Sic semper contrarians

There is nothing in this world that I hate more than contrarianism. Say what you will about Villagers, but their predictive powers are probably only marginally worse than those of a coin flip. The predictions Mickey Kaus makes are always wrong. I defy any of you to name a single thing that Mickey Kaus predicted that actually happened.

And that’s why I’ve always hated the guys who wrote Freakonomics. It seemed to me they were lending an undeserved intellectual respectability to the most childish of pursuits. So I was glad to see their new book get torched by Matt Yglesias and others:

As misleading as the Superfreakonomics chapter on climate change seemed to me yesterday, the email that Steven Dubner sent to Brad DeLong really compounds the sin. Dubner whines that Joe Romm “makes it sound as if we somehow twisted and abused Caldeira’s research; nothing could be further from the truth.”

[….]

Of course it’s possible that the UCS is mistaken about some matters. And it’s possible that Ken Caldeira is mistaken about some things. But it’s not possible that Levitt and Dubner are correctly representing the views of Caldeira or climate scientists in general. Nor is it possible that Levitt and Dubner are correct when they assert that photovoltaic cells are black (they’re usually blue) nor is it correct to say that black PV cells lead to net increases in global temperature. These mistakes. A mixture of bad science and bad reportage on a crucial public policy issue, done by a writing duo who became famous for clever statistical analysis of trivial matters.

Of course, none of this will prevent George Will, David Brooks, and Ross Douthat from claiming that these jackasses have thoroughly debunked modern climate science.

Update. More from Krugman:

Levitt now says that the chapter wasn’t meant to lend credibility to global warming denial — but when you open your chapter by giving major play to the false claim that scientists used to predict global cooling, you have in effect taken the denier side. The only way I can reconcile what Levitt says now with that reality is that he and Dubner didn’t do their homework — not only that they didn’t check out the global cooling stuff, the stuff about solar panels, and all the other errors people have been pointing out, but that they didn’t even look into the debate sufficiently to realize what company they were placing themselves in.

And that’s not acceptable. This is a serious issue. We’re not talking about the ethics of sumo wrestling here; we’re talking, quite possibly, about the fate of civilization. It’s not a place to play snarky, contrarian games






81 replies
  1. 1
    wvng says:

    “Of course, none of this will prevent George Will, David Brooks, and Ross Douthat from claiming that these jackasses have thoroughly debunked modern climate science.”

    Exactly. Another zombie lie that will never die.

  2. 2
    Starfish says:

    I enjoyed Freakonomics so much so that I started buying other economics books targeted at the masses and discovered that most economists who write these books are Republican shills.

    Economics desperately wants to be a science by using complex equations and large data sets to make itself appear intelligent, and yet there seems to be much more political pandering going on than any actual scientist could accomplish without feeling at least a little dirty.

  3. 3
    beltane says:

    Fifty years from now, when the effects of climate change will be obvious to everyone, even the most stupid, George Will and David Brooks will be dead. Ross Douhat though, will still be churning out the occasional “insights”. I predict that in 2059 he will blame the current disasters on birth control pills and a failure to cut taxes.

  4. 4
    tc125231 says:

    Sure they have. The earth is flat too.

  5. 5
    Jon H says:

    They’re making a play at being the Marilyn Vos Savants of econ.

  6. 6
    MattF says:

    Does anyone actually read what Mickey Kaus writes? I mean, like, in the modern world of today, rather than in the imagined past.

  7. 7
    4tehlulz says:

    Legalized abortion cut the rate of CO2 emissions, so global warming is not a manmade phenomenon.

  8. 8
    Shinobi says:

    I fundamentally believe that Journalists are the natural enemies of scientists, especially economists and statisticians. (Due to their desire to write stories that capture attention as opposed t stories that convey accurate information.)

    I do not think that any good can come from the collaberation of natural enemies. One or the other of them will have to compromise their true nature in order for the partnership to work.

    I fear that Journalism has won this round.

  9. 9
    Warren Terra says:

    Predictions by professional pundits are actually significantly worse than random chance – there’ve been studies. To be commercially successful, pundits need to spout eye-catching nonsense.

  10. 10
    Punchy says:

    It’s a freakin’ twenty degrees colder here at this time than it’s been the past 5 years, on average. That’s almost unpossible.

    Global warming my ass.

  11. 11
    4jkb4ia says:

    Pitt is going to play Notre Dame! Maybe the game will be at night.

    (Yes, real fans would know this already.)

  12. 12
    gnomedad says:

    At its more helpful, contrarianism reminds us that
    a) the world is a complicated place, and
    b) we can easily fool ourselves.

    However, when the “contrarian” is assuring you that your (or his) most convenient assumptions are after all correct, you can be pretty sure he is a wanker.

  13. 13
    Zifnab says:

    @Shinobi:

    I fundamentally believe that Journalists are the natural enemies of scientists, especially economists and statisticians. (Due to their desire to write stories that capture attention as opposed t stories that convey accurate information.)

    I’d cede that honor to the religious nutters. Journalists are more like the parasitic organisms that simply feed on science to it’s own determent. Like mosquitos or taperworms.

    You’ll get a geologist doing a topographical map of Kansas, and some journalist will come along and headline, “World Flat? Some scientists think so!”

    But until a reporter tries to truck bomb an abortion clinic because it’s kills a million Jesus babies a year, they’ll still be under ranked.

  14. 14
    Comrade Jake says:

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the more visible climate skeptics out there is Bjorn Lomberg, who is a political scientist with some training in statistics. It’s almost like these asshats think that knowing some statistics means you can draw broad, sweeping conclusions, without consulting people with actual expertise in the field.

  15. 15
    Egypt Steve says:

    Bah. Journalism, schmournalism.

    How could anything like this have appeared in a real newspaper, like the New York Times? It’s full of on-the-record quotes.

    Amateurs.

  16. 16
    kid bitzer says:

    one of the worst things about professional contrarians is that they wind up making the c.w. look good by comparison.

  17. 17
    Egypt Steve says:

    @Egypt Steve: Dang, posted in the wrong thread. Comment was intended for the “Bogus Investment ratings” thread!

  18. 18
    trollhattan says:

    @Punchy

    Dude, you’re texting from the Safeway walk-in beer cooler again.

  19. 19
    aimai says:

    I agree with Starfish. I enjoy thinking about things from a variety of philosophical and scientific perspectives and I bought myself “The Economic Naturalist” on the strength of good reporting in blogs and other places. What I discovered was a patently illogical (though I think good faith) effort to explain all real world phenomenon by the explanation “its cheaper!” to do things this way, or that. Closer examination reveals that “it” isn’t “cheaper” for everyone, that you have to ignore market externalities, opportunity costs, government regulation, fashion, taste, and history to make this argument and that the economist frequently has to resort to complaining that you just don’t understand the beauty and utility of the model even as he, himself, points out that he’s utterly misunderstood or misrepresented the facts of the case.

    I gave up by chapter two.

    aimai

  20. 20
    anonevent says:

    @Punchy:

    GlobalLocal warming my ass.

    fixed.

  21. 21
    raptusregaliter says:

    @Comrade Jake:

    This is called “the halo effect.” It’s why so many Village asshats would invite Michael Crichton to talk about climate change just because he was an M.D. and a famous writer.

    His opinions on climate change were shit, but he was an M.D. and a famous writer so he must know what he’s talking about. This is what passes for logical inference in the Village. And, sadly, in most of America as well.

  22. 22
    Joel says:

    I liked the original Freakonomics, but there wasn’t a whole lot of contrarianism in there. Some tortured similes though (crack cocaine is like nylon pantyhose!).

  23. 23
    anonevent says:

    @raptusregaliter: Spraking as someone who is trying to get his PhD, I blame the experts. The should be saying that while they know a lot, anything they say outside of their field should only be treated as opinion. I can understand the temptation to enjoy being treated as an expert on everything, but they need to resist it.

  24. 24
    Janet Strange says:

    I’m not sure there’s nothing I hate worse than contrarians, but they’re up there. In the top ten, at least.

    I appreciate people who make an honest effort to step outside their own echo chamber and look at things from other points of view, but they’re not contrarians. That’s how contrarians see themselves, but they’re wrong.

    Contrarians just knee-jerk oppose whatever everyone else is saying – e.g. 2 + 2 = 5! This makes them feel smarter than everyone else and gathers attention, which is what they’re really after. Describes a lot of internet trolls.

    Sort of related quotation, “There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.” -Theodore Rubin

  25. 25
    Comrade Jake says:

    Thanks for the update DougJ. Nice to see Krugman weigh in on this one. Levitt and Dubner are going to have some solid egg on their faces when it’s all said and done.

  26. 26
    burnspbesq says:

    @aimai:

    you have to ignore market externalities, opportunity costs, government regulation, fashion, taste, and history to make this argument

    Yup. Which is a concise and highly accurate description of how the modern Republican Party rolls on anything where science or economics gets in the way of enriching its friends and crippling its enemies.

  27. 27
    Brachiator says:

    @Warren Terra:

    Predictions by professional pundits are actually significantly worse than random chance – there’ve been studies. To be commercially successful, pundits need to spout eye-catching nonsense.

    Punditry is the journalistic equivalent to the newspaper astrology column. Punditry doesn’t have to be right, it’s just gotta be entertaining and provide comfort for those who need to believe easily digestible bullshit.

  28. 28
    Joel says:

    @anonevent: I agree. Lots of scientists in my department opine as know-alls when they’re barely a level above know-nothings (outside of their direct area of expertise).

    More than what we know, is what we don’t.

  29. 29
    raptusregaliter says:

    Thanks for the update DougJ. Nice to see Krugman weigh in on this one. Levitt and Dubner are going to have some solid egg on their facesgoing to breeze through softball morning show interviews and still make millions when it’s all said and done.

    Fixed.

  30. 30
    Brachiator says:

    @Shinobi:

    I fundamentally believe that Journalists are the natural enemies of scientists, especially economists and statisticians. (Due to their desire to write stories that capture attention as opposed to stories that convey accurate information.)

    I’m not sure that economists and statisticians count as scientists. And if you look at some of the work of Economics Nobel winners, many of yesterday’s “amazing insights” are today’s “WTF?”

    A good journalist (increasingly hard to find) shouldn’t have too many friends. During the 70s, the best journalists saw it as a badge of honor to be on Richard Nixon’s enemies list.

  31. 31
    Citizen_X says:

    @Punchy:

    It’s a freakin’ twenty degrees colder [weather] here [local] at this time than it’s been the past 5 years, on average. [local climate]

    Next time, learn the difference between “local weather” and “global climate” before you attempt to contribute.

    And anonevent: the earth sciences, and how humanity reacts to environmental conditions, are, by nature, multidisciplinary topics. They pretty much require efforts to understand matters beyond one’s own particular intellectual ghetto. Plus, “outsiders” can bring challenges and new perspectives to a subdiscipline.

    If a researcher reaches beyond their grasp, I trust the scientific process will eventually prove that. It’s the media, and their reflexive sensationalism and arguments from authority that bring trouble.

  32. 32
    Citizen_X says:

    @Joel: That said, you guys do have a point. I’ve always marveled how earning a Ph.D. automatically makes you an expert on everything.

  33. 33
    Eric U. says:

    My advisor, who is an incredibly smart man, has turned into a global warming denier. I keep telling him that he’s going against the literature without even reading it. Goes right over his head. One of his sponsors actually made the newspaper as a global warming denier. Don’t know why the deniers get newspaper space and the mainstream guys don’t.

    The part I don’t understand is that to be a denier is to be willing to take an immense risk; the disappearance of mankind. It would be slow and painful, and some people might survive living in mine shafts. All to save a little money.

  34. 34
    Joel says:

    @Eric U.: Has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with ego. I mean, what do guys like Peter Duesberg and Kary Mullis get out of denying that HIV causes AIDS? A congratulations from the PM of South Africa?

  35. 35
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    It’s a freakin’ twenty degrees colder here at this time than it’s been the past 5 years, on average. That’s almost unpossible.

    Global warming my ass.

    5 years? ! ? ! Wow! ! ! That’s a large sample size which really smashes the theories of scientists who are looking at climate over centuries!

  36. 36
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    At its more helpful, contrarianism reminds us that
    a) the world is a complicated place, and
    b) we can easily fool ourselves.

    Well. . . Most great ideas were contrary to the predominant thinking at the time, but that doesn’t mean that just by being contrary you are promoting a great idea. Combine that with the sad fact that contrarians tend to suffer consequences (Martin Luther King, Gallileo, Harvey Milk, etc) you get people who want to have the cachet of a contrarian without taking the risks of actually contradicting society.

    Which gives us pearls of wisdome like “award nuclear weapons the Nobel Prize!” or “put Sarah Palin on the Supreme Court!”

  37. 37
    Riggsveda says:

    Thank you. These jackasses were on NPR Friday postulating why selling one’s organs seems like a harmless enough idea, and how could anyone object, especially when it comes to kidneys where everyone has a spare and only needs one anyway? Mmm. Maybe because the poor would be most likely to end up selling their bodies to the rich, and there’s a bit of slavery and organ farming in there somewhere? But that never occurred to them, and nor did it occur to the interviewer to ask them to explain why they thought the whole thing had been made illegal in the first place, or what moral grounds might exist for forbidding an otherwise straightforward free market transaction. They never carry their logic to the next level, and it’s easy to justify your opinions when you don’t.

  38. 38
    Maus says:

    I fundamentally believe that Journalists are the natural enemies of scientists, especially economists and statisticians. (Due to their desire to write stories that capture attention as opposed t stories that convey accurate information.)

    I do not think that any good can come from the collaberation of natural enemies. One or the other of them will have to compromise their true nature in order for the partnership to work.

    I fear that Journalism has won this round.

    Besides that someone with an actual science degree isn’t going to be able to afford to live on a science reporter’s salary.

  39. 39
    Tara the antisocial social worker says:

    Most great ideas were contrary to the predominant thinking at the time, but that doesn’t mean that just by being contrary you are promoting a great idea.

    That’s it, in a nutshell. Call yourself “politically incorrect,” and you’ve got a handy substitute for making sense.

  40. 40

    There is nothing in this world that I hate more than contrarianism.

    Nuh-uh!

    And according to Dubner you’re all being shrill. Also.

    We have a chapter in SuperFreakonomics about global warming and it too will likely produce a lot of shouting, name-calling, and accusations ranging from idiocy to venality. It is curious that the global-warming arena is so rife with shrillness and ridicule. Where does this shrillness come from? Some say that left-leaning activists have merely borrowed their right-leaning competitors from years past.

    (L,G &$)

  41. 41
    Interrobang says:

    Shit like the confusion between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ is why I like the term “climate change” better than the term “global warming,” at least when talking to the average schlub. It’s a lot easier to explain “You know how the weather now isn’t like it was when you were a kid?” to one of these “Global warming, my ass!” assholes if you get their heads around the term “climate change” first, because they almost always will agree with you that the weather isn’t like it was 30 or 40 years ago. This is particularly evident for those of us in Soviet Canuckistan because we see a lot of news stories about how the Arctic is melting and our Inuit people are increasingly unable to cope with it.

  42. 42
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Eric U.:

    The part I don’t understand is that to be a denier is to be willing to take an immense risk; the disappearance of mankind. It would be slow and painful, and some people might survive living in mine shafts. All to save a little money.

    Maybe I’ve missed out on the latest literature, but I don’t remember seeing a scenario quite that grim. Global climate change won’t wipe out all of humanity; it’s not like the Earth’s surface is going to be rendered completely uninhabitable.

    The effects will be bad, no doubt about it; the global population will take a large hit from famine, warfare, and disease, many economic centers such as London and New York will be abandoned as they sink beneath the waves, and the geopolitical pecking order as we currently understand it will be turned upside-down, but it’s not like the world will completely come to an end. A new equilibrium will eventually establish itself, the people who are still around will adapt, and life will go on, if not in a manner we would be comfortable with. The real effects of global climate change will be bad enough, we don’t need to overdramatize them.

  43. 43
    Deschanel says:

    @MattF:

    Does anyone actually read what Mickey Kaus writes? I mean, like, in the modern world of today, rather than in the imagined past.

    Andrew Sullivan. See, this is why I hate Slate, their ‘contrarian’ stances that very unfunnily end up being in favor of corporatism, Republicanism, anti-environmentalism.. I could go on, but Slate’s whole model is to cutesily pretend that their anti-DFH, anti-progressive stances are somehow radical new thinking. Contrarian!
    When it’s a bunch of white guys in Dockers in provincial DC, protecting the status quo. Pretending they aren’t. Women and minorities get their special separate but equal sections though, bwaha. (Root /XX- what progress we’ve made!).

    About the verbal tangle over “global warming/ climate change” :
    Can we just go back to calling it POLLUTION? Bring back that crying Native American!

    I’m not kidding. Fighting semantics with fools over climate change (which is very real) is not half as effective as calling it what it is, POLLUTION. People will believe stupid lies about climate change, but I think some effort ought to be made to address the cause, not the (admittedly catastrophic) symptom.

    Everytime it snows, FOX viewers will be all, “global warming, huh!” because of what they’re told. I think environmentalists would be better off showing the factories pumping emissions, educating about the carbon pumped by a half-billion cars worldwide, the despoiling of our oceans. These all play a role in climate change, but “global warming” wasn’t a great catch- phrase to get people emotionally involved- neither is “climate change”.

    Being Don Draper in 1970, my advertising pitch to make people care: bring back the word POLLUTION into this dialogue. Or something striking and catchy for the 21st century.

  44. 44
    ds says:

    Mickey Kaus is really uncanny in that way.

    There have been a couple times he’s said something on his blog that I actually agreed with. Each time my initial reaction was “I guess a stopped clock is right twice a day” but then shortly after I’d get a sinking feeling and realize I was making some sort of wrong assumption.

  45. 45
    jl says:

    Ooops. Reality bites back at the Freakonomics enterprise. If this chapter is as bad as it looks to be, and discredits the latest episode in facile economics just-so-stories for the masses, this economist and statistician thinks that is just fine.

    I’ll take a few drinks before reading the chapter when it comes out. Seems like they did not perform due diligence on understanding the basics of global warming, which is not that hard. Anyone who has had a good college course in physics should be able to work through the basic equations (which can be found on wikipedia, by the way. If I understand it correctly it matches what you get in textbook’s. though here I admit I am not an expert and if some one see something wrong with the wikipedia article, please let me know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I.....ouse_model ).

    But, it looks like the totally misuderstood the long run feedback effects, and time scales in determining the long run thermal equilibrium temperature for the earth’s atmosphere. Economists, of all people should know that these kind of equilibrium arguments are complex and need to be understood thoroughly before you go popping off with half baked analysis. Right? Equilibrium arguments are central to all of neoclassical economics. They should have gotten a big red flag right there before proceeding.

    Also looks like they did not even do due diligence in doing their homework in their own field. I notice that Krugman says that they misinterpreted an important paper by Weitzman, but Krugman says that is understandable because the Weitzman paper is full of hard math.

    Well, I disagree. I have read that paper by Weitzman, and 1) math is not that hard, and 2) if you do have trouble following the math Weitzman is considerate enough to explain what he is doing in plain English. The plain English says that making decisions based on the average outcome is not a rational strategy if there is a small chance of utter and complete disaster. As the probability of disaster increases, a wide class of decsision rules says that you should quickly start focusing on avoiding disaster rather than on the average or expected outcome.

    Krugman says that
    “But you’d never get this point from the way the book quotes Weitzman, which cites his probability of utter catastrophe as if it were a reason to be skeptical of the need to act.”

    I do not see how anyone who understands the English language could read the paper and come away with that conclusion. It totally misunderstands the central point and whole purpose of the paper.

    So, perhaps they can recall the initial printing and rewrite the thing. That would be responsible thing to do, given what people like Will and company will do with it.

    This gives serious economists who have studied global warming seriously a bad name. Two examples are William Nordaus at Yale, who has his own economic greenhouse simulation model that he has made public, so you can download it, run it, etc. Nordaus has been advocating a carbon tax starting now at between $30 and $50 a ton, and recommends establishing an international tax framework now to facilitate increases should they be warranted.

    http://nordhaus.econ.yale.edu/

    A fellow named Roy Radner at New York University has been trying to develop workable contracts and treaty provisons to prevent greenhouse gase omissions, again, with an eye towards the prospect that things might be worse than they seem now. Radner also shows his work.

    http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~rradner/

    By the way, Radner is the guy who developed the equilibrium economic theory behind financial engineering. He noted back then (in plain English) that his model had to assume that everyone had the same expectations about alternative states of the world, and that these expectations had to be correct, otherwise it would not work. Something conveniently ignored, until the housing bust and financial meltdown.

    If the Freakanomics dude are such hotshot tuned in economicsts, why didn’t they talk with the serious and very well known economists who are doing work in the field?

  46. 46
    ds says:

    I never really understood why they stopped saying “global warming” and started using “climate change.”

    I mean yeah I guess it’s technically more accurate, because there will be lots of changes to the climate, and some places might even become cooler, but “climate change” sounds really benign.

    But whatever branding you use won’t make a difference if the media continues to report on the issue as “Some Democrats say the earth is warming” and then switch to a clip of teabaggers shouting about “CAP AND TAX.”

    Somehow our elites, or at least influential opinion makers are going to have to start taking their responsibility seriously and explain to the public the scientific reality, instead of lazily treating it like every other “hippies vs. the conservative heartland” political issue.

    Maybe requiring journalism majors to take basic science classes will help?

  47. 47
    tootiredoftheright says:

    @ds:

    “”Maybe requiring journalism majors to take basic science classes will help?”

    Even when the scientist uses the most basic explanation and tries to correct the misconception of the journalist the journalist will still eff it up or the editor will.

  48. 48
    tootiredoftheright says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    The issue is more about what happens to the atmosphere itself. Having the earth’s atmosphere becoming CO2 rich is kinda bad since it suffocates most living things especially humans. Plus there is the worry although still largely unknown that global warming with all the CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere as well as the frozen ice storing the CO2 melting is that at a certain point the oceans which are aborbing a fair amount of the CO2 might get to the point they release it into the atmosphere. We have a good idea what the effects are due to two lakes in Africa releasing all their CO2 into the air. Quite a number of people died or had very serious neurological damage. The Earth’s atmosphere could change very quickly to something very fatal to us or eventually be fatal. This could cause us to go extinct or push us on the brink that combined with all the other effects wipe humanity out.

    There is also the effect of mass extinctions and what might come to take up the place of a lot of current species. This could be quite bad in terms of disease bearing insects as well as what they would do the food supply whatever remains of it.

  49. 49
    ds says:

    Even when the scientist uses the most basic explanation and tries to correct the misconception of the journalist the journalist will still eff it up or the editor will.

    That’s why I get the sense that a lot of journalists aren’t even doing their usual kowtowing to the right. They frankly just don’t understand the science behind global warming at all, or even how to understand a scientific report.

    So whenever a conservative foundation comes up with some bullshit report supposedly “casting doubt” on the science, it really sounds credible to them, and they report on it as if it’s equal in weight to all those thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies with all sorts of technical mumbo jumbo they don’t understand.

  50. 50
    jetan says:

    Kaus always reminds me of that line from Spinal Tap: “Well, Nigel is confused, isn’t he? It’s not your job to be as confused as Nigel.”

  51. 51
    El Cid says:

    Sure, you think that contrarians focus on shallow, right-leaning presuming that long-held and liberal-leaning assumptions are wrong — but what if they aren’t! Contrarian!

  52. 52
    jl says:

    I guess I am the serious nerd raining on the snark parade. Sorreez that I giv u a sadz. Anyway, did a little internet surfing and results below.

    For those who want to witness the trainwreck early, DeLong has posted the chapter on global warming (I’ve taken out the prefix to the URLs in order to avoid moderation):

    October 17, 2009
    Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Purchase Life Insurance
    Finally…

    Download Superfreakonomics chapter 5

    (delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/10/superfreakonomics-global-cooling-patriotic-prostitutes-and-why-suicide-bombers-should-purchase-life-.html)

    The physicists and climatologists at Realclimate blog take a look at Levitt and Dubner’s enthusiasm for geoengineering, and find it misguided. They also show that they have a better understanding of cost-benefit than the two economist authors. I was not going to mention about the badness of most global warming cost-benefit analyses, but they brought it up: many of the analyses are incomplete because they ignore necessary consequences of global warming and control efforts, for example, the costs of ocean acidification, and the short run benefits of expanding the portfolio of energy sources with unstable fossil fule prices, and the cheapness of conservation efforts. They are really bad in a most basic way.

    Why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering and why they are wrong Oct 18 2009
    Realclimate.org
    (realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/10/why-levitt-and-dubner-like-geo-engineering-and-why-they-are-wrong/#more-1344)

    Below is an article from Science that I read awhile ago, which explains the details of the equilibration process for the long run greenhouse effect, and why there will always be so much uncertainty in the estimates until we can get orders of magnitude more precision in various estimates. Since reading this article I have found that there are a number of articles on this issue, but this is the first one I found via Realclimate.org.

    Interesting that the necessary uncertainty is played up by contrarians to argue against control efforts, but then ignored when advocating extreme policies like pumping mass quantities of pollution into the upper atmosphere for centuries as a quick and cheap (and relaible?) fix.

    Why Is Climate Sensitivity So Unpredictable?
    Gerard H. Roe, et al.
    Science 318, 629 (2007);
    (sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/318/5850/629)

    Below is the realclimate blog article explaining the significance of the article above.

    The certainty of uncertainty
    Realclimate.org
    (realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/10/the-certainty-of-uncertainty)

    On second thought, it may be natural that applied policy economists would not bother to understand the equilibration process, or even know that it was important in this case, since economics has no theory for how any equilibrium is acheived and no well accepted dynamic theory showing how the economics system approaches equilibrium. Whatever it is, stable or not, if one exists, the rule is Assume You Are In Equilibrium Instantly.

    Final comments, the author of the Realclimate post quotes Levitt as saying the following on NPR:

    ‘ “No problem has ever been solved by changing human behaviour” (possibly not exact quotes, but close enough). ‘

    Levitt is doubling down, it looks like, and not using common sense in recognizing that he may have gotten it wrong. That statement of his is really far gone into complete inanity and wrongness, even for an economist. A major theme of economics is how changing a peoples’ incentives can be a very powerful force in changing human behavior. Unless you specify people’s goals, constraints and incentives, that statement does not even mean anything. It is not even wrong, as hard scientists would put it.

    This is sad. More egg on the face of economics. And more damage done to serious efforts to understand climate change.

  53. 53
    jl says:

    Where is my ultra nerdy follow up comment? If I don’t see it soon, will post it again.

  54. 54
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @tootiredoftheright:

    The Earth’s atmosphere could change very quickly to something very fatal to us or eventually be fatal.

    [citation needed]

  55. 55
    jl says:

    Oh noez, people start to fact check the original Freakonomics. Felix Salmon finds a patently misleading abuse of a reference in a passage on the Northern Spotted Owl in the original book, which makes it look like the article’s author is stating costs 40 to 100 times higher than he really is:

    October 18th, 2009
    Levitt and Dubner on the northern spotted owl
    Felix Salmon

    (blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/10/18/levitt-and-dubner-on-the-northern-spotted-owl)

  56. 56
    jl says:

    For those who want to witness the trainwreck early, DeLong has posted the chapter on global warming (I’ve taken out the prefix to the URLs in order to avoid moderation):

    October 17, 2009
    Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Purchase Life Insurance
    Finally…

    Download Superfreakonomics chapter 5

    (delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/10/superfreakonomics-global-cooling-patriotic-prostitutes-and-why-suicide-bombers-should-purchase-life-.html)

  57. 57
    Church Lady says:

    Unlike Krugman, you had the courtesy to keep the comments open. You’re obviously more open to potential disagreement than Krugman.

  58. 58
    Snort says:

    Not to be contrarian, Mickey Kaus predicted that John Edwards would be caught dipping an illicit wick, so there’s one.

    Plus, Kaus has some apparently solid opinions about cars, if you can find his automotive screeds on that weird Slate interface thing.

  59. 59
    AhabTRuler says:

    @Snort: Yeah, but he blows goats, so whaddya want?

  60. 60

    When my aging Mom talks about something unexpected like how they’re just tonight getting snow in Massachusetts in October, I always say, “Well, you know that’s what global warming does- it doesn’t make things ‘warmer’ so much as it increases the VIOLENCE of the weather.”

    Which is perfectly true- weather and climate are chaotic systems and increasing the energy in them will push them to more striking outlying extremes, and on AVERAGE maybe things get warmer but what you’ll notice more is that things get CRAZIER.

    She buys it, so there’s hope. One more person with some concept of what global warming actually means… This is a lady who’s lost a breast to cancer and still uses saccharin on purpose because she’s skeptical and figures they wouldn’t sell the stuff if it was bad for you…

  61. 61
    tootiredoftheright says:

    “The Earth’s atmosphere could change very quickly to something very fatal to us or eventually be fatal.

    [citation needed]

    Past geological evidence. You know the same stuff the right wingers post to proclaim that higher CO2 concentrations aren’t bad for us while neglecting to mention the oceans covered far more of the Earth’s surface. The amount of O2 was also less.

    CO2 in certain amounts is toxic to human beings. It takes a long time to adapt to even minor changes, it’s a generational thing.

    Also if the atmosphere changes then the atmospheric pressure changes and that can be fatal to humans if sudden or even gradual.

  62. 62
    tootiredoftheright says:

    @Chris Johnson:

    “because she’s skeptical and figures they wouldn’t sell the stuff if it was bad for you…

    Cigaretes and many other things come to mind on that statement.

  63. 63
    Mr Furious says:

    @Brachiator:

    Punditry is the journalistic equivalent to the newspaper astrology column. Punditry doesn’t have to be right, it’s just gotta be entertaining and provide comfort for those who need to believe easily digestible bullshit.

    That is awesome.

  64. 64
    Mr Furious says:

    @Snort: Agreed. Kaus’ columns on cars are the only thing of his I’ve ever read all the way through—and they’re enjoyable.

  65. 65
    Uloborus says:

    @tootiredoftheright:

    That’s not a citation, though. The question isn’t ‘is this something that is capable of happening’ it’s ‘is there any reason to believe this will happen’. Truth to say, I’ve never heard of this phenomenon and wouldn’t know where to look to find out if there was a reasonable chance of the ocean releasing its stored CO2 – or how much CO2 is involved.

  66. 66
    tootiredoftheright says:

    @Uloborus:

    A third of the man made CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans. Due to this and the absorbation of natural CO2 being irregular C-14 dating tests aren’t done on aquatic life or lifeforms that eat a lot of aquatic life since the results wouldn’t be accurate and C-14 tests done to validate this have done so for decades. Said tests being misrepesented by evolution deniers to cast doubt on all carbon dating tests.

    http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/vi.....o?id=17726
    Of more concern then the oceans releasing the stored CO2 is the effect of all the CO2 being builtup in the ocean itself making it more acid and therby possibly affecting various marine life. Making the oceans acidic could have very grave consequences for the Earth’s biosphere.

    http://www.reuters.com/article.....K520081215 adds another element of caution as to why scientists urge caution to CO2 capture plans involving the ocean. It involves the release of another gas.

  67. 67
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @tootiredoftheright:

    None of the articles I have read so far even hint at the possibility of the atmosphere itself becoming toxic to life, or at least to human life. I’m asking where this prediction has been made, and by whom. Per Wikipedia (all standard Wikipedia disclaimers apply), CO2 currently comprises less than .04% of the atmosphere; it becomes toxic to humans at levels in excess of 7%. The amount of CO2 would have to increase over 175 times to reach toxic levels.

  68. 68
    The De-Lurker at The Threshold says:

    Well, this time Even The Liberal New Republic ™ has denounced D&L’s contrarianism for its own sake:

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-vi.....needs-redo

    Is it just me, or are they going out of their way to atone for the B-Mac debacle from the days when Sully was editor-in-chief?

  69. 69
    vg says:

    Mickey Kaus was right about the John Edwards affair at a time when essentially no one else was.

  70. 70
    tootiredoftheright says:

    ” CO2 currently comprises less than .04% of the atmosphere; it becomes toxic to humans at levels in excess of 7%”

    And of course since CO2 is heavier then air at ground level the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doesn’t have to be 175 times what it is now to be lethal to humanity since it’s at ground level not three miles up that matters.

    O3 at ground level is toxic to humans. Guess what produces this Ozone at ground level, pollution from fossil fuels.
    Acid rain is a real issue kills lots of fish and crackdowns on it have had some effect in halting enviromental destruction.

    Changes in local atmosphere can be fatal to humans. Research for years have pointed out that atmospheric pressure changes are fatal to humans. Part of that pressure change is due to temperature changes so yeah global climate change could cause a severe pressure change.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_pollution I would consider that a change in the air we breathe so to a certain extent changes in the atmosphere being fatal to humans is known.

  71. 71
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @tootiredoftheright:

    Again, who (besides you) is predicting that the atmosphere itself will become toxic to humans as a result of global warming? You’ve presented some pretty bleak scenarios, but so far no actual numbers or cites to back any of them up.

    And of course since CO2 is heavier then air at ground level the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doesn’t have to be 175 times what it is now to be lethal to humanity since it’s at ground level not three miles up that matters.

    Fine. So instead of 175 times, it’s…what? 50 times? 20 times? How much is sufficient to render the atmosphere at the surface toxic?

  72. 72
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @Punchy: On your ass, globular as it is, I’m sure it’s colder than a polar bear’s used to be.

  73. 73
    tootiredoftheright says:

    “20 times? How much is sufficient to render the atmosphere at the surface toxic?

    First like I said it’s a possiblity. Certaintly local areas can have the very air turn toxic by pollution and global warming.

    Second we do know that lakes can release their stored carbon with very fatal consequences. Over a thousand people died in Africa due to a lake releasing it’s C02 and to hopefully prevent it from happening again they are putting pipes to extract the CO2 from the lakebed before it builds up to that point again wheter it works is another matter.

    One of the ideas to reduce C02 emissions is to dump the C02 in the ocean which already takes a third of the carbon dioxide emissions that are man made. Add in all the natural emissions from volcanoes, forest fires, animals and that is a lot of potential stress on the carbon reservior.

    How much can the oceans hold before it would be released? Nobody has any real idea. The ocean stores about sixty times more C02 then the atmosphere has in it right now.

    If that sixty times got released what the effects would be are unknown.

    1.6 million tonnes of CO2 was what Lake Nyos released and that killed about 1700 people.

    27 billion tonnes per year is what human activities release each year and half to a third is captured by the ocean depending upon which study you use.

    130-230 million tonnes is what volcanoes release each year and volcanoes are the largest single source of natural C02. So yeah I think putting out 130 times or more then nature might be a problem for the enviorment to handle over a number of years.

    Yeah so it does sound pretty bad if a bunch of gigatonnes of C02 got released and due to it being denser then air drifting down and staying close to the ground.

  74. 74
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @tootiredoftheright:

    First like I said it’s a possiblity.

    WHAT? WHAT IS A POSSIBILITY?

    You keep bringing up these doomsday scenarios saying “it could happen”, but you can’t be bothered to explain how or why. Jesus Christ, it’s the Chicken Littles like you that make the job of the denialist assholes so much easier.

    Yes, I know about Lake Nyos (and Mounoun, and Kivu). I also know that those events were very localized. Again, how much CO2 would have to be released into the atmosphere to make it toxic across the globe? Is there enough available CO2 in the oceans to reach this level? Show me some numbers or shut the hell up. Jesus, what we know is going to happen is bad enough, we don’t need to add fantasy doomsday scenarios on top of it, that just keeps everyone else from taking you seriously (unless that’s the point).

  75. 75
    tootiredoftheright says:

    We don’t even know what really caused Lake Nyos to release it’s carbon or when it could happen again.

    We don’t know how much C02 the oceans can store from man made sources. We don’t know what the real effects would be from continuing to store all the C02. We know the oceans are getting more acidic but what will happen with that is still unknown yet it is worrisome to many scientists who have studied the matter. Could it wipe out all the ocean life if it continues? What would the consequences of that be?

    The oceans have enough C02 stored to make the atmosphere one thirds of the way to being unbreathable. The issue is what happens prior to being dispersed in the atmosphere if it got all released. Then you got all the ice caps and frozen ice that in addition to have huge reserves of C02 in them have a lot of stored man made pollutants melting releasing what they have stored. One of the worries of global warming is that the stored CO2 may be released accelerating global warming. Maybe all that stored C02 may be enough to trigger the oceans into releasing their stored CO2.

    No one has any real idea, because no one has ever seen such an effect occur. For all we know the oceans releasing their stored C02 could have happened several times and occured in such a short period of time geologic wise that it was never recorded down yet triggered mass extincitions.

  76. 76
    gwangung says:

    @tootiredoftheright: This geologist is not impressed with your musings.

  77. 77
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @gwangung:

    I’m just a frickin’ code monkey who’s knowledge of geology and chemistry is, shall we say, less than rudimentary, but even I know he’s full of shit. Or he’s trolling and trying to score points for denialists by pretending to be a stereotypical idiotic alarmist.

  78. 78
  79. 79
    tootiredoftheright says:

    @gwangung:

    Yeah like I said the oceans releasing their stored CO2 is a real issue that no one has any idea when it could happen or how much CO2 it would take to trigger the release.

    But we know that is very bad when a lake releases stored CO2 so one would think it would be incredibly horrifingly bad if the oceans released their stored CO2.

    Also ocean acidification due to increased storage of CO2 is a real issue that is growing among oceananic scientists. We may not have any fish due to this.

    No one knows the real effects of the ocean storing so much C02 then nature typically has it do. It may take centuries it may take decades no one has any real clue of the effects.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....124553.htm yeah scientists are indeed worried about the C02 in the oceans.

  80. 80

    […] pseudo-denialist authors of Superfreakonomics (in truth, contrarians of the vanity kind that DougJ writes about), professionals with credibility to defend, so worthwhile to […]

  81. 81
    Nathanael says:

    Statistics is wonderful, but most people who know “some statistics” are more ignorant than people who know none. It’s a field full of perverse and surprising results, which means that a little knowledge tends to lead people to the wrong conclusion. It’s not just formulas — there’s a mass of stuff about how to sample properly, bias issues, question design, etc., and that’s the stuff which people with a “little knowledge” don’t usually know.

    A lot of knowledge of statistics, on the other hand, can lead you to the right conclusion…..

    …or give you the tools to effectively mislead other people. Darrell Huff’s _How to Lie With Statistics_ is the classic of the genre.

    The main global warming denialists seem to be using the techniques described in that book. Their less informed followers are just parroting.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] pseudo-denialist authors of Superfreakonomics (in truth, contrarians of the vanity kind that DougJ writes about), professionals with credibility to defend, so worthwhile to […]

Comments are closed.