Jesse's Reviews > SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
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Aug 28, 11

Read in August, 2011

the first few chapters were just a continuation of the first book in terms of ideas, tone and excecution; thus, i was feeling pretty satisfied that i was reading such a book and becoming more of a "cold-blooded economist", than a "warm-blooded humanist" (or whatever condescending, self-congratulatory phrases they used were). and then these guys got derailed, in a very sad, strange and self-defeating way. they did this weird about face, where in one chapter they talk about the law of unintended consequences and then - in the very next chapter - they talk about solving global warming (the phrase they consistently used, instead of the more accurate global climate change) by spraying sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere. seriously. and after i picked my jaw up off the floor - because i mean talk about unintended consequences - i listened to them list there reasons why this would be a good idea and why other people (you know actual climate scientist, as opposed to inventors and economists) were afraid of this idea because of some ingrained dogma. and they did all this while consistently misrepresenting facts, stating easily falsifiable quotes without challenge, and dissing al gore, noble prize winner. did i mention they didn't talk to actual climate scientists. this was another stange aspect of this chapter: while in other sections they used large amounts of data to come to their conclusions, in this chapter they talked with the folks at "intellectual venture" and presented everything they said as truth without: 1)checking their statements for factual accuracy, 2)checking for logical fallacies and specious arguments, or 3) talking with a disinterested or antagonistic party to try and understand the full scope of the idea. if i took their chapter at face value, i would think that the solution for global climate change was simple cheap and without scary consequences, but a real easy (and fast) google search showed me the many mistakes that they made. they started their climate change chapter by presenting the "gobal cooling scare" of the 1970's as something that was scientifically agreed upon and reported in trade journals, when in reality (again, a quick google search) there were publications in popular magazines (with natgeo being the most "scientific", but not exactly peer-reviewed), and scattered papers that were never conclusive and there was nothing even close to the scientific consensus that we have today about human induced global climate change. the story about cooling in the 70's is something you hear alot from global warming skeptics, which is concerning when you read it in a book by so-called "cold-blooded economists", a simple look at the meta-analysis will show you there was no scientific conclusion about the 1970's "global cooling".

this chapter made me pause, and wonder about the whole freakonomics phenomenon. when i read the first book, i was astonished at how many things they discovered that were caused by simple adjustments to human incentives, or were just sitting there in the data the whole time and they were the ones smart enough to find the pattern. but now it makes me wonder how much of their "data" and "conclusions" were just a presentation of one side of the arguement. because just the way they use the phrase "cold-blooded economist" makes it sound like if you don't agree with their conclusions it must be because you are irrational and don't see the workd for what it really is: one large incentive experiment (which i don't wholly disagree with). but maybe the authors are missing their own incentives: having a new york times bestseller and becoming known for irreverant, yet spot on conclusions that others just "fail to see" - these are very strong incentives. just look at james frey, people will do alot to be famous and be seen as a genius. i'm not saying that this is what they did, just that if i learned anything from these books, it is to find out where the incentives come from and there you will usually find your causation. maybe the pressure to live up to the success of their first book got to them, or maybe they wanted to try and show how you could solve the world's biggest problem with a simple, cheap solution. or maybe, against all odds (and most climate scientists) they actually believe all that they wrote to be true. but i can't see how people this intelligent would take a problem this complex and ignore the power of unintended consequences – of which they just wrote – and take the word of just one company (for-profit, I might add), consult zero climate scientists and pretend that they have some sort of actual solution to climate change. following incentives on this one, it’s hard to conclude anything else but a selfish desire to appear clever, forward-thinking, and best-selling - and using a seriously dangerous problem to do so. and this is sad, from two guys who really can do great work.
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