Levitt and Dubner Embarrass Themselves on Climate Change

By Chris Mooney | October 16, 2009 8:31 am

Joe Romm has the goods. It is really sad that the authors of a book as successful and acclaimed as Freakonomics have decided, in their sequel (SuperFreakonomics, ick) to throw their lot in with those who would misinform us on such a critical issue.

More from Stoat, Mother Jones, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

I predict these protestations will have not one whit of an effect on booksales, however. Controversy sells books, and Levitt and Dubner have the media mojo to blow past all critics…


Comments (17)

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  1. Rocket Party » Is it getting warm in here? | January 8, 2010
  1. While I found the original Freakonomics quite interesting, most of what I’ve seen on their NYT website has shown a strong trend toward the “if no money is changing hands it doesn’t matter” conceit shared by economists and plutocrats. That being the case, I’m not surprised to hear that the new book panders to the same basically anti-social anti-environmental anti-anything-but-lucre audience. What a pity.

  2. njs

    has it occurred to you that you’re not correct ?
    there are an awful lot of good scientists who are not on the global warming bandwagon, and many more who question the human input to the alleged phenomenon.

  3. Cameron

    njs, they are not correct. Go read through any of the links provided to see where their science is wrong.

  4. Jon

    It’s been interesting to follow Paul Krugman’s account of the wars between the “Saltwater” and “Freshwater” economists. It’s almost like a micro version of our politics playing out among academics:




  5. Anna Haynes

    Dubner&Levitt seem a bit sensitive about criticism – I’ve tried multiple times to post links to science-oriented (i.e. negative) reviews of their book’s climate chapter, over on their blog, with no visible success.

    I just now submitted a comment giving a link to this Intersection post – if it survives Dubner&Levitt’s moderation, it’ll appear* at
    …and it will say:
    “From Chris Mooney at Discover Magazine, a round-up of reviews –

    *Don’t hold your breath.

  6. Walker

    If you have seen Ezra’s post, you will see that the book is horrendous even outside of climate change. It cannot even get basic statistics right.

  7. Marion Delgado

    I agree with Walker and I haven’t even read Ezra – whoever he is.

    Seriously, it was a dreadful book, sloppy, shallow, sensationalistic and egotistical. Just because they weren’t quite as stupid as Austrians or supply-siders, and just because they were right about John Lott, does not mean they’re right about most things.

    I for one welcome this. It reminds me of when Penn Jillette proved he was an idiot outside of his limited expertise – debunking mediums on his aptly named show “Bullshit!”

    Science is not about big egos and dick-sizing, it’s about humbly accepting whatever peer review, the total body of evidence, the various filters on acceptance of theories leaves you with.

    If they had sought to de-politicize economics and show how it fits into the larger discipline of population-based, statistical analysis of behavior, they might be useful for something.

    As it is, it’s please ooh and ah at us economists, who very rightly rule your world with our real-world expertise coupled with awe-inspiring hermetic wisdom. A routine you’d think people would be tired of by now.

  8. peternille

    correct me if i’m wrong. there is not one whit of solid scientific evidence conclusively linking climate change to human activity. anyone?

  9. Jon



    Your doubt that any of these scientific organizations did their homework before they put their reputations on the line basically amounts to a conspiracy theory.

  10. Marion Delgado

    I see Ezra is Ezra Klein. He is right, and everyone who said Freakonomics was a terrible book (D-Squared, et al.) was also right.

    I said all along that it was their entire paradigm that was wrong. Can anyone give me a counter-example of the correctness of modern neo-classical economics?

    Especially the market fundamentalism Levitt has always espoused, with the aid of the deeply reactionary Dubner. Although they’re both the kind of Republicans who pretend to be libertarians, if you dig into them a bit, you find very typical, mainstream GOP-style attacks on whatever the RNC has designated the target of the day.

  11. Sorbet

    Leviit sure seems to have gotten stuff wrong and misleading in his new book but Romm’s own smug self-righteousness is getting terribly irritating these days. He lumps Freeman Dyson in with Michael Crichton and calls him a “faker” without discussing the substance. At least a few of Romm’s posts reek of the same kind of propagandist language and hubris that he accuses climate deniers of. And he does not get nuclear power right and still seems to be convinced his stance is the right one. All this is sad considering that Romm is otherwise very well informed on climate change. A little humility could actually help his cause.

  12. Arrow

    peternille: “there is not one whit of solid scientific evidence conclusively linking climate change to human activity. ”

    Correct. From scientific point of view it can only be said that it is plausible that man made emissions have a significant impact on global climate.

    For climate science to move forward reliable climate models will have to be developed, unfortunately the only way to verify reliability of such models is through repeated comparison of their predictions with reality which will necessarily take a long time.

    Also lack of verification although lethal is not the only problem facing climate science, the fact that not a single climate model successfully predicted that in spite of rising CO2 concentration global warming will stagnate during the last decade means that current models are nowhere near the level of sophistication required to successfully predict global climate.

  13. I wonder if Chris Mooney has actually read the chapter in question. Otherwise, I think it’s rather non-professional just to link to others’ reviews to call out the authors.

    Chris, you possess the expertise to critically read Levitt and Dubner’s take yourself, and you would do your readers more of a service by providing your own critique than effectively retweeting the critiques of others. If you don’t have a copy of the source material, then you ought to withhold judgement until it’s available.

  14. Erasmussimo

    peternille and Arrow, you are both quite incorrect in claiming that there is no evidence supporting the AGW hypothesis. There are in fact mountains of evidence supporting that hypothesis. I suspect that what you mean to say is that there is no proof of the AGW hypothesis, and that statement is factually correct, but also meaningless because no hypothesis has ever been or could be proven. Science is not mathematics; proof is impossible. The decision as to whether to accept an hypothesis is a complicated one requiring a great deal of expertise and judgement. So how is a poor citizen who doesn’t possess all that expertise to decide whether the AGW hypothesis be true? The answer is simple: if a strong majority of the relevant scientists accept the hypothesis, then the most rational choice is to accept their judgement. And there’s no question that the great majority of relevant scientists have indeed embraced the AGW hypothesis. Therefore, the most rational choice for you is to accept their judgement and embrace the AGW hypothesis.

  15. Casnar

    Instead of embracing the “conventional” wisdom of the majority, why don’t we eliminate other possibilities. At one time, the majority accepted that the earth was the center of the universe; that the earth was flat…etc. Those things have been proven wrong. Science is not math, but proof is not always impossible either. Other hypothesis relating to AWG need to be explored including the supported hypothesis of polar shifting.

    Jon, conspiracy theory might be correct. If the majority of the populace follows the scientific community with blind faith as espoused by Erasmussimo, then what would prevent us from knowing truth from fiction? Those few that would go against the “community” are disregarded as “quacks” and disenfranchised. Politics and science are always based on the facts as they are know at the time. Let’s find more facts!


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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