Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My review of SuperFreakonomics

The book I most recently finished reading on my Kindle app, is SuperFreakonomics, the follow-up to Freakonomics, by Levitt & Dubner. In this book they continue describing behaviors that they have uncovered via behavioral economics, the type of economics that I have discussed previously on this blog (although, it is my opinion that ultimately all economics are behavioral economics). In their words, this is not a mathematical means of explaining “the economy…{but} a systematic means of describing how people make decisions… In other words, the book is right up my alley.

The authors claim that behavioral economics is completely unbiased – let the numbers speak the truth. I am relatively inclined to believe them, since they appear to have done mountains of research on each topic and are open about revealing their sources, another important topic I have blogged about more than once before.

In this book you can learn:

• why elephants should be feared more than sharks, and why they aren’t.

• where sexism truly does and does not exist – studies include notes on transgender dealings with sexism before and after operations

• why “talent” at sports exists far less than you think, and has more to do with your birthday (and the answer is not related to astrology)

• why terrorism is so effective even though it is so scarce

• why it is so difficult to measure the skill and efficacy of a doctor (forget any self-published statistics or online reviews from patients or peers)

• how we’re losing the war on cancer

• how even the most innocuous TV shows lead to increased violence (though no one knows why)

• how car seats for children 2 and up are no better than seat belts

And a few of my favorite chapters:

Chapter 3: Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism, in which we learn that many classic events or studies quoted to support both camps, are not true. (Although sadly, 2 oft-quoted cases of studies where students performed evil acts on other students, in the name of “research”, are confirmed to be true.) Absolutely fascinating. So are humans inherently good or inherently evil? The authors say their belief is that there is potential for both; neither is pre-determined. People simply respond to economic incentives.

There is a chapter that contains what I interpret to be a scathing report on the operation of emergency rooms in hospitals, a topic that hits really close to home. The word “scathing” is my opinion only. True to their word, Levitt & Dubner pretty much just list the facts, name their sources, and allow the reader to become incensed (or not). But after reading a following chapter that contained a scathing report about the lack of hand-washing that occurs in hospitals (source data from Cedars-Sinai, among other hospitals), I was incensed all over again and I hope I never have to go to the hospital again.

In another chapter we learn the banking habits of known terrorists, and how this led to one economist identifying a key metric that is so significant that Levitt & Dubner could not publish it, only referring to it as Variable X, a behavioral metric.

Finally, there’s a chapter that you just have to read to believe. It’s about climate change and proposed solutions coming from a think tank in Seattle. You’ll sleep better at night knowing these guys are out there. And you’ll see that in spite of the authors’ “unbiased” research, it’s obvious that they don’t think all that highly of Al Gore.

If you haven’t read the first Freakonomics, you can now see it as a TV documentary. Check Netflix or Amazon streaming video.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails