Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner on Behavioral Economics and Climate Change at New York City's Symphony Space

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s discussion of their new book SuperFreakonomics at New York City’s Symphony Space. Four years after the publication of the hugely popular Freakonomics, the University of Chicago economist and New York Times reporter have released a sequel based on new and provocative research.

In terms of format, SuperFreakonomics bears much resemblance to its predecessor. Each chapter discusses everyday occurrences by examining economic incentives as a way of explaining human behavior. Some topics include prostitutes, terrorists, and climate change.

At Symphony Space, Levitt and Dubner talked about the history of their collaboration (both had thought the Freakonomics book advance should be split 60/40, agreeing on a 50/50 split when they realized each believed the other should get 60%), the title (until the last minute they didn’t have a title, settling on Freakonomics because it was the “least bad”) and taking questions from the audience, most of which related specifically to content in the sequel (the section on climate change proved by far to be the most controversial).
Stephen Dubner described Dr. Levitt’s research as, “stripping away layers of obfuscation,” to uncover a rational, economic approach to people’s decisions and the consequences of those decisions. After reading SuperFreakonomics, I found that the studied, logical way in which the authors examine the issues presented in the book was applicable in my daily life as well. Now when I read an article in the newspaper, I find it much easier to think critically about how one measures that data, what a reliable sample pool looks like, and what other factors could have influenced or not been accounted for in the reporting of that data.

The Freakonomics books are academic without being dry, interesting, and engaging. Though they certainly educate the reader on the specific topics presented in each chapter, I found the greatest benefit for students and casual readers alike to be a more rational understanding of relationships between the variables and data in daily life.

Freakonomics has been a great resource in classrooms studying everything from macroeconomics to composition. For teachers already using the book, HarperAcademic offers online instructor resources including sample test questions and a student guide. Instructor resources to SuperFreakonomics will be available online shortly.

SuperFreakonomics is already being added to class curriculums in high schools and universities across the country. If you’d like to see one for course adoption consideration, please order an exam copy. If you’ve already adopted it for you class please order a complimentary desk copy.
Click the video link below to watch Steven D. Levitt's recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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1 comment:

  1. It's quite troubling that a book with such obvious flaws (e.g. the climate scientist they cite, Ken Caldeira, has disavowed it) is being offered as an "academic" work to classrooms.