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SuperFreakonomics, Illustrated edition: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance Hardcover – October 19, 2010
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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.From Superfreakonomics: Where do you stand on the freak-o-meter?
Four years ago, you were cool. You read Freakonomics when it first came out. You impressed family and friends and dazzled dates with the insights you gleaned. Now Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner return with Superfreakonomics, a freakquel even bolder, funnier, and more surprising than the first.Have you been keeping up? Can you call yourself a SuperFreak? Test your Superfreakonomics know-how now: Question 1: 5 points
According to Superfreakonomics, what has been most helpful in improving the lives of women in rural India?
A. The government ban on dowries and sex-selective abortions
B. The spread of cable and satellite television
C. Projects that pay women to not abort female babies
D. Condoms made specially for the Indian market Question 2: 3 points
Among Chicago street prostitutes, which night of the week is the most profitable?
D. Friday Question 3: 5 points
You land in an emergency room with a serious condition and your fate lies in the hands of the doctor you draw. Which characteristic doesn’t seem to matter in terms of doctor skill?
A. Attended a top-ranked medical school and served a residency at a prestigious hospital
B. Is female
C. Gets high ratings from peers
D. Spends more money on treatment Question 4: 3 points
Which cancer is chemotherapy more likely to be effective for?
A. Lung cancer
D. Pancreatic cancer Question 5: 5 points
Half of the decline in deaths from heart disease is mainly attributable to:
A. Inexpensive drugs
D. Stents Question 6: 3 points
True or False: Child car seats do a better job of protecting children over the age of 2 from auto fatalities than regular seat belts. Question 7: 5 points
What’s the best thing a person can do personally to cut greenhouse gas emissions?
A. Drive a hybrid car
B. Eat one less hamburger a week
C. Buy all your food from local sources Question 8: 3 points
Which is most effective at stopping the greenhouse effect?
A. Public-awareness campaigns to discourage consumption
B. Cap-and-trade agreements on carbon emissions
C. Volcanic explosions
D. Planting lots of trees Question 9: 5 points
In the 19th century, one of the gravest threats of childbearing was puerperal fever, which was often fatal to mother and child. Its cause was finally determined to be:
A. Tight bindings of petticoats early in the pregnancy
B. Foul air in the delivery wards
C. Doctors not taking sanitary precautions
D. The mother rising too soon in the delivery room Question 10: 3 points
Which of the following were not aftereffects of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001:
A. The decrease in airline traffic slowed the spread of influenza.
B. Thanks to extra police in Washington, D.C., crime fell in that city.
C. The psychological effects of the attacks caused people to cut back on their consumption of alcohol, which led to a decrease in traffic accidents.
D. The increase in border security was a boon to some California farmers, who, as Mexican and Canadian imports declined, sold so much marijuana that it became one of the states most valuable crops. Answers and Scoring
B, Cable and satellite TV. Women with television were less willing to tolerate wife beating, less likely to admit to having a “son preference,” and more likely to exercise personal autonomy. Plus, the men were perhaps too busy watching cricket. Question 2
A, Saturday nights are the most profitable. While Friday nights are the busiest, the single greatest determinant of a prostitute’s price is the specific trick she is hired to perform. And for whatever reason, Saturday customers purchase more expensive services. Question 3
C, One factor that doesn’t seem to matter is whether a doctor is highly rated by his or her colleagues. Those named as best by their colleagues turned out to be no better than average at lowering death rates--although they did spend less money on treatments. Question 4
C, Leukemia. Chemotherapy has proven effective on some cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and testicular cancer, especially if these cancers are detected early. But in most cases, chemotherapy is remarkably ineffective, often showing zero discernible effect. That said, cancer drugs make up the second-largest category of pharmaceutical sales, with chemotherapy comprising the bulk. Question 5
A, Inexpensive drugs. Expensive medical procedures, while technologically dazzling, are responsible for a remarkably small share of the improvement in heart disease. Roughly half of the decline has come from reductions in risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which are treated with relatively inexpensive drugs. And much of the remaining decline is thanks to ridiculously inexpensive treatments like aspirin, heparin, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers. Question 6
False. Based on extensive data analysis as well as crash tests paid for by the authors, old-fashioned seat belts do just as well as car seats. Question 7
B, Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food, according to a recent study by Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews, two Carnegie Mellon researchers. Every time a Prius or other hybrid owner drives to the grocery store, she may be cancelling out its emissions-reducing benefit, at least if she shops in the meat section. Emission from cows, as well as sheep and other ruminants, are 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide released by cars and humans. Question 8
C, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines discharged more than 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which acted like a layer of sunscreen, reducing the amount of solar radiation and cooling off the earth by an average of one degree F. Question 9
C, doctors not taking sanitary precautions. This was the dawning age of the autopsy, and doctors did not yet know the importance of washing their hands after leaving the autopsy room and entering the delivery room. Question 10
C, the psychological effect of the attacks caused people to increase their alcohol consumption, and traffic accidents increased as a result. Scoring
32-40: Certified SuperFreak
25-31: Freak--surprises lay in wait for you
16-24: Wannabe freak--you’ve got some reading to do
1-15: Conventional wisdomer--you’re still thinking in old ways --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Economist Levitt and journalist Dubner capitalize on their megaselling Freakonomics with another effort to make the dismal science go gonzo. Freaky topics include the oldest profession (hookers charge less nowadays because the sexual revolution has produced so much free competition), money-hungry monkeys (yep, that involves prostitution, too) and the dunderheadedness of Al Gore. There's not much substance to the authors' project of applying economics to all of life. Their method is to notice some contrarian statistic (adult seat belts are as effective as child-safety seats in preventing car-crash fatalities in children older than two), turn it into economics by tacking on a perfunctory cost-benefit analysis (seat belts are cheaper and more convenient) and append a libertarian sermonette (governments tend to prefer the costly-and-cumbersome route). The point of these lessons is to bolster the economist's view of people as rational actors, altruism as an illusion and government regulation as a folly of unintended consequences. The intellectual content is pretty thin, but it's spiked with the crowd-pleasing provocations—'A pimp's services are considerably more valuable than a realtor's' —that spell bestseller. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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On the other hand, it has a laughably long subtitle: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Hmm, a shiny hardcover with an exploding fruit, long subtitle, and raised lettering. Not exactly a recipe for success, right? Well, I suppose this is why one should never judge a book by its cover, because this is going into the record as a Recommended Reading.
Actually, let me take that back. You can judge a book by its cover, somewhat. As if the graphic design doesn't scream "Please Pay Attention" loudly enough, the content itself immediately continues the theme. The first two sentences of the book proclaim, "The time has come to admit that in our first book [Freakonomics], we lied. Twice." Pages later, we read that "as you leave your friend's party [in an intoxicated state], the decision should be clear: driving is safer than walking." (One wonders if that last line will eventually provoke a second admission of lying in the next installment, which must inevitably be titled SuperDuperFreakonomics: Funny Wars, Political PMS, and Why Rapists Make the Best Babysitters.)
But don't let the hyperbole fool you: authors Steven Levitt (a professor at the University of Chicago) and Stephen Dubner (a former editor for The New York Times Magazine) are no lightweights, and they pack plenty of legitimate punches to keep readers scratching their heads for a considerably long time. (I'm still scratching mine.) For example, did you know that a Chicago prostitute is statistically more likely to have sex with a police officer than to be arrested by one? (The undercover beat is just brutal.) Or that many hospital infections could be prevented by doctors washing their hands? Alright, alright, so you already knew that one. But what you probably didn't know -- unless you happen to work at a hospital -- is that, amidst a sea of failed attempts to compel doctors to comply with basic hygienic standards, simply installing a computer screensaver at one hospital depicting the swarms of bacteria on a human hand brought health compliance up to an almost perfect score.
As does its predecessor, SuperFreakonomics deals in human behavior and how various incentives, executed intelligently, can pretty much get human beings to do anything. Hence, the 1961 Milgram Experiment -- except that Levitt and Dubner wave breezily at this landmark psychological study, deeming it a prime exemplar in the crowded field of How to Make Any Experiment Confirm Your Findings by Conducting it in a Lab. And somehow, this actually makes sense (the experiment's mild repudiation, not the study itself). You see, the authors gently intone, human beings are little more than self-interested machines; remove the carrot and stick, and you've got yourself a rabbit with nowhere to go.
This pleasantly short 216-page book is replete with observations, projections, and muses that will gnaw at you. They will make you wonder how you didn't think of these ideas first, even while mentally flogging yourself for allowing a modicum of gullibility to seep into your otherwise cynical worldview. Combating hurricanes with a small army of large rings centered around pipes leading into the depths? Kissing global warming goodbye by shooting sulfur dioxide eighteen miles into the air? Yes, Levitt and Dubner respond gleely, yes, we can.
What was perhaps most fascinating in this book were the many ways in which data was collected on unpredictable and uncontrollable events. In economics, as well as in politics and other social science fields, it is quite difficult to achieve exactness in the same sense as the other, "hard" sciences (i.e. chemistry, physics, etc.). This is primarily because, unlike those other areas of study, economists and political scientists are not able to conduct controlled experiments comparing one set to another.
However, these limitations can be mitigated to near-miraculous degrees at times. For example, in a section on global warming, Dubner and Levitt note that in the first several days following September 11th in the U.S. (when all civilian flights were grounded), the ground temperature increased fairly dramatically due to less sun shielding from aircraft exhaust trails. Using the aftermath of a domestic tragedy to produce quantifiable research that would never have been available via testing, the authors make it quite clear that virtually anything can be studied scientifically if you dig deeply enough.
Of course, the digging of Dubner and Levitt is accompanied by their own giggling soundtrack, as the machinations of their own nerdiness are readily translated into annoyingly cute barbs at fellow economists and so forth. And now that I'm a little older and wiser than when I'd read the prequel, I'm more than a little shocked that I had never before caught on to Levitt and Dubner's obvious ideological leanings bubbling beneath these pages' surfaces. (Hint: Chicago school of economics.) That said, readers from both sides of the aisle will have no problem enjoying this idiosyncratic tour through the intersection of the human mind and the free market.
Like its predecessor, this edition is thought-provoking, enjoyable, and superbly readable. Still, it lacks some of the bite found in FREAKONOMICS, and it could use more than 216 pages - maybe the authors will put those pages in the next edition. I know several economics students from the University of Chicago (with its 10 Nobel Laureates in Economics, most in the world), and they describe Professor Levitt as clearly offbeat. Maybe that's why these books are so much fun.