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Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Why you shouldn't take statistics literally: it's "safer" to drive home drunk than to walk, bc on a per-mile basis, five times as many drunk pedestrians die than drunk drivers.>
One way to make yourself feel better is to compare ys to others who are worse off. Apparently Indian women have high rates of unwanted pregnancies and STD infections, mainly bc 60% of Indian men have penises too small for the condoms manufactured for WHO.
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Indian poor families used to habitually abort female embryos, bc have to provide dowries, until 2001-6 cable TV spread to rural villages. Somehow this lead to female empowerment - began to have a lower birthrate and keep daughters in school longer. Could trace the change as TV spread at different rates.
Problem of horses in New York 1900. Clogged traffic, noisy, and accidents - 1900 1 in 17000 NYers killed by horse, 2000 1 in every 30000 died in auto accidents - in other words, horses killed nearly twice as many. Biggest problem was horseshit - smell, rats, flies - and no-one cd figure out how to deal with it. The along came cars and problem disappeared.
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When you lock up a supplier, you create a scarcity, which drives up prices, enticing more players to enter the market. The War on Drugs atotal failure bc focuses on sellers rather than buyers.> If govt really wanted to crack down on prostitution, it wd go after the people who pay for it. If, for instance, men convicted of hiring a prostitute were sentenced to castration, the market wd contract in a hurry.
We know that demand for prostitution has fallen dramatically, bc the fees are actually lower than they were 100 years ago. And that is simply bc there are plenty of women prepared to give away sex for "free'. The phrases "casual sex" and "friends with benefits" didn't exist a century ago. >
Pirates often faced little resistance when attacked merchant ships, bc crew had no stake in the cargo. Also, pirates tended to treat crews much better than were by their own captains.>
The wage gap between male and female MBAs in US is due more to female choice than to actual discrimination. They work fewer hours on average, and they take more career interuptions (typically to have babies). >
Ironic twist - many of the best and brightest women get MBA so they can get a well-paid job, but they end up marrying the best and brightest men, who also earn high wages - which gives these women the luxury of not having to work.>
Muslims fast at Ramadan and this can have major effect on developing embryo. Worse if Ramadan falls during summer bc daylight hours longer. Effects are greatest if Ramadan during first month of prgnancy.>
Something similar happened to people born to mothers who caught, but survived, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Some 2 5million Americans, including 1 in 3 mwomen of child-bearing age, caught the flu. The effect followed the children for the restof their lives - more physical problems, lower income, earlier death.>
In Oct 2002, Washington DC experienced 50 murders, which was about normal. But 10 of those murders weren't normal - they were random people going about their business on the streets. Panic set in - schools closed, outdoor events cancelled and many people refused to go outside at all. Turned out it was just one guy and his driver, firing out of the back of an old Chevy sedan. Now imagine if the 9/11 hijackers had instead gone out as 19 snipers at cities across America. Even if one or two were caught, the rest cd go on shooting, paralysing society.>
In 3 monthhs after 9/11, an extra 1000 road deaths in US. First interpretation was that people were driving instead of flying. But turned out the crashes were on local roads, and concentrated in north-east, closest to the attacks. Turned out that attacks led to a spike in alcohol abuse, and it was drunk drivers resp for sudden increase.>
Almost all the people who rush to ER are actually in little danger of dying. Turns out they may have been better off taying at home. Evidence from doctors strikes in LA and Isarael and Columbia - death rate dropped from 18 - 50% when doctors stopped working. Even when a lot of Washington DC doctors left town for a convention, there was an across the board drop in mortality. >
Hospitals are a major danger zone. Medical mistakes, doctors and nurses carrying germs. And they intervene far too often, as shown when absent through either a strike or a major convention.
We spend huge amount of money prolonging life by a couple of months, often with brutal side effects. But patients have "this deep and abiding desire not to be dead."
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Iran is only country which runs a pay-for-organs system, and is only country which doesn't have a waiting list for transplants.
If the polio vaccine hadn't been invented, the US wd be caring for at least 250,000 long-term patients at an annual cost of at least $30 billion.>
(Guardian interview 2015)
More troubling to both of them are the critics who say they got some things downright wrong. This is most true in the case of a chapter in SuperFreakonomics about climate change. These are the claims that led directly to Kolbert's 'horseshit' metaphor in the New Yorker. They are also the ones that clearly continue to irritate Dubner and Levitt, and they end up taking up half of the interview.
Critics take exception to each of the chapter's three key sections. First, Dubner and Levitt recounted and lightly mocked a prior wave of environmentalist mobilisation around the issue of 'global cooling'. Then they suggested that the efforts of environmentalists today to bring down carbon emissions were ultimately hopeless and, in the process, were said to have misdescribed a lot of climate science. They finished by writing about one man's suggested alternative solution in celebratory tones. That solution amounted to an easily caricatured hose into the sky.
An internet storm ensued. Blogposts attacking their conclusions spread. America's favourite leftist-teddy-bear economist, Paul Krugman, got involved, and wrote that 'in this crucial chapter, there's an average of one statement per page that's either flatly untrue or deeply misleading'. But when I ask Dubner and Levitt about it, both are extremely dismissive.
Levitt is matter of fact: 'There was literally nothing wrong about what we said. Everything we said was based on leading scholarship. As far as we know, all that leading scholarship continues to be true. And what people didn't like about global warming was our conclusions. It had nothing to do with our facts.'
Dubner, meanwhile, decides to take a political stance. 'Granted, you're writing for the Guardian, which has a lean against the lean of that particular argument of ours, even though a lot of other leans of ours run right in the pipeline that the Guardian lays out, but ... The attack on the climate change thing was basically a guy who made up a bunch of stuff, who works for a thinktank, whose agenda is a certain kind of environmental activism. And moreover, this guy was like a principal in a firm that consulted on solar energy. So, no offence, I am not directing this at you, but out of the universe of things that someone could ask about, this is the way it always goes. I can't think of an interview from the last two years where someone hasn't said, 'Well, what about global [warming]?'
But it wasn't just one guy. Many writers and scientists attacked them, and later Levitt does tell me there are some things in the chapter he'd change. Mostly, though, they aren't factual. They have to do with the mocking tone that the chapter took at the beginning. 'I tell you what we were guilty of, Dubner,' Levitt says to his partner, who has started packing up his things to leave. 'Making fun of the fact that, number one, this global cooling thing had happened in the 70s. It happened. But we mocked people for it. We made fun of the environmentalists for getting upset about some other problem that turned out not to be true.'
'But we didn't do it with enough reverence, or enough shame and guilt. And I think we pointed out that it's completely totally and actually much more religion than science. I mean what are you going to do about that? I think that's just a fact.'
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