UPDATE:  For an independent vindication of my reporting here, see Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics. Dubner is baffled that Caldeira “doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.”

I wish I didn’t have to waste valuable blogging time writing this post to set the record straight.  If, like most people, you understand that Dubner and Leavitt — and Roger Pielke, Jr and Marc Morano — regularly make misstatements and/or misrepresent what others say and that the latter two regularly smear people based on those misrepresentations, you might skip this post.

On the other hand, Dubner and Leavitt still don’t understand what they got wrong — both in the entire chapter and in how they mis-portray the views of the primary climatologist they rely on.  So this post will be useful to set that record straight.  Also, anyone who wants to know how I do things may also find this interesting.  As you’ll see, I have accurately represented what Caldeira believes, and the Superfreaks have not.

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The verdict on the book by leading economists is in.  As Nobelist Krugman writes today:

Legalistic quibbling about who said what in an email isn’t going to help Dubner and Levitt here: in this crucial chapter, there’s an average of one statement per page that’s either flatly untrue or deeply misleading.

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong writes today:

Thus I have a little unsolicited advice for Levitt and Dubner. If I were them, I would abjectly apologize.

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He then goes through the chapter, offering them suggested page by page edits.

Thus, when I broke the story last Monday, I was accurate in my assessment:  Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and patent nonsense — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says it is an inaccurate portrayal of me and misleading in many places.

I have mostly explained what happened in Part 5, but since Dubner has spun out a variety of falsehoods with the help of Pielke and Morano, let me tell the story chronologically.  I will note first, however, that Dubner just makes crap up in his attack on me.  Dubner another one of the Superfreaks typical un-fact-checked and false assertions yesterday, “The text was never searchable on Amazon.”

Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate replied directly to Dubner on his NYT website:

With all due respect, the text at Amazon was indeed searchable at the time Romm posted his first post. It is not now.

Ouch.  Gavin’s debunking is here, with links to debunkings by other physical scientists.

Here is Brad DeLong’s entire piece yesterday, “All Right. One More. I Gotta Correct the Record…“:

Steven Dubner writes:

Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear – Freakonomics Blog – NYTimes.com: Much of the outcry was made by people who had read Romm but not our book — which isn’t surprising, since the book isn’t out until October 20. As the noise grew, Romm added on the charge that “the publisher has stopped Amazon from allowing people to search the book” – that is, to read the actual text online. Smells like a conspiracy theory, no?

But nobody stopped anything. The text was never searchable on Amazon for the simple reason that the book wasn’t yet published, which is standard procedure. I don’t know where Romm got this fact – or if perhaps it was just too good a rumor to not be true…

(1) Dubner’s “nobody stopped anything” is simply wrong. Romm posted a .pdf of Freakonomics chapter 5. Somebody–Dubner and Levitt’s publisher–then did require Romm to take it down. That takedown is in sharp contrast to the behavior of some other publishers these days, who are eager to offer sample chapters online.

(2) Moreover, Romm says that as of last week he was able to use Amazon’s “search inside the book” function on Superfreakonomics, and that somebody turned it off. I believe him:


DeLong posted the above screenshot of this cached web-page from last Tuesday, when the book was searchable online.

I myself searched the book repeatedly to check the quotes in the draft I had been sent.  I have before never seen someone stop the search feature of a book on Amazon. Perhaps they were scared that people would see that my debunking was dead on — and that the chapter was in fact much, much worse than I had time to show in the first post.

So it’s time for Dubner to retract and apologize his statement.

UPDATE:  DeLong has now been Pielke’d after DeLong posted an email from someone pointing out that Pielke (Jr) is “dishonest and wrong.”  You just have to read this email exchange where DeLong questions Pielke’s sanity.


On October 9, I was sent the photocopied “global cooling” chapter by someone who just couldn’t believe all of the errors and misrepresentations in it, including misrepresentations of the work of Ken Caldeira.  I know Ken and have the greatest respect for him, so I wanted to get his attention and wrote him a strong email titled, “URGENT: The Superfreakonomics folks make you look like Bjorn  Lomborg or worse.”

I explained I wanted to strongly debunk them — yes, I use strong language in private emails and yes, Caldeira has already apologized to me for sharing those e-mails with the Superfreaks, naively thinking they would stay private.  Let me excerpt it at length:


You need to read this and see how your words have been taken out of context and give me a reply (by Sunday, if possible)….

Lines about you like (page 184) “Yet his research tells him carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight” seriously abuse your reputation and your extensive publications and warnings about the threat of ocean acidification….

I’d like to do a major reply.  I have attached the entire chapter for you to read (and you can confirm it is genuine by going to Amazon and searching for your name).

I’d like a quote like, “The authors of Superfreakonomics have utterly misrepresented my work.” plus whatever else you want to say.

I assume you stand by the Post quote:

“Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions,” he said. “If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it’s pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly.”

and your email to me, including “dystopic world out of a science fiction story” that I can requote.

http://climateprogress.org/ 2009/ 09/ 05/ caldeira-delayer-lomborg-copenhagen-climate-consensus-geoengineering/

Other than some inopportune words, kind of basic stuff.

Yes, I did ask him to put in his own words a quote stating that the Superfreaks had misrepresented his views — because I knew very well that they had based on my previous emails with him (and my reading of his work and having heard him talk).  It is exceedingly common in regular journalism to ask people for a quote that makes a very specific point — I’ve been asked many times by reporters to do similar things.  And he gave me that quote:

So, yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.

And then after he emailed me that I quote, I took the extra step of explicitly asking him if I could use it (see below), so contrary to disinformers, no quote was planted.

I probably should have put that quote in the first post, instead of merely excerpting in the headline.  Lesson learned on that.  Back to the chronology.

Caldeira emailed me back:

I stand by my statements made earlier.

I believe the correct CO2 emission target is zero….

Every carbon dioxide emission adds to climate damage and increasing risk of catastrophic consequences. There is no safe level of emission.

I compare CO2 emissions to mugging little old ladies … It is wrong to mug little old ladies and wrong to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.

I am in favor of fire insurance but I am also against playing with matches while sitting on a keg of gunpowder. I am in favor of research into geoengineering options but I am also against carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide emissions represent a real threat to humans and natural systems, and I fear we may have already dawdled too long. That is why I want to see research into geoengineering — because the threat posed by CO2 is real and large, not because the threat is imaginary and small.

In the subsequent emails to me, three things became clear:

  1. Caldeira disagreed with the “villain” line and had made that known.
  2. Caldeira thought the book had “many” statements that were “misleading.”
  3. The authors misrepresented him as someone who believed in their geoengineering only “solution” — as opposed to “research into geoengineering” and as opposed to understanding, as he does, that you need massive mitigation before the “volcano” strategy would make any sense.

As to point 3, on October 9, Caldeira sent me an email containing this point quoting a line from the book and responding to it:

Caldeira 5

This is a key point.  The Superfreaks continue suggest that the leading “climate heavyweights” they talked to support their geo-engineering-only solution.  Caldeira has said before and stands by his statement to me that geo-engineering without the kind of aggressive mitigation the Superfreaks diss is “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.” And, as he made clear here, he just supports research into geo-engineering.

Caldeira did NOT believe that the other quotes by him were erroneous, but had problems with how they were framed.  In an October 9 email, he wrote me:


The only real significant error is the line: “carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.”

That is just wrong and I never would have said it.

On the other hand, I f&@?ed up. They sent me the draft and I approved it without reading it carefully and I just missed it..

I try to provide more context below but I do not believe it is my role as somebody mentioned in a book to spend my time getting them to write the book I would want them to write. (That book wouldn’t make any money.)

The other statements attributed to me may be taken out of context and juxtaposed against interpretations of others, but are based on fact.

I think everyone operated in good faith, and this was just a mistake that got by my inadequate editing.



To be clear here, he is talking about errors in how he was quoted, not in the chapter.  Yes, he thinks the Superfreaks operated in good faith.  I don’t, for reasons you will see.  You can be the judge of who is right about that.

Crucially that is not the end of the emails, as Dubner and Pielke would have you believe.  Indeed, Caldeira spent a lot of time trying to figure out just what went wrong.  And when he figured out what happened, he explained it to me in later e-mails, which I noted in Part 5:

Caldeira email1

Ken disagreed with the sentence, communicated it to Nathan.  Amazingly, Dubner did get it, but did not make the change.  If someone had sent back that comment to me on my book, I would have dropped the line.

I emailed Ken back:

Are you telling me that the authors did not send you galleys for comment but you got them third hand from Nathan?

and Ken emailed me back

Caldeira email2

I think the point is clear.  Ken disagreed with the notion that CO2 is not the villain, they wanted to keep the line and attribute it to him, and they did.  I wrote it part 1:

Levitt and Dubner didn’t run this quote by Caldeira, and when he saw a version from Myrhvold, he objected to it.  But Levitt and Dubner apparently wanted to keep it very badly — it even makes the  SuperFreakonomics Table of Contents in the Chapter Five summary “Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?”  It fits their contrarian sensibility, but it makes no actual sense.

That’s why I stand by what I wrote.  If I find out that a book I’m writing contains a line attributing something to a scientist that they don’t believe, I’d change it.  I’d also be in direct communications with them and if I really, really wanted to keep that line, I would explicitly and directly send them back that line and ask them.

Unlike Dunber, I have worked hard to represent what Caldeira believes.

Caldeira did in fact write to me on the 10th:

So, yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.

And just to be 100% certain, I wrote him back the same day:

If the authors did not ask you directly for corrections, that is inexcusable.

I hope I can quote you:  “yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.”

It also seems to me accurate to say that the authors of the book did not ask you directly for any corrections and when you saw the galleys, you try to explain that the “villain” quote did not accurately represent your views at all.

And he gave me the go-ahead:

I assume when I send you things, you can quote them unless I specifically say otherwise.

After rereading the chapter, I sent him another email on the 11th pointing out other areas where I thought they had misrepresented his views.  He wrote me back, directly quoting a line from the book and commenting on it:

Caldeira 3

So, yes, Caldeira is accusing them of selective quoting here.  Remember that the next line in the book is:

The gentleman of IV abound with further examples of global warming meme that are all wrong.

The point, of course, is that what Caldeira said is well understood and not a meme that is all wrong.  It is the Superfreaks spin and selective quoting that is all wrong.

In this same email, Caldeira wrote me:

Caldeira 4

I know my regular readers understand how hard I try to accurately portray what the scientists I talk to mean — and what they mean to say.  But for those others who might be persuaded by the selective quoting and misrepresentations of Dubner, Levitt, and Pielke, I think it is pretty clear that my original, debunking blog post — including the headline — was in fact an accurate representation of what Caldeira wrote to me:

Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places.

Yes, Caldeira is unhappy that he got caught up in this.  Who can blame him?  He is a leading climatologist and wants to spend his time doing climatology and persuading policymakers of the urgent need for action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

So now you know the whole story of how I came to wrote my accurate debunking of the error-riddled book, Superfreakonomics.  There’s been no smear job — except by Dubner, Pielke and Morano.

Of course, the story was never about me or some emails, but about the “average of one statement per page that’s either flatly untrue or deeply misleading,” in the chapter, as Krugman says, for which, the authors should “abjectly apologize,” as DeLong says.

If the publisher had not taken down the chapter I posted or if someone hadn’t stopped the book from being searchable, then everyone would have seen from day one that my analysis was dead on, rather than it taking a few days for that to be clear.

I’m glad I broke the story.  I wish Caldeira hadn’t gotten caught up in all this, but we are still on very good terms and in fact last night he sent me a major unpublished analysis he did that readers have asked to see.  I’ll be posting it soon.

If you’re still reading, I welcome comments.

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