Recipes for Recovery
links for 2009-10-17

Ezra Klein's Levitt and Dubner Smackdown

Ezra has a copy of the book, and is a really unhappy camper:

Ezra Klein: The Shoddy Statistics of Super Freakonomics: Super Freakonomics is getting a lot of flak for its flip contrarianism on climate change, most of which seems based on incorrectly believing solar panels are black (they're blue, and this has surprisingly large energy implications) and misquoting important climate scientists. But before people begin believing that the problem with Super Freakonomics is that it annoys environmentalists, let's be clear: The problem with Super Freakonomics is it prefers an interesting story to an accurate one... from the very first story on the very first page of the book....

Take, for example, a night of drinking at a friend's house. At the end of the night, you decide against driving home. This decision, the book says, seems "really, really easy." As you might have guessed, we're about to learn that it's not so easy. At least if you mangle your statistics. The next few pages purport to prove that drunk walking is eight times more dangerous than drunk driving....

It's terrifically shoddy statistical work. You'd get dinged for this in a college class. But it's in a book written by a celebrated economist and a leading journalist. Moreover, the topic isn't whether people prefer chocolate or vanilla, but whether people should drive drunk. It is shoddy statistical work, in other words, that allows people to conclude that respected authorities believe it is safer for them to drive home drunk than walk home drunk. It's shoddy statistical work that could literally kill somebody. That makes it more than bad statistics. It makes it irresponsible.

But hey, it makes for a fun and unexpected opener.