Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nobody likes a smartipants 2

The new 'Freakonomics' book is barely out, and already suffering what my colleague and fellow blogger Bob Hancke calls 'second album syndrome'. The blogosphere has already shredded Levitt and Dubner's contrarian chapter on 'global cooling' (not quite what it sounds) and the book was only published a day or two ago.
I'm more inclined to be skeptical this time around, especially after having read John DiNardo's critique of Levitt's econometrics in the first book. Abortion cutting crime with a 16 year lag and so on are such great stories you want to believe them, but in the end social science is nearly always a precarious form of knowledge, and it's worth remembering that as we chuckle our way through volume two.
Of course, this time around Freakonomics is also up against something else - the widespread perception over the past year that the economics profession has failed us (expressed most cogently by HM the Queen at LSE). This point was also made more rudely and amusingly by a blogging economist:

When future generations ask the economics profession 'What were you doing while the great bubble built up ahead of the Second Great Depression?', and we have to reply 'Lots and lots of quirky little working papers about sumo wrestling and speed-dating', it is going to be really, really, ****ing embarrassing"
(courtesy of D-squared Digest)