Sunday, November 29, 2009

Too Easy For A Clever Title

I mean, really, how many variations can we come up on for a post title about the book SuperFreakonomics? I'm thinking "She's A Very Kinky Book," but then I didn't want to scare off the PG-13 readers. So I'm rising above that, kids, rising above.

This book is a lot of fun to read. It's fast paced, with all kinds of interesting factual tidbits, and I love factual tidbits. I especially like when there's a lot of analysis done on my factual tidbits, and lordy then but this is the book for me. Observation after observation, details into the lives of prostitutes and psychology researchers and ER doctors.

One thing that's required, though, is to take everything in here with a grain of salt. Here's the thing: as an introduction to a way of thinking--the economic way of thinking--this book is great. I sometimes get offended at how people doing psychological economic analysis try to reduce everything to motivation, because the language used to talk about motivation sounds so morally void, but if you forget about all the moral/ethical connotations of the language and remember that we're talking about and using the language of economics, I can let that go.

But for all the elaborate research they do, sometimes they seem to jump the gun on getting to their conclusion. Example: the claim that drunk walking is more dangerous than drunk driving. This is based on a ton of data about number of drunk driving accidents/fatalities per year, number of drunk walking accidents/fatalities per year, number of miles driven drunk, etc. And then, to make a conclusion, they make one "little" assumption: that the proportion of miles walked drunk to total miles walked per year is the same as the proportion of miles driven drunk to total miles driven per year.

Now, the anecdote is still interesting, and it's still educational to follow the logic process through and learn how to use data as an economist does. But please don't tell me that I should let my friends drive home drunk instead of walking because it's safer. It's not just amusingly counter-intuitive, it's downright wrong.

Sometimes my logical criticisms and my icky-feeling criticisms get mixed up (especially when they try to quantify morality), but I'm going to let all that lie and say how much sheer fun I'm having reading this book. So debunk away; I won't vote based on their findings, but I'll read their next book, guaranteed.

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