On Having Not Yet Fully Read The SuperFreakonomics Book

One could go on for columns about the columns written on economist Steven Levitt’s and journalist Stephen Dubner’s SuperFreakonomics, the sequel to their best-selling Freakonomics.

Let’s not go there. Truth is that I expected, wanted, to very much enjoy this follow-up to the hugely entertaining and provocative Freakonomics. Truth is, too, that I’m still plodding my way through it, slow reader that I am and facing a towering pending-reading stack that threatens to overwhelm my shelves.

I’m just not there yet. Sure I’ve gotten through the long (too long) chapter on the economics of prostitution, and I suppose I learned some valuable things there. But they’re not anything that could ever have any practical application in my case. If you know what I mean.

And truth is too that I again have found some of the early reading informative and entertaining, for instance the discussion on the worst month for having a baby – and where and why. And the discussion of optimum hospitals and ERs.

But they say sequels seldom live up to the originals. And this one may be no exception. May I reserve judgment on that score whilst I continue plowing through, eventually getting to the nugget, the climate change chapter?

Thank you.

In the meantime, while not yet having worked my way through the – you’re ready for this, right? – “What Do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common” final chapter — I’ve seen and heard lots about it. Initially through an extensive radio interview with Levitt and Dubner themselves.

And since then, and in lots less flattering references, by those whose substantive science credentials on climate change dwarf, to put it mildly, those of Levitt and Dubner (nonexistent).

So, Get over it! I initially told myself on seeing the silver embossed all-capital-letters “GLOBAL COOLING” as part of the title of the new book. Sure, it leaves a contrarian first impression. And sure, again, that things have only one chance to make a first impression.

Big deal, I rationalized. They want to sell books after all. Right? What better way than to subtitle their book, also, with “Patriotic Prostitutes” and “Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance”?

They’re teases, after all, book sellers. Certainly, I conjured, the guts and heart of their substantive discussion would de-legitimize that painful start.

Oh well. Think again.

So what I’m not going to do here – not in this column, not at this time, not at this place – is go on about the substantive merits, if any, of their observations on climate change.

You heard it here first: You won’t hear it here.

I’ll refrain, as best I can, in drawing firm conclusions until – get this – I’ve read the whole book. (It’s a new standard in book review journalism.)

My colleague Zeke Hausfather in this simultaneous posting, explores SuperFreakonomics‘ takes in a way I have not seen elsewhere. Though I should warn you that he too ends up being not so enthralled with the scientific merits of their presentation.

Me, I’m reserving further judgment, waiting until I actually complete reading and mulling over their climate change chapter before saying another word about whether it really is both entertaining and informative.

Half way through, I’m finding the sequel kind-of the former and not so much the latter. But that all could change once I in fact read that last chapter and reach my own conclusions. (I’m on schedule to reach that point in the next seven to 10 days.)

I can’t, in fact, wait. And I’m hoping still to be informed, if not necessarily again entertained. But at this point, I’m not confident of that.

Oh. By the way. Have you read The New Yorker November 16 feature by frequent climate change writer Elizabeth Kolbert? Best to read her “Hosed: Is There A Quick Fix for the Climate” after reading the Levitt-Dubner book itself. But best to read it somewhere along the line for sure.

That goes too for the truly extraordinary “open letter” to his faculty colleague Steven Levitt from University of Chicago Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences Raymond T. Pierrehumbert.

But, mind you: Read both the Kolbert column and the Pierrehumbert letter only after having read the SuperFreakonomics climate change chapter, thereby keeping your impressionable mind open to its own conclusions.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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