Clif Hostetler's Reviews > SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
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Sep 04, 14

bookshelves: current-events
Read in February, 2010

This is a book about decisions, incentives, unintended consequences and statistics showing how conventional wisdom isn’t always wise. The examples given are varied and totally unrelated to each other. The conclusions are not fully documented and the generalizations provided do not recognize exceptions or alternative points of view. If you can get past these issues the book is a lot of fun to read. Reading this book is much the same as listening in on a bull session discussion between two clever comedians who know just enough information to be dangerous. The writing is spiced with puns and humor to keep the reader entertained.

I suppose every reader has their own axe to grind or issue to praise from this book. I have too many axes to grind to mention here. However, there is one issue for which I praise the authors, which happens to the issue for which most people are criticizing them. That is their discussion of global warming. I agree with their assertion that efforts to achieve international agreements to limit releases of carbon dioxide require an impossible degree of cooperation to be humanly or politically feasible. The book also indicates that if, by some miracle, such agreements were achieved it would be too late to make any meaning contribution toward preventing global warming.

Based on the above premise, the book suggests that the most effective way to reduce global warming is to use geo-engineering methods to directly address the amount of sun energy reaching the earth. The authors then discuss several optional approaches to achieving this goal.

Their suggestions may sound a bit crazy. But changing human nature—which would be needed to voluntarily reduce use of fossil fuels—is just as farfetched as their suggestions. The use of fossil fuels will probably decrease in the future because of high prices brought about by limited supply. Unfortunately, this won’t happen in time to prevent global warming. But as this book suggests, there are other options available which can provide time for the world’s economy to transition to renewable energy sources. This type of transition will be pushed by true economic reality, not cap-and-trade rules.

The following are some multiple choice test questions that cover some of the issues contained in this book. They provide an indication of the scattered variety of subjects discussed by this book. The questions are copied from Amazon.com. You’ll need to go to the Amazon.com Page for this book to get the correct answers.

Question 1:
According to Superfreakonomics, what has been most helpful in improving the lives of women in rural India?
A. The government ban on dowries and sex-selective abortions
B. The spread of cable and satellite television
C. Projects that pay women to not abort female babies
D. Condoms made specially for the Indian market

Question 2:
Among Chicago street prostitutes, which night of the week is the most profitable?
A. Saturday
B. Monday
C. Wednesday
D. Friday

Question 3:
You land in an emergency room with a serious condition and your fate lies in the hands of the doctor you draw. Which characteristic doesn’t seem to matter in terms of doctor skill?
A. Attended a top-ranked medical school and served a residency at a prestigious hospital
B. Is female
C. Gets high ratings from peers
D. Spends more money on treatment

Question 4:
Which cancer is chemotherapy more likely to be effective for?
A. Lung cancer
B. Melanoma
C. Leukemia
D. Pancreatic cancer

Question 5:
Half of the decline in deaths from heart disease is mainly attributable to:
A. Inexpensive drugs
B. Angioplasty
C. Grafts
D. Stents

Question 6:
True or False: Child car seats do a better job of protecting children over the age of 2 from auto fatalities than regular seat belts.

Question 7:
What’s the best thing a person can do personally to cut greenhouse gas emissions?
A. Drive a hybrid car
B. Eat one less hamburger a week
C. Buy all your food from local sources

Question 8:
Which is most effective at stopping the greenhouse effect?
A. Public-awareness campaigns to discourage consumption
B. Cap-and-trade agreements on carbon emissions
C. Volcanic explosions
D. Planting lots of trees

Question 9:
In the 19th century, one of the gravest threats of childbearing was puerperal fever, which was often fatal to mother and child. Its cause was finally determined to be:
A. Tight bindings of petticoats early in the pregnancy
B. Foul air in the delivery wards
C. Doctors not taking sanitary precautions
D. The mother rising too soon in the delivery room

Question 10:
Which of the following were not aftereffects of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001:
A. The decrease in airline traffic slowed the spread of influenza.
B. Thanks to extra police in Washington, D.C., crime fell in that city.
C. The psychological effects of the attacks caused people to cut back on their consumption of alcohol, which led to a decrease in traffic accidents.
D. The increase in border security was a boon to some California farmers, who, as Mexican and Canadian imports declined, sold so much marijuana that it became one of the states most valuable crops.


The following is a review from the 2007 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar of an earlier version of Freakonomics which I've also read:
Surprise Bestsellers
The little idea that could. Dubner is a journalist who in 2003 wrote a New York Times Magazine profile of Levitt, a University of Chicago economist with unorthodox interests. That article became this bestseller, which then became a column in the magazine. What’s so interesting about Freakonomics (besides the name)? Levitt creatively uses economic methods to explain different outcomes in such varied areas as cheating, crime, and parenting. Revolutionary reading.
FREAKONOMICS: A ROGUE ECONOMIST EXPLORES THE HIDDEN SIDE OF EVERYTHING, by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt (William Morrow, 2005)
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