Sorry Professor, I promise to mind my own business from now on

They say that in Hollywood any publicity is good publicity.  Thus I was delighted to see Brad DeLong paying attention to my random thoughts on the Krugman/Dubner dispute,  Indeed he officially declared that I had lost my mind.  But that is not all bad, because in America there are always second acts.  On the same day Brad DeLong formally announced that the little known blogger Andrew Sullivan would henceforth be welcomed back into polite society.  Someone may want to inform Andrew in case he hasn’t heard the wonderful news.  So I knew that there was still hope that a similar fate awaited me someday; when and if I adopted the “correct views” I too might be welcomed back, like a reformed mental patient in one of Stalin’s hospitals.  Or just as Fox News can expect to start get interviews again once they “shape up.”  Or just as the insurance industry can expect to get a better deal in the health care legislation once it stops saying those awful things.

Of course Brad DeLong teaches at Berkeley, which is famous for the free speech movements of the 1960s.  Even better, he is a liberal, and we all know how much they believe in free speech.  Indeed I left three comments there, and he kindly responded to the first two.  A nice cordial debate.  Thus I was a bit puzzled when I noticed this comment on my blog:

 Scott- I notice Brad Delong deleted your second reply to his “Scott loses his mind” post (which I thought was an absolutely convincing rebuttal.)
Unbelievable. If you have a copy of it, post it here.
Steve V.

No I didn’t save the reply (actually my third), but I’ll try to reproduce it from memory at the end of this post, in case anyone is interested.  (And to be honest, the whole debate is pretty uninteresting at this point.)   Indeed I can’t blame Professor DeLong if he thought my response was not worth responding to.  But here’s the thing, if you look at the other comments it doesn’t seem like “interesting” is the determinant of whether your comment gets deleted (no offense to the other commenters.)  So I thought that perhaps he got a warning from the technology people at Berkeley that his blog was getting so big that it was threatening to crash the whole system.  And they might have identified my last comment as the proverbial straw that was threatening to break the camel’s back.  On the other hand, his blog does have a lot of graphics.

I know that some of you are thinking that Professor DeLong deleted the last post because he felt he was losing the argument.  As we’ve all learned from reading Camille Paglia, male academics are just a bunch of wimps.  But I don’t think that’s right either.  Take a look at Brad’s last comment, the one right before my reply that disappeared as completely as the picture of a disgraced official in Stalin’s Russia.  Does that come across as the comment of a wimp?  Clearly not, indeed to me it has the ominous ring of a line from The Godfather:

Brad DeLong said in reply to scott sumner…

The part you quote from Krugman is *not* an instance of overreaching. You need to change your description of it.

And defending Dubner and Levitts version of what Caldeira said is not a business you should be in.


Brad DeLong

Well I hope the preceding didn’t come across as too sophomoric, but I couldn’t resist poking a bit of fun.  In all seriousness I think the most likely explanation is simply that Brad DeLong is very busy and just didn’t want to waste any more time responding to my last comment.  And he didn’t want to leave the debate in a position where I got the last word.  Of course it’s his blog and that’s his prerogative.  But doesn’t it seem like if you post a headline that another professor is a lunatic, there a sort of implied obligation to not delete any of that professor’s responses to the comment thread?  Unless they’re obscene of libelous?  Just asking.

[BTW, I’m pretty sure he played a role in accepting at least one of my recent pieces in The Economists’ Voice, where he is an editor.  One critiqued his article.  So I have no reason to believe he is at all biased in his non-blog activities.]

I won’t be able to remember the exact words, but my final response was something to the effect:

OK,  I’ll change my description of Krugman to the following:

Krugman argued that Levitt and Dubner had claimed that in the 1970s there was a scientific consensus that global cooling was occurring.  He also argued that this story was used by global warming deniers to refute the current scientific consensus in favor of global warming.    Dubner denied these charges.  So I decided to read the chapter for myself.  And I found that they did not claim a scientific consensus in favor of global cooling, and they are certainly not global warming deniers.  Instead the chapter opened with a charming and 100% accurate story how some distinguished climate scientists had predicted global cooling in the 1970s, which shows (quite correctly) how difficult it is to predict changes in the Earth’s climate.  After that very brief anecdote, they spent almost 45 pages explaining how and why global warming is a real problem going forward, and what we should do about it.  Not exactly the “impression” that one got from reading Krugman’s posts. 

As far as relying on Dubner’s version of events, I am curious as to whether there is any evidence that the Caldiera e-mails described by Dubner were fraudulent.  If not, I really don’t see why I should refrain from accepting their version of what Caldiera said.  Would I be better off relying on Joseph Romm’s version of Caldiera’s views?  Is he more reliable?

I have found this whole debate to be very helpful.  In a recent post Krugman pulled back from his earlier argument that Levitt and Dubner had claimed a scientific consensus for global cooling.  Instead he argued that they created the impression of a scientific consensus.  Fair enough.   I didn’t read it that way but I can see how someone who admitted to reading only the first 5 pages might have thought that.  Presumably Krugman was unaware of how seriously they took the problem of global warming in the other 40 pages.  But if “impressions” are now the standard for interpreting the writings of academics, then I look forward to responding each time Krugman does a post creating the “impression” that monetary policy is completely ineffective at the zero rate bound.

What?  You were expecting something more dramatic?  Sorry to disappoint.  I’m sure the original version was better.

Finally, against my better wisdom I am going to tell a secret, and I just hope Professor DeLong is not reading.  Stuff like this actually helps my blog, brings additional readers.  I have the “lost his mind” headline posted proudly on my office door.  Indeed Krugman’s earlier attacks, and Dubner’s response, will help Levitt and Dubner sell even more books than they otherwise would have sold.  So my most fervent hope is that Brad DeLong continues ridiculing my blog posts, and keeps deleting my replies.  But keep this to yourselves.

PS.  For my liberal readers.  I promise something quite positive on Krugman soon.  Seriously, his recent inflation stuff is really good.



28 Responses to “Sorry Professor, I promise to mind my own business from now on”

  1. Gravatar of HispanicPundit HispanicPundit
    23. October 2009 at 18:42

    DeLong has been removing comments from his blog for a long time. He knows that most of his readers rarely read the “other side” and it’s little risk to him.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Gravatar of Pedro Pedro
    23. October 2009 at 20:20

    Before this financial crisis, I never paid much attention to theories about stimulus. I thought they were inconsistent and illogical, and thought most economists felt the same way. After the financial crisis got underway, and half of the profession seemed to believe these theories again, I decided that I must have missed something, and resolved to learn more about what was going on. Before I discovered this blog (through MR), I tried reading DeLong’s blog to understand fiscal and monetary stimulus. I posted quite a few questions, one of which he replied to (with a back-handed complement about how I wasn’t quite as stupid as the famous economist he was insulting).

    At some point, he tired of me, and deleted all of my comments. I think he does this a lot.

  3. Gravatar of Mike Mike
    23. October 2009 at 20:26

    I haven’t been following the debate described above, but I just wanted to drop a note to tell you how grateful I am to have stumbled across your blog. Logging into my gReader always gives me a slight sense of anticipation to discover if there have been any new posts.

    Keep up the good work.


  4. Gravatar of malavel malavel
    23. October 2009 at 23:34

    “And defending Dubner and Levitts version of what Caldeira said is not a business you should be in.”

    I also thought that that part sounded like something a gangster might say. But my first thought was the communism scare. Something like a friendly warning not to talk about someone accused of being a communist without also denouncing or attacking that person. If you say anything even remotely friendly of someone accused of being a global warming denier, you must surely be a denier yourself.

    Is this really the state the debate has reached amongst academics?

  5. Gravatar of Alex Alex
    24. October 2009 at 02:32


    If I were you I would hire someone to start my car before I drive it…


  6. Gravatar of q q
    24. October 2009 at 03:43

    about one in three comments i leave at his blog are deleted. i have never been able to figure out the methodology. once i thought i’d figured it out — i thought anything with a question in it got deleted. but later that proved inconsistent with fact.

    i’m sure he knows that responding to you in a blog headline drives traffic your way. you are also driving traffic his way. and both of you are selling copies of superfreakanomoxicillin.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. October 2009 at 03:53

    Hispanicpundit, Pedro and Mike. Thanks for the support.

    malavel and Alex, I found Krugman’s response to my blog to be slightly annoying, probably because at first glance it seemed somewhat respectable. Brad DeLong’s post titles are so over the top (such as the one on Andrew Sullivan) that I can only assume that he has a weird sense of humor. So they actually make me chuckle. I don’t think DeLong literally thinks I am losing my mind, or that people care whether he will allow Andrew Sullivan back into polite society, so I just take it as a sort of joke. It’s his endearing way of saying “I respectfully disagree, or I like Andrew’s new post.”

    As to the slight possibility that DeLong is serious, well I find that thought too bizarre to even contemplate.

  8. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    24. October 2009 at 09:07

    Roger Pielke, a professor of environmental studies, has a quite biting post on Krugman, Romm & Delong here:

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. October 2009 at 12:40

    q, Yeah, he probably does know it drives traffic my way.

    TGGP, Yes, I seem to recall someone (maybe Patrick) showed that to me. Patrick warned me about the deletions, and I even saved one reply in case it got deleted. But I didn’t save the long one becasue I got lulled by the fact that the first two didn’t get deleted. If I didn’t know better I’d think DeLong planned it that way from the beginning. 🙂

  10. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    24. October 2009 at 12:57

    Having been present at the creation (or maybe it was the destruction) of DeLong’s deletion offensive, I’ve always suspected it was his groupies privately complaining that the critics (and I gleefully admit to being the prime suspect back in the day) shouldn’t be tolerated.

    They didn’t think it fair when I actually accurately quoted their diatribes before demolishing them. They certainly complained bitterly about it in the comments, so why not also lobby DeLong to step in? Shortly before the deletions became obvious, I used to get e-mail from DeLong saying things like, ‘You’re too intelligent to believe what you’re saying.’ And, ‘Please stop posting Republican talking points.’

    The latter, iirc, had to to with his belief that George W. Bush had crashed a million dollar aircraft when he was flying drunk:

    Which contained these gems from DeLong:

    ‘I’ve long thought that it was a live possibility that George W. Bush crashed a plane in the winter of 1972–and thereafter (very reasonably) did not want to get back in the cockpit.’

    and, ‘But if there is “no way to tell,” it is because Bush’s files have been vacuumed–in which case that tells us something, no?’

    and, ‘Fear that the TANG physical would reveal cocaine use. Yes, that’s a theory. But are you saying that he couldn’t even stop sniffing for the period needed to get a clean physical? Losing your flight status is such a loss of status among the fraternity of pilots…’

    Sadly, DeLong’s lunatic ravings weren’t close to being the most ludicrous beliefs posted there. So, as to Scott’s ‘As to the slight possibility that DeLong is serious, well I find that thought too bizarre to even contemplate.’

    Comtemplate it.

  11. Gravatar of Greg Ransom Greg Ransom
    24. October 2009 at 13:58

    DeLong has done this same sort of thing to George Selgin and Steve
    Horwitz, among many others.

    Wait till DeLong “edits” one of your comments, removing the substantive arguments and leaving a short and odd sounding bit of your comment.

    That is “getting DeLonged” at it’s best.

  12. Gravatar of Mike Sandifer Mike Sandifer
    24. October 2009 at 20:14

    Anyone who would delete comments on a blog is just a petty child. When the game doesn’t go his way, he doesn’t want to play anymore and wants to erase the score.

  13. Gravatar of Ryan Vann Ryan Vann
    24. October 2009 at 20:49

    It is amazing that anyone (who isn’t a super-progressive neo-liberal) bothers with the echo chamber that is Brad’s comment section. It is best to just avoid those sections altogether.

  14. Gravatar of Bill Stepp Bill Stepp
    25. October 2009 at 04:47

    “Free speech” libs do this all the time. The Village Voice printed a letter I wrote against rent control and edited it to water it down. They used the title “Rant control.”
    I posted a comment yesterday at DeLong’s blog on Barry Eichengreen, who is clueless re: the dollar’s decline. So far, he hasn’t removed it.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. October 2009 at 06:31

    Patrick, I should have listened to you and saved all my comments before posting them. Thanks for linking to the bizarre speculations on Bush. The ratio between evidence and conclusions was pretty low, even by blogging standards.

    Greg, I hope he does this. Now I will save all my comments ahead of time. I’d love to do a “before and after” post if he selectively edits it. For some reason I can’t take any of this stuff seriously (maybe I should) it just seems so comical to me.

    Mike, I suppose there are situations where comments should be deleted. But if ever there was, it certainly would not be when you call another professor a nut, and he tries to respond in a civil fashion.

    Ryan, That’s probably good advice.

    Bill, Yes, liberals seem to have lost their interest in free speech, especially free speech in three areas:

    1. Campaigning.
    2. Commercial speech
    3. Non-PC speech.

  16. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    25. October 2009 at 09:08

    I think it is pretty normal to edit letters to the editor.

  17. Gravatar of Doc Merlin Doc Merlin
    25. October 2009 at 10:52


    I wouldn’t really call them liberal. They bear little resemblance to the kennedy era liberals, and are much more like Woodrow Wilson era progressives. 🙁

  18. Gravatar of RN RN
    25. October 2009 at 15:38

    It’s clear as day you’re just another “notice me! notice me!” attention hound trying to latch onto the coatsleeves of real thinkers like Krugman and Delong.

    Hopefully you’ll just be ignored, as you should be.

  19. Gravatar of Jim Glass Jim Glass
    25. October 2009 at 17:51

    DeLong is a story and a warning example.

    At the beginning he was entirely reasonable, made a point of saying he sought out polite conversation, and that he wanted to blog to be able to converse at above the usenet level that so often descended into personal slights and worse.

    I have emails that he sent me back then saying “touché” for scoring points against him. Imagine that! Read his blog archives from its first days, he was a different person.

    Then he went inch-by-inch, step-by-step, into the madness.

    Greg Ransom is right. I kept reading DeLong more or less, in spite of it all, long after he became “the mad comment deleter”, until he actually started opening peoples’ comments, re-writing them, and insulting the commenters from within their own comments. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere, and it was just too much for me.

    He’s the clearest example I’ve ever seen of “This is your brain on politics” — someone literally being turned, hooked by, and addicted (that’s the word) to the endorphin response that arises in the brain with high political partisanship, as the brain scientists now tell us:

    “… These reward circuits overlap substantially with those activated when drug addicts get their ‘fix,’ giving new meaning to the term ‘political junkie’ …”

    He’s the greatest warning example ever of that — and he’s convinced me to remain a registered political Independent for the rest of my life.

  20. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. October 2009 at 22:53

    In defense of Delong, whose blog I like a lot, he employs an exclamatory rhetorical style. So no, he doesn’t think Scott Sumner has literally lost his mind.

    I think his purpose in deleting comments is to prevent his comments section from filling up with pointless debate, or “food fight,” as he says. (As frequently happens at high-traffic blogs, I think).

    It is an idiosyncratic approach to comments, but then it’s his blog, so why mind? And I actually appreciated the occasions where he would insert a bracketed response to a comment inside the same comment, though it’s better now where he just responds in a comment of his own.

    As to why he deleted this specific Scott Sumner comment, I have no earthly idea. I would file it under “academic are weird.” (An under-appreciated point in the econ-blogosphere, for perhaps obvious reasons).

    I don’t understand at all why Krugman is clinging to his beliefs about Dubner and Levitt’s purpose in reciting the “global cooling” story at the beginning of their global warming chapter. The story to me didn’t serve much of a purpose, and I’m not sure why it was included, but Krugman’s insistence (in his blog post “Contrarianism without Consequences” from 10/23) that they were trying to be “cleverly contrarian on climate change,” in the sense of denying global warming, makes no sense at all, obviously, in a chapter that mainly concerns the feasibility of different approaches to global warming.

    Finally, I’d note that perhaps Delong’s post of 10/23 entitled “If This Were to Be Played Upon the Stage, I Would Condemn it as an Improbable Fiction” can be taken as a retraction or a stand-down of sorts. Notice that he doesn’t say anything substantive, doesn’t make a single point, but links to the Dubner post that reveals that Caldeira had been given ample opportunity to review the chapter before publication, and simply had failed to correct or amend the “CO2 is not the right villain” claim.

    I think when a person with an exclamatory rhetorical style says they are “bemused,” and that something “is either a proof of the existence or of the nonexistence of God,” you can take it as his way of saying, “uh, oops.”

  21. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. October 2009 at 23:07

    The last paragraph of the previous comment, which is currently in moderation, should read (to be maybe more intelligible, maybe not):

    I think when a person with an exclamatory rhetorical style says they are “bemused,” and that something “is either a proof of the existence or of the nonexistence of God,” you can take it as his way of throwing up his arms and saying, “I give up, I wash my hands of this affair,” or more succintly, “uh, oops.” But I could be losing my mind.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. October 2009 at 04:43

    TGGP, That’s true, but as Greg points out it depends on how one does it.

    Doc Merlin, “Liberal” is a word with many definitions, and many variations.

    RN, Let’s hope so.

    Jim Glass, I wish I had read DeLong earlier. I have to admit that I didn’t read many blogs until fairly recently. I used to read Krugman’s NYT columns, before I noticed his blog. And I did notice that when he went from being a liberal to being a partisan Democrat it affected his judgment. I liked him better as a liberal.

    I think it is very common for politics to distort one’s judgment–indeed it often happens to me despite being an independent/libertarian. But I get trying to overcome my biases, and the pro-Krugman column I did recently was one such example. I try to admit when my views were wrong.

    anon/portly, Your comments sound very reasonable. I would just add that the logical way to prevent his comment section from building up would be to not respond to me any further.

    BTW, I am about to have one comment thread go over 200 (it’s currently at 198)

    I appreciate your reply because you seem pretty knowledgeable, and although you like DeLong a lot you seem very balanced and unbiased in your views.

  23. Gravatar of jb jb
    26. October 2009 at 05:11

    Hrrm. Next social networking website is one that will monitor thousands of blogs, capture every comment, and then detect when comments have been removed/edited. Essentially a permanent archive of the actual discussion, instead of the one the owner wants to have.

    But I don’t see an easy way to make money, so I’ll not build that service 🙂

  24. Gravatar of anon anon
    26. October 2009 at 05:26

    Just wondering – are you looking for approval or respect from these people? (Krugman, DeLong).

    Why focus on either of them?

  25. Gravatar of George Selgin George Selgin
    27. October 2009 at 03:44

    Despite what Greg Ransom says, I’ve never posted on De Long’s blog. I know better, having had my fill of him from an exchange way back when on the Economic History network. There I mentioned that Milton Friedman’s notion of a “natural rate of unemployment” was inspired by Wicksell’s “natural rate of interest,” only to have De Long declare in his usual condescending way that I was spewing nonsense.

    In fact, Friedman had said it himself, in the AER (if I recall correctly).

    I’ve looked for the old exchange, but it seems to have been deleted. Hmmm…

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. October 2009 at 16:00

    jb, Good idea.

    anon, Why bother debating someone you agree with?

    And Krugman is very influential, indeed the most influential blogger in the world. So it seems like a good idea to evaluate his views.

    If I wanted approval, would I mock the views of both those on the left and those on the right? I’ve made far more enemies than friends.

    Thanks George, I’m starting to notice a pattern with DeLong.

  27. Gravatar of caveat bettor caveat bettor
    28. October 2009 at 13:52

    I left an observation on DeLong’s comments censorship last July:

    And another from Feb 2008:

    As early as Oct 2007:

    So you have been treated fairly consistently (but not so consistently fairly, of course).

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. October 2009 at 17:51

    caveat bettor, Thanks for the heads up.

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