SuperFreakonomics


Reading this book was an enormous pleasure. It was like sitting down with a superb raconteur, and hearing story after story of amazing and extraordinary events. "Oh no" you exclaim, "surely that one can't be true!" But yes, it is! And so you leap on hungrily to the next peculiar story.

This is a treasure chest of information for anyone interested in psychology, economics or just sheer human cussedness. The people behind the book work brilliantly together - economics lecturer Steven Levitt, and

Reading this book was an enormous pleasure. It was like sitting down with a superb raconteur, and hearing story after story of amazing and extraordinary events. "Oh no" you exclaim, "surely that one can't be true!" But yes, it is! And so you leap on hungrily to the next peculiar story.This is a treasure chest of information for anyone interested in psychology, economics or just sheer human cussedness. The people behind the book work brilliantly together - economics lecturer Steven Levitt, and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner... Please can we have more academics and journalists working in tandem? The result here is so good.For me there was no real overarching theme - rather the book was a series of rollicking anecdotes about the unexpected and contrary. It makes a great follow-on to the authors' first book - just called Freakonomics. I reckon both book are amongst the most entertaining I have ever read, and I can't recommend them highly enough.

I shall end with my usual medley of notes about some of the things that particularly caught my attention. Warning...these notes are a real hotch-potch. (view spoiler)

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TELEVISION, AND THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR WOMEN IN INDIAMany initiatives have been instigated to improve the lives of women in India, where they are often treated badly, both as children and adults. None of these projects have been very successful. Then American economists Emily Oster and Robert Jensen compared villages with cable television, to those without television. They examined data from a government survey of 2,700 households, most of them rural.In households with television...Wife beating was less tolerated.Parents were less likely to admit to having a preference for male children.Women were more likely to exercise personal autonomy.The families had a lower birthrate (associated with more autonomy and fewer health risks.)They were more likely to keep their daughters in school.MACROECONOMICS Economists' predictions are generally worthless. They have a hard enough time explaining the past, much less predicting the future. (They are still arguing over whether Franklin Roosevelt's policy moves quelled The Great Depression or exacerbated it.)It seems part of the human condition to believe in our own predictive abilities - and, just as well, to quickly forget how badly our predictions turned out to be.SPORTY WOMEN ARE SUCCESSFULBetsey Stevenson discovered that girls who play high-school sports are more likely to attend college and land a solid job, especially in some of the high-skill fields traditionally dominated by men.SELLING HOUSES BY YOURSELF ON THE INTERNET V SELLING VIA A REALTOR (ESTATE AGENT.)With the latter you pay a commission of about $20,000 on a $400,000 house, and research shows that there are very few benefits. If you do it yourself you must do it on the internet - on a website specialising in selling houses. Paying to do that costs just $150....but you have to do all the work yourself. Houses sold directly on the internet take an average of an extra 20 days to sell.A third way is flat-fee real estate agents, and they are even MORE expensive than realtors.BABY FORMULA MILKThe introduction of this allowed thousands of women to get right back into work.FEMALE TEACHERS100 years ago this was one of the few non-menial jobs available to women. At the time,6% of all working women were teachers, and by a large margin it was the choice of female college graduates. 55% of all college-educated female workers in their early thirties were employed as teachers.Soon afterwards opportunities for smart women began to multiply, and they could enter law, medicine, business and finance....and there was a brain drain from teaching, and standards dropped.WOMEN EXECUTIVES Research has shown that gender discrimination plays only a minor role in holding women back. Women take far fewer finance courses - and all being equal, there is a strong correlation between a finance background and career earnings.Women also work fewer hours than men. A study of people completing their MBAs showed that women in the study worked 52 hours a week, whilst the men worked 58 hours a week. The big issues seems to be that women love children.Women with no children work 3% less hours than men.Women with children work 24% less hours than men.Women also take more career interruptions than men. After 10 years in the workforce...10% of men with MBAs went for 6 months or more without working.40% of women with MBAs went for 6 months or more without working.HIGH STATUS CONFERS LONGEVITYEven amongst those nominated for the Nobel Prize. Winners live longer than those who have just been nominated but don't win.People voted into The Baseball Hall of Fame outlive those were were narrowly omitted.----------------------------------CANCERChemotherapy helps with leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and testicular cancer....but in most cases it is pretty ineffective. There is a long list of cancers where chemotherapy has zero effect....multiple myeloma, soft tissue sarcoma, melanoma of the skin, and cancers of the pancreas, uterus, prostate, bladder, kidney, breast and lung. (Some oncologists argue that with these types of cancer chemotherapy helps one out of ten people.)So why is chemotherapy used so much?*Oncologists are amongst the highest-paid doctors.*They typically derive more than half their income from selling and administering chemotherapy drugs.*If they give a lung cancer patient an extra 2 months to live (when he only expected to live 4 months), on paper this will look an impressive feat. 'The doctor extended the patient;s remaining life by 50%.'There has been little difference in how many people die of cancer in the last 50 years. The age-adjusted mortality rate for cancer is essentially unchanged over the past half-century.BUT.....Over the same period age-adjusted mortality for cardiovascular disease has plummeted. From nearly 600 per 100,000 to beneath 300.THEREFORE...Many people who in previous generations died from heart disease are now living to die of cancer instead. So the statistics are better than they initially look.Cancer death rates are falling amongst younger people:People 20 or younger - mortality has fallen by over 50%People 20 - 40 - Mortality has fallen by 20%.This is an especially good result, as incidents of cancers in this age group have been rising. (Probably due to diet, behaviours and environmental factors.)-----------------------------HEART DISEASEDeaths from heart disease have fallen substantially over the past few decades. Expensive treatments like grafts, angioplasties and stents have only had a very small impact.The decline has come rather from the success of medications which treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This accounts for half the drop.Much of the remaining decline has come from ridiculously cheap treatments like asperin, heparin, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers.HORSE TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS IN NEW YORK IN 1900 VERSUS CAR TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS IN NEW YORK IN 20071900 - Horse accidents claimed the lives of 1 out of every 17,000 residents.2007 - Car accidents claimed the lives of 1 out of every 30,000 residents.= People were nearly twice as like to die in 1900 from a horse accident than from a car accident today.THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES IS OFTEN SEEN WHEN GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION IS PASSED.eg governments who have tried to reduce trash by charging people for extra bags of trash.1) Some people just stuff their existing bags more and more full (a tactic now known by trash officers around the world as "Seattle Stomp".2) Others just dump their trash in the woods.3) In Germany, trash tax-avoiders flused so much uneaten food down the toilets that the sewers became infested with rats.4) A new garbage tax in Ireland generated a spike in backyard trash burning. St James's Hospital in Dublin recorded a near tripling of patients who had set themselves on fire while burning trash.FORCEPSThese can save lives if a baby is stuck in the birth canal.They are thought to have been invented early in the 17th century by an obstetrician called Peter Chamerlen. They worked so well that Chamberlen kept them a secret, sharing them only with sons and grandsons who continued in the family business.It wasn't until the mid-18th century that they passed into general usage. The surgeon Atul Gawande says that millions of babies' lives were lost as a result of this hoarding.DIRTY TIESDoctors should be forbidden to wear ordinary ties, as these collect pathogens and are rarely laundered. Instead doctors should wear bow ties.NITRATE FERTILIZERSThese are astonishingly cheap and effective. They feed our world. If we lost them we would only have fruit and animal products on special occasions, or they would only be eaten by the rich.WHALE OIL AND OIL UNDERGROUNDIn the 19th century whales were the economic engine that helped turn the USA into a powerhouse. Every inch of whales could be used. Most valuable was whale oil, a lubricant for all sorts of machinery but also for lamps. In the 19th century there were 900 whaling ships, 735 of them were in the USA.1835 - 1872 An average of 7,700 whales a year were killed. It was the fifth largest industry in the US.Then the industry was exhausted through over-whaling, and it begun to fail. That is when a retired railway man called Edwin L Drake, using a steam engine to power a drill through 70 feel of shale and bedrock, struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania.The new oil industry provided work for unemployed whalers, and it saved whales from near-certain extinction.CHANGING PEOPLE'S BEHAVIOUR IS HARD WORK/SEAT BELTSFor instance the introduction of seat belts in cars. These were initially thought of by Robert McNamara, who worked for The Ford Motor Company.Congress began setting federal safety standards in the mid-1960s, but even 15 years later seat belt usage was laughably low - just 11%.Over time the numbers crept up, thanks to a variety of nudges.1) The threat of a traffic ticket2) Expensive public awareness campaigns.3) Annoying beeps and dashboard lights if the belt wasn't buckled.4) And eventually, a societal acceptance that wearing a seat belt wasn't an insult to anyone's driving ability.Seat belt usage in 1985 - 21%Seat belt usage in 1990 - 61%Seat belt usage in 2009 - Over 80%In fact seat belts reduce the risk of death in traffic accident by as much as 70%, and at about $25 each, are one of the most cost-effective life saving devices ever invented.COWS, SHEEP AND METHANERuminants - cud-chewing animals - are wicked polluters. They do this via exhalation, flatulence, belching and their manure.Methane is 25 times more potent as a green house gas than carbon dioxide released by cars (or humans.) The world's ruminants are responsible for about 50% more greenhouse gas than the entire transport sector.Possible solutions:* Shift away from eating red meat to eating chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable based diet. This does more to reduce greenhouse gases than eating locally-resourced food.* Eat kangaroo meat - they produce much less methane. In fact Australian scientists are trying to replicate the digestive bacteria in kangaroos' stomachs so it can be transplanted to cows.....GLOBAL WARMING HEROESAl Gore is usually held up as a marvellous campaigner for global warming issues, but the authors of this book think a lot of his ideas are wrong. Instead they promote Nathan Myhrvold, and his Budyko's Blanket (A plan to put sulfer dioxide into the stratosphere), which they believe could reverse global warming.

http://greenmanblog.com/?p=251

GLOBAL WARMING AT THE POLES

Global warming is largely a polar phenomenon. High latitude areas are 4 times more sensitive to climate change than the equator.

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