Bring Your Think Like a Freak Questions for Levitt and Dubner

book-TLaFOn May 12, Levitt and I will publish our third book, Think Like a Freak. We cannot wait for you to read it. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

The New York Times-bestselling Freakonomics changed the way we see the world, exposing the hidden side of just about everything. Then came Super-Freakonomics, a documentary film, an award-winning podcast, and more.

Now, with Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have written their most revolutionary book yet. With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, they take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally—to think, that is, like a Freak.

Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you’ll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they’re from Nigeria.

You can read more about the book, check out our tour dates, and of course preorder it: the book will come in all formats including e-book, audio, large-print, and in translation around the world. We will also start up our fee-signed-bookplate-mailing program so that you can get your books autographed.

In the meantime, how about a Freakonomics Radio FAQ episode about the new book? Use the comments section below to ask us anything you want. Here’s the book’s Table of Contents to get you started …

1. What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?

An endless supply of fascinating questions . . . The pros and cons of breast-feeding, fracking, and virtual currencies . . . There is no magic Freakonomics tool . . . Easy problems evaporate; it is the hard ones that linger . . . How to win the World Cup . . . Private benefits vs. the greater good . . . Thinking with a different set of muscles . . . Are married people happy or do happy people marry? . . . Get famous by thinking just once or twice a week . . . Our disastrous meeting with the future prime minister.

2. The Three Hardest Words in the English Language

Why is “I don’t know” so hard to say? . . . Sure, kids make up answers but why do we? . . . Who believes in the devil? . . . And who believes 9/11 was an inside job? . . . “Entrepreneurs of error” . . . Why measuring cause-and-effect is so hard . . . The folly of prediction . . . Are your predictions better than a dart-throwing chimp? . . . The Internet’s economic impact will be “no greater than the fax machine’s” . . . “Ultracrepidarianism” . . . The cost of pretending to know more than you
do . . . How should bad predictions be punished? . . . The Romanian witch hunt . . . The first step in solving problems: put away your moral compass . . . Why suicide rises with quality of life— and how little we know about suicide . . . Feedback is the key to all learning . . . How bad were the first loaves of bread? . . . Don’t leave experimentation to the scientists . . . Does more expensive wine taste better?

3. What’s Your Problem?

If you ask the wrong question, you’ll surely get the wrong answer . . . What does “school reform” really mean? . . . Why do American kids know less than kids from Estonia? . . . Maybe it’s the parents’ fault! . . . The amazing true story of Takeru Kobayashi, hot-dog-eating champion . . . Fifty hot dogs in twelve minutes! . . . So how did he do it? . . . And why was he so much better than everyone else? . . . “To eat quickly is not very good manners” . . . “The Solomon Method” . . . Endless experimentation in pursuit of excellence . . . Arrested! . . . How to redefine the problem you are trying to solve . . . The brain is the critical organ . . . How to ignore artificial barriers . . . Can you do 20 push-ups?

4. Like a Bad Dye Job, the Truth Is in the Roots

A bucket of cash will not cure poverty and a planeload of food will not cure 
famine . . . How to find the root cause of a problem . . . Revisiting the abortion-crime link . . . What does Martin Luther have to do with the German economy? . . . How the “Scramble for Africa” created lasting strife . . . Why did slave traders lick the skin of the slaves they bought? . . . Medicine vs. folklore . . . Consider the ulcer . . . The first blockbuster drugs . . . Why did the young doctor swallow a batch of dangerous bacteria? . . . Talk about gastric upset! . . . The universe that lives in our gut . . . The power of poop.

5. Think Like a Child

How to have good ideas . . . The power of thinking small . . . Smarter kids at $15 a pop . . . Don’t be afraid of the obvious . . . 1.6 million of anything is a lot . . . Don’t be seduced by complexity . . . What to look for in a junkyard . . . The human body is just a machine . . . Freaks just want to have fun . . . It is hard to get good at something you don’t like . . . Is a “no-lose lottery” the answer to our low savings rate? . . . Gambling meets charity . . . Why kids figure out magic tricks better than adults . . . “You’d think scientists would be hard to dupe” . . . How to smuggle childlike instincts across the adult border.

6. Like Giving Candy to a Baby

It’s the incentives, stupid! . . . A girl, a bag of candy, and a toilet . . . What financial incentives can and can’t do . . . The giant milk necklace . . . Cash for grades . . . With financial incentives, size matters . . . How to determine someone’s true incentives . . . Riding the herd mentality . . . Why are moral incentives so weak? . . . Let’s
steal some petrified wood! . . . One of the most radical ideas in the history of philanthropy . . . “The most dysfunctional $300 billion industry in the world” . . . A one-night stand for charitable donors . . . How to change the frame of a relationship . . . Ping-Pong diplomacy and selling shoes . . . “You guys are just the best!” . . . The customer is a human wallet . . . When incentives backfire . . . The “cobra effect” . . . Why treating people with decency is a good idea.

7. What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?

A pair of nice, Jewish, game-theory-loving boys . . . “Fetch me a sword!” . . . What the brown M&M’s were really about . . . Teach your garden to weed itself . . . Did medieval “ordeals” of boiling water really work? . . . You too can play God once in a while . . . Why are college applications so much longer than job applications? . . . Zappos and “The Offer” . . . The secret bullet factory’s warm-beer alarm . . . Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria? . . . The cost of false alarms
and other false positives . . . Will all the gullible people please come forward? . . . How to trick a terrorist into letting you know he’s a terrorist.

8. How to Persuade People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded

First, understand how hard this will be . . . Why are better-educated people more extremist? . . . Logic and fact are no match for ideology . . . The consumer has the only vote that counts . . . Don’t pretend your argument is perfect . . . How many lives would a driverless car save? . . . Keep the insults to yourself . . . Why you should tell stories . . . Is eating fat really so bad? . . . The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure . . . What is the Bible “about”? . . . The Ten Commandments versus The Brady Bunch.

9. The Upside of Quitting

Winston Churchill was right—and wrong . . . The sunk cost fallacy and opportunity cost . . . You can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you won’t abandon today’s dud . . . Celebrating failure with a party and cake . . . Why the flagship Chinese store did not open on time . . . Were the Challenger’s O-rings bound to fail? . . . Learn how you might fail without going to the trouble of failing . . . The $1 million question: “when to struggle and when to quit” . . . Would you let a coin toss decide your future? . . . “Should I quit the Mormon faith?” . . . Growing a beard will not make you happy . . . But ditching your girlfriend might . . . Why Dubner and Levitt are so fond of
 quitting . . . This whole book was about “letting go” . . . And now it’s your turn.

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  1. Kathryn says:

    How can we best “train” ourselves out of loss aversion (to our advtantage)?

    Is there a way to logic someone out of a mindset they did not logic themselves into?

    How do I share all this great information with others without being preachy?

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    • alisdair says:

      Is a barista with a PhD good for society, or is it a waste of resources?

      Is “overeducating” people bad, or is education an intrinsic good?

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  2. Steve Beckmann says:

    What now? I am in my late 50′s. I have enough money saved for retirement, really no need to continue to work. Shouldn’t I get out of the way and let the next generation have their turn?

    But, having just spent the last two weeks in Florida, I have to say “no way” when considering the typical retirement life.

    What is the best use of my time now? How can I maximize the value of my time?

    I can keep working and adding to my already adequate savings. At least until my mental capacities diminish, my experience will always trump that of the next generation. Should I continue to work because I can’t think of anything better to do?

    I can volunteer, but the opportunities are primarily menial, below my intellectual capacity. My middle manager skills don’t translate well to the volunteer market.

    As Americans gray, what are we supposed to do?

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  3. Philip says:

    Do fire sprinklers cost more money to install, maintain, inspect, and repair than the cost of the fires they protect us from?

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  4. Adam Kringel says:

    Why is Steve Leavitt so concerned about his children’s education? Specifically, he mentioned on one of your previous FAQ’s that he had chosen his neighborhood based on the schools. I was surprised my Steve’s “conventional” attitude o this matter. I have heard some research – possibly reported on your podcast – that school’s/environment/upbringing don’t affect a person’s outcome nearly as much as we think they do (it may have been Bryan Kaplan’s work).

    Parents these days are quite obsessed with where to send their kids to school. My wife and daughter are wringing their hands about which junior high she should go to. I just want her to go to the closest public school so she can ride her bike and we don’t have to pay tuition. I know that she will be fine in any case, mostly because of the genes my wife and I have given her. Secondarily, we make sure she does her work, help her with her questions, stay involved, etc. Isn’t this the right attitude for an economist?

    Also, is Dubner similarly obsessed with his children’s schooling?

    Thanks
    Adam

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  5. Larry says:

    What are good tips for success (marriage) in online dating?

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  6. Steve Nations says:

    I hate the NCAA and pretty much everything it stands for. Have you guys looked into your crystal ball and do you have any thoughts on what the drawbacks might be if college athletes to gain more rights and more money? And what techniques should a Freak use when arguing with somebody about the issue of college sports, with respect to an idea that everybody just seems to take for granted even though it’s just made up out of nothing. The idea that college athletes should be amateurs is so engrained in people’s minds, and yet I see no actual reason for it, and it seems to just be a figment of the NCAA’s imagination.

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  7. Oliver K says:

    Regarding education, seems like the best schools have a couple of things going for them.

    1. they are in an affluent area, where the districts have the money to support them.
    2. they have parents that are involved with the education process
    3. The students have a stronger sense that education is a priority.
    4. Education seems to have stronger community ties.

    I think that the last three are more of direct result of the first. With that in mind, how can we change the ideas and thinking behind education in under served communities. In a world where we tell everyone that education is “free”, how do we get people to think more about the other costs involved in educating children. In other words, how can a government and a society at large help to change the logic of “free” education in less affluent areas and get Numbers 2,3, & 4?

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  8. Henry says:

    First, to comment on the education thread because some people think that subsidizing private education threatens public schools. My “freaky” thought is that, if subsidies are small, they could help public schools by lowering class sizes. Perhaps there are other examples of this in society.

    Second, there is much concern in the news about faulty ignition switches in GM cars, but it could be a signal vs. noise problem that is hard to detect, rather than intentional non-disclosure. Before we impose punitive damages or additional regulations, can Freakonomics provide some rational approaches to managing such risks?

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