“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned
lies and statistics.”
I established in another post that I hate school. It partly stems from my dismal mathematical abilities. I wanted to understand calculus. I wanted to understand chemistry formulas. In college, I even took Basic Applied Statistics. After three minutes of lecture I wanted to puke on my shoes. I had no idea what was happening. Yet, I persist in reading books about math and physics and economics, even if I don’t always understand them.
Thankfully, the rockstar economists (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) who brought you the ground-breaking Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (as well as the movie and weekly podcast) have come out with a new book that will retrain your brain to think about economics and statistics creatively, productively, and sans math skills.
For example: remember the “Year of the Shark” in 2001? During that entire year, there were 68 shark attacks, 4 of which were fatal. Four in a world of 6 BILLION people. Elephants kill at least 200 people every year, but we never hear about the “Year of the Elephant” (International Shark Attack File if you’re really that interested in shark attacks).
Or see the math that proves drunk walking is far more dangerous than drunk driving. In one of my favorite chapters, find out why a “street prostitute is like a department store santa” (hint: it involves spikes in demand).
Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics are about recognizing the tricks in statistics and economics. Yes, elephants kill more people yearly but elephants don’t have an image problem. Unless you consider Dumbo or Babar “too” cute. And, yes, on a per mile basis, drunk walking is more dangerous. Does that mean the next time you drink too much whiskey you should go on a joyride or become a seasonal prostitute? Probably not. So the first two books focused on the magic behind the numbers. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain instead wants you to recognize your attitude toward these numbers, in a local and global context. Some advice from the book includes:
- Think like a child.
- Never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
- Be prepared for a really, really simple answer.
- Get rid of your moral compass.
- And, seriously, never forget incentives. Ever. It’s a thing in economics.
Along the way, you’ll learn about hot dog eating competitions (Kobayashi!) and why those pesky Nigerian scammers will never, ever give up. Learn when to break up and discover that David Lee Roth isn’t being a diva when he wants his brown M&Ms removed.
Finally, find out here why there is no such thing as a free appetizer and why Americans just aren’t into soccer (Be prepared to waste some serious time on this website. The questions are better than Dear Abby!).
*Mark Twain is maybe the author. Or Benjamin Disraeli.