Skip to main content

Super Freakonomics Discredited

  • Author:
  • Updated:

by Ben Cohen

Brad DeLong offers the following withering analysis of the much discussed 'Chapter 5' of 'Super Freakonomics' that offers cheap solutions to stop global warming:

My personal favorite is a giant parasol 18,000 miles in diameter at
L1 to absorb and then reradiate a chunk of sunlight in other bands. But
I have never been able to find anyone here at Berkeley who (a) knows
what they are talking about, and (b) agrees with Levitt and Dubner that
we know that Al Gore efficiency-and-conservation solutions are much
less cost-effective than Mt. Pinatubo geoengineering solutions in
dealing with global warming. That NASA and Energy and OSTP should be
working on and funding research into the possibilities of
geoengineering is something everybody I talk to agrees with. But nobody
I talk to agrees with Levitt and Dubner that
efficiency-and-conservation efforts are futile, and that we should shut
them down to bet all our chips on geoengineering.

It really does look to me like Levitt and Dubner:

  • went to Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures.

  • got wowed.

  • excitedly wrote up what they heard.

  • and then failed to do their intellectual due diligence about what they were told there.

Thus I have a little unsolicited advice for Levitt and Dubner. If I
were them, I would abjectly apologize. And I would then start editing
the chapter...

I haven't read the chapter, but the premise that 99% of the world's leading scientists have missed what a very odd economic professor and his journalist friend discovered seems slightly far fetched.

While I'm all for economics books that make the subject interesting and the reader feel clever, the authors need to be wary of stepping outside their realm of expertise. If you're not a climate scientist, your opinion doesn't count as much as a real climate scientist. Levitt and Dubner are mighty clever chaps, but they are not scientists. And they shouldn't pretend to be.