BPSDB Why the on-going fascination with the error filled climate change chapter in Superfreakonomics? Quite simple really, it’s a rare opportunity to get some anecdotal evidence on whether the climate science blogosphere has an impact, what kind of impact, and how much. This particular issue is valuable in that it has spilled over into the more public realm while still clearly ‘tagged’ as Superfreakonomics.
Naturally anecdotal evidence is far less than what we could wish for, but at least it is something. A sputtering match is still better than the usual darkness that we fumble around in.
Oh yes, there is also a link to where you can read the climate chapter if you haven’t yet and still want to ….
So I have been spending far too much of my life looking at blogs, reviews, and news stories which I will not be inflicting on you (why should you suffer too?). Nor am I even going to guess at how many, because frankly it’s a blur. Instead I will just offer some impressions of what I found.
The attempts to spin the book are interesting in that, other than the most brain dead climate change Deniers, for the most part no one is attempting to directly defend the chapter as accurate per se. Instead the defences seem to be taking two main forms, one Red Herring fallacy, the other a Straw Man Fallacy, both subsets of the larger Red Herring fallacy.
The framing of this spin goes along the lines of ‘it’s just a pop culture book, so what does it matter? why get so worked up?’ The correct question is “does it matter?”, but in this instance the framing of the question is the spin. By prefixing the question with the dismissive “it’s just a …” one is led towards concluding that it doesn’t matter.
Does it matter? will the book influence what people believe?
- it already has influenced what some people believe, as any internet search will tell you;
- more people read pop culture books than the scientific literature, or even popular science media (well … duh);
- the iconic fame of the Superfreaks means they are particularly influential relative to even most pop culture media;
- if people weren’t influenced by ill-informed and fraudulent sources (aka the Denialosphere) we would already have dealt with climate change because everyone would know the facts, and we climate bloggers could go out and have lives.
So, yes, it matters … obviously.
Basically the attempt is made to frame the “uproar” and criticism as being about the book being “controversial” (this is the one used in The Daily Show puff piece). The fact of the book being error ridden nonsense is completely ignored while trying to frame the authors as bold visionaries and the science community as petty, myopic reactionaries (pathologically obsessed with trivialities like facts, accuracy and truth?).
Speaking of flawed logic, this one is also a Bulverism as it takes as a given that the SuperFreaks are right, which is the very thing they most need to demonstrate.
Climate Progress explores this meme in more depth in Contrarian Chic: Why can’t the media tell the difference between an attack on dubious ‘conventional’ wisdom and an attack on genuine scientific wisdom? with respect to both Freeman Dyson and the Superfreaks.
It is an insidious spin in that the average person will think that they now understand the reason for the criticism and will look no further to check whether this is true. Undoubtedly most of the self-styled “skeptics” will uncritically swallow this line without a shred of doubt about it’s accuracy.
As such it is necessary to keep the pressure on and do everything possible to get the facts out there. People need to know that it does matter, and it is not a case of Galileo vs calcified orthodoxy, but rather Beavis and Butthead vs reality.
Simon Donner covers part of this in The message or the messenger, noting that some of the narratives drifted into discussions of personalities rather than climate science and the accuracy of the book. In a sense both of the first two spin attempts are sub-sets of this one in that they try to make the “story” about something else,
These tactics are effective when they go unchallenged, which is the norm. As such it is important stay on message and make sure that discussions are about climate science and the accuracy of the book, period.
Despite these, there is still lots of good coverage as well. Some updates of the SuperFreaks being Pwned by:
But perhaps this was all just a clever marketing ploy. I can’t help but wonder if chapter five was deliberately crafted to cause an uproar. Some sort of hail mary attempt to draw attention to an otherwise less-than-spectacular book. If this is the case — and you truly have adopted the ‘all news is good news’ mantra — then I guess congratulations are in order. Your book is almost as relevant as the balloon boy.
Interesting suggestion about it being a deliberate ploy, but I doubt it is the case. The authors seem genuinely dumfounded about the ruckus, apparently unaware that the reason everyone is saying that the chapter is shoddy nonsense is because the chapter really is shoddy nonsense. They seem to have believed (still do?) it was a legitimate contribution to the climate discussion … absurd as that sounds.
As of this writing you can still find a copy of the climate change chapter at Enviroknow.
As well Enviroknow also posts/reposts (Who’s on first?) Levitt and Dubner Continue Misleading the Public on Geoengineering, a nice vivisection of the SuperFreaks USAToday piece from Get Energy Smart Now!!! that I mentioned here.
I’ve identified 22 flaws in this latest 920 word piece.
Follow me, after fold, for a look at these 22 flaws. [Editor’s note: This represents a flaw every 42 words. Flaws per word is an interesting metric for opinion pieces (and, well, anti-science syndrome suffering ‘studies’) that could merit future and further use.] [Emphasis added]
I have a suggestion for a nicely controversial chapter in their next book, Hyperfreakonomics. Advocate that instead of treating type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise, people should avoid the bother of exercise and changing their diet and just inject insulin. When doctors object to this advice, respond that you are just calmly and logically answering the question: “How can we efficiently control blood sugar levels” while your critics are hung up on moral questions like “How can we keep this person healthy”.
I am going to have to disagree with Lambert that the real howler here is NOT the suggestion that climate scientists are ignorant rubes who think the Earth is flat, but rather it is Levitt and Dubner’s delusions of adequacy that they are somehow the modern Galileos who got it right.
The former premise is merely absurd and idiotic, whereas the latter goes well beyond that.
and more …
While the following posts don’t add any particularly new information to the story as it has already been covered on this blog (here, here and here) there are some nice bon mots out there, so I have to tip my hat to:
” … we’d like to add our voice to those who are disappointed by the clumsy unprofessionalism of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s new book … just because someone is good at Trivial Pursuit doesn’t mean they’ll be a reliable scientist … It’s the kind of blather that superannuated old contrarians (stand up Feeman Dyson) spout in order to entertain themselves at dinner … “
Columbia Journalism Review
and Curtis Brainard for “The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, on the other, conducted a rather servile interview with Steven Levitt … ” Yes, “servile” describes it perfectly.
We Read it So You Don’t Have to: ‘Superfreakonomics’ for “Four observations from the dismal-science duo: … ”
Not about the climate chapter, but Prostitution, for fun and profit notes that “The men behind Freakonomics offer a stunningly shallow and flawed view of sex work as a career option for women“
It seems the climate chapter is not the only one that was “stunningly shallow and flawed.” (thanks to Richard Pauli for the heads up).
“Levitt and Dubner cheapen their thinking by presenting a few dozen pages that are littered with obvious mistakes and even the perpetuation of myths, … the whole thing is a shame. An eye sore in what could have otherwise been a fun book.“
And of course much more pwnage can be found at Left as an Exercise.
Despite the relatively good job the climate blogs have done to get the word out there the spin is also proving fairly effective. Far too many of the sites I looked at were indulging in the versions of the spin described above. We need to keep getting the message out.
To that end please make an effort to take some action as discussed in this post, and note that as the last pwn illustrates, book reviews matter. As do comments on book reviews and on other forums.
If you can, post a book review somewhere, or make a comment on a review, post links to your favourite critiques of the book, vote up the intelligent reviews, articles and comments, get the facts out there and pwn the Superfreaks!
“Over the 20th century, ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic main development region warmed during peak hurricane season, with the most pronounced warming occurring over the last four decades.” Earth Gauge
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