Super Freakonomics Discredited

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.

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.