Coauthor of SuperFreakonomics apologizes to me
[Note: The error-riddled book is now searchable again on Amazon, so readers can confirm that all of my excerpts were correct and in context. The book has garnered a number of positive comments from (fast) readers, even on the climate chapter whose main conclusion has been rejected by its two primary scientific sources — see Dubner is baffled that Caldeira “doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions” and Myhrvold jumps ship on Levitt and Dubner.]
Deep in his Sunday, October 18 post attacking my accurate debunking of his book, Dubner has buried this apology:
[ADDENDUM (Oct. 21, 2009): It turns out I was wrong when, two paragraphs above, I wrote above that “the text was never searchable on Amazon.” I had asked our publisher if the book had been searchable prior to publication and was told the answer was no. But a few days after I wrote this post, the publisher informed me that I’d been given wrong information. Here’s a statement from them:
“Stephen Dubner asked us if his book SuperFreakonomics had been posted on Amazon Search Inside the Book, and we told him it hadn’t been,” said a HarperCollins spokesperson. “But the search function was accidentally enabled for a brief time last week. As soon as we saw this, it was disabled because it is generally our policy not to allow search until after the book goes on sale.”
I apologize for this error, and especially to Romm for the accusation. (To our friends at Harper who fed me the wrong information — I know who you are and, believe you me, I’ll be stuffing your Christmas stocking with some
lumps of coalnon-carbon heating fuel.)
For the record, a “brief time” was from at least October 9, when I first used it to confirm that the PDF of the climate chapter I was sent was genuine, through at least October 14, as noted in my second post on the book — “Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 2.”
On the one hand, this does appear to be an unintentional mistake by Dubner. I believe Harper because they also published my book, Hell and High Water, and they sent me a personal note saying it was their mistake, not Dubner’s.
On the other hand, this correction has been buried deep in a pretty old post so few if any of their many readers will see it. That’s the primary reason I’m writing this post.
Most of Dubner’s readers, however, probably read his harsh comments about my now-verified claim:
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.
It’s an easy bet that Romm and others like him will keep it up. That’s their job. We should probably sleep with our shoes on for a while.
The larger point is Dubner’s whole framing is wrong.
He complained that people were criticizing the book without having read it. But the publisher made me take down the chapter I had posted. And unbeknownst to the authors, the publisher also stopped the searchability, would have again allowed people to confirm everything I wrote. [Yes, it does appear that the searchability was stopped simply because they realized it was premature.] As Berkeley economist Brad DeLong wrote Dubner:
As I said, I can’t read your chapter–by your publisher’s choice.
That’s very bad for you: Romm’s posting your chapter and a link to it is a way for him to establish credibility–”see for yourself”; your publisher’s pulling it down is a way to diminish yours.
The way Dubner and Levitt decided to defend their error-riddled book was to attack me personally (and falsely, see “Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics“) — rather than the substance of my accurate critique. The problem with that strategy was that the problem with the book wasn’t my critique — it was the book’s contents. Anybody who actually read the chapter could see that it was error-riddled — for instance, Nobelist Paul Krugman:
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.
And the other strategy of letting Myhrvold “def
end” the book on their blog backfired when he repudiated the core argument of the chapter! Delong posts on his blog an extensive debunking of that post, written by Nicholas Weaver, which ends with perhaps the best one-sentence judgment on the book and its key source that I’ve seen so far:
what is happening is I have to conclude that anything Myhrvold says has to be assumed to be false until proven otherwise, and by unquestioningly accepting his assumptions, anything Drubner and Levitt say may need to be taken the same way.