The Sciences

SuperFreakonomics: Laughing All the Way to the Bank

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyOct 20, 2009 8:47 PM


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The critiques of the new Levitt & Dubner work keep rolling in; in particular, over at Bloomberg, journalist Eric Pooley eviscerates the book:

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner are so good at tweaking conventional wisdom that their first book, “Freakonomics,” sold 4 million copies. So when Dubner, an old friend, told me their new book would take on climate change, I was rooting for a breakthrough idea. No such luck. In “SuperFreakonomics,” their brave new climate thinking turns out to be the same pile of misinformation the skeptic crowd has been peddling for years. “Obviously, provocation is not last on the list of things we’re trying to do,” Dubner told me the other day. This time, the urge to provoke has driven him and Levitt off the rails and into a contrarian ditch.

You can read Pooley's full takedown here; it's devastating, of course. But here's the thing. I just checked, and SuperFreakonomics is currently ranked # 8 on Amazon. That's pretty much guaranteed bestseller status. I certainly don't know how long of a run the book will have; sequels rarely do as well as the original. But you can bet that Levitt & Dubner are going to be making plenty more money off the Freakonomics franchise with this item, whether it's accurate or otherwise. While we wring our hands about the egregious claims in the new book, then, it seems to me that it would be wise to ponder a much deeper question than whether the book is accurate: Why is contrarianism about climate change (and other topics) so journalistically seductive, and so financially rewarding? And is there anything that can be done to change that?

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