Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Freakonomics Cover Art After indulging in reading some literature nobel laureates recently, I was in for entertainment of the geeky trivial kind again and ended up reading the much hyped Freakonomics.

The book, written by an economics professor and a journalist aims to give a different view on many phenomena. In doing so, the authors focus on using economic models or a bit of statistics. And from just ‘doing the maths’, you get to see that when selling your house, your real estate agent is not likely to work very hard just to increase the price by another few thousand monetary units. Or you learn how legislation on abortion is correlated to crime numbers and how most of the things that frenetic parents do for the benefit of their children don’t matter significantly once the cultural and economic background of the parents is given.

In a way the book looks like it could be sobering in these days where everybody and his dog is eager to throw around with big bunches of numbers and then claim to have ‘proved’ something (or anything, really). You see people, politicians, ‘experts’ do that all the time on telly, and you read about them doing in the newspapers. And then you see other people, politicians and ‘experts’ arrive at a contradictory conclusion the next day. And finally you just stop listening because most of them don’t seem more clueful than yourself anyway.

And perhaps by reading books like Freakonomics, people will become more aware of the fact that two facts coexisting doesn’t imply any causal relationship between them as is frequently suggested. That’d be a great step forward in bringing sanity back to the public. (But I won’t hold my breath.)

Apart from this great aspect of the book, I found it a bit on the woffling side. Frequently the authors give gazillions of details and it feels like the main purpose of doing that is to fill pages, stress how much research they did or reflect on their wittiness. Points and factoids are repeated over and over again, without getting dirty and giving any real evidence, numbers or methods. In facts I reads a bit like an ‘A-list’ blog… circling the same points over and over again, but pretending there’s no need to actually explain things.

And by that I don’t mean to say that the book should be one full of formulas to prove things as that’d put off the ‘general’ readership, but I’d say that the book would have been less on 150 instad of 250 pages.

Bookmark: 06-02-2006 open single ticket from Cambridge to Stansted airport.

July 17, 2006, 0:10

Tagged as book, freakonomics, stephen j dubner, steven d levitt.

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