Monday, February 4, 2008

Book Review- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Freakonomics is the story of everything and how one economist, Steven Levitt, looks at the numbers behind a variety of different things from what a Sumo wrestler and a teacher have in common to why crack dealers live with their mothers. This is an interesting book with a different take on many different issues. Levitt basically uses data to extrapolate a different spin on things that we may think about all of the time or that we rarely think about, but surround us at all times. It is a quick read and I thought an easy read. I wanted to keep reading it and had a hard time putting it down. Also, as someone who is not very math oriented and likes economics even less, or at least the economics that I had to take in college, I didn't mind the numbers and thought that they did a good job of supporting Levitt's conclusions. But because he was using data that at times was not designed to be used in the way that he did use it, I did at times, wonder if he was manipulating the data to fit his own conclusions. But overall I agreed with much of what he thought and saw the logical steps he took to go from point A to point B.

To answer one of the questions above and also as a mini rant against No Child Left Behind, Levitt showed that teachers were actually cheating in order to help their students do better on the standardized tests that they had to administer. He talked about the obvious, that teachers were teaching to the test, that they were gearing all of their teaching to the types of questions that would be on the test and ignoring other subjects or topics that may be important to a child's overall education and development. But he also pointed out that it seems as though teachers were doing more than just teaching to a test, they were actually changing the answers on students' tests to the right answers. These teachers would take advantage of the fact that there was some gap time in between when the test was given and when the test had to be handed in to the administrators. They were not changing a lot of answers, but enough to help the students get a higher score. Now why would these teachers do this? It is simple, the stress and pressure of the testing on the schools and the teachers. They needed the students to do well enough so that the school would be able to continue to not be state run when does happen when a school's scores are not high enough. Teachers can also be fired if a school's scores are not high enough and if they are higher, than teachers get bonuses which can be much needed income for many teachers, as we are not paid that much. So what NCLB has created is no more than a culture where teachers have to cheat just to keep their jobs, their schools and at times to earn more money. Sumo wrestlers are also shown by Levitt to have a tendency toward cheating, but for vastly different reasons. Their reasons tend to relate to the culture of Sumo and the rankings systems where if you win over 50% of your matches in a contest than your ranking will rise, but if you lose over 50% of your matches than your ranking sinks. This was a very interesting point and as I tried to explain it here, I have found that I can't really explain it. But basically, the similarity between teachers and Sumo wrestlers relates to cheating.

Overall, Freakonomics is a really interesting read and I would recommend it to anyone. I did read the original version and there is now a revised and expanded version. I am not sure if there are vast differences in the two books, so if anyone knows if the differences are that major let me know so that I can try and get my hands on the revised edition if it is needed.


Nougachucks said...

It is a dumb laughfable book. Almost every reviewer has questioned the books analyses. The author looks for one cause where ther are obviously many. Like the decline of the KKK--was ther anything else going against the KKK in the sixties besides one informant? Ever heard of the Civil Rights Movement?

Boxer rebel said...

I agree with you that the Civil Rights Movement probably had a profound effect on the KKK, but there were probably other factors as well. But what I really want to know from you, nougachucks, is what reviewers are you referring to? The Wall Street Journal,, The Economist, The Onion A.V. Club, Kirkus Review, The New York Times, and the LA Times all have very positive things to say of this book. Or is this just your opinion? If you disliked the book fine, but don't blame other people for being smarter than you.

Mathman6293 said...

I liked Freakonomics. The title tells it all. This book doesn't claim to take a normal view of things.

Check out the freakonmics blog. It has lots of intereting links stuff.

Boxer rebel said...

math- i saw it and it looks interesting, i really need to explore it more