Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review: Freakonomics

Somewhere there are a few people who haven't heard of this book. It was a mega hit with thought exercises that culminated in unexpected connections and comparisons.

For example, the authors postulate that legalized abortion reduces crime (less unwanted babies), that the KKK model of information control resembles real estate agents' behavior, how wrestlers' cheat in sumo matches, the difference between white and black parents' naming of their children, and the economics of being a crack dealer.

You may have noticed that few of these chapters have anything to do with economics.

This reviewer puts it the best:

The drawback with such a freewheeling approach is that particular data may be consistent with a range of hypotheses. Picking a hypothesis to suit the data rather than testing
previously-formulated hypotheses may happen regularly in the academy, but written up so breezily, it smacks of ex post rationalisation.

I have hesitated putting this book on the blog because I don't think the authors really prove any of it. At best, there are some correlations that may or may not mean anything. If you want to shock and make flip arguments based on a few cherry picked correlations, read the book.

I suppose I can say two good things about this book: 1) it will teach you to rap persuasively about nothing and 2) irreverent breaking out of thought patterns is always to be encouraged.

By the way, did you know that crime may have declined due to making gasoline unleaded? Concentrations of lead make you homicidal....


Anonymous said...

Bogus! Freakonomics is a fun and intriguing book. It encourages readers to look at questions in different ways. The author of this review says that Levitt does not prove anything. However, I would argue that the author does achieve some interesting statistical correlations, and I'm not sure that his purpose is to definitively prove anything, but rather to point out that there is some definitive grey areas in conventional thinking.

I encourage the reviewer to look at these other reviews:


It's a fun read...don't knock it.

Guy said...

Just because it's a fun read doesn't mean it can't also be knocked, especially in a university setting. The anonymous commentator has simply restated what the blogger wrote, but tried to end on a positive note. Marketing agent? Maybe even author?