Saturday, October 24, 2009

Freakanomics - The Revenge

Don't tell anyone but I'm really bad at math. Oh wait, that's no secret. Yet somehow I was able to get into college and managed to pass a college level math class with only one class in basic math under my belt before I got there. I mean I barely squeaked by but I did pass that class. Now here's the amazing part of that equation, I almost made an A in my Business Statistics Class. What? That's right, after almost failing the prerequisite that I was taking simultaneously with the Statistics class, I almost Aced Statistics. Even today it amazes me that this happened. I will say that numbers, the stories that numbers tell, and the lies that numbers shield from prying eyes. It's fascinating to me how numbers can be used to manipulate outcomes, be disguised as facts, and even proclaimed as irrefutable that is until they are refuted and found to be...well...a lie.

That's why, although I'm not a big math nerd with pocket protector strategically and artfully placed in the pocket of my white blouse, I LOVED the book, Freakonomics. I mean I LOVED that book. I loved it so much I bought my own copy so I could reference it often or reread it if the urge hits me. It lead me to read another number crunching book called The Black Swan when I should have been reading a book from the Oprah list.

Now I know I said I loved the book, but that does not mean that I agree with everything that was written in it. There are somethings that even when we are faced with "facts" we chose to see only what we want to see. It is a universal human trait and not one that is unique to me. Sometimes those "facts" are just one interpretation of the same set of numbers.

Then today I learned that economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner have a NEW book. It's called "SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance." How's that for a title?

Now you might ask yourself if you are as open minded as you might think you are when faced with a new set of "facts" backed up by numbers. You see the authors suggest that women's liberation, is responsible for the rise of high-end prostitution in America and a failing public education system. WOW, how is that for a "thoughtful investigation" of the statistics? Are things only wrong when we believe they are flat out wrong or are they wrong when the numbers bear out the conclusion? By the way just who is making that conclusion and how are they sampling that subset?

Oh and gender income disparities, well according to the book's authors, it is not discrimination but decisions women make early in life that takes them on a different life path than a professional male.

As always the authors deal with the answers to the burning questions we all want the answers to:

* 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?

By the way these are not the real bombshells the book is said to reveal. I will reveal it here for the first time, "There are a lot of men who want to have a lot of sex more than they're able to get for free? Who knew?

Now I know I absolutely have to read this book and if the authors want to send me a FREE copy I would love to let you know what I think. It sounds like another page turner that will require me to say things like "I didn't know that" or "I don't believe that at all."

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