Levitt and Dubner Visit Seattle


In 2006, I bought Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's first book Freakonomics and, like the four million other people who bought the book, thought it was excellent.  It was full of originality with chapters on why parents disadvantage their children with bad names and why crack dealers live with their mothers. For this reason (plus the fact that I spent $30 and drove a total of 3 hours), I had high expectations when I went to see the pair in Seattle last night. Sadly, I left feeling that Levitt and Dubner seem to be suffering from a bad case of overexposure.

I should have seen the writing on the walls of Town Hall. For one, their latest book has the title of their old book in its title -- for someone seeking novelty, a sequel is not one's best bet. Furthermore, the talk was structured in that awful way that attendance required buying a copy of the book (hence the $30 price tag; strike two). And nothing could save Levitt and Dubner from the corny radio show host's introduction and on-stage interview (it turned out to only be a Q&A, not an official talk). All the event lacked was a theme song.

Their two man show was too relaxed and too predictable. Predictable? How can two men who argue (poorly -- according to a letter published at RealClimate.org by Geophysical Science professor Raymond T. Pierrehumbert) in favor of geoengineering global cooling be predictable? I think they thought the tension around 'global cooling' would predictably sell books and talks. Dubner spoke of the prostitution market with similarly coy looks.

I fear their sophistication was overshadowed by flippancy. For evidence, Levitt spoke about global cooling garden hoses to the sky, proposed by Nathan Myhrvold of Bellevue's own Intellectual Ventures (who was not in attendance), the same way Cousteau talked about colonizing the oceans by the year 2000 (note: we did not accomplish this).

I always consider a speaker in three categories: Are they likable? Are they credible? Are they critical? Levitt and Dubner are passing in the credible category since they have the two books and Levitt does respectable and compelling economics research. But their talk was only slightly critical (mostly of car seats for toddlers ages 2 to 6) and the duo was strangely unlikeable despite their smiles and anecdotes. Maybe a theme song would help...

More like this

How much does the 25Km "hose" is supposed to weight ?
How much pressure is needed to pump liquid SO2 that high ?
How will they keep the SO2 liquid (boils off at -10F) ?
How will they deal with jet stream winds on the hose and the balloons ?

Go over to realclimate.org (Gavin Schmidt and others with NASA), they have a couple of blogs about how wrong Levitt and Dubner are on the whole global warming/cooling claims and geoengineering.

Hi Jennifer,

I just came across your blog and I think it's terrific. Excellent writing and interesting topics. I put up a link at climateprogress on this post http://climateprogress.org/2009/11/05/superfreaknomics-errors-levitt/#c…

On a separate topic, I have a daughter who is graduating Princeton this year, majoring in environmental biology having studied coral reefs. She's applying to grad schools and not really sure where she wants to go. Any advice? witsendnj@yahoo.com

Jennifer, I live in Seattle, and I wouldn't pay to see these guys. They have left their credibility on the floor with the nonsense they published in the global warming chapter. Just check out Romm's latest post on Climate Progress, and their own blog on the NYTimes website (Dubner writes for the NYTimes).

Levitt is a prof at the U Chicago, and he has one of the best climate scientists in the world sitting just across campus, Dr. Pierrehumbert, and doesn't bother to even check in with the climate studies group there. Dubner writes at the NYTimes and has Andy Revkin writing extensively on climate change there, and doesn't bother to talk to him about this nefarious scheme. Then the only real climate scientist they talked to, Dr. Caldeira at Stanford, claims they have mis-quoted him and says the SuperF authors have reached a conclusion he doesn't share (that controlling CO2 emissions is unnecessary). And their response is to play around with the chapter wording, but they have lost any creditable sources for the conclusions they draw (Nathan Myhrvold is not a climate scientist).

Finally, Dubner and Levitt censor most negative comments about SuperF mistakes at their blog on the NYTimes website. For a self-proclaimed contrarians, they are incredibly dismissive of knowledgeable critique that runs counter to their unsupported conclusions and recommendations.

By Paul Klemencic (not verified) on 06 Nov 2009 #permalink

While the first book was packed with a lot of very interestingly odd material, there was a tone to the writing that put me off a bit. An underlying edge of slightly snarky cleverness, or something like that, which felt like it had been smoothed over by an editor.
The "Freakonomics" brand name really started wearing thin for me when the less-than-stellar blog started at the NY Times, so by the time this new book came out, I sort of said to myself, "Meh".

I think they are way overexposed and overrated.

I would like to propose not to wait until you get big sum of cash to buy goods! You should get the credit loans or auto loan and feel yourself fine