Bring Us Your Questions for the Next Meeting of the Think Like a Freak Book Club

We just released our first installment of the Think Like a Freak Book Club. How does this work? You send in your questions/comments/complaints about the book and we respond in our podcast.

The first installment (“How to Screen Job Applicants, Act Your Age, and Get Your Brain Off Autopilot“) covered Chapters 1-3 of Think. Now it’s time for you to send in questions for Chapters 4, 5, and 6 (see Table of Contents, below). If your question ends up in the podcast, we’ll send you a signed copy of Think Like a Freak or a limited edition Think Like a Freak t-shirt. So fire away!

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You can also pick an item from our swag page, or opt for a Freakonomics Radio t-shirt.


Here’s the Table of Contents for Chapters 4, 5, and 6:

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.

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  1. Ana says:

    I have a question yet to be answered:

    We all know that the family leave policy in the US is one of the worst in the developed world. Are there financial incetives to making it better or is it better to leave it the way it is? (Need for quality and often expensive child care, sleep-deprived parents working, breast feeding, raising well adjusted children, etc.)

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  2. Andre says:

    I joined the company I currently work for straight out of University, almost 5 years ago. I’ve really enjoyed working here, learned loads, got promoted a couple times, enjoy the company of my colleagues, even actively like every one of by bosses so far. This is something I never expected to find, and really grateful for the experiences so far.

    About 10 months ago, my whole department was made redundant, they made very clear they wanted to keep everyone, and found places for each of us within a few weeks and to date no one from my old department have left.

    Besides the forced change in role, I can’t quantify any significant change in culture, or other reason to no longer feel motivated. My current role is usually interesting enough, and there are prospects for progression going forward.

    My question is around incentives and motivation, how can I incentivise myself to like this company and get motivated again, or what could they do?


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  3. Jeff Yancey says:

    Re: Children left in hot cars. Is there any parallel between smartphone usage and this reoccurring tragedy?

    It seems every summer there are more reports of children being left in hot cars. The causes and solutions range wildly every year. Smartphones get a great deal of knee-jerk blame right now. – Is there any parallel between smartphone usage and this reoccurring tragedy? Even if so, is there anything to prove a connection? Smartphone usage gets blamed for basically everything these days.
    Is this possibly a case of increased media in our lives making these incidents only Appear more common than in the past…Accompanied by our favorite modern scapegoat for negligence, the iPhone?

    It’s a terribly sad annual topic, and it would be great to hear your thoughts.

    Jeff Yancey

    Atlanta, GA

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    • James says:

      You might also consider whether it’s due (at least in part) to more cars having better air conditioning (because, after all, the car is not hot while you’re driving it), and to laws requiring small kids to ride in the back seat, where it’s easier to overlook them.

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    • Stephen says:

      Great question and I have wondered the same now that I have kids and seem to be more aware of this issue.

      I recently read an article about the recent tragedy in atlanta. The article mentioned that about 37 kids die a year from being left in the car but this year we are on pace to be well above that average. I wonder why?

      Is it because we are having a hotter summer or is consumer behavior changing that much based on technology, busy life’s, etc

      I would love to hear the gurus tackle this one.

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  4. Anne says:

    Incentives: Last week I was intrigued enough by the Think Like a Freak T-shirt to go to make a donation to support Freakonomics Radio. However, the only way to get one is to submit a question. Aren’t you incentivizing the wrong thing? Wouldn’t you rather get donations (which, BTW, I made anyway and declined the gift) or even have people pay for the T-shirt than have them submit questions? Is the short term bump in publicity better than the long term investment in the podcast? Of course, now I’ve done both, so maybe it worked after all.

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  5. Kadin says:

    E-cigs are big business. However, they could be much bigger. When I look at an electronic cigarette I can’t help but think of Gillettes marketing campaign for their razors. The idea is simple. I send you a razor, you fall in love with it, and I charge you an ungodly amount of money for the refill. Why can’t they do that with electronic cigarettes? If you sent every smoker your e-cigarette they would all at LEAST try it. Heck, in some places they aren’t regulated like a normal tobacco product so you could sent them to just about anyone. Sending a minor a potentially addictive product would be a GREAT long term investment. As far as I know Blu hasn’t done that yet. Why not? Other than the initial investment it doesn’t seem to have many downsides. (Maybe the big e-cig companys are just more moral than I am?)

    side note: I don’t actually know if Gillettes campaign works. It is hard to tell without data from a proper experiment but businesses don’t seem to bother with data as you point out so well in your story about the big box retailer and the newspaper inserts.

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  6. caleb b says:

    I tend to think toward extreme outliers and actively look for ways to abuse whatever rules are in place to achieve maximum results (i guess it is good that i’m not an accountant). But instead of this being viewed as a strength in the business world, it is viewed as being a shady person. Do you think it is more likely that everyone else ALSO thinks about ways to cheat the system, or is it that by thinking such thoughts, I just signal that I am shady enough to think like a crook? Why isn’t being able to think like a crook more valued (at least in my observation)?

    Example: I don’t want to have to pay a $5,000 hospital bill to have another baby. Not that i’m going to do this, but it seems like a good idea…just have my wife walk into the hospital, refuse to identify herself, and walk out once we have the baby. The hospital isn’t going to want to keep the kid, they HAVE to treat her, and if they don’t know who to send the bill to, then we can’t get billed.

    Example 2: I once noticed that a provision in an investment bond allowed assets to be purchased out of the pool from a vote of the highest risk investors (because they had the most to lose)…well in these bonds, the high risk investors (lowest on the totem pole) had been wiped out to zero value…so i figured, why not bribe them to vote to allow me to buy out only the good assets out of the pool. My bosses and all i worked with literally laughed at me because they thought it was such a crazy idea. Two months later, some hedge fund figured it out and did that exact thing…making a fortune.

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  7. Raul Silva says:

    Hello guys,

    Living in Chicago, I have witnessed my fair share of protests. My question is, do protests really change anything?



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  8. Kirsten Pittman says:

    The section on incentives got me thinking. How do we incentivize something that some people perceive they don’t need to do, but is essential for society? I’m talking about vaccinating your kids. Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe, and that herd immunity is vitally important to protect babies and those who cannot be vaccinated, alarming numbers of parents ignore science and refuse to vaccinate, which has led to outbreaks of measles, whooping cough.. And of course, hospitalizations and death.

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