Dubner defends himself here. No word on the drunk driving advice, but he has some backstory on the interviews that he and Levitt did regarding global warming. It seems pretty clear that their approach to writing Freakonomics 2 was much different than the original book: the first Freakonomics was all about Levitt’s work, whereas the most prominent part of the sequel is a discussion of the ideas of others. As I noted yesterday, this creates a huge selection issue–how did they decide whom to interview?–which is much less present in the first book. I’m also still confused that Dubner describes global warming as “a very difficult problem to solve,” given that on his blog the other day he seemed to be endorsing the view that future trends are “virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling.”
My guess is that Levitt/Dubner’s views on the topic are not completely coherent (by which I mean, not that Levitt and Dubner disagree with each other, but that between them they have a bunch of partly conflicting attitudes on the topic). As a political scientist, I’m the last person to criticize attitudes for being incoherent, and given that neither Levitt nor Dubner is an expert on climate change, it’s probably a good thing that their attitudes are fluid and not so easy to pin down. The difficulty comes when they feel the need to defend everything that they’ve written so far. Again, this is tougher to do here than in the Freakonomics 1 examples, partly because Levitt was much more of an expert on his own research than on others’ research, and partly, I suppose, because you’ll get a lot more flak in the major news media if you question global warming than if you write about the beneficial consequences of abortion.
P.S. But see the second blurb here!
P.P.S. In my previous entry, I asked why pissing off liberals seems so much fun, whereas pissing off conservatives seems earnest and boring. Jonathan Bernstein, Mark Liberman, John Quiggin, and Kieran Healy offer up their theories.
P.P.P.S. Phil Nugent points out (in an entry unrelated to Freakonomics in any of its forms) that, in the days of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, pissing off conservatives was the way to be cool. Those dudes were serious and even earnest at times but not tame or boring. And when P. J. O’Rourke got his Republican Party Reptile thing going, back in the 80s, it was funny partly because it was new. Things have changed.
P.P.P.P.S. Regarding Levitt and Dubner’s apparent opposition to emissions reduction, Matthew Yglesias correctly points out that, contrarian as this might be, it’s a reinforcement of the status quo. But then he writes, “if you take up the side of the status quo and join forces with the politically and economically powerful, you don’t get to don the mask of the bold truth-teller willing to speak out against ingrained prejudice…” I see what he means, but on the other hand, Levitt and Dubner really are getting a lot of flak for their position. So, if their goal is to be taken seriously in general (and not just labeled as partisan pundits), they really have taken a bold risk, of the sort that they wouldn’t have taken, had they taken a more conventional line and discussed the economic costs and benefits of conservation (perhaps, for example, taking an “Everything you thought you knew was wrong” stance by discussing how we weren’t in such bad shape, because we could all cut our emissions without much difficulty were we to better understand the paradoxes recently unearthed by economists that explain how our actual well-being differs from our anticipation of same).
P.P.P.P.P.S. A review from Tim Harford, who finds the book to be entertaining and thought provoking. No discussion of Levitt and Dubner’s drunk driving advice, unfortunately. Interestingly, Harford evaluates the book as a good read and a conversation-starter rather than as a set of definitive pronouncements on the issues of the day. Perhaps Levitt is not taken as seriously in England as in the U.S., hence there’s less worry there about the impact of any overreaching he might do on issues ranging from abortion to climate change.