Monday, November 09, 2009

Elizabeth Kolbert reviews Superfreakonomics

She opens her scathing review with the Parable of Horseshit, in which a major problem of the late nineteenth century was solved almost overnight by technological innovation -- essentially, motor cars that wiped out the horsecars.

She closes her review with another reference to horseshit:

To be skeptical of climate models and credulous about things like carbon-eating trees and cloudmaking machinery and hoses that shoot sulfur into the sky is to replace a faith in science with a belief in science fiction. This is the turn that “SuperFreakonomics” takes, even as its authors repeatedly extoll their hard-headedness. All of which goes to show that, while some forms of horseshit are no longer a problem, others will always be with us.



  1. Anonymous said...

    In a recent interview, Levitt made it clear that cutting back emissions is a long term mitigation plan that will take maybe 50 years to control CO2 levels, IF all nations agree, etc. But in the short term, there's nothing wrong in looking for ways to actively look for ways to hasten that process. It's risky big science, but not science fiction. Several ideas are already being put to the test. One was the Lohafex expt in which India played an active part, but which failed (for a very interesting reason, see here: ). There's a very interesting TED talk on 'geo-engineering' here that is a must-watch: . So though it might ruffle some feathers, Levitt's not really denying climate change or saying don't cut down on emissions. He's just saying, let's look at faster and maybe more efficient ways to get there. And looks like there may be some data to support such an approach, judging by the material presented in the TED talk. It's a healthy debate. -- SS.

  2. Wavefunction said...

    Kolbert is clearly angry with the authors of Superfreakonomics. She herself never states any scientific reasons why geo-engineering might be science fiction. Nor has she asked molecular biologists about carbon-eating trees. Kolbert seems to accuse the authors of not properly exploring the science, and yet there is little evidence that she herself has seriously done so. Sad to see such a polemic from an otherwise fine writer.