Stewart Embraces Superfreaks

By Keith Kloor | October 28, 2009 12:36 pm
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This Jon Stewart interview with Superfreaks co-author Steven Levitt will surely make Joe Romm et al reach for their Rolaids. Stewart doesn’t merely play it down the middle–he defends Levitt.

Roger Pielke Jr. highlights the one quote that will no doubt earn Stewart daggers from environmentalists.

But for me, what Stewart said in reference to the book’s controversy was more in tune with my own perspective on this and all other environmental issues:

Why does it have to be so dogmatic?

  • Michael Tobis

    Look, it’s one thing to advocate for geoengineering. It’s another to repeat practically every half-baked half-truth in the denialist playbook while you’re doing it. The damage in this case was done mostly by the latter. Many people, having read the chapter in question, will end up with a weaker and more confused grasp of the climate problem than they started with. That’s the main origin of the complaints, as should be clear enough to anyone following this story.

    The conclusion in favor of this type of geoengineering is debatable, (I am not alone in thinking it is unworkable) but that’s not the issue here.

    The issue the evidence brought to bear is grossly incorrect. Some things just aren’t true, and responsible writers just don’t go around repeating demonstrable untruths in support of their positions. There’s nothing dogmatic about saying something is wrong when it’s wrong as a matter of fact.

  • Keith Kloor

    Have you read the book or the climate change related chapters yet? I haven’t, so I don’t know whether you’re right or not. However, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m willing to defer to William Connelly’s take.

    I suspect that Jon Stewart’s puzzled response to the book’s reception has more to do with with the Romm factor and not Connelly’s. It’s also obvious in the interview that Stewart read the book and he does not believe that Dubner & Levitt are denialists.

    So given your reaction, it’s pertinent to ask your response to this question that Roger Pielke Jr. asks over at his blog:
    “What is more harmful to the cause of action, the views of the Freaks or the response to them? Easy question.”

  • Michael Tobis

    I’m not here to defend anyone in particular (except possibly myself).

    Why should any one expect everyone who opposes Dubner & Leavitt to behave responsibly? Are there other controversial topics where all participants on one side are impeccably polite? On any topic of consequence there will be voices that any particular person doesn’t like. So my response is that Pielke’s question is just silly. I’m not responsible for every D & L critic, nor is anyone else who criticizes them.

    In this case, though, you raise Joe Romm in particular. On the whole I’d agree that Romm’s tone tends to backfire, but if he saved his ammunition for comparably egregious cases as this one, I would not have a problem with it. These people deserve the Romm treatment, not for the position they have taken, but for the shabby way in which they have chosen to take it.

    More generally, the fact that people in the media and the policy sector read more Romm and less Connolley is something that I find quite unfortunate. I can’t be held responsible for their tastes in reading material, nor for the fact that a choice for polarizing material tends to be polarizing. I’d like to know why people seek out the dogmatic and then complain about it when there are plenty of alternatives available.

  • Keith Kloor


    Fair enough, and to your last point (final graph), which is a good one, I’d like to mull that over and take it up again real soon.

  • Keith Kloor

    Oh, and I’ll finally carve out some time to read the book in the next week, so I can judge this Superfreak fuss for myself.

  • Tim Lambert

    So you’ve had time to write and update four posts on the controversy, but somehow insufficient time to read the chapter? Is this somehow Joe Romm’s fault?

  • James Annan

    Hi Keith,

    I have been wondering when you are going to get around to sharing your thoughts on Superfreakonomics, which you should surely have read by now…

  • James Annan

    Hi Keith,
    I have been wondering when you are going to get around to sharing your thoughts on Superfreakonomics, which you should surely have read by now”¦

  • James Annan

    Hi Keith,
    I have been wondering when you are going to get around to sharing your thoughts on Superfreakonomics, which you should surely have read by now”¦


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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