Friday, July 9, 2010

Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Freakonomics, a while back, was a really interesting read, so I've been eagerly awaiting this book. Levitt and Dubner present the results of a number of unconventional economics research projects in an entertaining, yet informative, style. The subjects of these studies are all over the map, from prostitution to global warming and child safety seats, but somehow the authors weave them together in a seamless tapestry that moves from one subject to the next naturally.

Were you aware that, on a per mile basis, it's more dangerous to walk home drunk than to drive? I hope this doesn't encourage anyone to climb behind the wheel after a few cocktails; your best bet is to call a cab or a sober friend to get you home.

In an era when debates about the efficacy of health care in this country have dominated the news, the authors tell us about several ways to live longer. It turns out that Nobel Prize winners live longer than those who are merely nominated, so I guess we're gonna have President Obama and Al Gore around for a while, if the latter isn't killed by a masseuse's angry boyfriend first. Athletes who are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame also live longer than those who strike out. On a personally encouraging note, people who buy annuities tend to live longer than those who don't, perhaps motivated by a subconscious desire to make the most of those regular payments. Thanks for saving my life, Cal.

Absolutely contrary to what you might think, in the years since we've been fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been about 500 less military deaths per year than during the 80s, when were fighting no wars at all. Safer to be in a war zone than merely training for one, evidently.

Once again on the subject of medicine, did you know it's better to be on the kidney transplant list in Iran than in the United States? Over medical ethics concerns, Congress has made it illegal in this country to sell someone your kidney (or other organs, for that matter). In Iran, it's legal to be compensated for donating an organ, and while in this country there are 80,000 people currently waiting for transplants and only 16,000 will be performed, there is absolutely no waiting list in Iran, the demand for transplantable kidneys is matched by the supply. By the way, Internet inventor Al Gore was one of the most vocal opponents of compensation for organ donors. Is there an anti-Nobel prize for medicine we can award him?

Back in the 1840s, Ignatz Semmelweis discovered that the simple procedure of making doctors wash their hands with disinfectant before delivering babies reduced mortality rates by half. Oddly enough, current studies show that most doctors at one major hospital today, with all of our advances in medical science and education, only wash their hands about 9% of the time. Can you say staph infection? I knew that you could.

In an interesting wrap up story, the only one which didn't use humans as its subjects, economists were experimenting with introducing the concept of money to capuchin monkeys. It turned out that the monkeys learned to display the same behavior found in investors in the stock market, "loss aversion." Unfortunately, they also induced the first known incident of monkey prostitution, and the experiment was discontinued because the monkey lab authorities feared the monkeys' culture would be irreparably damaged.

There's some great stuff in here about people working on simple fixes to complex problems, such as global warming, as well. I highly suggest you grab a copy of this book and give it a thorough read.

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