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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything ~ Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

January 16, 2010


Genre: Non fiction

Publisher: William Morrow & Company

256 pages

ISBN: 9780060731328
They say numbers don’t lie. That might be true in terms of how many years a person has lived or how much a five pound weight weighs. However, if you try to use quantitative data to supply evidence for a qualitative end product, you may find yourself lacking in any true objectivity.

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, make this fatal mistake in trying to prove the exact opposite in their fairly controversial book, Freakonomics. Perhaps they made the mistake of taking on hot-button topics like abortion, race and gender by trying to prove something that they should have explained using wildlife, art and music. Perhaps their intention was not to make certain moral stands but simply to say that numbers do, in fact lie.

Unfortunately, for me, I found their “examples” of just how statistics deceive, fairly partisan on a number of occasions. Were the facts completely fool proof, like perhaps, refuting the claim that the ocean is a pleasant shade of lemon yellow instead of sea blue, then, I might have had an easier time taking their theories seriously.

Their assertions, however, seemed to simply guestimate that common, in their defense, mostly likely false, data were instead indicators of something completely different. All the while, they did not give any real, hard evidence, as to why their particular theory was correct over the conventional wisdom or a third option.

In a second defense, they did a fair amount of relative fence-sitting, but on more than one occasion, took a less than watery line that lead me, as a reader, to believe that while they wouldn’t say, 100% that the new conclusion was indeed correct, they were personal fans of the more recently concluded theories.

If this sounds bitter, it’s not. I think, my main issue was that it was largely ironic. In claiming that there is a seedy underbelly to the facts presented in the media, et al, they took hard lines of their own. And no, this is not really an issue of which lines they took. If the book was written by a pair of a different race, a different gender or a different socio-economic status, and proceeded to take equally strong stands in the name of liberal “objectivity”, I would still find fault in the presentation.

All of that said, there are entertaining parts to the book and I zipped right along through it. I think, my final conclusion is that, like many of the parenting advice tomes they bashed (again, not bitter, I wholeheartedly agreed with their dismissal of the Obsessive Baby Raiser book market), the writing inside of Freakonomics is best read with “subjectivity is all around us” repeating in the back of your head.

It is my hope to get a few guest bloggers on here in the next week or so in the moderate camp and conservative camp to see if it was my sociopolitical leaning that lead my ambivalence about this piece or whether even from the other side of the fence, this oozes subjective defense of a false objectivity.

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