19 Oct 2009

SuperFreak: Are You Rooting for Hitler or Stalin?

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*** Brad DeLong has the infamous Chapter 5 of the forthcoming Superfreakonomics available in PDF if you want to see what all the fuss is about. ***

This blogosphincter war is just getting absurd. In my short, illustrious career as blogger, I cannot recall ever having read so many personal emails being introduced as evidence to prove how much of a liar and a misanthrope the other guy is.

Anyway, just about the nicest treatment I have seen comes from the standup economist (HT2 DeLong). (And no, I’m not saying, “This economist is a real stand-up guy.” No, he actually bills himself as a standup comedian, who is also an economist. I cannot believe that I wasn’t the first one in that niche.) He calmly explains to Levitt why the chapter was misleading, but doesn’t condemn him to purgatory.

I noticed something about Joe Romm’s latest. He writes in his usual style, accusing his usual opponents Pielke and Morano of the worst calumny, and yet he doesn’t link to their posts. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on that, but I didn’t see any links.) So in addition to the stuff I already discussed, that’s just more evidence that Romm doesn’t fight fair. (Full disclosure: Rob Bradley was instrumental in hiring me at IER, and he and Joe Romm are “none too fond” to steal a quote from Rob Roy–see here and here.) I really don’t understand why Joe Romm is such a big name in those circles. Well, duh, I guess he’s the Paul Krugman of climate science, sans Nobel. (Romm is a scientist, btw, in case you thought he was some punk blogger.)

Last point: Don’t shed crocodile tears for Levitt and Dubner. Even though Romm set out to write a hatchet job, and withheld key facts from his readers, nonetheless Levitt and Dubner are being way too coy in their defenses. Of course the stuff in the beginning of their chapter makes it sound as if the scientists all thought the globe was going to freeze in the 1970s, whoops now it’s warming, hey make up your minds! OK if Levitt and Dubner want to take that angle, but then don’t write that–and even put “global cooling” in the subtitle of the book–and then get all huffy when people accuse you of challenging the “consensus.” Levitt and Dubner really are doing exactly what Krugman and friends are accusing them of: They cite factoids or quotes that are technically true, but which are designed to give a certain impression to the reader. Now that impression may or may not be defensible; I personally am a proud “skeptic” on all this (which is not the same as a “denier” mind you–it’s the difference between an agnostic who doesn’t want to go to hell, if it exists, versus an in-your-face atheist who rolls joints with Bible pages). But my point is, you can’t write the chapter they wrote, and then say, “Why does everyone think we are denying there’s a big problem here?!”

Let’s not forget just how unfair (some would go so far as to use the L-word) Levitt was to John Lott; Robert Wenzel reminds us here.

Now you can understand the title of this post. To ask, “Do you agree with Romm or Dubner on this one?” is a bit like asking, “Who were you rooting for in WW2 on the Eastern Front?”

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