Saturday, October 17, 2009

Superfreakonomics Is Getting Ripped

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of Freakonoimics, are out with a new book, Superfreakonomics.

Bob Murphy, who knows more about climate studies than I do, points to two harsh Paul Krugman critiques of Superfreakonomics, here and here, and says he agrees with them.

Scienceblog says about Superfreakonomics:
The result is so wrong that it has even Joe Rommand WilliamConnolley in agreement.

The heart of everyone's critique is best summarized by what Krugman says:

OK, I’m working my way through the climate chapter — and the first five pages, by themselves, are enough to discredit the whole thing. Why? Because they grossly misrepresent other peoples’ research, in both climate science and economics.
Well, well, the world wakes up to the sloppy thinking and writing of Levitt and Dubner. I had their sloppiness pegged right from the start.


  1. Heh that was a good review. Here is my review of Freakonomics. (If you follow the link, be sure to read the footnotes.)

  2. Tim Lambert critiques Superfreakonomics in one instance by lampooning their contention that the black color of solar cells contributes to global warming, mitigating any benefit of the solar cells. Lambert claims this shows they misunderstand the true cause of global warming (CO2). Yet Caldiera (super hero scientist of global warming)made exactly that argument about the dark color of tree leaves making tree planting supposedly counter-productive in fighting CO2 causing global warming see here:

    My point is that climate is a very complex subject full of feedback loops that can confound the best scientists. KISS remains the best doctrine in analyzing the climate and few scientists are adhering to this doctrine (Occam's Razor for you Prof geeks).

    More importantly all of the scientists in favor of humans causing global warming that I have read are funded in one way or the other by government. This is a powerful incentive which renders much of their research biased.

    I am no fan of Freakonomics (super or otherwise) but you guys can certainly find more worthy targets, particularly when it comes to global warming.

  3. Efinancial:

    On the solar panel stuff, the issue is what the new material is covering up. So if a dark solar panel is covering a dark roof, it doesn't really matter. But yes, I thought it was ironic that Caldeira is possibly making the same mistake.

    However, planting trees doesn't reduce the need for electricity derived from burning fossil fuels. So if you ignore economics (which these people do), then it is totally understandable that they think it's very misleading to say that solar power will lead to global warming.

    In any event, when you say Wenzel and I should "find more worthy targets," can you be more specific? If I think guys on "our side" are saying something stupid, I shouldn't bring it up because at least their dumb arguments support a conclusion I agree with?

  4. Bob

    I never thought of the authors of Freakonomics as "on our side". But I agree with you whether they are or not should not prevent you from critiquing. My brief reading of Feakonomics at the book store lead me to conclude they weren't serious and so given my limited amount of time not worth critiquing. My lack of patience is probably why I am not a scholar.

    More worthy targets (in addition to Kruger, Sumner..which you already handle well) would be the leading climate scientists who ignore economics (Hansen, et al). And any major institution who receives funding from the government. Rather than challenging their "science" challlenge their incentives by following the money and applying economic analysis.

    These scholars are as greedy as anyone and thus their objectivity is always shaded by the source of their funding. The problem is that all scholars (as near as I can tell) are funded by the government and so are all biased in the same direction.

    As you know the true beauty of free market capitalism, is its remarkable ability to find the truth in all human action by requiring that participants put their money where their mouth is. The climate scholars do not have this discipline and this should discredit them.