.  I am in the process of adding back a Digg counter just for these instances when I might have a post of interest to a much wider audience.

UPDATE:  Here’s another great takedown, by Deltoid, see “Why Everything in Superfreakonomics About Global Warming Is Wrong.”

21 Responses to Error-riddled ˜Superfreakonomics, Part 3: It takes a village to debunk their anti-scientific nonsense, but why did they stop Amazon from allowing text searches?

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Let’s be clear:
    Levitt and Dubner are lying to their readers.
    And they know it.
    And they are doing it for money.
    They are not “getting it wrong” —
    They are deliberately lying, for money.
    It’s as simple as that.

  2. Arthur Smith says:

    It looks like one of the counterintuitive things they’ve discovered is: “lying is more profitable than telling the truth”. Perhaps thanks to efforts like yours, Joe, and the others out there, that one will be proved wrong too.

  3. Steve Bloom says:

    I don’t know, Arthur, it’s *still* working for Lomborg, although arguably he paid the price of giving up any hope of academic respectability.

  4. Craig S says:

    I learned that Levitt is speaking in Chicago mid-November and previously I had not intended to go but now I will, informed by the research Joe is helping compile, and will ask a pointed question or two — as well as share some salient facts for the audience. Further, I will be sharing this information with the group that invited him before-hand. I think it is important to find out what their promotional schedule is for the book where they are presenting their findings to audiences across the country. While the controversy might increase sales of their book, it is critical to voice concerns in public settings.

  5. Greg says:

    I never understood the excitement over “Freakonomics”, anyway. It made Levitt look like a backroom data drone who doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing, and it made Dubner look … uncritical, shall we say.

    Well, give ’em enough rope, as the saying goes. And here we are.

  6. Arthur Smith says:

    “manpollo” has collected links to articles critiquing the book here:

  7. Lloyd Apter says:

    Who really cares what this gentleman is writing. I don’t, it’s wasted energy and focus. now enables most* family in the USA that lives in a home the ability to convert to solar with a 5 year return.

    So, where should our energy be now? You tell me please.

    * sadly unfortunately that it can’t be right now all but that is the mission

  8. Lloyd Apter says:

    This is the way my thoughts flow – apologies for the very poor grammar. Next post will be properly checked.

  9. John Mashey says:

    Here are some facts: maybe someone can cogitate on them.

    a) This is published by William Morrow, which was acquired in 1999, and is an imprint of:

    b) Harper Collins, which is owned by:

    c) Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

    [JR: And yet they published my book!]

  10. mike roddy says:

    Thanks, Arthur, good links.

    There’s a minor rebellion going on at Dot Earth over Andy’s habit of implicitly giving credence to even the gnarliest of deniers there. You and Ike Solem were the best posters there. I see you’ve left, but you may want to sit in on the ongoing argument I’m having over the DE McIntyre piece and the recent one over readers’ comments in the print edition. It’s all about Andy’s tone, and apparent timidity.

    Maybe there’s something about the whole Times culture that’s hopeless- except, of course, for Krugman- but their broad readership and fraying traditions make this slog worth it. I only wish we still heard from people like you and Ike, instead of leaving the dirty work to amateurs like me and Tenney.

  11. Phil Eisner says:

    Keep up the great work, JR. It is vital to debunk an error-filled, destructive, yet supposedly factual book, that will soon be on the Top 10 list. Debate and debunking will help our cause. I hope to write a column in thealternativepress in the near future.

  12. Arthur Smith says:

    Mike (#10) – thanks, I still drop in on Dot Earth from time to time. I actually commented on the McIntyre thread – #83 – but I don’t find it particularly pleasant dealing with those guys – it seems like talking to a wall most of the time. So I do appreciate your compliments… I’ll check on the end of the thread now and see if there’s anything I can contribute.

  13. Anna Haynes says:

    Seems they’re a little unclear on the concept of crisis communications; and on, well, that “openness” thing.

    I will be very curious to see whether my latest Freakonomics blog comment attempt (submitted to this post), asking what their comment moderation policies are (and pointing out that they seem to be squelching some comments that link to critical reviews), survives moderation.

    It brings back the Kryptonite-Bic pen episode –
    “On Sept. 12 someone with the moniker “unaesthetic” posted in a group discussion site for bicycle enthusiasts a strange thing he or she had noticed: that the ubiquitous, U-shaped Kryptonite lock could be easily picked with a Bic ballpoint pen. Two days later a number of blogs, including the consumer electronics site Engadget, posted a video demonstrating the trick. “We’re switching to something else ASAP,” wrote Engadget editor Peter Rojas. On Sept. 16, Kryptonite issued a bland statement saying the locks remained a “deterrent to theft” and promising that a new line would be “tougher.” That wasn’t enough. (“Trivial empty answer,” wrote someone in the Engadget comments section.) Every day new bloggers began writing about the issue and talking about their experiences, and hundreds of thousands were reading about it. Prompted by the blogs, the New York Times and the Associated Press on Sept. 17 published stories about the problem–articles that set off a new chain of blogging. On Sept. 19, estimates Technorati, about 1.8 million people saw postings about Kryptonite (see chart).

    Finally, on Sept. 22, Kryptonite announced it would exchange any affected lock free. The company now expects to send out over 100,000 new locks. “It’s been–I don’t necessarily want to use the word ‘devastating’–but it’s been serious from a business perspective,” says marketing director Karen Rizzo. Kryptonite’s parent, Ingersoll-Rand, said it expects the fiasco to cost $10 million, a big chunk of Kryptonite’s estimated $25 million in revenues. Ten days, $10 million. “Had they responded earlier, they might have stopped the anger before it hit the papers and became widespread”…”

  14. Anna Haynes says:

    Yesterday (above) I noted that I’d submitted a Freakonomics blog comment asking about their moderation policies. (Actually, I submitted it twice.)

    It has not appeared on their blog. Here’s what it said:
    What are your blog comment moderation policies? There’ve been reports that some critical comments, and some comments linking to critical reviews, are submitted but don’t show up.

  15. Neal Heidler says:

    Dubner claims that the Superfreakonomics text has not yet, or ever been searchable at Amazon and that this is SOP:

    “The text was never searchable on Amazon for the simple reason that the book wasn’t yet published, which is standard procedure. I don’t know where Romm got this fact – or if perhaps it was just too good a rumor to not be true.”

    This quote is at the bottom of this post:

    Gavin Schmidt comments (@ # 2), and corroborates Joe’s charge:

    “With all due respect, the text at Amazon was indeed searchable at the time Romm posted his first post. It is not now. No conspiracy mongering, just observation.”

    The Superfreaks are digging themselves a freaky, and still-getting-deeper hole.

    What the heck are they thinking? Oh yeah…they know everything. That is a given!

  16. Anna Haynes says:

    I’ve emailed Amazon to ask why they turned it off.

  17. Anna Haynes says:

    I got (IMO) a non-answer from Amazon, in response to my Q asking why they had turned off “Search Inside the Book” for SuperFreakonomics –

    “In order to be part of the Search Inside! program, a book has to be approved for the program by the publisher or copyright holder.
    If you’d like to see this specific book included, please get in touch with the publisher or author and ask them to contact us with their approval. “

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    (but I’m retrying, and I’ve also sent an email asking their agent, Suzanne Gluck of William Morris Endeavor. A heads-up to sloppy readers – William Morris, agency != William Morrow, publisher)

    Joe Romm, a Q, since you’ve said the publisher sent you a “PDF takedown” email; was it from an address you can reply to, & if so, can you ask them if they also sent a “Search Inside takedown” to Amazon? thanks…

  19. Maj.srikanth says:

    all that stuff which is not authentic that has been written in the book, makes me want to ask just one question. can these guys be that super dumb or what is the other reason. i mean people cant make such baseless stupid mistakes just like that.

  20. Anna Haynes says:

    To wrap up the look behind the search inside –
    I didn’t get an email back from Dubner&Levitt agent Suzanne Gluck; I got another non-response response from Amazon (apparently actually reading the Q is beyond them – so in future, a phone call’s likely to be more effective) – and finally, Joe Romm explained what had happened in this later post – that Amazon had enabled “Search Inside” by accident (normally HarperCollins doesn’t make it available before a book gets published).

  21. Ryan says:

    I for one can’t wait to read this. That whole thing about shooting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere has me in stitches. Some people are taking this too seriously.

    “Once you eliminate the moralism and the angst, the task of reversing global warming boils down to a straightforward engineering problem,”


    As an engineer I think this is funny and not meant to be taken seriously. If it is serious, who cares? None of this will ever happen anyway, as long as you can’t buy a P.Eng online (Oh wait hahah).