SuperFreakonomic science fiction

No matter how many lawyers HarperCollins sics on critics, the publisher won't be able to stop the bad press

Published November 10, 2009 4:39PM (EST)

In the annals of bogus Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices, the directive from HarperCollins ordering Berkeley economist Brad DeLong to remove from the Web the PDF of Chapter 5 of "SuperFreakonomics" that he posted a few weeks ago is not actually an out-of-bounds request. There's little doubt that DeLong actively wanted to embarrass "SuperFreakonomics" authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner by exposing their "global warming" chapter to public scrutiny. Even bad publicity is usually welcomed by publishing companies, but in this case, the storm of ridicule showered upon "SuperFreakonomics" may ultimately be too much of a bad thing.

So? The DMCA takedown is just as embarrassing for Levitt, Dubner and HarperCollins as the content of the chapter; demanding its removal is a tacit admission that this particular excerpt does not work as advertising for the entire book. It may even be achieving exactly the opposite.

"SuperFreakonomics" has attracted so many withering critical takedowns that keeping track of them deserves a blog of its own (although ClimateProgress' Joe Romm has that job pretty much covered), but the award for the best written annihilation must go to the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert.

Best paragraph:

Given their emphasis on cold, hard numbers, it's noteworthy that Levitt and Dubner ignore what are, by now, whole libraries' worth of data on global warming. Indeed, just about everything they have to say on the topic is, factually speaking, wrong. Among the many matters they misrepresent are: the significance of carbon emissions as a climate-forcing agent, the mechanics of climate modelling, the temperature record of the past decade, and the climate history of the past several hundred thousand years.

Best single line (in reference to large-scale geoengineering technologies):

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.

Best word:


By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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