I reviewed Freakonomics when it first came out and really liked it. So I was looking forward to the sequel Superfreakonomics. Unfortunately, Levitt and Dubner decided to write about global warming and have made a dreadful hash of it. The result is so wrong that it has even Joe Romm and William Connolley in agreement.

So what went wrong? One possibility is that Freakonomics was superficially plausible but also rubbish, and it was only when they wrote about an area where I was knowledgeable that I noticed. But I don’t think this is the correct explanation. I’ve read the journal papers on sumo cheating, Lojack and abortion and crime that they cite in Freakonomics and they are fairly represented. Superfreakonomics, on the other hand, misrepresents the scientific literature on global warming. The difference here is that the papers cited by Freakonomics were Levitt’s own work and he understood them, while Levitt and Dubner do not understand the climate science literature. This by itself would not be fatal, but what has taken them off the cliff is the Freakonomics formula: “What you thought you knew about X is wrong!”. If you want to apply this formula to global warming you can easily find many superficially plausible arguments on why the mainstream science is wrong. Bang those into your chapter on global warming without bothering to check their accuracy and the only work that remains is the tour to promote your book.

But enough on why they got everything wrong. Let’s look at what they got wrong. My Global Warming Sceptic Bingo Card is a bit out of date but they manage to tick five boxes: global warming is a religion, ice cores show warming comes first, ice age predicted in the 70s, water vapour dominates and climate modelling isn’t scientific. William Connolley stopped when he had found ten serious errors, so I’ll continue where he left off and see if I can find ten more. To make it more of a challenge, I’m just going to look at the extract that appeared in the Sunday Times entitled “Why Everything You Think You Know About Global Warming Is Wrong“. And remember, this is on top of the ten serious errors that Connolley found.

Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from the Sunday Times extract.

1) “Yet [Ken Caldeira]’s research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.”

Caldeira has exactly one quote on his home page:

“Carbon dioxide is the right villain,” says Caldeira, “insofar as inanimate objects can be villains.”

Joe Romm asked Caldeira about the misrepresentation of his views and he told Romm:

If you talk all day, and somebody picks a half dozen quotes without providing context because they want to make a provocative and controversial chapter, there is not much you can do.

2) “Caldeira’s study showed that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide while holding steady all other inputs – water, nutrients and so forth -yields a 70% increase in plant growth, an obvious boon to agricultural productivity.”

That would be this paper. Look at the abstract:

Climate stabilization via “Geoengineering” schemes
seek to mitigate climate change due to increased greenhouse
gases by compensating reduction in solar radiation incident
on earth’s surface. In this paper, we address the impact of
these climate stabilization schemes on terrestrial biosphere
using equilibrium simulations from a coupled atmosphere-terrestrial
biosphere model. Climate stabilization would tend
to limit changes in vegetation distribution brought on by
climate change, but would not prevent CO2-induced changes
in Net Primary Productivity (NPP) or biomass; indeed, if
CO2 fertilization is significant, then a climate-stabilized
world could have higher NPP than our current world.
Nevertheless, there are many reasons why geoengineering is
not a preferred option for climate stabilization.

So if CO2 fertilization is significant you get a 70% increase in plant growth. Levitt and Dubner turned that into “you get a 70% increase in plant growth”. Note also that Caldeira used a climate model of the type that L&D said could not be trusted. And did you notice the last sentence? L&D simply ignore the reasons why Caldeira said that geoengineering is not a preferred option.

3) “It is one thing for climate heavyweights such as Crutzen and Caldeira to endorse such a solution.”

In the abstract above Caldeira writes:

there are many reasons why geoengineering is not a preferred option for climate stabilization.

This is not an endorsement. In a more recent paper:

A reduction in the amount of solar radiation (insolation) could rapidly mask the effects of global warming without a reduction in CO2 emissions, but the quick fix brings serious danger. An abrupt end to or failure of geoengineering could throw the climate into even greater turmoil, possibly leading to warming rates twenty times those seen today. …

Decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases reduces the environmental
risk associated with climate change. By contrast,
continued CO2 emissions, even with the potential of geoengineering,
will likely increase environmental risk. Thus, with
respect to environmental risk, geoengineering is not an alternative to decreased emissions. Opponents of immediate climate
mitigation actions might argue for a delay in emission reductions
based on a lack of trust in climate model predictions. However,
reliance on geoengineering implies a larger trust in climate
model results than does reliance on emissions reductions. For
example, even if there were only a 50% probability that climate
model predictions are approximately correct, reducing emissions
could be a prudent avoidance of risk. However, if we had only
50% confidence in climate model predictions of the efficacy of
geoengineering schemes, then reliance on geoengineering is
likely to be imprudent.

4) Despite Caldeira being an expert on ocean acidification L&D say nothing about at all, perhaps because their cheap fix will do nothing about it. Caldeira writes:

Unless we cut greenhouse gas emissions very deeply and very soon, I think that Arctic ecosystems and coral reefs will be a thing of the past. These ecosystems may be just the tip of the melting iceberg.

We need to eliminate CO2 emissions — about this there is no question in my mind. There is also no question but that CO2 emissions are increasing more rapidly than was anticipated in any of the IPCC emissions scenarios.

I do not see intentional climate intervention approaches as an alternative to CO2 emissions reductions, but it may be something we need to do to, for example, prevent great ice sheets from sliding into the ocean. These approaches may be able to partially save Arctic ecosystems but will do nothing to save coral reefs.

5) “changes in carbon dioxide levels don’t necessarily mirror human activity”

This is misleading. The change in CO2 levels since the industrial revolution is caused solely by human activity.

6) “coal is so cheap that trying to generate electricity without it would be economic suicide”

So France committed economic suicide? Who knew?

7) “it is already… Too late … even if humankind immediately stopped burning all fossil fuel, the existing carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for several generations.”

Yes, we would get more warming even if all emissions stopped. But it is possible to keep the warming under two degrees. So it’s not too late to reduce emissions.

8) “The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12% gets turned into electricity and the rest is reradiated as heat – which contributes to global warming.”

This fundamentally misunderstands what is causing global warming. It is true that replacing coal-fired power plants with solar cells will produce similar amounts of waste heat, but global warming is not caused by the waste heat from fossil fuels but the enhanced greenhouse effect.

9) “IV estimates this plan could be up and running in about three years, with a start-up cost of $150m and annual operating costs of $100m. It could effectively reverse global warming at a total cost of $250m.”

Only if you think that you only need to run it for one year. In fact you’ll have to keep running it for centuries. And if you ever stop, you’ll get all the prevented warming in a decade or so. What could possibly go wrong?

10) “In 2006 [Paul Crutzen] wrote an essay in the journal Climatic Change lamenting the “grossly unsuccessful” efforts to emit fewer greenhouse gases and acknowledging that an injection of sulphur in the stratosphere “is the only option available to rapidly reduce temperature rises and counteract other climatic effects”.

By now you may have noticed that L&D systematically misrepresent their sources, and sure enough, if you look at Crutzen’s essay you find:

By far the preferred way to resolve the policy makers’ dilemma is to lower the
emissions of the greenhouse gases. … although by far not the best
solution, the usefulness of artificially enhancing earth’s albedo and thereby cooling climate by adding sunlight reflecting aerosol in the stratosphere might again be explored and debated …

If sizeable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not happen and temperatures rise rapidly, then climatic engineering, such as presented here, is the only option available to rapidly reduce temperature rises and counteract other climatic effects.

Finally, I repeat: the very best would be if emissions of the greenhouse gases could be reduced so much that the stratospheric sulfur release experiment would not need to take place

Far from endorsing it as a cost effective solution, Crutzen was suggesting it be researched as a last-ditch measure if his preferred option fails.

Well, that’s my ten, but UCS and Joe Romm have found even more stuff that is wrong.

The response from Dubner so far is pathetic:

While Dubner, who also writes a popular New York Times blog with Levitt, dismissed Romm’s post in an email to me yesterday as “hard to take seriously,” he also assumes that “there will be debate and legitimate pushback against that chapter in our book.”

Comments

  1. #1 --bill
    October 16, 2009

    Wait a minute–on the subject you’re expert in, Levitt is absolutely blazingly wrong. But on subjects you’re not expert in, you think he’s right?

  2. #2 Mark
    October 16, 2009

    Wrong. It’s the other way around.

    Read it again:

    > the papers cited by Freakonomics were Levitt’s own work and he understood them,

  3. #3 MarkB
    October 16, 2009

    “global warming is a religion, ice cores show warming comes first, ice age predicted in the 70s, water vapour dominates and climate modelling isn’t scientific”

    So their view of climate science doesn’t appear to be based on the scientific literature, but by an unoriginal parroting of talking points from dubious elements of the blogosphere. This is very disappointing.

    As a sidenote, I like Connolley’s blog. Pielke Jr., self-proclaimed “honest broker” who routinely makes misplaced oddball attacks on climate science and shills for the contrarian crowd, could learn a lot from him.

  4. #4 Mark
    October 16, 2009

    Problem with “ice cores show warming comes first” is that CO2 came first in the PETM.

  5. #5 dhogaza
    October 16, 2009

    can trollboy globalwarming-is-religion be archived on /dev/null, please?

  6. #6 Ray C.
    October 16, 2009

    I was just about to say that the Bingo card should mention AAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL GOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRRRRRE!

    @6 “globalwarming=religion”: Begone, foul troll.

  7. #7 Cairnarvon
    October 16, 2009

    The impression I got from the original Freakonomics (and especially the blog that spun off from it) was that L&D cared more about gut feelings and interesting-sounding just-so stories than intellectual rigor or factual accuracy, and while that did make for a moderately entertaining book, they’re fundamentally unscientific people.
    Then again, that’s the feeling I get from most economists.

  8. #8 hc
    October 16, 2009

    I don’t think you can hang that general label on most economists Cairnarvon. These guys are self-promoters who deal in counterintuition and being hip. They use lots of data but the emphasis is on being novel rather than accurate.

  9. #9 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  10. #10 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  11. #11 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  12. #12 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  13. #13 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  14. #14 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  15. #15 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  16. #16 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  17. #17 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  18. #18 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  19. #19 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  20. #20 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  21. #21 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  22. #22 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  23. #23 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  24. #24 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  25. #25 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  26. #26 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  27. #27 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  28. #28 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  29. #29 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  30. #30 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  31. #31 John Mashey
    October 16, 2009

    A little quiz:
    would people care to guess who owns the publisher of this?

    [I already looked.]

  32. #32 Mike Haubrich
    October 16, 2009

    John (#9) – I am going to guess that Rupert Murdoch is the owner.

  33. #33 Anna Haynes
    October 16, 2009

    The publisher is William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins (which also published Michael Crichton’s State of Fear). HarperCollins is owned by News Corp, whose Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Founder is Rupert Murdoch.

    Was all of that true at the time State of Fear was going through the pipeline, as well? Would Murdoch care enough, to mess around with the book? (or to create a corporate culture in which money changed hands in exchange for messing around with the book?)

    There’s an interesting anecdote Crichton told, at least twice – after doing background research for State of Fear, he didn’t want to go forward with writing the book; but a scientist old friend came into town and they were discussing the book and his reluctance and the friend said “oh, but you must write this book” – and he did.

    The friend was male in one telling, female in the other.

    He told the story in an “I almost slipped and took the easy way out, but my friend helped me see that I must do this brave contrarian thing, and write the book” kind of way. Perhaps that is how it happened.

  34. #34 Austin Yun
    October 16, 2009

    Quite good. I believe that the problem with Superfreakonomics is that the book strayed from the area of the authors’ expertise — the study of incentives and consequences — to something they at best vaguely understood.

    On an unrelated note, an OpenID comment thing would be nice.

  35. #35 Anna Haynes
    October 17, 2009

    The (Murdoch) Sunday Times sounds like it’s going to go full bore, in publicizing its favorite part of the book – “Why Everything You Think You Know About Global Warming Is Wrong” (not yet online)
    …which lends some credence to the mercenary hypothesis.

    p.s.s to my previous comment – 1) the non-U.S. English-language publisher seems to be Penguin, which doesn’t seem to have any Murdoch DNA; and 2) the “Crichton’s friend’s gender” confusion might be a red herring – one was from video & I’m sure of it, but the other came from a text article of a Q&A, and it’s possible the journalist mistranscribed the pronoun.

  36. #36 Webster Hubble Telescope
    October 17, 2009

    What’s really curious is how wrong the first Freakonomics book was about the subject of oil depletion. They directly compared Peak Oil to the scaremongering of shark attacks, if you can believe that. But there it is:
    “So why do I compare peak oil to shark attacks? It is because shark attacks mostly stay about constant, but fear of them goes up sharply when the media decides to report on them. The same thing, I bet, will now happen with peak oil. I expect tons of copycat journalism stoking the fears of consumers about oil induced catastrophe, even though nothing fundamental has changed in the oil outlook in the last decade.”

  37. #37 Webster Hubble Telescope
    October 17, 2009

    One other quote from the dynamic duo in the original Freakonomics: “I don’t know much about world oil reserves.”
    Apparently their approach is statistics through ignorance. So much for the idea that they were subject matter experts … ever.

  38. #38 Robert Waldmann
    October 17, 2009

    Dear Tim Lambert

    You are assuming that there are no positive feedback mechinisms. To be relatively clear, you are assuming that global warming will not cause increased emissions of greenhouse gases by, for example, melting arctic tundra and releasing methane.

    If such methane release is an important factor, the stop gap plan which would cost 150 m plus 100 m/year so present value of costs = 5.15 billion using a very low no one every uses a rate that low rate of 2% (or in other words pocket change for the US government) could be the most cost effective way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses.

    Why are you confident that the tipping point from melting artic tundra argument is nonsense ? I wish I shared your confidence that high temperature in the near future will have only small or quickly reversible effects, but I dont’t.

  39. #39 Mark
    October 17, 2009

    > Why are you confident that the tipping point from melting artic tundra argument is nonsense ?

    Why are you convinced that it will happen in the next 2 years?

  40. #40 psweet
    October 17, 2009

    Let me see if I understand this — CO2 fertilization will increase plant growth at the same time we decrease solar insolation? Has anyone considering this idea examined what impact lower light levels will have on plant growth? Similarly, in how many systems and for how many species is CO2 a limiting resource? My understanding was that in most places plant growth is limited by availablility of either water or some nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen, mostly). If all we need to add to increase yield is CO2 why are we putting so much energy into artificial fertilizers?

  41. #41 John Grant
    October 17, 2009

    So if CO2 fertilization is significant you get a 70% increase in plant growth. Levitt and Dubner turned that into “you get a 70% increase in plant growth”.

    I don’t follow the criticism here. Have some words been missed out?

  42. #42 Mark
    October 17, 2009

    The problem is that plants aren’t 100% carbon.

    Water, potassium, nitrogen and lots of other things are needed.

    And with corn (you know, that staple of the ‘merkin diet) the corn produces less natural insecticide in its leaves, so though it grows quicker, it gets eaten far quicker by the bugs who find it just as tasty but without the poison.

    Add to that there are several ways plants devised to get carbon in to their system and that several of these do not use the CO2 in the air.

  43. #43 murdoch hater
    October 17, 2009

    as a former HarperCollins employee who spent several years there, I’ll just note that as much as I loathe Rupert Murdoch and everything he stands for, he never once got involved in any way in any of the books they published. Frankly, he could care less. The money comes from Fox TV and movies. Harper is a rounding error in News Corp’s financial results.

    So while I have no doubt Levitt and Dubner’s analysis of global warming is crap, and that the wingnuts at Fox will be thrilled to read it, it’s completely implausible that Murdoch had anything to do with the publication of the book.

    Frankly, he’d be thrilled if Harper published a far-left bestseller–as long as it made him tons of money. He’s a bottom-line guy.

  44. #44 Mark
    October 17, 2009

    Bill Gates likewise is a bottom-line guy.

    But like Murdoch, he doesn’t want to piss off his compatriots. If he makes the wrong moves he can be left out of the game and that DOES affect the bottom line.

    It also can be people toadying up to him, trying to make sure they do what he likes so that when the next cut comes up, they aren’t picked.

    This may not be what he knowingly wants to happen, but he doesn’t clear up the mistake and flunkies will fluff the boss if that’s what it takes to get up the ladder.

    After all, they’re bottom-line guys too.

  45. #45 joz
    October 17, 2009

    I don’t follow the criticism here. Have some words been missed out?

    The major word there is “if.” My understanding is that an increase in CO2 levels would only lead to increased plant growth if C02 is a limiting nutrient. If not, an increase of CO2 would do nothing for plant growth. It seems Levitt and Dubner misunderstand that to say that higher CO2 will always lead to more plant growth.

  46. #46 Ronnie Horesh
    October 17, 2009

    I’ve read the journal papers on …abortion and crime …that they cite in Freakonomics and they are fairly represented.

    Perhaps. But their argument that abortion reduced crime figures in the US is refuted (to my satisfaction anyway) here: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2005/may/09/00021/.

  47. #47 John Mashey
    October 17, 2009

    re: #21 murdoch hater

    Thanks. My original reason for noting this went as follows:

    a) In some organizations, things sometimes go wrong at lower levels that might actually get fixed at higher levels if they knew about it, or appeals to long-term credibility an reputation might actually be useful.

    b) Hence, I looked up the ownership chain, and at that point, figured “well, if it makes money, accuracy is irrelevant”, which you have certainly confirmed.

  48. #48 Kristjan Wager
    October 17, 2009

    Ronnie, I haven’t read the original claim about abortion reducing crime rates, but I did read the refutation you linked to.

    It was not particularly convincing to my eyes.

    Among other things, it didn’t take into consideration that abortion might not be equally spread among all social levels. E.g. it might be more widespread among wealthy people and college students than among the urban poor.

    It’s obvious that the author of that piece was pushing an anti-abortion stance (looking at the name of the author, and seeing Steve Sailer’s name didn’t impress me either, but I didn’t notice that until after I finished my read).

    Having said that, I am not particularly impressed with the idea of abortions leading to a reduction of crime. It might be true, but it’s not possible to tell, since legalization of abortion would be part of a larger social movement, which might very well lead to reduced crime rates (e.g. through better social welfare systems).

  49. #49 Brian D
    October 17, 2009

    With nods to Things Break, I’ve started collecting links to challenges to Superfreakonomics on my blag:

    http://leftasanexercise.simulating-reality.com/?p=90

    The list is rather substantial. If you’re aware of more, please send them my way.

    One observation I made whilst collecting these was that there were a couple of people defending Superfreakonomics. The strongest one I could find was from the ultraconservative American Spectator – and its defense boils down to “Clinton did it too!”.

  50. #50 Sortition
    October 17, 2009

    Levitt is an empty vessel. One may attribute obvious nonsense in his column to the corrupting influence of mass media and, as Tim does in the case of AGW, to dabbling in topics he does not understand. His entire scholarly career, however, is based on grand claims based on evidence that is at best flimsy, often simply erroneous, and sometimes simply fabricated.

  51. #51 jre
    October 17, 2009

    The best Levitt observer, since Freakonomics was published, has been the admirable D2.

    This time around, Daniel has outsourced commentary to Brad DeLong, who figures that the Freakonomics approach is the disciplinary equivalent of the battery chicken.

    I kinda liked Freakonomics. But I’ll have to hold off on this one until Oprah recommends it.

  52. #52 Jeff Harvey
    October 17, 2009

    PSweet,

    Good question.

    Carbon is not a limiting nutrient for most plants. In fact, the C:N ratio in many plants is way too high for optimizing a range of other metabolic processes, such as synthesizing phytotoxins which are nitrogen based. This means that higher C:N ratios, even if they allow for limited increases in plant biomass, will also make plants more susceptible to herbivores due to lower levels of direct defense compounds in plant tissues. Add to that the fact that nitrogen is a limiting nutrient for most insect herbivores, thus insects will exhibit compensatory feeding to make up for the N deficit. This combination is likely to reduce plant fitness.

    What irks me as someone who works on plant-insect interactions is how many people constantly peddle the myth that increasing atmospheric levels of carbon will be a boon to plants, consumers, and food webs. There is no real empirical evidence for this at all, and the fact that natural systems function in decidedly non-linear ways means that there is no way of extrapolating lab studies with single plants under controlled conditions with complex adaptive systems. Very few ecologists make such absurd correlations; this is generally the purview of laymen.

  53. #53 Anna Haynes
    October 17, 2009

    Murdoch hater #21, I too am thankful for your perspective. Some more qs, if you’re still reading –

    1. Is there quality control in WM/HC, or is really entirely a commercial enterprise? (e.g., would HC publish a flat out GW denialist “nonfiction” book, if it looked like it’d sell well?)

    2. What’s the deal with an “imprint”? (SuperFreak’s publisher William Morrow is an imprint of HarperCollins) (and just fyi, “William Morrow upholds its 80-year legacy of bringing the highest quality fiction and nonfiction to the broadest possible audience”).
    I assume being an imprint means William Morrow is to HarperCollins as Shoebox is to Hallmark? (a tiny division thereof, with a different culture)

    3. One of the techniques a backstage entity bent on bending the public will can use, is to order a gazillion copies of a book with the right message, both to boost its sales ranking and to pay its author for dutifully spreading the word. From the outside, what would be the indicators of such arrangements or promises, and how could we find out if they were present for this book?
    (this q isn’t well phrased, sorry)

    4. And more generally – I do think it’ll probably turn out that there was Stage Three deliberate intent _somewhere(s)_ along the chain, for this book; what info could we get, and how, that’d let us determine if/where influence was exerted & by whom? (and yes, I could be wrong)

    If Stephen&Steven did just err in good faith –
    Does anyone else find this case reminiscent of Nicholas “I don’t care if Freeman Dyson’s inactivist views are correct as long as they’re interesting” Dawidoff?
    One does wonder what they might be smoking.

  54. #54 Anna Haynes
    October 17, 2009

    (though upon reading the D Squared review of Freakonomics #1 that jre linked to, I might be making too much of D&L; it’s just so hard for me to envision anyone doing this in good faith. )

  55. #55 Gil
    October 18, 2009

    Unsurprisingly some seem to think global warming is over:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8299079.stm

  56. #56 Dappledwater
    October 18, 2009

    #33 – Yikes!, what a moronic article.

  57. #57 Mark
    October 18, 2009

    > Having said that, I am not particularly impressed with the idea of abortions leading to a reduction of crime

    I suspect the problem is that if there IS an effect, it would be a second-order, third order or even fourth-order effect and not the direct driver itself.

    Unless you want to take the consideration that the power of parenthood amongst the criminal classes is far stronger than it is amongst the rank-and-file.

    So being a remote side-effect, any change in crime rates would depend on abortion rates AND one, two or even more further effects to occur before the abortion result gets to work on the stats.

    And any possible mechanism for this to work requires another factor to be there, hence fixing THAT factor rather than aborting fetuses would have a greater effect without having to ask the moral questions.

    And whether you think abortion is murder or the right of the mother to her own body, you still have to ask the moral question when aborting or refusing to let the mother abort.

  58. #58 Paul UK
    October 18, 2009

    The US balloon man Richard Heene does science with friends:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXHHjoGmExw

    Somewhat off topic, but one wonders what whack job ideas he has been involved with. The video goes on about a lot of crazy stuff.

  59. #59 Marion Delgado
    October 18, 2009

    murdoch “hater” may be accurately reporting what they did not observe, but the reasoning is wrong, and so is the inference.

    It’s precisely because book publishing is not essential to his corporate bottom line that Rupert Murdoch has been proven to directly intervene in Harper Collins business for political ends, the most notorious example being Killing a book by Chris Patten because of a request from the Chinese government.

    Another clear example would be his admission that he shapes the news and opinion of anything he owns, which he has made on at least a few occasions.

  60. #60 Marion Delgado
    October 18, 2009

    “One possibility is that Freakonomics was superficially plausible but also rubbish, and it was only when they wrote about an area where I was knowledgeable that I noticed.”

    That was the correct explanation. They may have fairly cited their sources, but they were cherrypicking, or more often, putting spin on interpretation that was simply unjustified.

  61. #61 dhogaza
    October 18, 2009

    The US balloon man Richard Heene does science with friends…

    Possibly crazier and more ignorant than Watts, but not by much.

  62. #62 Mark
    October 18, 2009

    > Another clear example would be his admission that he shapes the news and opinion of anything he owns, which he has made on at least a few occasions.

    > Posted by: Marion Delgado

    Didn’t Faux News say (and get agreement from the Senate) that a News story doesn’t have to be true?

    I think we can tell a lot about him from those actions.

  63. #63 Dave Andrews
    October 18, 2009

    Jeff Harvey,

    Why then do commercial growers of all kinds of foods boost the CO2 in their greenhouses, if as you say the level of CO2 will not be a “boon” to plants?

  64. #64 dhogaza
    October 18, 2009

    Didn’t Faux News say (and get agreement from the Senate) that a News story doesn’t have to be true?

    Better, they won a first amendment court case.

  65. #65 dhogaza
    October 18, 2009

    Why then do commercial growers of all kinds of foods boost the CO2 in their greenhouses, if as you say the level of CO2 will not be a “boon” to plants?

    Why do they first ensure that the greenhouse has optimum temperature and humidity, and that there is more nitrogen and other nutrients than the plants need?

    Could it be to remove all external limits to plant growth, and could it be that under such unnatural conditions CO2 can become a limiting external factor?

    Yes. It could be. And is.

    Now ask yourself: why do farmers irrigate and apply nitrogen-rich fertilizers to fields of plants growing outdoors rather than puff CO2 at the plants?

    Additionally, ask yourself “why do I keep asking stupid questions?”.

  66. #66 Dave Andrews
    October 18, 2009

    Mark, Marion et al,

    For people who claim to be concerned about the ‘bigger picture’ you don’t half get hung up on the trivia!

  67. #67 Lee
    October 18, 2009

    “Why then do commercial growers of all kinds of foods boost the CO2 in their greenhouses”

    Because they have already optimized soil structure and composition, nutrients (including shifting the nute schedules over the life of the plant), pH, water, humidity, temperature, often the amount and schedule of lighting, and so on.

    After doing all that, optimizing CO2 makes a significant difference. Without doing most or all of that, boosting CO2 is throwing money away.

  68. #68 Barry
    October 18, 2009

    “Perhaps. But their argument that abortion reduced crime figures in the US is refuted (to my satisfaction anyway) here: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2005/may/09/00021/.”

    Posted by: Ronnie Horesh |

    That article was written by Steve Sailer – google his name to find out why anything that he says shouldn’t be believed until verified.

  69. #69 Chris O'Neill
    October 18, 2009

    Dave Andrews:

    For people who claim to be concerned about the ‘bigger picture’

    At least they get the bigger picture, unlike Dave Andrews.

  70. #70 bigcitylib
    October 18, 2009

    Re. Rupert Murdoch. Back in 2006 Murdoch claimed to have had a “change of heart” re global warming and argued for “global action” against AGW, though not Kyoto. Here:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200611/s1782512.htm

    Haven’t heard anything from him since, though.

  71. #71 Anna Haynes
    October 18, 2009

    Today’s Dubner&Levitt article in Parade Magazine:

    What Should You Worry About?
    “Identity theft? Killer sharks? Disease? We’re bad at assessing risk—we panic about the wrong things.”

    Michael Crichton had an inactivist article in Parade too, when State of Fear came out:

    Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves
    “From world overpopulation to Y2K to killer bees, many of the dangers we’re warned about never materialize. Isn’t it time for some healthy skepticism?”

    Amazing coincidence, that.

  72. #72 Michael
    October 18, 2009

    Thanks Anna, that article is a lovely summary of what is wrong with Superfreakonomics.

    They’re right about our poor ability to judge personal risk, but they use a superfically accurate but completely wrong-headed example.

    Yes, elephants kill more people than sharks (so do hippo’s), but if you’re an American planning to spend some time down the beach over summer, having a fear of being trampled by an elephant would be truly irrational.

  73. #73 Jeff Harvey
    October 18, 2009

    Dave Andrews,

    As Lee said.

    How many times do I have to repeat this: a controlled greenhouse is NOT the real world. Dave Andrews, repeat again: A GREENHOUSE ENVIRONMENT IS NOT THE REAL WORLD.

    Geddit? Understand now????

    Natural systems are immensely complex and are characterized by flows – of nutrients, water, energy, matter, etc., and function in decidedly non-linear ways. Cause-and-effect relationships cannot be extrapolated on the basis of ‘an increase in parameter “x” leads to an increase in process “y”‘. This is the kind of crap argument produced by those who know nix about ecological communities, but who are more than willing to twist science to bolster a pre-determined view that is closely linked with a political agenda.

    As I have said before innumerable times, the primary productivity of natural systems depends on both biotic and abiotic processes. Interactions with consumers – herbivores, their natural enemies and their natural enemies – also plays a significant role in determining plant biomass and fitness. Moreover, different plant species respond differently to ambient levels of C02, with some benefitting (at least in the short term) and others not. Certainly, some kinds of r-selected plants will become highly problematic as weeds; herbivores will compensate for N deficiency and will incur more damage. P is also a very limiting nutrient and will be shunted from plant tissues. How this will play itself out in terms of natural communities is anyone’s guess. The long term consequences of the current global experiment are thus hard to predict, but its a pain in the neck having to counter grade-school level arguments from denialists all of the time.

    Several people – in each case with no biological expertise whatsoever – have repeated the C02-fertilizer mantra on Deltoid over the past few months. In each case they dismissed what they did not understand, meaning anything and everything remotely suggesting that primary production is caused by many more factors that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. When confronted with ecological complexity, they lashed out, calling me all kinds of abusive things, as one would expect from laymen whose ignorance was brazenly exposed.

  74. #74 stopmurdoch
    October 18, 2009

    Old Rupe has “committed” to being carbon neutral by 2010.

    Only 73 days to go!

    PS- News uses a meaningless bogus astroturf/greenwashing slogan “One Degree” which he mangled (during the “Boyer Lecture”) into “I Degree”.

    Bozo.

  75. #75 Tim Lambert
    October 18, 2009

    The extract in the *Sunday Times* is [now online](http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6879251.ece).

  76. #76 PeterM
    October 18, 2009

    Tim
    Would be good if you updated the links to your own writings on the Bingo Card.

  77. #77 dhogaza
    October 19, 2009

    “From world overpopulation to Y2K to killer bees, many of the dangers we’re warned about never materialize. Isn’t it time for some healthy skepticism?”

    Well, if we weren’t worried we would not have solved the Y2K problem, and bee keepers are experiencing the difficulties in beekeeping predicted by “killer bees” even if M.C. didn’t believe it when he was still alive.

    Regarding overpopulation … are poor people who aren’t privileged like M.C. and the rest of us in first-world countries dying, or not?

    Crapola.

  78. #78 Mark
    October 19, 2009

    Ducky, you can prove CO2’s warming effect on the atmosphere with a small sealed container a heat source and an IR camera.

    Since you believe that small scale lab experiments are commensurate with what happens in the real world, this is all the proof you need that AGW is right.

    Go on, Ducky, don’t be an arse.

  79. #79 Mark
    October 19, 2009

    > For people who claim to be concerned about the ‘bigger picture’ you don’t half get hung up on the trivia!

    > Posted by: Dave Andrews

    Denialists like you, Ducky, ARE the trivia. It’s all you have.

    “You don’t have clouds 100% right, so you’re wrong!” *IS* trivia.

  80. #80 Shane
    October 19, 2009

    The advantage of owning a publisher that “doesn’t affect your bottom line” is that without “affecting your bottom line” you can get some seemingly “independent” story/text/material published which you can then use in your wider media organization which DO “affect your bottom line”.

    What does it matter if this book breaks even if it boosts the ratings over at Fox? If it provides material for the global stable of Newsmedia hacks like Alan Wood?

  81. #81 Paul UK
    October 19, 2009

    Crumbs. I just scanned that Times article and read a few paragraphs and each time I just read a load of junk.

  82. #82 Sans
    October 19, 2009

    “”Joe Romm asked Caldeira about the misrepresentation of his views and he told Romm:
    “If you talk all day, and somebody picks a half dozen quotes without providing context because they want to make a provocative and controversial chapter, there is not much you can do.”””

    Well no, apparently all you can do when offered those quote to review prior to publication is approve them, then panic when it generates such controversy, back away from what you said and make vague, nonspecific claims of inaccuracy such as this.

  83. #83 Sans
    October 19, 2009

    “””Yet [Ken Caldeira]’s research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.”

    Caldeira has exactly one quote on his home page:
    “Carbon dioxide is the right villain,” says Caldeira, “insofar as inanimate objects can be villains.”””

    Yeah, the quote he added after the first one created such controversy. Seriously, WTF did you think the odds were on that ?

    I’ve got a few “I’m not a racist” quotes from Rush Limbaugh in the past week if you find this a convincing “debunking”.

  84. #84 Chuck
    October 19, 2009

    Their response
    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/17/the-rumors-of-our-global-warming-denial-are-greatly-exaggerated/

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/global-warming-in-superfreakonomics-the-anatomy-of-a-smear/

    Key quote:

    Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve. Where we differ from the critics is in our view of the most effective solutions to this problem. Meaningfully reducing global carbon emissions has proven to be difficult, if not impossible. This isn’t likely to change, for the reasons we discuss in the book. Consequently, other approaches represent a more promising path to lowering the Earth’s temperature. The critics are implying that we dismiss any threats from global warming; but the entire point of our chapter is to discuss global-warming solutions, so obviously that’s not the case.

  85. #85 Michael
    October 19, 2009

    Sans,

    I think he added it because he was rather surprised to find the quote attributed to him, given that he had commented on it in the draft.

  86. #86 Mark
    October 19, 2009

    > but the entire point of our chapter is to discuss global-warming solutions,

    but ignoring the most direct and obvious one.

    “because it’s hard”.

  87. #87 Bud
    October 19, 2009

    sans: “I’ve got a few “I’m not a racist” quotes from Rush Limbaugh in the past week if you find this a convincing “debunking”.”

    Unless you can also provide examples where Limbaugh is explicitly quoted as saying “I am a racist”, your analogy is irrelevent.

    I’m not too sure why you’re implying that something fishy is going on, but very few people post a correction of a misquotation before they have even been quoted, as you seem to have expected Caldeira to do.

  88. #88 Michael
    October 19, 2009

    It’s kind of understandable, they’re gone down the whole – here’s an easy/simple indirect solution to a really hard/complex problem – road.

    If there was an easy and direct way to reduce CO2 emissions they wouldn’t be interested.

    D&L have jumped the shark.

  89. #89 Mark
    October 19, 2009

    Bud, NOBODY, not even the serial killer thinks they are the bad guy.

    So why would ANYONE say “I’m a racist” except at an AA-like meeting for recovering racists?

  90. #90 dhogaza
    October 19, 2009

    Well no, apparently all you can do when offered those quote to review prior to publication is approve them, then panic when it generates such controversy, back away from what you said and make vague, nonspecific claims of inaccuracy such as this.

    Caldeira complained about the quote when he reviewed a draft copy of the chapter.

    They ignored him.

  91. #91 Aj
    October 19, 2009

    I can’t believe so many people fell in love with the first book; it seemed to me as though the whole thing was suitable for Private Eye’s Pseuds-corner.

    Whether any of it’s ‘conclusions’ were true or not, it always seemed to me to be far more about what an uber-cool cat Levitt is and how that fact is the single most important thing to remember at all times.

    Anytime it looked like they might come close to actually explaining how they drew their conclusions they pulled the ‘we did something analytic-ey-you wouldn’t understand-trust us-read some more paragraphs about how damn cool this guy is-pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ manoeuvre.

    By the end of it I was just pissed off at the rampant ego on display and contempt for their readers’ intelligence.

  92. #92 Bud
    October 19, 2009

    Mark, that was pretty much my point. In Limbaugh’s case, there is a long and extensive history of frequent and fairly obvious racism, which makes any denial of his being a racist a) somewhat absurd and b) completely plausible to him, seeing as racist is a description of a character or action.

    In Caldeira’s case, you have a position attributed to him which there is no prior evidence of him holding. The two situations are completely different. If someone was to attribute to Limbaugh the position (say) of letting illegal immigrants die in the street rather than giving them medical treatment, and Limbaugh came out and explicitly said it was not his position, then that would be analogous.

  93. #93 Rattus Norvegicus
    October 19, 2009

    If D+L had bothered to learn anything about AGW, they would have run screaming from the room when they heard statements like these:

    “The climate models are crude in space and they’re crude in time,” he continues. “So there’s an enormous amount of natural phenomena they can’t model. They can’t do even giant storms like hurricanes.”

    Of course hurricanes are fairly small but powerful storms compared to synoptic scale cyclones (low pressure systems) which climate models are perfectly capable of realizing.

    I really couldn’t get much further because the material was so bad. How did they get this past the fact checkers?

  94. #94 Mark
    October 19, 2009

    Also, how much do the power and number of hurricanes change over 30 year periods?

    One person eats a different amount each day.

    Yet army stores keeps an army of THOUSANDS fed adequately without throwing a million meals away.

  95. #95 Dave Andrews
    October 19, 2009

    Mark,

    You don’t have clouds right at all never mind 100%.

  96. #96 Sans
    October 19, 2009

    “”Unless you can also provide examples where Limbaugh is explicitly quoted as saying “I am a racist”, your analogy is irrelevent.””

    Well yeah, but that’d just leave us with the guy who is being discussed. Proving something about Rush wasn’t really critical to what I was pointing out about the non-worth of statements you make about yourself after the fan hits the shit.

    “”I’m not too sure why you’re implying that something fishy is going on, but very few people post a correction of a misquotation before they have even been quoted, as you seem to have expected Caldeira to do.””

    I don’t know who you are talking about. My post refers to a guy who got to review what he was quoted about and the **entire chapter that got turned into**, twice. I guess there’s a 2nd Caldeira involved here. A sister maybe?

    BTW I don’t find anything fishy about this at all. I think this guy panicking when he saw the reaction to his interviews and backing away with very vague and non-specific suggestions of misquotation is far more plausible than the Freakanomics authors fabricating an exchange of someone they interviewed at length and then had approve what they wrote.

  97. #97 Kilo
    October 19, 2009

    “Caldeira complained about the quote when he reviewed a draft copy of the chapter. They ignored him.”
    Posted by: dhogaza | October 19, 2009 11:17 AM

    This would be a more plausible claim coming from him than you.
    His explanation is instead that perhaps he didn’t read what his interviews were turned into carefully enough.

    As though if you misread “not” -vs- “the” primary villain, the rest of the other words drawn from this statement would also become invisible.

    If you find this plausible you would have made a great wife of a Republican congressman. I bet those after-the-cheating press conferences have all seemed completely plausible to you.

    I must have not heard her say she was a prostitute. Then we fked in my car in exchange for money and I dropped her back to her pimp. Really, if anything is to blame it is background noise.

  98. #98 Sans
    October 19, 2009

    “I think he added it because he was rather surprised to find the quote attributed to him, given that he had commented on it in the draft.”
    Posted by: Michael | October 19, 2009 9:34 AM

    Okay, can you think of why it is printed here as a somehow rebuttal to a book written last year ?

  99. #99 Michael
    October 19, 2009

    Aj,

    I thought the first book was OK, but I only got around to reading it last year, and the timing was interesting. At one point in the book Levitt was discussing the ‘panic’ re: peak oil and how it would never happen due to the wonders of the market. My recollection is that he also said that the oil price could never go through the roof because of the said market – as I was reading it the oil price was about $US120.

  100. #100 Dave Andrews
    October 19, 2009

    Jeff Harvey,

    “Moreover, different plant species respond differently to ambient levels of C02, with some benefitting (at least in the short term) and others not”

    Surely this has been true over the whole of the Earth’s history and in relation to the ambient levels of many things? CO2 levels have been much much higher in the past but plants are still around even if they are now different to what they were.

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