Sunday, May 22, 2005

Freakanomics by Steven J. Levitt

Interesting, hilarious and thought provoking all at once. There's a little bit too much self promotion; I can't tell you how many times you hear that Levitt was awarded some award for being the best economist under 40, or how amazingly different he is. I think the book and its anecdotes suffice to establish his credentials w/o the harping. That aside, the book is a light ride with a dose of heavy content here and there. It makes an unbashed plug for another book that I highly recommend (especially to parents of young children), The Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker. I won't give everything away, but I think you'll find the chapter on names uproariously funny. Enjoy - 4 stars!

Separating correlation from causation. Don't mix the two up like this russian did. "Consider the folktale of the czar who learned that the most disease ridden province in his empire was also the province with the most doctors. His solution? He promptly ordered all of the doctors shot dead." p10

"Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work - whereas economics represents how it actually does work." p13 More reason why I was also an economics major.

"An analysis of the entire Chicago [school district standardized test] data reveals evidence of teacher cheating in more than 200 classrooms per year, roughly 5% of the total." p34
"Among N. Carloina teachers, some 35% of the respondents said they had witnessed their colleagues cheating in some fashion..." p34

Never sell a brand new car until after its 1st birthday "The day that a car is driven off the lot is teh worst day in its life, for it instantly loses as much as a quarter of its value... Why? Because the only person who might logically want to resell a brand-new car is someone who found the car to be a lemon. So even if teh car isn't a lemon, potential buyer assumes that it is... the seller is punished for this assumed information. And if the car is a lemon? The seller would do well to wait a year to sell it. By then the suspicion lemonness will have faded... and the lemon can blend in with perfectly good year old cars" p67

"Women's rights advocates have hyped the incidence of sexual assualt, claiming that 1 in 3 women will in their lifetime be a victim of of rape or attempted rape. The actual figure is more like 1 in 8." p 92

"For men [survey's] suggest a 1 in 40 incidence, rather than the 1 in 9 incidence cited by advocates." p216

"You stand a greater chance of dying while dealing crack in a Chicago housing project [1 in 4 chance per year] than you do while sitting on death row in Texas [1 in 20 chance per year]." p104

"In a given year, there is one drowing of a child for every 11,000 pools in the US. Meanwhile there is 1 child killed for every 1 million guns. " A child is roughly 100 times more likely to die in a pool than from a gunshot. Of course, fencing off a pool will drastically lower the odds, at least that's what the fencing salesperson told us.

"The per-hour death rate of driving vs. flying is about equal."p151 Of course the FAA and airlines will never state that. Instead they inflate their statistics by using a metric called 'passenger air miles', that multiplies the number of passengers by the number of miles flown and compares that to the number of auto passengers times the number of miles driven. Most auto trips are less than an hour, and typically have fewer than 2 passengers. Thus a 1 hour plane ride with over 200 people travelling 600 miles will inflate the safety number by a factor of 1000!

"Research into twins separated at birth, had already concluded that genes alone are responsible for perhaps 50% of a child's personality and abilities." p154

"Another famous study... which followed 245 babies put up for adoption and found virtually no correlation between the child's personality traits and those of this adopted parents." p154

"These nature vs. nurture discrepancies were addressed in a 1998 book... 'The Nurture Assumption' was in effect an attack on obsessive parenting." p154 My next book to read!

"Students who choose to opt out [choose to enroll into another school within a district that allows open enrollment with a lottery] tend to be smarter and more academically motivated to begin with. But statistically they gained no academic benefit by changing schools. And is it true that the students left behind in the neighborhood schools suffered. No; they continued to test at about the same levels as before the supposed brain drain." p159 So then, it's not the school, it's really the student, but then again it's not the student, it's really his genes.

"A child with alot of books in his home tends to test higher than a child with no books... But regular reading to a child doesn't affect test scores... The data don't say that books in the house cause high test scores; it says that the two are correlated. How should this correlation be interpreted? Here's a likely theory: most parents who buy a lot of children's books tend to be smart and well educated to begin with. A book is in fact less a cause of intelligence than an indicator." p163, 173 Unbelievable! It's all in the damn genes! You can save your cash and stop buying all of those now proven to be useless books.

"Despite conventional wisdom, watching TV apparently does not turn a child's brain to mush. Nor, however, does using a computer at home turn a child into Einstein: the data show no correlation between computer use and school test scores." p172 Throw out the PC and fire up the boob tube!

"Adopted children test relatively poorly in school; any influence the adoptive parents might exert is is seemingly outweighed by the force of genetics. But the parents were not powerless forever. By the time adopted children became adults, they had veered sharply from the destiny that IQ alone might have predicted. Compared to similar children who were not put up for adoption, the adoptees were far more likely to attend college, to have a well paid job, and to wait until they were out of their teens before getting married. It was the influence of the adopted parents." p176 So parents are useful after all, albeit slightly and only after the kids have flown the nest by which time they can credibly claim any achievements soley as their own.

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