Now, popular garbage can and does take all kinds of forms. In this case, it’s Superfreakonomics, the swftly-selling follow-up to Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics. A counter-intuitive take on economics? Whoa, count me in!
Panned in all the finest establishments, not least (and maybe the best) by Elizabeth Kolbert in the current New Yorker, the new book has all of the appeal of high-minded contrarianism for the too smart to think mixed with the feel good ease of shortcuts to to problematic solutions. Consider the promise of certain geoengineering solutions to the AGW set (The denierati, in common parlance). Anyway, Kolbert slices, dices and disposes, but also gives the nod to one of Levitt’s colleagues at the University of Chicago, Raymond Pierrehumbert.
In an open letter published to RealClimate, Dr. P-h brings it:
By now there have been many detailed dissections of everything that is wrong with the treatment of climate in Superfreakonomics , but what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right. The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them. The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking needed to see if what they were saying (or what you thought they were saying) in fact made any sense. If you were stupid, it wouldn’t be so bad to have messed up such elementary reasoning, but I don’t by any means think you are stupid. That makes the failure to do the thinking all the more disappointing. I will take Nathan Myhrvold’s claim about solar cells, which you quoted prominently in your book, as an example.
He then goes on to quote-unquote do the math, to show that Levitt and Dubner’s refutation of solar energy capture solely on the basis of the waste it generates is yet another example of making us play a game of ‘fool or liar’, in which he respectfully eliminating the possibility they are fools. He even shows his work, by manner of screenshots of wikipedia searches and other applications of The Google.
So, to recap… the tally after 4 innings
Math lesson: 1, PG: infinity- 1
But PG is definitely on the run.