SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insuranceby Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner Published 20 Oct 2009
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The New York Times best-selling Freakonomics was a worldwide sensation, selling over four million copies in thirty-five languages and changing the way we look at the world. Now, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner return with SuperFreakonomics, and fans and newcomers alike will find that the freakquel is even bolder, funnier, and more surprising than the first.
Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What's more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it's so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary?
SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:
How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
How much good do car seats do?
What's the best way to catch a terrorist?
Did TV cause a rise in crime?
What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?
Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling like no one else, whether investigating a solution to global warming or explaining why the price of oral sex has fallen so drastically. By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it really is – good, bad, ugly, and, in the final analysis, super freaky.
Freakonomics has been imitated many times over – but only now, with SuperFreakonomics, has it met its match.
"SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance" Reviews
I really enjoy reading books that challenge you to question conventional wisdom. If you like Malcolm Gladwell I definitely recommend this book. HOWEVER, many of the topics are covered it Gladwell's books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, so be prepared to hear some regurgitation (the brutal murder in queens with 38 onlookers who didn't call the cops, how the month you were born greatly affects your ability to play professional sports, and many others that have been covered in other more popular books). Also, many of the statistical conclusions are nothing short of outlandish, for example, telling me that statistically I could drive in a car continuously for 285 years before I would be likely to die in a drunk driving accident. The assumptions leading up to that conclusion are vague and weak.
With that caveat out of the way, most of the book was facsinating and it was a very quick read (only 200-ish pages). For example, the accidental death rate for soldiers in the 1980's was larger than the hostile death rates for every year since we've been in Iraq/Afghanistan, therefore, training for war in the 1980's was more dangerous than actually fighting a war, yikes. Also there's an interesting piece on prostitution and how lucrative it used to be, who knew that they made the equivalent of over $100k/year plus medical/dental/education/food/apartment benefits paid for by the brothel owners. Also, definitely look up the group called "Intellectual Ventures", they are brilliant minds who believe the best solutions are cheap and simple. I had heard about them before this book but finally decided to look them up, very good stuff.
I definitely recommend this book but read it WITH A HUGE GRAIN OF SALT. Nothing should be taken literally or for truth. But I really believe their fundamental premise that "the laws of supply and demand are often more powerful than the laws made by legislators."
Incredible, fast, entertaining read. Thinkers like this one occasionall remind me just why I have chosen my profession.
Short Synopsis (Q):
Putting the Freak in Economics
In which the global financial meltdown is entirely ignored in favor of more engaging topics.
The perils of walking drunk…The unlikely savior of Indian women…Drowning in horse manure…What is “freakonomics,” anyway?…Toothless sharks and bloodthirsty elephants…Things you always thought you knew but didn’t.
Chapter 1. How is a Street Prostitute Like a Department-Store Santa? In which we explore the various costs of being a woman.
Meet LaSheena, a part-time prostitute…One million dead “witches”…The many ways in which females are punished for being born female…Even Radcliffe women pay the price…Title IX creates jobs for women; men take them…1 of every 50 women a prostitute…The booming sex trade in old-time Chicago…A survey like no other…The erosion of prostitute pay…Why did oral sex get so cheap?…Pimps versus Realtors…Why cops love prostitutes…Where did all the schoolteachers go?…What really accounts for the male-female wage gap?…Do men love money the way women love kids?…Can a sex change boost your salary?…Meet Allie, the happy prostitute; why aren’t there more women like her?
Chapter 2. Why Should Suicide Bombers Buy Life Insurance? In which we discuss compelling aspects of birth and death, though primarily death.
The worst month to have a baby…The natal roulette affects horses too…Why Albert Aab will outshine Albert Zyzmor…The birthdate bulge…Where does talent come from?…Some families produce baseball players; others produce terrorists…Why terrorism is so cheap and easy…The trickle-down effects of September 11…The man who fixes hospitals…Why the newest ERs are already obsolete…How can you tell a good doctor from a bad one?…“Bitten by a client at work”…Why you want your ER doc to be a woman…A variety of ways to postpone death…Why is chemotherapy so widely used when it so rarely works?…“We’re still getting our butts kicked by cancer”…War: not as dangerous as you think?…How to catch a terrorist.
Chapter 3. Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism. In which people are revealed to be less good than previously thought, but also less bad.
Why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered?…With neighbors like these…What caused the 1960s crime explosion?…How the ACLU encourages crime…Leave It to Beaver: not as innocent as you think…The roots of altruism, pure and impure…Who visits retirement homes?…Natural disasters and slow news days…Economists make like Galileo and hit the lab…The brilliant simplicity of the Dictator game…People are so generous!…Thank goodness for “donorcycles”…The great Iranian kidney experiment…From driving a truck to the ivory tower…Why don’t real people behave like people in the lab?…The dirty rotten truth about altruism…Scarecrows work on people too…Kitty Genovese revisited.
Chapter 4. The Fix is in—and It’s Cheap and Simple. In which big, seemingly intractable problems are solved in surprising ways.
The dangers of childbirth…Ignatz Semmelweis to the rescue…How the Endangered Species Act endangered species…Creative ways to keep from paying for your trash…Forceps hoarding…The famine that wasn’t…Three hundred thousand dead whales…The mysteries of polio…What really prevented your heart attack?…The killer car…The strange story of Robert McNamara…Let’s drop some skulls down the stairwell!…Hurray for seat belts…What’s wrong with riding shotgun?…How much good do car seats do?…Crash-test dummies tell no lies…Why hurricanes kill, and what can be done about it.
Chapter 5. What Do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common? In which we take a cool, hard look at global warming.
Let’s melt the ice cap!…What’s worse: car exhaust or cow farts?…If you love the earth, eat more kangaroo…It all comes down to negative externalities…The Club versus LoJack…Mount Pinatubo teaches a lesson…The obscenely smart, somewhat twisted gentlemen of Intellectual Ventures…Assassinating mosquitoes…“Sir, I am every kind of scientist!”…An inconvenient truthiness…What climate models miss…Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?…“Big-ass volcanoes” and climate change…How to cool the earth…The “garden hose to the sky”…Reasons to hate geoengineering…Jumping the repugnance barrier…“Soggy mirrors” and the puffy-cloud solution…Why behavior change is so hard…Dirty hands and deadly doctors…Foreskins are falling.
Educating, entertaining & fascinating!
Dubnar & Levitt did it again and much better this time. Its an amazing book and couldn't be better. This book (Series actually of freakonomics& super-freakonomics) helps the reader seeing the word from an economist (or homo economicus) point of view where everything is understood, explained and presented purely based on data. This is one hell of a thing to implement in one's life, and if you do, you always talk about stuff in numbers & by which you effortlessly convince people on your point of view, simply put it in terms of data and they will agree with you.
Let me appreciate the author's effort and put further review in terms of quantified measurements:
1. Out of 5 chapters 4 were amazing and 1 was above avg. so (20*4+10)=90% of book will keep you glued to it.
2. The facts & data presented will educate you on various topics about which usually people have misperception, so 100% educating.
3. Author will make you laugh on Avg. every 2 pages even though it is on serious issues so 100% marks on entertainment.
4. The social pain areas topics like prostitution, global warming etc. gets your attention and makes the whole read 100% fascinating.
Am a big fan now of authors now.
Full marks, 5 out of 5.
2018: 5 Down 45 to go (or as homo economicus would say.... 10% of total target achieved & on 96% of average required speed)!
the first few chapters were just a continuation of the first book in terms of ideas, tone and excecution; thus, i was feeling pretty satisfied that i was reading such a book and becoming more of a "cold-blooded economist", than a "warm-blooded humanist" (or whatever condescending, self-congratulatory phrases they used were). and then these guys got derailed, in a very sad, strange and self-defeating way. they did this weird about face, where in one chapter they talk about the law of unintended consequences and then - in the very next chapter - they talk about solving global warming (the phrase they consistently used, instead of the more accurate global climate change) by spraying sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere. seriously. and after i picked my jaw up off the floor - because i mean talk about unintended consequences - i listened to them list there reasons why this would be a good idea and why other people (you know actual climate scientist, as opposed to inventors and economists) were afraid of this idea because of some ingrained dogma. and they did all this while consistently misrepresenting facts, stating easily falsifiable quotes without challenge, and dissing al gore, noble prize winner. did i mention they didn't talk to actual climate scientists. this was another stange aspect of this chapter: while in other sections they used large amounts of data to come to their conclusions, in this chapter they talked with the folks at "intellectual venture" and presented everything they said as truth without: 1)checking their statements for factual accuracy, 2)checking for logical fallacies and specious arguments, or 3) talking with a disinterested or antagonistic party to try and understand the full scope of the idea. if i took their chapter at face value, i would think that the solution for global climate change was simple cheap and without scary consequences, but a real easy (and fast) google search showed me the many mistakes that they made. they started their climate change chapter by presenting the "gobal cooling scare" of the 1970's as something that was scientifically agreed upon and reported in trade journals, when in reality (again, a quick google search) there were publications in popular magazines (with natgeo being the most "scientific", but not exactly peer-reviewed), and scattered papers that were never conclusive and there was nothing even close to the scientific consensus that we have today about human induced global climate change. the story about cooling in the 70's is something you hear alot from global warming skeptics, which is concerning when you read it in a book by so-called "cold-blooded economists", a simple look at the meta-analysis will show you there was no scientific conclusion about the 1970's "global cooling".
this chapter made me pause, and wonder about the whole freakonomics phenomenon. when i read the first book, i was astonished at how many things they discovered that were caused by simple adjustments to human incentives, or were just sitting there in the data the whole time and they were the ones smart enough to find the pattern. but now it makes me wonder how much of their "data" and "conclusions" were just a presentation of one side of the arguement. because just the way they use the phrase "cold-blooded economist" makes it sound like if you don't agree with their conclusions it must be because you are irrational and don't see the workd for what it really is: one large incentive experiment (which i don't wholly disagree with). but maybe the authors are missing their own incentives: having a new york times bestseller and becoming known for irreverant, yet spot on conclusions that others just "fail to see" - these are very strong incentives. just look at james frey, people will do alot to be famous and be seen as a genius. i'm not saying that this is what they did, just that if i learned anything from these books, it is to find out where the incentives come from and there you will usually find your causation. maybe the pressure to live up to the success of their first book got to them, or maybe they wanted to try and show how you could solve the world's biggest problem with a simple, cheap solution. or maybe, against all odds (and most climate scientists) they actually believe all that they wrote to be true. but i can't see how people this intelligent would take a problem this complex and ignore the power of unintended consequences – of which they just wrote – and take the word of just one company (for-profit, I might add), consult zero climate scientists and pretend that they have some sort of actual solution to climate change. following incentives on this one, it’s hard to conclude anything else but a selfish desire to appear clever, forward-thinking, and best-selling - and using a seriously dangerous problem to do so. and this is sad, from two guys who really can do great work.
Reading this book was an enormous pleasure. It was like sitting down with a superb raconteur, and hearing story after story of amazing and extraordinary events. "Oh no" you exclaim, "surely that one can't be true!" But yes, it is! And so you leap on hungrily to the next peculiar story.
This is a treasure chest of information for anyone interested in psychology, economics or just sheer human cussedness. The people behind the book work brilliantly together - economics lecturer Steven Levitt, and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner... Please can we have more academics and journalists working in tandem? The result here is so good.
For me there was no real overarching theme - rather the book was a series of rollicking anecdotes about the unexpected and contrary. It makes a great follow-on to the authors' first book - just called Freakonomics. I reckon both book are amongst the most entertaining I have ever read, and I can't recommend them highly enough.
I shall end with my usual medley of notes about some of the things that particularly caught my attention. Warning...these notes are a real hotch-potch.
TELEVISION, AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR WOMEN IN INDIA
Many initiatives have been instigated to improve the lives of women in India, where they are often treated badly, both as children and adults. None of these projects have been very successful. Then American economists Emily Oster and Robert Jensen compared villages with cable television, to those without television. They examined data from a government survey of 2,700 households, most of them rural.
In households with television...
Wife beating was less tolerated.
Parents were less likely to admit to having a preference for male children.
Women were more likely to exercise personal autonomy.
The families had a lower birthrate (associated with more autonomy and fewer health risks.)
They were more likely to keep their daughters in school.
Economists' predictions are generally worthless. They have a hard enough time explaining the past, much less predicting the future. (They are still arguing over whether Franklin Roosevelt's policy moves quelled The Great Depression or exacerbated it.)
It seems part of the human condition to believe in our own predictive abilities - and, just as well, to quickly forget how badly our predictions turned out to be.
SPORTY WOMEN ARE SUCCESSFUL
Betsey Stevenson discovered that girls who play high-school sports are more likely to attend college and land a solid job, especially in some of the high-skill fields traditionally dominated by men.
SELLING HOUSES BY YOURSELF ON THE INTERNET V SELLING VIA A REALTOR (ESTATE AGENT.)
With the latter you pay a commission of about $20,000 on a $400,000 house, and research shows that there are very few benefits.
If you do it yourself you must do it on the internet - on a website specialising in selling houses. Paying to do that costs just $150....but you have to do all the work yourself. Houses sold directly on the internet take an average of an extra 20 days to sell.
A third way is flat-fee real estate agents, and they are even MORE expensive than realtors.
BABY FORMULA MILK
The introduction of this allowed thousands of women to get right back into work.
100 years ago this was one of the few non-menial jobs available to women. At the time,6% of all working women were teachers, and by a large margin it was the choice of female college graduates. 55% of all college-educated female workers in their early thirties were employed as teachers.
Soon afterwards opportunities for smart women began to multiply, and they could enter law, medicine, business and finance....and there was a brain drain from teaching, and standards dropped.
Research has shown that gender discrimination plays only a minor role in holding women back.
Women take far fewer finance courses - and all being equal, there is a strong correlation between a finance background and career earnings.
Women also work fewer hours than men. A study of people completing their MBAs showed that women in the study worked 52 hours a week, whilst the men worked 58 hours a week.
The big issues seems to be that women love children.
Women with no children work 3% less hours than men.
Women with children work 24% less hours than men.
Women also take more career interruptions than men.
After 10 years in the workforce...
10% of men with MBAs went for 6 months or more without working.
40% of women with MBAs went for 6 months or more without working.
HIGH STATUS CONFERS LONGEVITY
Even amongst those nominated for the Nobel Prize. Winners live longer than those who have just been nominated but don't win.
People voted into The Baseball Hall of Fame outlive those were were narrowly omitted.
Chemotherapy helps with leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and testicular cancer....but in most cases it is pretty ineffective. There is a long list of cancers where chemotherapy has zero effect....multiple myeloma, soft tissue sarcoma, melanoma of the skin, and cancers of the pancreas, uterus, prostate, bladder, kidney, breast and lung. (Some oncologists argue that with these types of cancer chemotherapy helps one out of ten people.)
So why is chemotherapy used so much?
*Oncologists are amongst the highest-paid doctors.
*They typically derive more than half their income from selling and administering chemotherapy drugs.
*If they give a lung cancer patient an extra 2 months to live (when he only expected to live 4 months), on paper this will look an impressive feat. 'The doctor extended the patient;s remaining life by 50%.'
There has been little difference in how many people die of cancer in the last 50 years. The age-adjusted mortality rate for cancer is essentially unchanged over the past half-century.
Over the same period age-adjusted mortality for cardiovascular disease has plummeted. From nearly 600 per 100,000 to beneath 300.
Many people who in previous generations died from heart disease are now living to die of cancer instead. So the statistics are better than they initially look.
Cancer death rates are falling amongst younger people:
People 20 or younger - mortality has fallen by over 50%
People 20 - 40 - Mortality has fallen by 20%.
This is an especially good result, as incidents of cancers in this age group have been rising. (Probably due to diet, behaviours and environmental factors.)
Deaths from heart disease have fallen substantially over the past few decades. Expensive treatments like grafts, angioplasties and stents have only had a very small impact.
The decline has come rather from the success of medications which treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This accounts for half the drop.
Much of the remaining decline has come from ridiculously cheap treatments like asperin, heparin, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers.
HORSE TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS IN NEW YORK IN 1900 VERSUS CAR TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS IN NEW YORK IN 2007
1900 - Horse accidents claimed the lives of 1 out of every 17,000 residents.
2007 - Car accidents claimed the lives of 1 out of every 30,000 residents.
= People were nearly twice as like to die in 1900 from a horse accident than from a car accident today.
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES IS OFTEN SEEN WHEN GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION IS PASSED.
eg governments who have tried to reduce trash by charging people for extra bags of trash.
1) Some people just stuff their existing bags more and more full (a tactic now known by trash officers around the world as "Seattle Stomp".
2) Others just dump their trash in the woods.
3) In Germany, trash tax-avoiders flused so much uneaten food down the toilets that the sewers became infested with rats.
4) A new garbage tax in Ireland generated a spike in backyard trash burning. St James's Hospital in Dublin recorded a near tripling of patients who had set themselves on fire while burning trash.
These can save lives if a baby is stuck in the birth canal.
They are thought to have been invented early in the 17th century by an obstetrician called Peter Chamerlen. They worked so well that Chamberlen kept them a secret, sharing them only with sons and grandsons who continued in the family business.
It wasn't until the mid-18th century that they passed into general usage. The surgeon Atul Gawande says that millions of babies' lives were lost as a result of this hoarding.
Doctors should be forbidden to wear ordinary ties, as these collect pathogens and are rarely laundered. Instead doctors should wear bow ties.
These are astonishingly cheap and effective. They feed our world. If we lost them we would only have fruit and animal products on special occasions, or they would only be eaten by the rich.
WHALE OIL AND OIL UNDERGROUND
In the 19th century whales were the economic engine that helped turn the USA into a powerhouse. Every inch of whales could be used. Most valuable was whale oil, a lubricant for all sorts of machinery but also for lamps.
In the 19th century there were 900 whaling ships, 735 of them were in the USA.
1835 - 1872 An average of 7,700 whales a year were killed. It was the fifth largest industry in the US.
Then the industry was exhausted through over-whaling, and it begun to fail. That is when a retired railway man called Edwin L Drake, using a steam engine to power a drill through 70 feel of shale and bedrock, struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
The new oil industry provided work for unemployed whalers, and it saved whales from near-certain extinction.
CHANGING PEOPLE'S BEHAVIOUR IS HARD WORK/SEAT BELTS
For instance the introduction of seat belts in cars.
These were initially thought of by Robert McNamara, who worked for The Ford Motor Company.
Congress began setting federal safety standards in the mid-1960s, but even 15 years later seat belt usage was laughably low - just 11%.
Over time the numbers crept up, thanks to a variety of nudges.
1) The threat of a traffic ticket
2) Expensive public awareness campaigns.
3) Annoying beeps and dashboard lights if the belt wasn't buckled.
4) And eventually, a societal acceptance that wearing a seat belt wasn't an insult to anyone's driving ability.
Seat belt usage in 1985 - 21%
Seat belt usage in 1990 - 61%
Seat belt usage in 2009 - Over 80%
In fact seat belts reduce the risk of death in traffic accident by as much as 70%, and at about $25 each, are one of the most cost-effective life saving devices ever invented.
COWS, SHEEP AND METHANE
Ruminants - cud-chewing animals - are wicked polluters. They do this via exhalation, flatulence, belching and their manure.
Methane is 25 times more potent as a green house gas than carbon dioxide released by cars (or humans.)
The world's ruminants are responsible for about 50% more greenhouse gas than the entire transport sector.
* Shift away from eating red meat to eating chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable based diet. This does more to reduce greenhouse gases than eating locally-resourced food.
* Eat kangaroo meat - they produce much less methane. In fact Australian scientists are trying to replicate the digestive bacteria in kangaroos' stomachs so it can be transplanted to cows.....
GLOBAL WARMING HEROES
Al Gore is usually held up as a marvellous campaigner for global warming issues, but the authors of this book think a lot of his ideas are wrong. Instead they promote Nathan Myhrvold, and his Budyko's Blanket (A plan to put sulfer dioxide into the stratosphere), which they believe could reverse global warming.
GLOBAL WARMING AT THE POLES
Global warming is largely a polar phenomenon. High latitude areas are 4 times more sensitive to climate change than the equator.
I wanted to love it, because I loved Freakonomics. But, alas, I did not. I don't know if they really chose less captivating topics than last time, but it felt like it. Also, if you happen to have read all or several of Malcolm Gladwell's and Atul Gawande's books, and even that Oshinksy book about the history of polio in the U.S., this book will feel largely like something you've already read somewhere else. I think my review might be a bit unfair. Perhaps if you haven't read any of those other books, this one might feel original and interesting. But I bet it still won't feel as interesting as Freakonomics was.