by Judith Curry
My interview with Russ Roberts of EconTalk is now online.
I rarely give recorded interviews (almost never live interviews), for the simple reason that I think I am a much more effective communicator in writing than as a speaker, particularly in an interview environment. I decided to make an exception to invite from Russ Roberts of EconTalk, and I’m glad I did.
For those not familiar with EconTalk and Russ Roberts: EconTalk is a weekly podcast hosted by the Library of Economics and Liberty. Russ Roberts is a Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. Prior to the interview I had not previously come across Russ Roberts, although it turns out that we were both graduate students at the University of Chicago at the same time.
The 1 hr interview can be found at Judith Curry on Climate Change, which includes audio as well as written transcript. This is the first interview that I can remember where I actually learned something from the interviewer, and where the interviewer asked some questions that were better (from my perspective) than questions that I would have asked myself. Here are a few excerpts.
On why Roberts chose to interview me:
A listener recommended you, so I checked out your web page and I found something very surprising. There wasn’t any yelling there–at least apparent yelling. There were thoughtful comments by you and your readers. And I read your rules for posting comments; they are a fantastic guide to civility. They seem to be working, and I was struck by how rare that environment is, especially in the area of climate change, which is so contentious.
He must have checked the blog on a good day. I hope this reinforces the Denizen’s current (relatively) good behavior. :)
We discussed CO2 as a control knob for climate, and Roberts put forth some very interesting analogies with economics:
Russ: I want to ask a general question, because again, a lot of what you are saying reminds me of the way I feel about macroeconomics. So, when I think about macro-economics, I want to like to call a ‘late Hayekian’–the early work of F. A. Hayek, who was trying to create a general, global, micro-based model of business cycles and how the economy varied. And he gave up on that for a whole bunch of reasons, one of which is just that it was too hard. And in his later years–certainly in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He’s much more agnostic–‘skeptical’ would be a better word–about our ability to model the macro economy in any precise way. We understand general trends, certain forces that are at work. But to suggest that we can steer it or manipulate it is a fantasy. And when I say things like that, people say–or when I say things very similar to what you just said–I want to say the economy is complex, we don’t understand all the causal forces, we can’t control it–they say, ‘Well, that’s just an excuse. You don’t want to do anything. You are just saying that it’s all complicated.’ I’m going to throw that back at you. I have my own response on the economics, which is my own response, which is: First, do no harm. And I see a lot of evidence that when we think we can control things and we can’t, we actually do a lot of harm. But in the climate area, a lot of people say, ‘It’s better safe than sorry.’ So, okay, we’re not sure; you say we’re not sure about the sea level, what causes it. We’re not sure if Greenland and glaciers are melting or not shrinking; there’s snowfall. The polar bears are shrinking and expanding in some places. We’re not sure of the role of volcanoes and the sun and the ocean effects. But isn’t it better safe than sorry? Wouldn’t it be better to–okay, so it’s not a tight knob, it’s not a great control knob, carbon dioxide. But since we know it has some effect, uncertain perhaps in terms of the magnitudes, wouldn’t it be better just to, as an application of precaution, let’s dial it down? Better safe than sorry. And this is, by the way, the position that Robert Pindyck, the economist on this program earlier this year. He said, ‘Yeah, we don’t know; there’s a lot of uncertainty; the models are mediocre. But better safe than sorry. We know it’s some effect, and so we may not know the perfect way to cope with it, but we know we should do something. What’s your reaction to that?
Like I said, my first interview where the questions from the interviewer are at least as interesting as my answers. My response shows up around 34:16.
Another good question from Russ:
Russ: You’ve been out of graduate school for about 25 years or so. That’s how long I’ve been out. When you come out of graduate school, I think inevitably you have some romance about the enterprise you are involved in. There are many, many nonmonetary aspects of being an academic that are inspiring and exciting. But I wonder how you feel about how your particular field has changed as you’ve grown up in it and been out for 25 years. Do you think that the academic world as it’s currently constituted, the returns to publishing and the way that academics are successful–are they conducive to truth-seeking? Do you feel that we are making progress in the scientific world on this particular topic? Or are we in trouble?
Check out my response at 43:17. Short answer – we are in trouble.
JC summary: very interesting experience for me, although it is somewhat painful to read the written transcript and see my verbal tics and speaking idiosyncrasies.
Another interesting feature of EconTalk is that Roberts provides relevant links to thinks I have written, other things that he thinks are relevant, and also links to previous relevant interviews, you might want to check out
- Dyson on Climate Change, Heresy, and Science. EconTalk.