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“Jane Austen, Game Theorist”: Full Transcript

This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “‘Jane Austen, Game Theorist.’” [MUSIC: Susie Ibarra, “Fractal 4” (from Flower After Flower)]   Stephen J. DUBNER: Hey Levitt, what is your, your personal favorite Jane Austen book?   Steve LEVITT: (laughs)   [THEME] ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is Freakonomics Radio, the […] Read More »



In July, Watch Out for Lightning

Our Freakonomics Radio podcast “Women Are Not Men” mentioned that roughly 80 percent of lightning fatalities in the U.S. are men. A new National Weather Service report, summarized by io9, offers further details:

  • Soccer players and fishermen are more likely to get hit by lightning than golfers.
  • Saturday is the worst day of the week for lightning fatalities.
  • July is by far the deadliest month for lightning deaths.

(HT: Eric M. Jones)



FREAK-est Links

1. In Nashville, Tenn., homicide is at a historic low. (HT: Wesley Hartline)

2. We investigated suicide in our podcast “The Suicide Paradox“; The New York Times profiles  Matthew K. Nock, Harvard’s “suicide detective.”

3. Does price affect adoption? NPR reports that black babies are cheaper to adopt. (HT: Eric Samuelson)

4. Why do theater tickets cost so much? A comparison of “Death of a Salesman” ticket prices in 1949 and 2012.

5. In India, proof of toilet is necessary for a marriage license. (HT: Tony Pappas)



Fighting Poachers From the Lab

Wildlife activists have a new method for fighting Africa’s increasingly bold elephant poachers.  Historically, scientists and governments have struggled to determine whether a piece of ivory was poached illegally or was obtained before the 1989 international ban on ivory trading, which has left some African governments with enormous stockpiles of ivory to manage and protect.  But a team of scientists recently determined that it’s possible to use the amount of radiocarbon in an ivory tusk to determine what year the animal died — and, by extension, whether the ivory was illegally poached.  

“The amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere nearly doubled during nuclear weapons tests from 1952 to 1962, which steadily dropped after tests were restricted to underground. This has been dubbed ‘the bomb-curve,’” explains a BBC article on the study.  The resulting significant variations in atmospheric radiocarbon allow for highly accurate dating.  Scientists also hope that the technique will help shed light on poaching hotspots.  Kevin Uno, the study’s lead author, told the BBC that the technique “would dovetail very nicely with DNA testing which tells you the region of origin, but not the date.”



Can Connectivity Kill?

The standard narrative around technology in the developing world usually focuses on the positive: cell phones make it easier to check crop prices, transfer money, and understand violence.  But a new study, summarized in Foreign Policy, finds that all this connectivity can also increase political violence in violence-prone regions and countries:

new study by Jan Pierskalla of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies and Florian Hollenbach of Duke University looks at the relationship between mobile phones and political violence in Africa. They found that from 2007 to 2009, areas with 2G network coverage were 50 percent more likely to have experienced incidents of armed conflict than those without. The clearest overlaps between cell coverage and violence were observed in Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The authors think that improved cell-phone coverage helps insurgent leaders overcome what’s called the “collective-action problem” — that people are reluctant to join group endeavors when there’s a high level of personal risk. But better communication helps leaders recruit reluctant followers, whether they’re demonstrating for higher wages or killing people in the next town.



Cookbooks and Economics

Writing for Foreign Policy, Tyler Cowen explains what cookbooks can tell us about economic development. Why is it easy to find Mexican food cookbooks, but impossible to find a cookbook detailing the recipe for Yemen’s mutafayyah dish? Here’s Cowen’s economic explanation:

Consider how cooking evolves: It starts in the home and then eventually spreads to restaurants and on to cookbooks, along the way transforming a recipe from oral tradition to commercialized product. In the home, recipes are often transmitted from grandmother to mother, or from father to son, or simply by watching and participating. I’ve seen this in rural Mexico, for instance, when an older daughter teaches her younger sister how to pat tortillas the right way. When societies get richer, you start to see restaurants, a form of specialization like auto mechanics or tailors (see: Adam Smith on the division of labor). Restaurants require that strangers — other cooks — be taught the process. That means simplifying or standardizing ingredients so they’re easier to work with and, in many cases, available year-round. This, of course, means writing down the recipe. Once a dish reaches these commercial milestones, cookbooks will follow.

Read More »



Another Explanation for Sex Selection in China?

In a podcast called “Misadventures in Baby-Making,” we explored China’s one-child policy as a cause of sex-selective abortion and, therefore, skewed male-female sex rations. A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Douglas Almond, Hongbin Li, and Shuang Zhang points to another possible culprit: China’s economic liberalization. From the abstract:

Following the death of Mao in 1976, abandonment of collective farming lifted millions from poverty and heralded sweeping pro-market policies. How did China’s excess in male births respond to rural land reform? In newly-available data from over 1,000 counties, a second child following a daughter was 5.5 percent more likely to be a boy after land reform, doubling the prevailing rate of sex selection. Mothers with higher levels of education were substantially more likely to select sons than were less educated mothers. The One Child Policy was implemented over the same time period and is frequently blamed for increased sex ratios during the early 1980s. Our results point to China’s watershed economic liberalization as a more likely culprit.



FREAK-est Links

1. Movie tickets cost as much as $48; “Star Wars” creator George Lucas predicts that ticket prices are only going up. (HT: SM Fishman)

2. Name wars: Borghese Inc. fights the Borghese family for the right to market with the royal name.

3. Does dim lighting enhance creativity?

4. An interactive data map (in French) of Paris Metro lines crossed with socioeconomic and political indicators. Read More »