Freakonomics and global warming: What happens to a team of “rogues” when there is no longer a stable center to push against? (a general problem with edgelords)

A few years ago there was a cottage industry among some contrarian journalists, making use of the fact that 1998 was a particularly hot year (by the standards of its period) to cast doubt on the global warming trend. Ummmm, … Continue reading

Freakonomics 2: What went wrong?

Following up on Kaiser’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts (see here and here),
Mark Palko adds an entry in the “What happened with Freakonomics 2?” sweepstakes.

Palko’s theory is that Levitt and Dubner’s most logical decision, from a cost-benefit perspective, was to avoid peer review (here I’m using the term generally, considering statisticians such as Kaiser Fung as “peers” whether or not the reviewing is done in the context of a formal journal submission) so as to get a marketable product out the door with minimal effort:

I [Palko] am not saying that Levitt and Dubner knew there were mistakes here. Quite the opposite. I’m saying they had a highly saleable manuscript ready to go which contained no errors that they knew of, and that any additional checking of the facts, the analyses or logic in the manuscript could only serve to make the book less saleable, to delay its publication or to put the authors in the ugly position of publishing something they knew to be wrong.

I think this theory has a lot going for it, although maybe it could be framed in a slightly more positive way. Consider my favorite of Kaiser’s comments on Freakonomics 2: Continue reading

Freakonomics again: How does a government solution seem so appealing to fans of the free market?

In the discussion of the attention-grabbing “global cooling” chapter of the new Freakonomics book,some critics have asked how it is that free-market advocates such as Levitt and Dubner can recommend climate engineering (a “controlled injection of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere”), which seems like the ultimate in big-government solutions? True, the Freakonomics recommendation comes from a private firm, but it’s hard to imagine it would just be implemented in somebody’s backyard–I think you’d have to assume that some major government involvement would be necessary.

So what gives? Continue reading

Freakonomics update

Dubner defends himself here. No word on the drunk driving advice, but he has some backstory on the interviews that he and Levitt did regarding global warming. It seems pretty clear that their approach to writing Freakonomics 2 was much different than the original book: the first Freakonomics was all about Levitt’s work, whereas the most prominent part of the sequel is a discussion of the ideas of others. As I noted yesterday, this creates a huge selection issue–how did they decide whom to interview?–which is much less present in the first book. I’m also still confused that Dubner describes global warming as “a very difficult problem to solve,” given that on his blog the other day he seemed to be endorsing the view that future trends are “virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling.”

My guess is that Levitt/Dubner’s views on the topic are not completely coherent (by which I mean, not that Levitt and Dubner disagree with each other, but that between them they have a bunch of partly conflicting attitudes on the topic). As a political scientist, I’m the last person to criticize attitudes for being incoherent, and given that neither Levitt nor Dubner is an expert on climate change, it’s probably a good thing that their attitudes are fluid and not so easy to pin down. The difficulty comes when they feel the need to defend everything that they’ve written so far. Again, this is tougher to do here than in the Freakonomics 1 examples, partly because Levitt was much more of an expert on his own research than on others’ research, and partly, I suppose, because you’ll get a lot more flak in the major news media if you question global warming than if you write about the beneficial consequences of abortion.

P.S. But see the second blurb here! Continue reading

My review of Freakonomics 2

The above title is a joke. I haven’t actually seen the book. As a big-time blogger, I get some books in the mail to review, but maybe this one is sitting in my NYC office. Anyway, the backlash has begun, so maybe this is the right time to buy low and be the first to offer the contrarian claim that, despite what everybody’s saying, the book is awesome.

From a short-term economics standpoint, the controversy has gotta be good for the book. So far, Levitt and Dubner have put the words “GLOBAL COOLING” on the cover of their book, they’ve endorsed a report saying that future trends are “virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling,” and that “even if man is warming the planet, it is a small part compared with nature,” and they’ve written that “we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve.” That last bit should do the job of ticking off anybody who was with them so far! (I was actually surprised when reading the comments on that last quote–where Levitt assures us that they do believe in global warming–that pretty much all the global-warming-skeptics among the commenters still seem to think that Levitt is on their side. I guess half a loaf is better than none at all, politically speaking, but I’m surprised that more of them didn’t get angry at Levitt for saying that.)

I don’t want to get into the substance of climate models, a subject on which I’ve worked on only a little bit. (The paper we wrote a few years ago never got published–actually, we never finished it enough to submit it anywhere–and our current work on the topic is still in the research-and-writing-up stage.) But I do want to speculate a bit on the political angle. Continue reading

If anybody knows those Freakonomics people . . .

. . . could you please ask them to stop saying, “We know that voting doesn’t make good economic sense.” I recognize that “Freakonomics” is intended to be entertainment, not scholarship, but I don’t think these dudes are doing economics any favors by spreading this kind of misconception. Voting isn’t a good way to make money, but that doesn’t mean it “doesn’t make good economic sense.” The full story is here (based on an article by an economist and two political scientists). I’ll repeat here for convenience, but I recommend going to the original entry to see some of the give-and-take in the comments: Continue reading

“Not once in the twentieth century . . . has a single politician, actor, athlete, or surgeon emerged as a first-rate novelist, despite the dismayingly huge breadth of experience each profession affords.”

Tom Bissell writes: Recently, in The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer [wrote that] Not once in the twentieth century . . . has a single politician, actor, athlete, or surgeon emerged as a first-rate novelist, despite the dismayingly huge breadth of … Continue reading

“When will AI be able to do scientific research both cheaper and better than us, thus effectively obsoleting humans?”

Alexey Guzey asks: How much have you thought about AI and when will AI be able to do scientific research both cheaper and better than us, thus effectively obsoleting humans? My first reply: I guess that AI can already do … Continue reading

Sympathy for the Nudgelords: Vermeule endorsing stupid and dangerous election-fraud claims and Levitt promoting climate change denial are like cool dudes in the 60s wearing Che T-shirts and thinking Chairman Mao was cool—we think they’re playing with fire, they think they’re cute contrarians pointing out contradictions in the system. For a certain kind of person, it’s fun to be a rogue.

A few months ago I wrote about some disturbing stuff I’d been hearing about from Harvard Law School professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeuele. The two of them wrote an article back in 2005 writing, “a refusal to impose [the … Continue reading