Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner Info

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Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do
schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers
still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind
of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?

These may not
sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D.
Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much heralded scholar who
studies the stuff and riddles of everyday life-;from cheating and crime
to sports and child rearing-;and whose conclusions regularly turn the
conventional wisdom on its head. He usually begins with a mountain of
data and a simple, unasked question. Some of these questions concern
life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus
the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.


Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author
Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of
incentives-;how people get what they want, or need, especially when
other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they
set out to explore the hidden side of ... well, everything. The inner
workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths
of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The
secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a
belief that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation,
complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not
unknowable, and-;if the right questions are asked-;is even more
intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Steven
Levitt, through devilishly clever and clear-eyed thinking, shows how to
see through all the clutter.

Freakonomics establishes this
unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the
world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It
is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and
stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can
provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the
modern world.


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Reviews for Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner:

1

Feb 23, 2008

This was an interesting book. I say it was interesting because I started liking it (a lot) when I first read it, as time passed I liked it less and less. In that way I call it a candy book, tastes good at first but leaves you worse off for reading it.

In my opinion, there are two problems with the book: First, Stephen Dubner comes across as a sycophant. Way to much of the book is spent praising Levitt. Secondly, I was disappointed in the lack of detail provided about Livitt's hypothesis. I This was an interesting book. I say it was interesting because I started liking it (a lot) when I first read it, as time passed I liked it less and less. In that way I call it a candy book, tastes good at first but leaves you worse off for reading it.

In my opinion, there are two problems with the book: First, Stephen Dubner comes across as a sycophant. Way to much of the book is spent praising Levitt. Secondly, I was disappointed in the lack of detail provided about Livitt's hypothesis. I wanted more. It was like reading War and Peace and discovering that you read the abridged version and in fact the book wasn't 100 pages long. This disappointment may have come from my engineering background and my strong desire to really understand economics. This book didn't offer any of that, only a titillating glimpse of the economics.

In some regards one may think my single start rating is to harsh. As mind candy this book was quite good. I did enjoy reading it at the time. Whats more, it did encourage me to study real economics. I am currently enrolled in a masters program in economics and this book did play a very small roll in that decision process. However, as I learn more about economics I realize how shallow the book in fact was.

While this is not the forum for a comprehensive review of the topics presented in the book, or an analysis of how good the economics in Freekanomics are, a review in "Journal of Economic Literature (Vol XLV, Dec. 2007 pp 973)" quotes Livitt as saying: "There is no question I have written some ridiculous papers." The article then goes on to quote a paper by Noam Scheibler(2007) describing Livitt's comparing some of his papers to the fashion industry. "Sometimes you write papers and they're less about the actual result, more about your vision of how you think the profession should be. And so I think some of my most ridiculous papers actually fall in the high-fashion category."

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0

Jul 16, 2007

Yes, zero stars.

There is one segment of this book that reports use of a dataset I know very well -- the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. From what details they put into the book, it's fairly clear that the researchers did not research the reliability of the data elements they chose to use from FARS. In particular, their analysis rests on the ability to identify uninjured children in vehicles that were involved in fatal crashes. FARS has data elements for this, but the reliability Yes, zero stars.

There is one segment of this book that reports use of a dataset I know very well -- the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. From what details they put into the book, it's fairly clear that the researchers did not research the reliability of the data elements they chose to use from FARS. In particular, their analysis rests on the ability to identify uninjured children in vehicles that were involved in fatal crashes. FARS has data elements for this, but the reliability of the data in those data elements is suspect at best. If you go back beyond around 2002's data, you are missing quite a bit of data. And the data errors are not randomly distributed. In other words, it's not a usable dataset for the purpose it was put to.

It's a rookie mistake. We all make them from time to time. But, when you are going out on a limb and finding results that directly contradict the "prevailing wisdom" I believe you have a responsibility to check your work thoroughly and not just rely on peer review -- especially if you submit your work to publications where the reviewers are likely to share your ignorance on a particular data set.

In short, the way the child safety seat data were handled in this body of work makes me suspect that the entire work is similarly filled with errors that are understandable in a novice, but inexcusable in someone promoting himself as a "rogue" anything.

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2

Jul 09, 2007

Sure, this book was a compelling read that offered us all some great amo for cocktail party conversation. But ultimately I think most of what Leavitt claims is crap.

He dodges accoutability with the disclaimer about his book NOT being a scholarly work, but then goes on to drop statistics, theories and expert opinions. These assertions laid, he doesn't provide readers with enough information to critically examine his perspectives.

Ultimately I have a problem with the unquestioned, unaccoutable Sure, this book was a compelling read that offered us all some great amo for cocktail party conversation. But ultimately I think most of what Leavitt claims is crap.

He dodges accoutability with the disclaimer about his book NOT being a scholarly work, but then goes on to drop statistics, theories and expert opinions. These assertions laid, he doesn't provide readers with enough information to critically examine his perspectives.

Ultimately I have a problem with the unquestioned, unaccoutable role of the public intellectual. Leavitt dances around with his PhD on his sleeve, but is never subject to peer review or any sort of academic criticism. I think it's irresponsible. ...more
4

Dec 20, 2008

I loved this book, though I think the title is a bit misleading. It's not really about economics. In fact, he's showing you what interesting things you can discover when you apply statistical analysis to problems where you wouldn't normally think of using it. I use statistical methods a fair amount in my own work, so I found it particularly interesting. The most startling and thought-provoking example is definitely the unexpected reduction in US urban crime that occurred towards the end of the I loved this book, though I think the title is a bit misleading. It's not really about economics. In fact, he's showing you what interesting things you can discover when you apply statistical analysis to problems where you wouldn't normally think of using it. I use statistical methods a fair amount in my own work, so I found it particularly interesting. The most startling and thought-provoking example is definitely the unexpected reduction in US urban crime that occurred towards the end of the 20th century. Crime rates had been rising for decades, and people were really worried about what would happen if the trend continued. Then, suddenly, they peaked and started to decline. Why? There were a bunch of theories, all of them superficially plausible.

Levitt crunched the numbers, to see what proportion of the variance could be ascribed to the different factors. This is a completely standard technique; it just hadn't been used here before. He came to the conclusion that the single most important factor, by far, was the ready availability of abortion that started to come in after Roe v Wade. Other things, like more resources for policing and tougher sentencing policies, probably helped, but not nearly as much. I didn't at all get the impression that he had been expecting this result from the start, and just wanted to prove his point. He processed the data, and went where the numbers led him. That's how you're supposed to do science.

The clincher, at least as far as I was concerned, was the fact that crime statistics peaked at different points in different states, the peaks correlating very well with the dates when each state started making abortion available. States that brought it in early had correspondingly early peaks in their crime rates. It's hard to see how that could happen if Levitt's explanation weren't correct.

I am surprised that there hasn't been more discussion of Levitt's findings in the political world. Maybe it's just regarded as too hot to handle. But if Levitt is right, and at the moment I would say it's up to his critics to explain why he isn't, then pro-life campaigners would seem be heading in a very unfortunate direction.
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1

Apr 01, 2011

Jesus H Tittyfucking Christ on a bike! Could these two tossers be any more smarmy and self indulgent? Levitt and Dubner and probably the kind of smart arse nerds who snigger at you because you don't understand linux but sneer at you because you've actually spoken to a woman.

This book is much like the Emperor's New Clothes, people are so scared about being left out if they don't like or understand it because some sandal wearing hippy in the Guardian said it's 'This year's Das Capital' or some Jesus H Tittyfucking Christ on a bike! Could these two tossers be any more smarmy and self indulgent? Levitt and Dubner and probably the kind of smart arse nerds who snigger at you because you don't understand linux but sneer at you because you've actually spoken to a woman.

This book is much like the Emperor's New Clothes, people are so scared about being left out if they don't like or understand it because some sandal wearing hippy in the Guardian said it's 'This year's Das Capital' or some such bollocks that they feel compelled to join some sort of unspoken club where they all jizz themselves silly over a book that effectively is 300+ pages of pure condescension.

Only buy this book if a facist regime ever seizes control of your country and instigates a book burning policy. ...more
3

Jun 30, 2018

Interesting enough, but the exponential amount of data made it hard to remember what the initial claims of the economist were instead of reinforcing them, strangely! I did, however, learn from this book. It still amazes me that the way to reduce crime seems to be the legalization of abortion. I did not expect that, but it does make quite a lot of sense and I’m all for women having control over their own bodies and futures, of course.

Sidenote: I despised the author’s arbitrary uses of female and Interesting enough, but the exponential amount of data made it hard to remember what the initial claims of the economist were instead of reinforcing them, strangely! I did, however, learn from this book. It still amazes me that the way to reduce crime seems to be the legalization of abortion. I did not expect that, but it does make quite a lot of sense and I’m all for women having control over their own bodies and futures, of course.

Sidenote: I despised the author’s arbitrary uses of female and male pronouns. Like, a teacher is a SHE and then an architect a HE? That certainly didn’t gain my respect.
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4

Jul 09, 2007

I guess some people don't like this book because it's not centered around one theme. Instead, it's more about the seemingly diffuse academic work of one of the authors Steven D. Levitt (the other author is a journalist, Stephen J. Dubner). Levitt is something of an economist but more like a social scientist using the tools of Microeconomics applied to other fields that happen to catch his interest (often having something to do with cheating, corruption, crime, etc.). In the back of the book he I guess some people don't like this book because it's not centered around one theme. Instead, it's more about the seemingly diffuse academic work of one of the authors Steven D. Levitt (the other author is a journalist, Stephen J. Dubner). Levitt is something of an economist but more like a social scientist using the tools of Microeconomics applied to other fields that happen to catch his interest (often having something to do with cheating, corruption, crime, etc.). In the back of the book he mentions how he considers himself a student of Thomas Schelling who is kind of like the father of Game Theory (strategy theory?), except much more of a 'man of ideas' than what one might think of when one thinks about game theory today, which is much more mathematical.

Anyway, as for the book itself, I thought it was really great. I really like what Levitt is doing as far as using the tools of Microeconomics in other fields. One of my intellectual heroes (I only have a few) is Kenneth Waltz who did the exact same thing in the field of International Relations in the '70's and wrote the seminal book The Theory of International Politics, which pretty much the single-handedly invented defensive (neo) realism. More generally, I think Economics is probably the most formalized of the social sciences and the one to which others should esteem. A lot of the Political Science field concerned with both voter behavior and how legislatures work is now pretty formalized as well, and, I, for one, think this is a good thing. I don't see how anyone could think it's not (good) unless they a)think the scientific method cannot be used to analyze human behavior; or b)have a visceral aversion to mathematical languages. Actually, I am one of the latter, but I, at least, see the value in having a formalized language to work with.

As for the book itself, there's some maybe-controversial things in there like Levitt did some work that showed that the legalization of abortion in the U.S. (Roe v. Wade) was one of the main reasons that crime in the U.S. dropped in the '90's and continues at the same rates today. He stands behind it pretty hardily though and it doesn't seem like he has a moral agenda at all. Some might argue that the best writers are those who are best able to disguise their moral agenda, but considering he writes about all kinds of not-very-serious things like how sumo wrestling in Japan is probably corrupt as far as matches g,o and there's stuff in there about how real estate agents sell their houses for more than they sell their customers' houses (which, may or may not be surprising), I really don't think he has a hidden pro-life agenda.

Anyway, there's a bunch of stuff in there (the book), hence the 'freak' in Freakonomics. It's well-written. It's not dry. It's written for a lay audience. I recommend it. Read it and feel the power of social science! ;-) ...more
1

Sep 08, 2014

Well,this is the most terrible book I have ever seen,it was too terrible to read.It’s so terrible that I just want to burn it as fast as I can,and it cost me 58RMB.That was 58RMB,it was to expensive for me to afford.At first.I thought it was a good book,and I spend all my money on this book.And I was pretty annoyed about this I don’t have any other money for my breakfast,lunch,and even dinner.I haven’t drink juice for the whole year.Reading this is a waste of time,no one want to see this book Well,this is the most terrible book I have ever seen,it was too terrible to read.It’s so terrible that I just want to burn it as fast as I can,and it cost me 58RMB.That was 58RMB,it was to expensive for me to afford.At first.I thought it was a good book,and I spend all my money on this book.And I was pretty annoyed about this I don’t have any other money for my breakfast,lunch,and even dinner.I haven’t drink juice for the whole year.Reading this is a waste of time,no one want to see this book again.It was just rubbish,and smelly book.It tells my nothing.I even want to sell this to the writer,and ask to return my money and some extra.It cost me too much time,and too much money on it.I prefer to see a movie instead!!! ...more
1

May 07, 2010

I assumed Freakonomics would be a book that used statistics to debunk various societal hysterias and fearmongering in a semi-humorous way. I quickly realized what I was in for when early in the book when the authors gave their background as Harvard Jews and profiled a guy that infiltrated the KKK for the ADL. The story sounds at least partially made up.

It then jumped into predictable white guilt inducing trash and goes into mental contortions using "data" and sociological explanations for black I assumed Freakonomics would be a book that used statistics to debunk various societal hysterias and fearmongering in a semi-humorous way. I quickly realized what I was in for when early in the book when the authors gave their background as Harvard Jews and profiled a guy that infiltrated the KKK for the ADL. The story sounds at least partially made up.

It then jumped into predictable white guilt inducing trash and goes into mental contortions using "data" and sociological explanations for black criminality and low IQ scores. The writers of this book are also obsessively pro-Abortion. The only surprise was they used statistics to show you are much more likely to die from an automobile or a swimming pool than a gun. This book would probably appeal to upper middle class liberals who like to consider themselves clever and politically astute from their isolated armchairs. For me Freakonomics was a big load of garbage. ...more
1

May 05, 2012

Yeah, this isn't 'rogue economics'. This is sociology. It's not a new discipline. And this is really spurious sociology that wouldn't pass muster in academia, so Levitt published it for public consumption.
5

Dec 25, 2016

Extremely enlightening! Worthy of 15 stars out of 5! This is a book about the world and not about any science in particular. It's about learning to question the given and see beyond the obvious. An extremely useful gift in the misguiding modern world.

Yeah, populistic much too much but neverthless compulsively readable. A definite revisit and reread.

Q:
As Levitt sees it, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions. His particular Extremely enlightening! Worthy of 15 stars out of 5! This is a book about the world and not about any science in particular. It's about learning to question the given and see beyond the obvious. An extremely useful gift in the misguiding modern world.

Yeah, populistic much too much but neverthless compulsively readable. A definite revisit and reread.

Q:
As Levitt sees it, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions. His particular gift is the ability to ask such questions. For instance: If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What really caused crime rates to plunge during the past decade? Do real-estate agents have their clients’ best interests at heart? Why do black parents give their children names that may hurt their career prospects? Do schoolteachers cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards? Is sumo wrestling corrupt?
And how does a homeless man in tattered clothing afford $50 headphones?
(c)
Q:
the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.
(c)
Q:
“Experts”—from criminologists to real-estate agents-use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda. However, they can be beat at their own game. And in the face of the Internet, their informational advantage is shrinking every day-as evidenced by, among other things, the falling price of coffins and life-insurance premiums.
Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world much less so. If you learn how to look at data in the right way, you can explain riddles that otherwise might have seemed impossible. Because there is nothing like the sheer power of numbers to scrub away layers of confusion and contradiction.
So the aim of this book is to explore the hidden side of . . . everything. This may occasionally be a frustrating exercise. It may sometimes feel as if we are peering at the world through a straw or even staring into a funhouse mirror; but the idea is to look at many different scenarios and examine them in a way they have rarely been examined.
...
Steven Levitt may not fully believe in himself, but he does believe in this: teachers and criminals and real-estate agents may lie, and politicians, and even CIA analysts. But numbers don’t.
(c)
Q:
Levitt had an interview for the Society of Fellows, the venerable intellectual clubhouse at
Harvard that pays young scholars to do their own work, for three years, with no commitments.
Levitt felt he didn’t stand a chance. For starters, he didn’t consider himself an intellectual. He would
be interviewed over dinner by the senior fellows, a collection of world-renowned philosophers,
scientists, and historians. He worried he wouldn’t have enough conversation to last even the first
course.
Disquietingly, one of the senior fellows said to Levitt, “I’m having a hard time seeing the
unifying theme of your work. Could you explain it?”
Levitt was stymied. He had no idea what his unifying theme was, or if he even had one.
Amartya Sen, the future Nobel-winning economist, jumped in and neatly summarized what he
saw as Levitt’s theme.
Yes, Levitt said eagerly, that’s my theme.
Another fellow then offered another theme.
You’re right, said Levitt, my theme.
And so it went, like dogs tugging at a bone, until the philosopher Robert Nozick interrupted.
“How old are you, Steve?” he asked.
“Twenty-six.”
Nozick turned to the other fellows: “He’s twenty-six years old. Why does he need to have a
unifying theme? Maybe he’s going to be one of those people who’s so talented he doesn’t need one.
He’ll take a question and he’ll just answer it, and it’ll be fine.”
(c)
Q:
There are three basic flavors of incentive: economic, social, and moral. Very often a single incentive scheme will include all three varieties. Think about the anti-smoking campaign of recent years. The addition of a $3-per-pack “sin tax” is a strong economic incentive against buying cigarettes. The banning of cigarettes in restaurants and bars is a powerful social incentive. And when the U.S. government asserts that terrorists raise money by selling black-market cigarettes, that acts as a rather jarring moral incentive.
Some of the most compelling incentives yet invented have been put in place to deter crime. Considering this fact, it might be worthwhile to take a familiar question—why is there so much crime in modern society?—and stand it on its head: why isn’t there a lot more crime? After all, every one of us regularly passes up opportunities to maim, steal, and defraud. The chance of going to jail—thereby losing your job, your house, and your freedom, all of which are essentially economic penalties—is certainly a strong incentive. But when it comes to crime, people also respond to moral incentives (they don’t want to do something they consider wrong) and social incentives (they don’t want to be seen by others as doing something wrong). For certain types of misbehavior, social incentives are terribly powerful. In an echo of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter, many American cities now fight prostitution with a “shaming” offensive, posting pictures of convicted johns (and prostitutes) on websites or on local-access television. Which is a more horrifying deterrent: a $500 fine for soliciting a prostitute or the thought of your friends and family ogling you on www.HookersAndJohns.com.
(с)
Q:
Some cheating leaves barely a shadow of evidence. In other cases, the evidence is massive.
Consider what happened one spring evening at midnight in 1987: seven million American children
suddenly disappeared. The worst kidnapping wave in history? Hardly. It was the night of April 15,
and the Internal Revenue Service had just changed a rule. Instead of merely listing each dependent
child, tax filers were now required to provide a Social Security number for each child. Suddenly,
seven million children—children who had existed only as phantom exemptions on the previous
year’s 1040 forms—vanished, representing about one in ten of all dependent children in the United
States
(c)
Q:
Of all the ideas that Kennedy had thought up—and would think up in the future—to fight bigotry, his Superman campaign was easily the cleverest and probably the most productive. It had the precise effect he hoped: turning the Klan’s secrecy against itself, converting precious knowledge
into ammunition for mockery. Instead of roping in millions of members as it had just a generation
earlier, the Klan lost momentum and began to founder. Although the Klan would never quite die,
especially down South—David Duke, a smooth-talking Klan leader from Louisiana, mounted
legitimate bids for the U.S. Senate and other offices—it was also never quite the same. In The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America, the historian Wyn Craig Wade calls Stetson Kennedy “the single most important factor in preventing a postwar revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the North.”
This did not happen because Kennedy was courageous or resolute or unflappable, even though he was all of these. It happened because Kennedy understood the raw power of information. The Ku Klux Klan was a group whose power—much like that of politicians or real-estate agents or stockbrokers—was derived in large part from the fact that it hoarded information. Once that information falls into the wrong hands (or, depending on your point of view, the right hands), much of the group’s advantage disappears.
(с)
Q:
Information is so powerful that the assumption of information, even if the information does not actually exist, can have a sobering effect.
(c)
Q:
It is common for one party to a transaction to have better information than another party. In
the parlance of economists, such a case is known as an information asymmetry. We accept as a
verity of capitalism that someone (usually an expert) knows more than someone else (usually a
consumer).
(c)
Q:
If you were to assume that many experts use their information to your detriment, you’d be
right. Experts depend on the fact that you don’t have the information they do. Or that you are so
befuddled by the complexity of their operation that you wouldn’t know what to do with the
information if you had it. Or that you are so in awe of their expertise that you wouldn’t dare
challenge them. If your doctor suggests that you have angioplasty—even though some current
research suggests that angioplasty often does little to prevent heart attacks—you aren’t likely to
think that the doctor is using his informational advantage to make a few thousand dollars for
himself or his buddy. But as David Hillis, an interventional cardiologist at the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, explained to the New York Times, a doctor may have the
same economic incentives as a car salesman or a funeral director or a mutual fund manager: “If
you’re an invasive cardiologist and Joe Smith, the local internist, is sending you patients, and if you
tell them they don’t need the procedure, pretty soon Joe Smith doesn’t send patients anymore.”
(c)
Q:
Consider this true story, related by John Donohue, a law professor who in 2001 was teaching at Stanford University: “I was just about to buy a house on the Stanford campus,” he recalls, “and the seller’s agent kept telling me what a good deal I was getting because the market was about to zoom. As soon as I signed the purchase contract, he asked me if I would need an agent to sell my previous Stanford house. I told him that I would probably try to sell without an agent, and he replied, ‘John, that might work under normal conditions, but with the market tanking now, you really need the help of a broker.’”
Within five minutes, a zooming market had tanked. Such are the marvels that can be conjured by an agent in search of the next deal.
(c)
Q:
They were also a lot richer, taller, skinnier, and better-looking than average. That, at least, is what they wrote about themselves. More than 4 percent of the online daters claimed to earn more than $200,000 a year, whereas fewer than 1 percent of typical Internet users actually earn that much, suggesting that three of the four big earners were exaggerating. Male and female users typically reported that they are about an inch taller than the national average. As for weight, the men were in line with the national average, but the women typically said they weighed about twenty pounds less than the national average.
Most impressively, fully 70 percent of the women claimed “above average” looks, including 24 percent claiming “very good looks.” The online men too were gorgeous: 67 percent called themselves “above average,” including 21 percent with “very good looks.” This leaves only about 30 percent of the users with “average” looks, including a paltry 1 percent with “less than average” looks—which suggests that the typical online dater is either a fabulist, a narcissist, or simply resistant to the meaning of “average.” (Or perhaps they are all just realists: as any real-estate agent knows, the typical house isn’t “charming” or “fantastic,” but unless you say it is, no one will even bother to take a look.) Twenty-eight percent of the women on the site said they were blond, a number far beyond the national average, which indicates a lot of dyeing, or lying, or both.
Some users, meanwhile, were bracingly honest. Eight percent of the men—about 1 in every 12 conceded that they were married, with half of these 8 percent reporting that they were “happily married.” But the fact that they were honest doesn’t mean they were rash. Of the 258 “happily married” men in the sample, only 9 chose to post a picture of themselves. The reward of gaining a mistress was evidently outweighed by the risk of having your wife discover your personal ad.
(c)
Q:
But if there is no unifying theme to Freakonomics, there is at least a common thread running through the everyday application of Freakonomics. It has to do with thinking sensibly about how people behave in the real world. All it requires is a novel way of looking, of discerning, of measuring. This isn’t necessarily a difficult task, nor does it require supersophisticated thinking. We have essentially tried to figure out what the typical gang member or sumo wrestler figured out on his own (although we had to do so in reverse).
Will the ability to think such thoughts improve your life materially? Probably not. Perhaps you’ll put up a sturdy gate around your swimming pool or push your real-estate agent to work a little harder. But the net effect is likely to be more subtle than that.
You might become more skeptical of the conventional wisdom; you may begin looking for hints as to how things aren’t quite what they seem; perhaps you will seek out some trove of data and sift through it, balancing your intelligence and your intuition to arrive at a glimmering new idea. Some of these ideas might make you uncomfortable, even unpopular. To claim that legalized abortion resulted in a massive drop in crime will inevitably lead to explosive moral reactions.
(c) ...more
2

Dec 28, 2007

The most interesting part of this book was the introduction. Sad, but true.

Four stars for presentation. The prose is nearly invisible, which I suppose in this genre is preferable to the alternative. And the content is mildly interesting, in a "Huh. Wouldja look at that" sort of way, as though you saw a duck waddling through your back yard with jam on its head.

But insofar as it's meant to be the vehicle for a larger framework for viewing the world, this book is old news. You mean shit's connected The most interesting part of this book was the introduction. Sad, but true.

Four stars for presentation. The prose is nearly invisible, which I suppose in this genre is preferable to the alternative. And the content is mildly interesting, in a "Huh. Wouldja look at that" sort of way, as though you saw a duck waddling through your back yard with jam on its head.

But insofar as it's meant to be the vehicle for a larger framework for viewing the world, this book is old news. You mean shit's connected in weird, roundabout ways? Get out. Conventional wisdom is often wrong? Superficial analyses are lazy and innacurate? My head...is spinning.

Read some good poetry, you hipster fucks. ...more
1

Dec 16, 2014

The "experts are evil, have agendas, will trick you" talk got old real fast, especially when points are later being backed up with experts research. There's not enough discussion on the data itself, no distinction between quantitative and qualitative, and not enough discussion on the many flaws of data and how we analyze it. Pretty interesting how much he dislikes criminologists but then (if I remember correctly), only mentions the same one or two names over and over when giving examples of The "experts are evil, have agendas, will trick you" talk got old real fast, especially when points are later being backed up with experts research. There's not enough discussion on the data itself, no distinction between quantitative and qualitative, and not enough discussion on the many flaws of data and how we analyze it. Pretty interesting how much he dislikes criminologists but then (if I remember correctly), only mentions the same one or two names over and over when giving examples of criminologists that had agendas/tricked the public. Also the fact that the entire book, and the issues, feels very simplified. Actually the author puts it best himself:
"The typical parenting expert, like experts in other fields, is prone to sound exceedingly sure of himself. An expert doesn’t so much argue the various sides of an issue, as plant his flag firmly on one side. That’s because an expert who’s argument reeks of restraint or nuance often doesn’t get much attention. An expert must be bold if he hopes to alchemise (?) his homespun theory into conventional wisdom."
This is often how I perceived the book to be written, very simplified, without enough nuance or room for possible explanations - only one right answer. I didn't like how the book was written, how the topics where dealt with, and had a hard time taking anything seriously after all of the self-admiration and the repeated "all experts have agendas (except for us)" talk in every chapter. ...more
1

Mar 17, 2015

Everything I hate about popular science - alternating between over-simplified, patronising, naive or simply annoying, but worst of all, blatantly refusing to take account of the political and social implications of its findings, and being proud of it.
1

Mar 31, 2015

I found this audiobook unbearable. I turned it off halfway through and listened to the public radio pledge drive instead.
3

Nov 05, 2019

I enjoyed Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything; however, I’m not yet sure if it is simply entertaining or is in any way instructive. Levitt and Dubner explore a diverse range of subjects: from linking Roe v. Wade to violent crime, cheating by teachers and sumo wrestlers to an economic model of drug dealing.

I’d like to think that the stories told by the authors and the way they analyze conventional thinking would put me on a I enjoyed Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything; however, I’m not yet sure if it is simply entertaining or is in any way instructive. Levitt and Dubner explore a diverse range of subjects: from linking Roe v. Wade to violent crime, cheating by teachers and sumo wrestlers to an economic model of drug dealing.

I’d like to think that the stories told by the authors and the way they analyze conventional thinking would put me on a path to look past easy answers. Having completed Freakonomics, do I look at the world radically differently than I did before picking up the book? It is Interesting to look at subjects from a different angle. Positing that economics and specifically the field of study now dubbed freakonomics has nothing to do with morality is an intriguing concept as well, but deciding which stories to tell is necessarily selective. Indeed, the focus is interesting. So yes I enjoyed Freakonomics, but feel I should have more to say about it and the authors’ underlying premises than I do. 3.25 stars ...more
1

Jul 20, 2015

Verbose, repetitive, contradictory: a book of 200-pages that could be condensed to 3-5 pages.

Titles that vary from scintillating to insulting, yet are followed by a chapter that doesn't support the title bar.

Anecdotal stories, mistaken for data or hypothesis. Interpretations and hypotheses are drawn from data that could still be interpreted in multiple ways.

The book claims that it will link the unexpected, but frankly, links the obvious, with many "well duh" moments.

Needless generations of Verbose, repetitive, contradictory: a book of 200-pages that could be condensed to 3-5 pages.

Titles that vary from scintillating to insulting, yet are followed by a chapter that doesn't support the title bar.

Anecdotal stories, mistaken for data or hypothesis. Interpretations and hypotheses are drawn from data that could still be interpreted in multiple ways.

The book claims that it will link the unexpected, but frankly, links the obvious, with many "well duh" moments.

Needless generations of lists that help bulk out the book, but provide little further benefit for study.

Each chapter begins with unnecessary aggrandisement of the author for the statistician, that jars the flow of the book.

Overall, a good demonstration of why "social sciences" are in no way close to being "science", and instead should be termed social philosophy. ...more
1

Jun 12, 2011

This book is little more than Stephen Dubner jerking off Steven Levitt, but that's not why it's a 1-star read. here's why:

"Women's rights advocates... have hyped the incidence of sexual assault, claiming that one in three American women will in her lifetime be a victim of rape or attempted rape. (The actual figure is more like one in eight-but the advocates know it would take a callous person to dispute their claim.)"

In the Notes for this chapter:

"The 2002 statistics from the National Crime This book is little more than Stephen Dubner jerking off Steven Levitt, but that's not why it's a 1-star read. here's why:

"Women's rights advocates... have hyped the incidence of sexual assault, claiming that one in three American women will in her lifetime be a victim of rape or attempted rape. (The actual figure is more like one in eight-but the advocates know it would take a callous person to dispute their claim.)"

In the Notes for this chapter:

"The 2002 statistics from the National Crime Survey, which is designed to elicit honest responses, suggests that the lifetime risk of a woman's being the victim of unwanted sexual activity or attempted unwanted sexual activity is one in eight[.]"

Here, in a nutshell, is how the National Crime VICTIMIZATION Survey collects information on rape:

Every six months, they ask everyone over 12 in a bunch of houses questions like:

"41a.
(Other than any incidents already mentioned,) has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways -
(e) Any rape, attempted rape or other type of sexual attack -"

Followed up later with:

"29c.
You mentioned rape. Do you mean forced or coerced sexual intercourse?"

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the flaws in the NCVS's methodology here. And to use it to glibly accuse "women's rights advocates" of somehow manipulating a kowtowed public is incredibly obnoxious. While I'd guess that Levitt might be right more often than wrong, it's not worth his smug, self-satisfied style. I recommend 'Bad Science' by Ben Goldacre. Similar schtick with substance instead of 'hype'. ...more
5

Feb 04, 2011


As the old joke goes, the questions in economics exams are the same every year; only the answers change.

(re-reading in prep for the super-freaks)
4

Jul 18, 2011

Freakonomics explores the hidden side of everything.

If morality describes the ideal world, then economics describes the actual world. Further, Freakonomics studies incentives and how different people in different professions respond.

Some of the case studies include bagel salesmen, sumo wrestlers, public school teachers, crack cocaine dealers and parents. This is a smart, fun book; but it's not for everyone. Through a high nerd prospective, the authors deliver a slide rule and pocket protector Freakonomics explores the hidden side of everything.

If morality describes the ideal world, then economics describes the actual world. Further, Freakonomics studies incentives and how different people in different professions respond.

Some of the case studies include bagel salesmen, sumo wrestlers, public school teachers, crack cocaine dealers and parents. This is a smart, fun book; but it's not for everyone. Through a high nerd prospective, the authors deliver a slide rule and pocket protector observation of some controversial subjects.

...more
1

Mar 02, 2012

Sheer Rubbish. This is an awful book, yes I read the whole thing, like bitter medicine to a toddler, and had to see what the fuss was about.

This Amazon review nails it. Here's my review/rant.

I'm reading this is 2012, maybe the hype in 2005 was different and people ate this kind of stuff up, even then I don't think we were that gullible at this time. There were good social science/stats books out there. This book pales in comparison to the works of Malcolm Gladwell and others.

Levitt is making Sheer Rubbish. This is an awful book, yes I read the whole thing, like bitter medicine to a toddler, and had to see what the fuss was about.

This Amazon review nails it. Here's my review/rant.

I'm reading this is 2012, maybe the hype in 2005 was different and people ate this kind of stuff up, even then I don't think we were that gullible at this time. There were good social science/stats books out there. This book pales in comparison to the works of Malcolm Gladwell and others.

Levitt is making something out of nothing from strange stories he heard, now he's stitching them together suggesting there's a *GASP* hidden side to everything. Because the KKK spoke in code, real estate listings are supposedly in code, and we're all being duped into spending more for our house because of the secret speak between realtors! How about consumers don't just read a real estate listings but check a place out before making the biggest purchase of their lives, one could argue there's secret speak in every industry. For his final chapter (which is in the middle of the book) Levitt's grand finale, Black people name their children differently to White people! The second half of the book is blog posts from their blog more atrocious reading from these ranting lunatics.

There's no appeal to science, Levitt is throwing a lot of his own opinion, and making wild estimations and bringing up even wilder conclusions. It's pretty obvious Levitt is a shrewd businessman, he's not just writing books, but has a well to do following with his blog, radio station and yes even movie! This is "easy to consume" garbage for the masses.

...more
1

Jun 26, 2014

In addition to allowing 1/2 stars, Goodreads really needs an "abandoned book" shelf.

I had to abandon ship on this one, I guess I'm too liberal/free thinking/whateveryoucallit to think that teacher's unions are bad, and if only poor black women could get abortions we'd be safer after dark.

I didn't stick around for the rest.
1

Feb 03, 2015

If I could give this book less then one star I would. I tried so very hard to finish reading this book full of BS facts but eventually got so tired of hearing things that just are not true but the author "claims" to be fact, that I quit reading it. I almost finished but couldn't do it in the end. Some of the things the author talks about seem like they could be truths but the majority of it is not. Don't waste your time.

Update: I don't recall the specifics as this was over a year ago that I If I could give this book less then one star I would. I tried so very hard to finish reading this book full of BS facts but eventually got so tired of hearing things that just are not true but the author "claims" to be fact, that I quit reading it. I almost finished but couldn't do it in the end. Some of the things the author talks about seem like they could be truths but the majority of it is not. Don't waste your time.

Update: I don't recall the specifics as this was over a year ago that I "attempted" to read the book. I don't remember how far I got through it before I stopped reading. I can recall that many of the data and ideas presented about crime statistics and correlations were not accurate. The book put claims on cause and effect in regards to violent crime. I knew that the correlations were no more then the Authors conclusion based on one view of statistical data use. The use of statistics is often (many times not on purpose) biased. I have studied and been in law enforcement since 1990 and have worked serious felony level crimes since 1999. I know from experience and studies that some of the ideas he presented as "fact" were not fact but more of an opinion that can be easily concluded when someone does not look at the entire data of violent crimes. ...more
2

Jul 09, 2008

The Basics:

Freakonomics isn’t really about any one thing, which makes it a bit hard to summarize. In essence, it’s economist Steven Levitt playing around with economic principles and basic statistical analysis to examine various cultural trends and phenomena. He tackles a variety of questions, from whether or not sumo wrestlers cheat (they do) to whether or not a child’s name determines his success (it doesn’t). He does this all through examining statistics and data, trying to find facts to back The Basics:

Freakonomics isn’t really about any one thing, which makes it a bit hard to summarize. In essence, it’s economist Steven Levitt playing around with economic principles and basic statistical analysis to examine various cultural trends and phenomena. He tackles a variety of questions, from whether or not sumo wrestlers cheat (they do) to whether or not a child’s name determines his success (it doesn’t). He does this all through examining statistics and data, trying to find facts to back up various assertions rather than relying on conventional wisdom.

The Good:

As a person who is sick of the inability of most people to have a rational discourse on any even vaguely politicized topic, and a self-proclaimed skeptic, it’s nice to read anyone who endorses looking at hard data to make judgments about possibly controversial issues. Levitt does a nice job of not only proclaiming the advantages of this sort of rational outlook, but also of showing that when you actually examine the data, you sometimes get surprising results. Furthermore, he takes the time to point out that there is a difference between correlation and causation, and that many people mistake one for the other. Again, a nice touch.

The actual questions that Levitt asks are all fairly interesting, though some will appeal to certain readers more than others. In addition to cheating sumotori and strange names, Levitt also examines cheating teachers, the economics of crack dealers, and the effect of abortion on crime. Crime, in point of fact, seems to be Levitt’s greatest interest, and I wonder if he might not have been better served by writing an entire book on the relationship between economics and crime, as opposed to trying to touch on a number of different subjects that are all largely unrelated. It might have made for a tighter, more focused book.

The writing is solid; simple and easy, but solid. Despite being a book about economics, it’s not a terribly dense read, as witnessed by the fact that I finished it off in about two days. Granted, it was two days of heavy reading, but it was still two days.

The Bad:

For a book that’s so gung ho about statistics, there aren’t many statistics in here. Levitt claims that the numbers back up his research, but he rarely provides the data itself, which makes it difficult to tell how much he might be manipulating statistics to serve his own ends. It makes the book seem like it’s been dumbed down for the plebian masses, which will be very frustrating to any intelligent reader who wants to look at Levitt’s data themselves. Any reader who doesn’t feel like reading the numbers can do what most of us did in undergrad—skip the numbers sections. It’s just sloppy; I can’t imagine Levitt would do this in a formal economics paper.

The book also lacks much in the way of an unifying theme, a problem that is acknowledged within the text itself; that isn’t only sad, it’s sloppy. I doubt that a writer of Dubner’s skill and an economist of Levitt’s apparent genius (more on that below) are totally incapable of thinking of and describing some kind of unifying theme throughout this work. It just smacks of laziness, even more so when there’s a half-hearted “well, I guess you could say it’s this…” sort of thing in the epilogue. Again, I have trouble imagining that Levitt would submit a paper that was this disjointed to a serious economic publication; why should the general public be treated less seriously?

The Ugly:

The self-aggrandizement. Oh, the self-aggrandizement.

Every chapter is preceded by excerpts from an article about Levitt, which all tell us what a brilliant and unconventional economist this man is. In the introduction, we’re told that he really wasn’t that interested in writing a book, unless he got to work with this wonderful journalist who had written an article about him earlier. The cover promises that we will be “dazzled” by a “rogue economist” who explains “the hidden side of everything.”

For all of this talk of brilliance and dazzling explanations, the book doesn’t seem that brilliant. It seems like a transcript of some interesting dinner conversation with a smart guy, the sort that makes you go home and think, “hey, this stuff is interesting, I ought to go pick up a book about it.” Of course, the problem here is that you’ve already picked up the book.

The fact that Levitt wasn’t that interested in writing a book in the first place is telling; this book feels like something written by a person who needed to get the work done, but really wasn’t engaged in what he was doing. Maybe he should have waited until he was a little more motivated. ...more
3

Mar 19, 2016

I won't deny that this is a very interesting, compelling and thought-provoking book. Even for someone like me whose general response to economics is *snore*. And it's mainly because Freakonomics is not really about economics, but involves applying statistical analysis to many social issues and questions.

Very easy to read. Lots of shocking discoveries that seem weighted in fact - Roe v. Wade is responsible for a huge drop in crime? No wonder some people are pissed off with this book. It's really I won't deny that this is a very interesting, compelling and thought-provoking book. Even for someone like me whose general response to economics is *snore*. And it's mainly because Freakonomics is not really about economics, but involves applying statistical analysis to many social issues and questions.

Very easy to read. Lots of shocking discoveries that seem weighted in fact - Roe v. Wade is responsible for a huge drop in crime? No wonder some people are pissed off with this book. It's really quite fascinating to look at the power of incentives - economic, social and moral - and examine cause and effect.

One of my favourite personal experiences with silly notions of cause and effect is diet soft drinks. I confess to being a bit of a coke zero addict. It's not great for you (the sodium makes you more thirsty, a lot of potassium can lead to palpitations, and a lot of phosphoric acid has been linked to kidney problems) but I've lost count of how many times people have cited statistics showing that diet soda drinkers are more likely to be overweight and diabetic. Of course they are! If you're overweight and diabetic you're more likely to drink the low-calorie, sugar-free alternatives, aren't you? So strange how people assume it is A that causes B and ignore the possibility of it being the opposite.

Anyway, my issue with this entertaining book is that I think it may be - to be frank - bullshit. Not all of it, sure. But definitely some of it. The writers state their points very confidently (some might say with a touch too much smarm) but it requires you to take a lot of what they say on faith. And some of the jumps they make between statistics and conclusion don't quite add up for me. I know many others have felt the same.

But here was the thing that really got me, the thing that made me smell bullshit: I'm fairly confident something they said is not rooted in any truth. And let's be clear: I am a total noob when it comes to most statistics and economics, so if even I can spot something a bit off, it really makes me question the rest of it. Here it is:
Women's rights advocates, for instance, have hyped the incidence of sexual assault, claiming that one in three American women will in her lifetime be a victim of rape or attempted rape. (The actual figure is more like one in eight - but the advocates know it would take a callous person to publicly dispute their claims.)
This, if true, implies two things. 1) Those advocating women's rights are using false data, therefore undermining their credibility, and 2) They have invented a statistic to intentionally support their cause, knowing no one will dispute it (absolutely bizarre that the author thinks no one is disputing women's rights claims, but okay...)

Well, being a feminist and someone who has spent an awful lot of time reading and writing about women's rights organizations and statistics, my eyes narrowed a little. See, in all my research, I've never seen or heard any claim that "1 in 3 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape". I have heard the "1 in 3" statistic, but a somewhat different one.

So, obviously, I went to look it up. I spent a couple of hours going through Google and every women's rights organization page I could find, trying to uncover a single case where that statistic was used. I found exactly: none. The only other thing I found that mentioned it was a Time article attempting to debunk so-called "feminist myths": http://time.com/3222543/5-feminist-my...

The statistic the authors appear to have misquoted is that "1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence, or physical violence by an intimate partner", which is used often. Sexual violence here is an ambiguous term, leaving room for wider interpretations and probably explaining why, with the addition of domestic violence into the statistic, the number is at "1 in 3" instead of "1 in 8".

Furthermore, not only have the authors misrepresented the statistical claim itself, but they have also suggested that women's rights advocates have pulled the numbers from thin air to make a point - on the contrary, this is a study conducted by the World Health Organization on the "Global and regional estimates of violence against women".

I like the idea of the book, but this really put me off. Perhaps it was a one-off error that I managed to spot. Perhaps. Either way, I started to be less impressed by the facts and statistics they presented. Still, very enjoyable book for the most part. ...more

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