[Marxism] Superfreakonomics is dead on arrival
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 28 12:49:48 MDT 2009
Due to its climate change denial, and thanks largely to online
media, Superfreakonomics is dead on arrival.
By Sahil Kapur
October 26, 2009
Economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner’s new book,
Superfreakonomics, the follow-up to their successful Freakonomics,
invites readers to question the realities and causes of climate
change. By crafting clever, counterintuitive explanations as to
why the phenomenon is largely illusory, Levitt and Dubner expect
the reader to walk away reconsidering global warming—a theory
that, among scientists, is about as controversial as evolution.
Unsurprisingly, the authors have had the opposite effect of what
they intended. With their shoddy reporting and parsing of
empirical data, Levitt and Dubner have unwittingly helped expose
global warming denial for the farce that it is. The book has been
out for less than a week, but climate scientists and independent
bloggers have already thoroughly dissected (and in some cases
demolished) Superfreakonomics’ flurry of erroneous claims and
harebrained logic, which are front and center in the chapter:
"What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?"
But obscured by the well-warranted attacks on the legitimacy of
Superfreakonomics’ assertions is the fact that in the tome’s
aftermath, America quietly saw a huge victory for democracy and
common sense—all courtesy of online media.
Joseph Romm, expert for the Climate Progress, a project of Campus
Progress‘ parent organization the Center for American Progress,
fired the backlash’s opening salvo with a series of blog posts
challenging Superfreakonomics’ global warming allegations. Romm’s
work was then echoed by influential economists Paul Krugman and
Brad DeLong, along with popular progressive writers like Ezra
Klein and Matt Yglesias. Like wildfire, the blowback spread to the
Huffington Post and Daily Kos before setting ablaze Facebook,
Twitter, and aggregator venues like Digg. In other words, you only
missed it if you weren’t paying attention.
Sixteen years ago, Levitt and Dubner could have been to the
impending climate change bill what right-wing charlatan Betsy
McCaughey was to the Clinton health care effort. After
Clinton-care was demolished, mostly by fierce propaganda and a
conservative Congress, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich lauded
McCaughey’s disingenuous and error-laden New Republic article “No
Exit,” calling it the health care plan’s "first decisive
breakpoint." Unfortunately, online media outlets were too feeble
to patch the holes in the flailing Clinton ship, while traditional
news organizations failed to tackle McCaughey’s blemished logic
head-on. As a result, health care reform crumbled, leading to
skyrocketing premiums and tens of millions losing coverage in the
Fortunately for the Obama administration, Superfreakonomics
arrived in the era of robust Internet media. Instead of the book
harnessing enough wind to shift the political tides, possibly
sinking a long-awaited and much-needed policy transformation, it’s
dead on arrival. In fact, Levitt and Dubner are already
backtracking, whining about being misinterpreted and about being
attacked for their careeristic pageantry. The extensive uproar the
book has received on the internet has helped embed into the
American consciousness the dangers of global warming denial,
wherever it exists.
Indeed, this episode showed us in real time the opportunities
available in the new era of accountability journalism. No longer
are we dependent on establishment journalists to hold accountable
establishment politicos, who are all too often in league with each
other. No longer must we sit idly by as spectators, harrowed by
our helplessness to promulgate truth.
What’s most inspiring about this book’s public demise is that it
reveals the opportunities for regular people to influence the
direction of a society—through blogs, social networks, and online
media. Today, each of us has an unprecedented capacity to debunk
errant nonsense and spread the truth, building a more educated
populace and as a result helping actualize democratic values in
practice, rather than merely in theory.
This is just the beginning of a long trend. Independent media
outlets, with their capacity to permeate ideas across a society,
are rising in influence over not only constituents but also
mainstream journalists, opinion-makers, and legislators, all of
whom construct the apparatus of our economic and social structure.
Realistically, Superfreakonomics or not, some Americans will
continue to believe there is no limit to how much we can punish
the planet without punishing ourselves. Luckily, as common-sense
thinkers continue to face them and the challenges accompanying
them, the tools now at our disposal will allow us to more
effectively strike back.
Sahil Kapur is a regular contributor for The Huffington Post and
The Guardian. He blogs at The Daily Musing.
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