SuperFreakonomics by Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life InsuranceTakeaway: More unconventional ways of looking at the world around us.

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I like economics.  Overall I like this book and the movement of micro-economics and behavioral economics books that was created out of the original Freakenomics (although I think some people need to think of some better titles.)

The method of Freakenomics is to find an issue, then think of a way to look at that issue using mathematical models.  The Freakenomics guys and their counterpart research economics that do a lot of the research are creative.  They have to be creative, and willing to balk conventional wisdom, to come up with their research ideas.  (And hope the mathematical models really explain the reality.)

What is good about Levitt and Dubner is that they are engaging writers and actually explain the economics and research methodology pretty well.  They have also popularized the whole realm of micro-economics.

But the problem is that the method is getting a little stale.  They pick on conventional wisdom and make themselves into ‘rogue scientists’.  Many of their ideas are worth exploring and the wide exposure will help get more attention to the issues.  But when you have sold millions of books I would not consider yourself ‘rogue scientists’ any longer.

In the post-modern, convention-busting world, we begin to think that nothing we know is real.  So we might as well not worry about anything.  This is not a result of Freakenomics directly, but I think is a real issue.  We all ignore health advice that we hear on the news (and we are usually justified since the bad health reporting usually gives us the wrong info).  We ignore governmental policy advice because there are always three other positions that seem just as reasonable if we are willing to set aside our political pre-convictions.  It is wrong to complain about this particular book over this issue.  But I do wonder about it.

The end of the book seemed to change focus and theme and settle on research into large scale problems that can be solved with relatively simple, cheap and creative solutions.  I think this is a great area for Levitt and Dubner and probably a good idea for the focus on their next book.  I still am not sure what to do with the ideas.  I don’t work in a hospital or in environmental science, or any other the other research areas.  But I do think a focus on simple solutions, rather than expensive, complex ones, might be one thing try to implement in my own world.

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