Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Superfreakonomics, Freakonomics - By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner


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Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner reminds me of the series of entertaining mysteries by Sue Grafton: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse—with titles all the way to Z. Which makes me wonder where will the two authors of Superfreakonomics end milking the title? While the first book Freakonomics was fresh, irreverent, informative, and filled with serious research, the sequel is short of exploitative.

Telling and exposing human foibles is fine except when some of the exposition is presented as scientific research. Despite the fact that economics is still labeled the “dismal science,” there’s really no advantage in reducing it to irrelevancy. I wonder what Paul Krugman and other Nobel economic prize winners think of this infamous sequel.

Sequels often disappoint and this one is more than a disappointment—it’s an undisguised effort to cash in on the success of the first work, which I understand sold over 4 million copies.

The authors pick up a counterintuitive statement and proceed to show the world how foolish people are in believing much nonsense. This is the magic formula. This is their angle. For example they would like to convince you that prostitutes are patriotic. Go figure! They would like to persuade you that taming hurricanes and typhoons is a benign idea; but even sixth graders know about the balance of nature and the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly flapping its wings has far-reaching effects in eco-systems. Yet they seem to like tinkering with geo-engineering.

Blogger Tim Lambert reports the following: One of the injured parties is Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at Stanford University who is quoted (accurately) as saying that
"we are being incredibly foolish emitting carbon dioxide." Then Dubner and Levitt add this astonishing claim: "His research tells him that carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight." That's provocative, but alas, it isn't true. Caldeira, like the vast majority of climate scientists, believes cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions is our only real chance to avoid runaway climate change. "Carbon dioxide is the right villain," Caldeira wrote on his Web site in reply. He told Joe Romm, the respected climate blogger who broke the story, that he had objected to the "wrong villain" line but Dubner and Levitt didn't correct it; instead, they added the "incredibly foolish" quote, a half step in the right direction. Caldeira gave the same account to me. And the controversy rages on.
When newspapers report incorrect facts, they issue apologies and corrections immediately. Shouldn’t Dubner and Levitt issue an apology to Caldeira and possibly insert an errata note in future printings of Superfreakonomics? That would be the sensible thing to do. We shall see. In Freakonomics they insulted teachers by commenting on supposedly teacher-led cheating on pupil standardized tests. In the sequel the authors submit that teachers should be paid more. Are they trying to atone for their early sin?

More and more climate science experts are criticizing the book for many misleading statements and the inclusion of discredited arguments. What we have in this book is a hodgepodge of weird facts, many of which are only tangentially related to economic theory.

Superfreakonomics is not only aimless and disjointed, but also tedious. When Susan Grafton publishes a new title --let's say, SS is for Sap-- I will buy it right away because it amuses me to read her fiction. Now the next time Dubner and Levitt bring out another sequel --let's say Incrediblesuperfreakonomics-- it will not amuse anyone.
The writing techniques I use in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual--an indispensable guide:

Sentence Openers

Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn after winning the Downhill World ...
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Lindsey Vonn

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