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Review: Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner, William Morrow, 2005

I really wanted to like this book. There's a lot about how economist Steven Levitt thinks that I resonate with, and the free association of how seeming unrelated things interrelate is certainly reminiscent of one of my favorite authors, James Burke and his best-selling and immensely entertaining book "Connections."

But I didn't like Freakonomics, for a variety of reasons, the first being that nowhere in the writing or editorial process did anyone bother to mention to the authors that modesty trumps egocentric writing. Between the introduction to the book and the chapter introductions, Levitt has more ego strokes (which is to say we're trapped having to read about him) than any other living author I've encountered in thirty years of voracious reading.

Economists tend to be very focused on numbers. You could reasonably observe that all economists are "quants", they quantify things, they believe facts if the numbers support them and disbelieve theories or "qualitative" information. Quants don't like anything that's not quantifiable. And that's the fundamental flaw of this book: everything in life cannot, in fact, be reduced to measurable numbers and data fed into regression algorithms.

Rather surprisingly, though Levitt and Dubner criticize others about being unable to separate correlation and causal data, they too slip into this basic analytic error too. For example...