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Debunking SuperFreakonomics
Have contrarian authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner gone too far with their take on global warming?

"Everybody loves a contrarian take," said Stephan Faris in True/Slant, "but given the long history of misinformation on the subject of climate change," do we really need another pot shot at the science of global warming? The popular answer appears to be that we don't, judging by the withering criticism of SuperFreakonomics, the follow-up to the popular Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Their biggest error may be their flip tone—the chapter on global warming begins with a comparison to the 1970s global cooling scare, but it seems odd to compare a looming global disaster to "a false alarm."

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner should "abjectly apologize," said economist Brad DeLong in his blog, and then edit the global warming chapter of SuperFreakonomics. Eliminating the comparison between 1970s "global cooling" and global warming is a good place to start. And they should change or remove several false claims, including the line about how climate expert Ken Caldeira's research tells him, as Levitt and Dubner put it, that "carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight."

If we really did distort the views of a top climate scientist, said SuperFreakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner in The New York Times, "I would come after us with pitchforks too." But Ken Caldeira doesn't dispute our facts, although he does think the "villain" line overstates his position. Hopefully, after the book comes out this week, we can start debating something real—like whether we're "too pessimistic" about how much incentives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will help against global warming—instead of trying to correct distortions of our work.

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