Monday, October 19, 2009

"SuperFreakonomics": Not-So-Super Analysis of Climate Change?

The Economist's "Free Exchange" blog has an interesting post on the follow-up book to "Freakanomics" entitled, rather unimaginatively, "SuperFreakonomics." Apparently, Mssrs. Leavitt and Dubner have decided to ply their economic expertise to the science of climate change in a manner that does a disservice to both disciplines:
One interesting point that a number of critics have made is that the Freakonomists' writing seems to be vastly different in quality when using research that Mr Levitt has himself produced (as was the case in the first book) than when addressing topics he has not previously discussed. This isn't all that difficult to understand; Mr Levitt no doubt chooses his research topics based on things like the quality of data available rather than the likelihood of a particular question being "hot button". And there are also very different publication standards for academic work than there are for popular publications.
We might lament the loss of an age when there were true "renaissance men" like Jefferson, Franklin or da Vinci, but the fact remains that academic disciplines are terribly specialized nowadays. One cannot, pace SuperFreakanomics, just wade into a subject and hope to be an "expert" on it, regardless of one's expertise in other areas.

What does these mean for those of us who are non-experts and skeptics? How do we tell bunk from building blocks without falling into the same traps as Leavitt and Dubner? Thoughts?

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