Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Freakonomics

I wonder what it tastes like

A very overdue review. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with “Freakonomics” and “Super Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, so I picked them both up a few months ago. After a very busy few months, I finally got around to finishing Freakonomics. It shouldn’t take more than a weekend of reading; I am a lazy reader, guilty as charged.

I like reading books cover to cover, and I must say that the table of contents and chapter descriptions at the beginning got me hooked into reading: comparing teachers to sumo wrestlers, crack dealers to corporations amongst many other seemingly ridiculous things. Yet, one of the main points of the book is to uncover these seemingly ridiculous things and answer the big “why?” or “how?” questions.

Correlation vs Causation

Although you might feel lost in the chaos of the crazy topic jumping that goes on in this book, and although the authors claim there is no real “unifying theme”, there is one important lesson that everyone should pick up from this book: correlation does not imply causation. Usually, the road gets wet when it rains. Thus there is a CORRELATION between wet roads and rain. But does rain always CAUSE wet roads? What if some idiot was washing their car, oblivious to the slippery danger zone they’re creating? Enough digression though. Correlation does not imply causation. Sometimes a totally different third variable may be correlated with the first two, making them appear correlated, while it’s really that third variable that’s important. Example: a person’s height is correlated with the richness of their vocabulary. So do taller people have a better vocabulary? No. There is a third variable here at play here: AGE. Teenagers are older than children, teenagers are taller than children, and teenagers have a better vocabulary than children. It’s easy to fall for tricks like this in everyday life.

Opinion

This book is meant to open your eyes to such tricks. Ask questions, things aren’t always what they seem, don’t take anything at face value. I enjoyed reading it, but discounted some of the author’s conclusions when they got liberal with the numbers and statistics (a few occurrences, nothing too bad though). There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. A bit unfair, but something to keep in mind while reading. If anything, I believe the authors of this book would appreciate it if you keep that in mind. Like I said above, the main message of this book is that things aren’t always what they seem, always look deeper etc.

I recommend this book: a fun, light read which you can find in any book store here. First published in 2005, so it might feel like it’s talking about another decade, but the sections near the end are newer (2009) and fresh to read. There’s also a movie that came out last year with the same title, which is on my “to watch list”. Expect a review of Super Freakonomics soon.

Enjoy!

2 comments

  1. Pingback: My review of Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner | GN54

  2. Pingback: The Logic of Life, by Tim Harford « The Cube

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