SuperFreakonomics Redux: Even Congress is Riled Up

  • Published on October 30th, 2009

Last week I wrote in this space that when faced with a problem (global warming, carbon dioxide emissions) that so clearly requires huge top-down action from governments the world over, what two contrarians write in a book doesn’t exactly bother me that much. It bothers Joe Romm at Climate Progress, clearly, and now, well, I’ve got even less company, because members of Congress are pissed off too.


House of Representatives member Jay Inslee (D-WA, pictured above) called out SuperFreakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner for participating in a “continuing effort to deceive the American public.” Well then. Don’t hold back or anything.

He was lumping in the authors with coal industry lobbying efforts that involved sending forged letters to Congress opposing the Waxman-Markey bill. As this debate over SuperFreakonomics has continued to evolve, I can’t really say I’ve changed my opinion on this: they’re authors and they’re trying to sell books. This is not the same thing as trying to deceive members of Congress into voting down some of the most important legislation in the country’s history. Let’s keep things in perspective here.

Now, the argument can of course be made that the book will be widely read and discussed, and if it contains false information on such an important issue then it could lead to the public pressuring their representatives to follow whatever brutal and misguided paths it seems to suggest (like sulfur dioxide geoengineering fixes). Frankly, though, that almost requires a bit more faith in the Democratic process in this country than I can muster. I don’t think misleading a few people with misinformation in a book will change anything on a governmental scale.

At the same time, though, it is encouraging that Congress wants so badly to fix the misconceptions about climate change that it feels the need to bring this up in committee hearings. Although we may not get a bill passed before Copenhagen in December (in fact, almost definitely not), there certainly seems to have been a shift in the Congressional mood on this. Senator Inhofe (R-OK) is really becoming the last major voice of craziness in this debate, and his isolation leaves him drifting farther and farther toward the fringe. And soon enough, the fringe won’t matter. Let him stay there.

About the Author

Dave is a science writer focusing on science, health and the environment. You can find other examples of his work at Follow him on Twitter @davelevitan.


  • Alan Lawrence-

    Thanks for the links. One of the problems you and I face is that there are several historical temperature databases and they all don't portray the same thing. Moreover, ALL temperature databases have had corrective measures applied to them. …to adjust for heat island effects, for instance. We need a Climate Truth Commission to reconcile all databases and corrective measures.

    There's been no global warming for a decade, according to the BBC, New York Times and Christian Science Monitor (links follow). Moreover, fewer and fewer Americans believe in man-made global warming, according to new polls. Please join me in my quest for a Climate Truth Commission so we can get at the truth. I'm not a denier, I just feel the fix was in on the IPCC reports.

    — Robert Moen,

  • If you want to see a more detailed chart of just the past thirty years, you can look here:

    You can still see the upward temperature trend. "Global Cooling" is only apparent when you throw out all other data that lets you see trends. A single decade's worth of data just highlights normal temperature variations that is present in any decade.

  • Rmoen, it's easy to make facts fit your beliefs when you cherry-pick the facts. Please look at the temperature trends going back to the beginning of the 20th Century: .

    Statistical variations can make any small period of time fit your argument. I could choose the decade ending in 1998 show that global temperatures are increasing at an unbelievable rate. No one has done that because it's statistically bogus, just as looking at just the data from 1998 onward is bogus.

    1998 was an anomalous year because of the intense El Nino effect — highest temperatures recorded this century. Any temperatures after that will be lower and look like cooling. If you throw out 1998, you can see temperatures are continuing to follow the upward trend.

  • Your title bar has html brackets showing up in firefox. I think maybe you meant to use the tag for italics?

  • The United States needs our own objective, transparent 'Climate Truth Commission' to think-through global warming.

    For twenty years I believed in man-made global warming theory, but the evidence has changed. We've had ten years of warming then ten years of maybe no warming. I blame my confusion on the United Nations for getting too ahead of their facts. They were more concerned about politics and funding than science. Here's a fact they don't discuss: UN forecasts for the last 10 years do not fit what actually happened.

    — Robert Moen,

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