Saturday, June 18, 2005


Extremely recently (i.e., 20 minutes ago), I finished the audiobook of Freakonomics, written by an economist (Levitt) and a journalist (Dubner). They admit there really is no unifying theme, just discussions of various social phenomena. I would say that a main point they make is to be wary of experts as they often, purposely and inadvertently, abuse their position when they state their positions.
I would say it is an interesting work that is most useful for those will little exposure to statistics and how they are more useful than intuitive judgements or age-old ‘wisdom.’ Others who have come across some of their findings will be less enthused, but there is likely enough new material to warrant a browsing, if not a full reading. (or you could just read my highlights and see if you want more info)

I vacillated on whether I agreed to calling what the authors do ‘economics.’ It seemed more like ‘statistics’ or even sociology or psychology. This does not matter much, but we humans do seem to become attached to arbitrary designations of sound/print.

Various notes (probably more to remind me than for explicitly informing you)

Abortion is legalized, crime goes down about 20 years later.

A Real estate will sell their own house for 10 grand more than they will sell yours.

Americans spend more on bubblegum than elections (in the billions)

Daycare centre in Israel and the manipulation of incentives and punishments.

Looking at teacher/student standardized tests, about 100,000,000 individual answers, past/future. A minimum of 5% of teachers cheated.

Sumo wrestling: examined 32000 bouts, 281 different wrestlers. Found that on final bouts of a 15 battle tournaments, expected prob. of winning was 47% and the actual prob. was 79%. Definitely seems sketchy. Two insiders, named names, died under suspicious causes. Their namings of good/bad sumos match the sketchiness.

Selling of Bagels in offices: smaller offices are more honest Good weather = pay, bad weather = cheat more. Holidays are worse (but 4th, labour day are better)

KKK. History of the Klan. Saddening. More lynchings, but earlier when there were less members. Relative to the size of the black population, not so often.
All lynchings decade by decade:
1890 1111
1900s 791
1910s 569
1920s 281
1930s 119
1940s 31
1950s 6
1960s 3
For comparison Looking at the 1920s/281 lynchings. In the black population malnutrition and similar conditions claimed 13/100 or 20,000 each year.
The lynchings worked. L Stetson Kennedy, an insider who tipped off a radio show and gave them the Klan’s secret codes so Superman (in the radio show) could beat the Klan caused such an embarrassment that recruitment went down. J

They return to discuss real estate, it wasn’t worth it.

On the “Weakest Link” both the elderly and Hispanics are discriminated against. I didn’t like how the authors used the pronoun ‘he.’ Isn’t doesn’t make much sense to talk about (the contestant’s) his ‘age, gender, and race.’ His gender?

Some online dating stuff that wasn’t surprising. People lie! Ta-dah. A good line was that blond hair for women is worth about a $200,000 salary for guys. And a picture is better than no picture.

Chapter 3: Why do drug dealers still live with their mom. Hahaha great title.

It’s been said that 1 in 3 women will experience rape or attempted rape and the actual number is more like 1 in 8.

Crack dealers and their lives. Amazing data on a crack dealing organization from an embedded sociologist. Similar to a corporation, there is a hierarchy.
Hourly wage for the lead man was 66 bucks. For the 3 officers it was 7 bucks. For the Footsoldiers it was 3.30 cents.
Foot soldiers beaten if they used crack.
Autumn is the best crack selling season.

The typical prostitute makes more than a typical architect. (and the cute line that the latter is more likely to hire the former than the reverse).

1964 black babies are twice as likely to die as white babies.
1970s, the number cuts in half.
1980s crack killed them. Infant mortality up, blacks going to prison tripled.

Black Americans hurt more by crack than anything else.

Economist author is quite humble, describes himself as the “weakest human alive”

Chapter 4
Romania, 4:1 ~ abortion:live birth. Pregnancy test in workplaces. Children born after abortions made illegal do worse in every way (school, labour, criminals). The leader was overthrown in 1989, executed on Xmas.

Very little relationship between economy’s success and violent crime.
Harsher imprisonment rates do have an effect on crime.
25,000 grand/year to keep a prisoner

Waiting lists, gun buy back, are not that effective.

1.6 million abortions a year in US.

Swimming pools are 100 more likely to kill a child than a gun.

Deaths from flying and driving (per hour) are about the same.

Child car seats are nominally helpful.

How much do parents matter? (Who they are matters, but not as much what they do) Big longitudinal study done on 20000 kids, kindergarten to 5th grade. Lots of interesting data, but I was concerned about misinterpretation. They decently qualify, but the could do a bit more.

The end has a lot of name stuff (the top names of black children and white children), it wasn’t really that useful. Awful lot of time/content devoted to names and how they change over time.
Some rare jewels though: Someone actually named their child ‘shithead’ and another ‘orangejello’ with pronunciations ‘sheh-teed’ and ‘or-ang-eh-lo’ respectively. I think as soon as you register those types of names they should take your child from you.
High SES names trickle down the ladder, adopted by lower SES groups, and then high SES parents choose new names.

Not as freaky as it could be, but many wouldn’t react well to “Well, one good thing about abortion is that crime goes down,” even though it is true.


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