Yesterday, SuperFreakonomics co-author Steven Levitt said his book’s erroneous statement on recent global temperature trends was just an attempt at “irony” (see Caldeira “” “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.” Levitt “said he does not believe there is a cooling trend”!!).He and coauthor Stephen Dubner also continued their national media disinformation tour on public radio’s Diane Rehm Show. I couldn’t stomach listening to their efforts to either walk back or obfuscate key errors and misrepresentations in their book error-riddled book. Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has a stronger digestive system than I do, so he listened to the show and I’ll repost his response.
Levitt and Dubner dismissed the widespread criticism of their book by Nobel Prize-winning economists and climate scientists as the “work of an activist,” evidently referring to physicist and former Department of Energy official Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Levitt and Dubner even tried to laugh off the on-air criticism of Dr. Peter Frumhoff, a global change ecologist who is the director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The authors represent their book as merely a quizzical look at interesting issues, without “a moral or policy perspective”:
Just in case you’re happening upon this conversation in the middle and haven’t grasped the kind of perspective that we’re coming from “” we don’t write about prostitution, or terrorism, or global warming or any of these things, really, from a moral or policy perspective. We just try to lay out what’s going on and from that let people proceed how they want to think about it or how they want to draw conclusions. So this is not meant to be an endorsement or a condemnation of any of these things. We’re just trying to figure out what’s going on.
[JR: In short, readers can safely ignore all of their conclusions.]
This depiction, like most of the SuperFreaks’ defense of their work, bears little resemblance to the actual text. The authors discuss global warming explicitly through a “policy perspective”:
It is this specter of catastrophe, no matter how remote, that has propelled global warming to the forefront of public policy. . . . So how should we place a value on this relatively small chance of worldwide catastrophe? . . . One good reason for waiting is that we might have options in the future to avert the problem that cost far less than today’s options.
The authors condemn a broad array existing policy efforts: to limit carbon dioxide emissions (“not the right villain”), to establish carbon pricing (“all we can say is good luck”), expand renewable energy (“cute”), limit deforestation (trees are an “environmental scourge”), clean up transportation (“not that big of a sector”), or reduce coal use (“economic suicide”).
They also discuss global warming explicitly through a “moral perspective,” condemning “the movement to stop global warming has taken on the feel of a religion,” with a “high priest,” “patron saint,” and “doomsayers” responsible for a “drumbeat of doom.” The authors quote Microsoft billionaire Nathan Myhrvold, who accuses advocates of policies other than geo-engineering of being “global-warming activists” who want to “do a set of things that could have enormous impact “” and we think probably negative impact “” on human life.”
On the other hand, the SuperFreaks provide a strong endorsement for pumping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere forever as a “cheap and simple solution” that is “practically free” with a “proof of harmlessness.” Its biggest problem, they claim, is that it is “too simple and too cheap.” They claim climate scientist Ken Caldeira has endorsed this policy “solution,” but policymakers only listen to “people like Al Gore,” who think “it’s nuts.” Somehow Levitt and Dubner fail to mention that Caldeira himself has actually said the SuperFreaks’ policy perspective is ridiculous:
As a long-term strategy, it’s nuts.
Bizarrely, Levitt and Dubner never once mention the one policy area that is universally recognized as being “cheap and simple” by economists and scientists alike “” boring energy efficiency. Guess they were too busy chatting with call girls and mosquito-laser billionaires.
Update: During the interview, Levitt dismisses ocean acidification as something that isn’t “an incredibly big problem,” concedes that geo-engineering “isn’t a perfect solution” and admits that “we won’t solve this without dealing with the carbon issue,” but then calls geo-engineering “a solution to a particular problem” (namely, the warming of the earth).
— Brad Johnson
- Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” “” and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places.
- Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 2: Who else have Nathan Myhrvold and the Groupthinkers at Intellectual Ventures duped and confused? Would you believe Bill Gates and Warren Buffett?
- Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 3: It takes a village to debunk their anti-scientific nonsense
- Error-riddled Superfreakonomics, Part 4: They get the economics dead wrong, too, and their response to critics is full of misrepresentations, just like their book
- Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics. Dubner is baffled that Caldeira ‘doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.’