BPSDBA week ago Joseph Romm fired the opening salvo in what became a hail of criticism of the forthcoming book “Superfreakonomics” by Levitt and Dubner, particularly the climate change chapter which had been circulating on the web (albeit probably illicitly). Now the authors have begun to reply to their critics, or at least put out what they claim is a reply … or as Only in it for the Gold put it “The authors, Dubner and Levitt, are busily jumping the shark …”
I was late in making it to the freak show and had not actually read any of the critiques when the authors began to reply. As such I thought it would be interesting to discuss their reply rather than the climate chapter itself, particularly given the rather thorough treatment it has been getting (below). Thus I have read the critiques and the relevant parts of the book only after Levitt or Dubner framed it first.
Levitt begins his defense in The Rumors of Our Global-Warming Denial Are Greatly Exaggerated by emphasizing that the book “isn’t even on sale yet“, that critics are attacking it “before they’d even read the book“, “attacks on our chapter about global warming are already underway“, and “The bottom line is that the foundation of these attacks is essentially fraudulent.” Sure sounds like a reasonable point to make in their defense, that the critiques are uninformed and speculative … except of course it’s totally disingenuous.
The climate change chapter has been circulating on the web and the criticisms are clearly based on it, in most cases using direct quotes and page references. To suggest (without explicitly stating it) that people have not read the work is transparently false, albeit a technique the authors seem to favour.
Further, while the book itself may not be out, the authors have been going around doing interviews with titles like “Superfreakonomics: Everything you know about Global Warming is wrong” where they are said to be claiming a number of patently outrageous things such as CO2 not being the main culprit and implying that the most recent post-peak cooler phase is somehow more significant than every other one that has followed a peak year.
Levitt’s answer? ‘We are not climate change Deniers!’ Ummm, hate to tell you, but that’s not a response to specific criticisms. In fact it dodges them completely while pretending to having somehow addressed them, as if by that statement we are to understand they accept the very scientific facts that they are implying are wrong.
All told this initial retort is no more than a promise to thoroughly address the critics later while dodging the real questions and giving incomplete and out of context information. Not a promising start.
The follow-up Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear by Dubner continues where Levitt left off, in style and substance (or rather, lack of it) at least. The section “What we actually say in the book” does just that, restate certain points from the book that by and large do not address the specific criticisms, but instead simply talk around them.
Specific rebuttals are even worse. Debner says “If someone interprets our brief mention of the global-cooling scare of the 1970’s as an assertion of “a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling,” that feels like a willful misreading.”
I call bullshit. Reading the chapter in question (yes, I managed to get a copy, which I am happily deleting once this piece is done) there is no way a naive reader would interpret what they write as anything but suggesting that there had been a consensus on global cooling in the 1970s, even though the authors do not explicitly say so in so many words.
In what is typical Denier fashion they begin with some media anecdotes about global cooling and then state “what these scientists were talking about.” Not “a few” or “some” scientists, but an indeterminate “these scientists.” Yes, it is strictly true that the statement is referring only to those referenced earlier, but in the absence of any qualifiers or clarifications one is left with the impression that “these scientists” is somehow representative of broader opinion.
A few paragraphs later we learn that “These days, of course, the threat is the opposite” (pg 166) without any qualification about the difference between the science then and now. The authors are clearly juxtaposing and equating the fringe, speculative 1970s global cooling science with the current evidence based consensus on anthropogenic climate change. It does not take a deliberate misreading to arrive at this conclusion. The authors are clearly being deliberately obtuse while leaving room for the plausible deniability that Dubner is disingenuously invoking.
And on it goes;
Criticism, ‘the views of Caldeira have been misrepresented’
Response, “we asked Myhrvold, Caldeira, Wood, and others to review the first draft of our chapter and give us any and all feedback and corrections. We incorporated many of their suggestions into our next draft”
Again they are dodging the question; that is not a response to the criticism even though it is pretending to be. Did you misrepresent Caldeira or not? provide evidence!
Now it is true that the bulk of the chapter is about how to respond to climate change, and Levitt and others have more or less argued that ‘so what does it matter if there are some minor errors in the lead up.’ Well:
- the errors aren’t minor;
- How you define a problem dictates the possible answers;
- show it if they’re really inconsequential, then own them and move on;
- what does it tell us about the quality of your work, including the promotion of geo-engineering?
Speaking of #4, Levitt and Dubner put a great deal of effort into arguing that we know too little about climate science to know what is really going on, and then turn around and suggest that we know enough to start seriously messing with the system.
Of course the “stratoshield” proposal they advocate has many potential problems, not the least of them that it is not a solution but rather an amelioration of one of the symptoms (ie heat) and does not address for eg ocean acidification at all. For more see:
- Why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering and why they are wrong
- The Geoengineering Quandary (In Living Color)
As for the rest, I think Stoat‘s summary describes it very well:
“Diagnosis, in brief: (1) they write about stuff they clearly don’t understand (2) they pick a catchy reverse-common-wisdom nugget as a headliner without the having the slightest interest in whether it is true or not (mind you, plenty of more respectable folk do the same) (3) they pick an expert to talk to, but since they don’t have a clue about the subject they don’t know how to pick a good expert, or even understand what the expert says (4) there is a grain of sense in there, but so badly wrapped in trash it is nearly unfindable.”
They had a chance to establish their credibility by providing credible refutations where they could, or by acknowledging error when they could not.
Instead they have opted for a Nixonian “I am not a Denier” strategy and, at least in my eyes, have thoroughly discredited themselves. John Quiggin sums it up nicely …
“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.”
UPDATE Oct 21 : Deltoid isn’t very impressed with the Freaks rebuttal either;
- 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, but why did they stop Amazon from allowing text searches?
- 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
- Part 5: Error-riddled Superfreakonomics claims Caldeira’s “research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain.” Caldeira updates his website to read “Carbon dioxide is the right villain.”
- Anatomy of a debunking: Caldeira says Superfreakonomics is “damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and filled with “many” misleading statements. Dubner continues to make false statements, parroted by Pielke and Morano. DeLong urges authors to “abjectly apologize” for the chapter.
- Paul Krugman Goes Meta
- Why Everything in Superfreakonomics About Global Warming Is Wrong
New Book “SuperFreakonomics” Mischaracterizes Climate Science
- Superfreakonomics and the glory of contrarianism
- SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling (and some other stuff)?
- SuperFreakonomics Gets Climate Change Super Freaking Wrong
- Superfreakonomics Will Misinform Readers on Climate Science
- Superfreakonomics on climate, part 1
- Romm vs Freakshow II
- The Shoddy Statistics of Super Freakonomics
- Levitt and Dubner Disarm Themselves in Their Battle of Wits with Joe Romm…
- *Sigh* Last Post on Superfreakonomics, I Promise
- Six Questions for Levitt and Dubner (More Superfreakonomics Blogging)
- All Right. One More. I Gotta Correct the Record…
- Journalistic Malpractice From Leavitt and Dubner
- My review of Freakonomics 2
- Freakonomics update
- Expertise, and “expertise”
- FAIL: Superfreakonomics
- Super Freaks of the Economics Profession
- The SuperFreakonomics Debacle: An Overview
- Superfreakonomics: It’s getting hot in here
“Since 1982, spring in East Asia (defined here as the eastern third of China and the Korean Peninsula) has been warming at a rate of one degree Fahrenheit per decade.” Earth Gauge
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 358 … still no evidence.
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