Economics smackdown

I’ve mentioned my recent obsession with Google Reader. I’m particularly interested in economics, and have a bunch of feeds in my subscription list. I can’t help but comment on this fight abrewin’ over Super Freakonomics, by Leavitt and Dubner, the authors of the massively popular “Freakonomics.”

Paul Krugman, one of my personal heroes, has this to say:

The chapter opens with the “global cooling” story — the claim that 30 years ago there was a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling, comparable to the current consensus that it’s warming.

Um, no. Real Climate has the takedown. What you had in the 70s was a few scientists advancing the cooling hypothesis, and a few popular media stories hyping their suggestions. To the extent that there was a consensus, it was that there wasn’t much evidence for anything, and more research was needed.

What you have today is a massive research program involving thousands of scientists and many peer-reviewed publications, with all major international bodies agreeing that man-made global warming is real. You can, if you insist, dismiss it all as a gigantic hoax or whatever — but it’s nothing like the isolated 70s speculations about cooling.

The 13 year-old in me just can’t ignore watching a schoolyard brawl (and frankly, I’m going to read Superfreakonomics in any case). Just a couple of hours later, Leavitt lashed back:

Even Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong got in on the action before they’d even read the book.

We are working on a thorough response to these critics, which we hope to post on the blog in the next day or two. The bottom line is that the foundation of these attacks is essentially fraudulent, as we’ll spell out in detail. In the meantime, let us just say the following.

Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon and that global warming is an important issue to solve. Where we differ from the critics is in our view of the most effective solutions to this problem. Meaningfully reducing global carbon emissions has proven to be difficult, if not impossible. This isn’t likely to change, for the reasons we discuss in the book. Consequently, other approaches represent a more promising path to lowering the Earth’s temperature. The critics are implying that we dismiss any threats from global warming; but the entire point of our chapter is to discuss global-warming solutions, so obviously that’s not the case.

A fun fight, especially since both sides (thankfully) take as their starting point that global warming is real, and that it’s man-made. Given how anti-science much of the dialogue is these days, that’s hardly a given. Still, I am a bit concerned about the authority with which economics put forth (and not just Dubner and Leavitt, but also Krugman, Tim Harford, and many other folks I admire) in areas in which they have absolutely no expertise or authority.

Makes you think.

Edited October 17, 4:19pm:

Krugman rebuts:

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.

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.



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One Response to Economics smackdown

  1. Josh K-sky says:

    Interesting, and good to know that D&L aren’t disputing warming. There’s been a resurgence in nuttery of the “if global warming is established, why haven’t we had a hotter year than 1998?” We’ve had the hottest decade on record ever is why, nutbag. Bag of nuts. Cashew-sack.

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