Jon Stewart, Pwned! (by Jon Stewart)BPSDB
I was rereading Brad Johnson’s article about the Jon Stewart non-interview with Levitt of Superfreakonomics infamy when I realized that one of the links he provides is the Stewart interview on Crossfire…
Ouch, nasty, but so apropos. It brings up a couple of points worth mentioning in regard to the Levitt interview, so here is the Crossfire transcript, and here is the Crossfire interview:
Two points about the interview
1) Stewart is both clear and ruthless about how the failure of investigative journalism is damaging to society.
“…it’s not so much that it’s bad, as it’s hurting America … Right now, you’re helping the politicians and the corporations. … You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks …“
2) Carlson and Begala do challenge Stewart that he is no better, citing his interview with Kerry. Stewart responds that if they wish to compare themselves to a comedy show, that was fine with him. A number of people have made a similar point with regard to the Levitt interview, ie ‘come on, it’s a comedy show.’
Fair enough, up to a point, however:
- It is contextual, it may not be appropriate to hold comedy show interviews up to the same standards as a show that purports to be investigative journalism, but nontheless they are interviews, not comedy skits.
- Stewart’s comedy is largely acheived by contrasting people’s behaviour with reality and thereby exposing their absurdities and/or hypocrisy. Had Stewart been true to his comic style he would have been doing the same with Superfreakonomics, not doing a straight reading of the books absurd claims.
- Parroting Levitt’s talking points verbatum was not comedy, or to the extent that it was, only because those points are laughable. Stewart can’t have it both ways, ie be taken seriously when he is trashing Bush or Beck, but when caught spewing nonsense himself it’s “just comedy”
- “it’s comedy” is legitmate when it actually is comedy, but it’s not a universal excuse for every behaviour just because it happens on his show. In this instance it is as disingenous as the passive aggressive bullies who try to excuse every abuse with “I was just kidding.”
Levitt, Pwned for being uber lame
Over at RealClimate Raymond T. Pierrehumbert has written an “An open letter to Steve Levitt” that is well worth the read. In it he demonstrates just how easy it would have been for Superfreakonomics to get it right, and by implication, how inexcusable it is that they got it so badly wrong.
I have one minor quibble Ray, viz this statement:
“… what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right.“
Not that Ray reads this blog (or even should), but I did say “For the most part the problems are things that a bright high school senior should be expected to have gotten right, so it’s a shock that Dubner and Levitt got them so wrong.”
Ray administers the coup de gras by posting a map for Levitt to walk from his office to Pierrehumbert’s, a distance of a couple of blocks … if he ever again has trouble finding a real climate scientist.
Fair enough, and if even that is too much work, there’a always Wikipedia (and before anyone objects, cite credible sources showing where Wikipedia is wrong about climate change).
Superfreaks Pwned for lying
Tim Lambert at Deltoid documents Dubner falsley claiming that ocean acidification is addressed in the book when it is not. He also calls out Levitt for trying to dodge the numerous critiques by claiming to be asking different questions. Truth is, the Superfreaks clearly do not understand either the questions or the answers.
Of course, ocean acidification is an import issue. Now, there are ways to deal with ocean acidification, right, it’s actually, that’s actually, we know exactly how to un-acidifiy the oceans, is to pour a bunch of base into it, so, so if that turns out to be an incredibly big problem, then we can deal with that.
How are you supposed to react to that? As Lou says “Read that reply from Levitt again, and tell me which grade a child would have to be in before you would consider it an acceptable answer in an earth science class. You can probably guess my answer.”
Pwned as bullshitting whiners
The Way Things Break really shreds the Superfreaks for their shoddy, misleading treatment of geo-engineering, and the weasly response to the legitmate criticism of their work:
L&D would have you believe that a certain group of people (liberals the Politically Correct, Big Government worshiping, environmentalist, climate science-supporting “chattering classes”) are standing between honest discussion of the merits of the no-brainer geo-engineering fix and the colossal boondoggle of mitigation. L&D- brave, counter-intuitive visionaries that they are- have ridden forth on white steeds to rescue everyone else from the tyranny of those who support reducing greenhouse gas emissions (which is virtually every relevant scientific organization on the planet) and would keep this miracle cure secret.
The only problem with this scenario is that, like much of L&D’s work of late, it’s complete bullshit. [emphasis added]
Pwned in The House
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) equates the current climate change Denierism with the tobacco industries disinformation campaign (quite correctly, see here), and includes Superfreakonomics as part of that campaign of lies and deception (also correctly)
Pwned for Myhrvold’s Folly
Somehow I missed some earlier work by Brad Johnson who did a very nice job of answering the questions posted by
Bradford DeLong. Brad does a particularly nice job shredding their claims about renewable energy and emission reductions, thereby demonstrating clearly i) how badly wrong the Superfreaks are, and ii) getting it right was not that hard
- Answers For DeLong About The SuperFreaks, Part One
- Answers For Delong About The SuperFreaks, Part Two: ‘Global Cooling’ And ‘Economic Suicide’
- Answers For DeLong About The SuperFreaks, Part Three: Solar Power And Warming Debts
Pwned for acting like evolution deniers
“I lost all possibility of respect for the Freakonomists when I heard … a reading from the book’s “explanatory note”:
It should go without saying that I see parallels to creationism throughout this. The current creationist strategy is not to outright promote creationism (courts having been too cruel to such strategies), and instead advocating for the teaching evolution’s “weaknesses,” itself a strategy mapped out by creationists in the 1980s after losing their last case before the Supreme Court.”
Pwned for citing Deniers for credibility
Deltoid points out that in a desperate bid for credibility Dubner cites as his defenders Brett Stephens, Jonah Goldberg, and Jon Stewart. HELLO! Earth to Superfreaks! FYI:
Stephens is the idiot who authored the drivel which I discussed in “Actually it’s the WSJ, not a parody site … i think“, which is, if you can believe it, the piece Dubner cites for credibility. Goldberg is just as bad, as discussed in “Global Warming and the sun, JAQing off with NRO’s Jonah Goldberg.” In this latest piece Goldberg stays true to form (ie blithering nonsense) and Kevin Moon takes him down in The Anti-Denialism Deniers.
What does it tell you when you’re turning to climate change Deniers notorious for lying about the science as evidence of your scientific crediblity? Oh right, and Jon Stewart reading your talking points. Well, in regard to that I would like to quote Jon Stewart:
“If you want to compare your show to a comedy show, you’re more than welcome to.”
Seriously, it was after posting that I found Zimmer’s latest re; The Superfreaks, “Pwnage Made Easy”; ‘fools seldom differ’? I don’t differ with his sentiment:
“I smell an anthology here: a collection of the all-time greatest take-downs, in which scientists expose lazy thinking. How about, The Best Pwnage of 2009?”
UPDATE Nov 1st:
Pwned by Boston.com
Title of 5 page takedown? “Sloppynomics: The Freakonomics duo tackles climate change — and discovers the limits of cleverness” That had to hurt. I suspect I don’t need to discuss the assessment of the book 😉
“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
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