SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven Levitt and  Stephen Dubner

SuperFreakonomics: Now with 100% Less Freaky

Back in 2005, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner penned the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, which became a runaway hit, selling more than 4 million copies to date.  From the economic impacts of children’s names to the controversial role that legalized abortion has (or hasn’t) had in reducing American crime rates, the book’s approach was to use data to unveil hidden – and often counterintuitive – realities about modern life and the modern economy.  Given its blockbuster impact, it’s a small wonder that the pair of authors is back for more.  With SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, they attempt a return to form, exploring the economics of prostitution, how to fix hospital emergency rooms and technical fixes for global warming.  Unfortunately, their formula rings a little hollow the second time around, and reads more like an attempt to cherry pick data to support preconceived notions than a genuine attempt to find new ideas within existing data.

Occasionally it is compelling – the section exploring how to evaluate the quality of a doctor’s work will resonate with any economic developer who has tried to quantify the impact of their work.  Much of the book, though, is based on data of dubious quality – including a section on global warming where Levitt’s colleagues at the University of Chicago and elsewhere have already exposed some fundamental mathematical and research errors (see here and here and here).  A fun read, but best taken with a grain of salt.