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Do You Really Want to Know Your Future? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Do You Really Want to Know Your Future?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) 

If you could take a test that would foretell your future – at least your medical future – would you? And if you did, how would that affect the way you live your life?

The economist Emily Oster wondered how people at risk for the neurological disease Huntington’s answer those questions. Huntington’s is genetic: the children of a person with the disease have a 50 percent chance of carrying the mutation themselves. Symptoms usually surface in one’s 30s or 40s, worsen over time, and end in death. Oster wanted to know how people with the gene respond to the prospect of a shortened lifespan. Read More »



Spider Altruism

In last week’s podcast, I talk with renowned biologist E.O. Wilson about spite. Although Wilson doesn’t like the term “spite,” he does tell us that there are copious examples of perplexingly self-destructive behavior in nature. Some types of ants, termites, and even bacteria can build up poison within their bodies and then explode in enemy territory – killing themselves as well as several attackers.

Wilson also mentions an act of self-sacrifice that might be better thought of as altruism: a certain species of mother spider lets her children eat her. Isabella Rossellini’s brand new video series Mammas features an episode on this cannibal spider. You can watch it here.



How Much Does Your Name Matter? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The gist: a kid’s name can tell us something about his parents — their race, social standing, even their politics. But is your name really your destiny?

The episode draws from a Freakonomics chapter called “A Roshanda By Any Other Name” and includes a good bit of new research on the power of names. It opens with a conversation with NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and his two children, E and Yo. Their names are a bit of an experiment:

CONLEY: Of course it’s hard to separate out cause and effect here until Kim Jong-Un allows me to randomly assign all the names of the North Korean kids…but my gut tells me that it does affect who you are and how you behave and probably makes you more creative to have an unusual name.

Indeed, there is some evidence that a name can influence how a child performs in school and even her career opportunities. There’s also the fact that different groups of parents — blacks and whites, for instance — have different naming preferences. Stephen Dubner talks to Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney about a mysterious discrepancy in Google ads for Instant Checkmate, a company that sells public records. Sweeney found that searching for people with distinctively black names was 25% more likely to produce an ad suggesting the person had an arrest record – regardless of whether that person had ever been arrested.  Read More »



Parking Is Hell: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Parking Is Hell.” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) 

The episode begins with Stephen Dubner talking to parking guru Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of the landmark book The High Cost of Free Parking. In a famous Times op-ed, Shoup argued that as much as one-third of urban congestion is caused by people cruising for curb parking. But, as Shoup tells Dubner, there ain’t no such thing as a free parking spot:

SHOUP: Everybody likes free parking, including me, probably you. But just because the driver doesn’t pay for it doesn’t mean that the cost goes away. If you don’t pay for parking your car, somebody else has to pay for it. And that somebody is everybody. We pay for free parking in the prices of the goods we buy at places where the parking is free. And we pay for parking as residents when we get free parking with our housing. We pay for it as taxpayers. Increasingly, I think we’re paying for it in terms of the environmental harm that it causes.

Shoup’s recommendations have inspired a series of reforms across the country, most notably an ongoing experiment in San Francisco called SFPark. The project essentially establishes a dynamic market for street parking by measuring average occupancy on each block and then setting prices according to demand. Read More »



A Freakonomics Radio Bleg: What’s Your Name?

Want to be part of an episode of Freakonomics Radio? We’re working on a podcast about names and we want to hear from readers and listeners about their own names — common ones, unusual ones, everything in between. So we’ve set up a voicemail line at 646-829-4478. Give us a call and tell us your full name, and then tell us a little bit about your first name – how you got it and what it means. Thanks!

Addendum: Thank you for all your emails and messages! Our line is now closed. Our names podcast will be out on 4/8/2013. 



Would You Let a Coin Toss Decide Your Future? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Would You Let a Coin Toss Decide Your Future?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

In it, Stephen Dubner grills Steve Levitt about a new project called Freakonomics Experiments. (Levitt blogged about it here and stopped by Marketplace last week.) The basic idea is to learn more about how people make decisions, especially when they’re on the margin. So: if you’re struggling with a decision, large or small, you can bring your question to FreakonomicsExperiments.com, where a random coin flip will help solve your dilemma. You also become part of the scientific experiment by taking follow-up surveys and letting the research team know how the decision turned out.

The idea originated from the flood of emails Dubner and Levitt received in response to our “Upside of Quitting” podcast. Many listeners said the show had emboldened them to quit something they no longer wanted to do. In this podcast, you’ll hear from two of those quitters: former racecar driver Daniel Herrington and ex-runner Serra Mentessi. Read More »



How Did “Freakonomics” Get Its Name? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s podcast is another installment of “FREAK-quently Asked Questions,” in which Levitt and Dubner field queries from readers and listeners. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

They talk about their most embarrassing mistakes, whether ladies’-night discounts constitute unfair price discrimination, and how to drive like an economist.

Plus, Levitt remembers his late sister, Linda, who came up with the title for Freakonomics. In a conversation a few years ago, she explained: Read More »



The Things They Taught Me: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “The Things They Taught Me.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode grew out of our recent two-part podcast about the value of a college degree. (Part 1 is here, Part 2 here, and a related Q&A here.) The economists we interviewed argued that college generally turn out more productive and happier people, but none could explain exactly how that transformation happens. Read More »