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Gossip and the Founding Fathers

In light of our recent podcast “Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing),” we heard from David Head, an assistant professor of  history at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama:

I just listened to the podcast on gossip and as it happens my class on the early American republic will be reading the following article on political gossip for next week:

Joanne B. Freeman, “Slander, Poison, Whispers, and Fame: Jefferson’s ‘Anas’ and Political Gossip in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic, 15 (1995), 25-57.

Have you heard of it? Freeman shows that not only were the founders inveterate gossips but that gossip was crucial to the formation of political parties as like-minded founders, such as Jefferson and Madison, attempted to marshal support to protect themselves and the country from their enemies, such as Hamilton.

What fun it would have been to include this in our episode! Its thesis strengthens the point made in the podcast by Nick Denton of Gawker: Read More »



What’s the “Best” Exercise?: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “What’s the ‘Best’ Exercise?” (You can subscribe to the podcast 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.) Exercise is always on a lot of people’s minds around this time of year, what with all those resolutions just waiting to be broken …

By “best,” we really mean “most efficient,” since people who don’t exercise — and that’s roughly 80 percent of us – often blame lack of time. (The American College of Sports Medicine recommends about thirty minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week; here are its guidelines.)  Read More »



How to Control Runaway Entitlement Spending

At the Becker-Posner blog, Richard Posner offers some ideas for amending the entitlements programs that are “threatening the long-term solvency of the federal government”:

Which leads me to the first of the only two practical ideas that occur to me for slowing the increase in entitlement expenditures relative to the size of the economy: a shift in emphasis in medical research from length of life to ability to live independently. Independent living means living without home care (whether by relatives, thus taking time from them that they could use more productively in other activities, including paid employment, or by paid care—paid by the government in many cases) and being able—and wanting—to work. Independent living can be fostered by focusing medical research on problems of vision, musculoskeletal problems (which impair mobility), obesity, and dementia, in preference to research on curing and preventing cancer, heart disease, and stroke. 

Read More »



What Do You Want to Know About Bitcoin? And Do You Really Care?

We get a lot of e-mails with requests/suggestions for podcast and writing topics. These days, the most popular request by far is for  Bitcoin. I am still not sure we’ll do it but I’m thinking about it. If so, what do you want to know? Please be specific. Also: do you really care? It strikes me that, at the moment, Bitcoin is one of those things that a small number of people care about hugely but that most people couldn’t care less. (Freakonomics readers aren’t, of course, “most people.”) The rapid spikes and drops in value of course invites lots of news coverage but that is among the least-interesting aspects of a cryptocurrency, isn’t it?



The Non-Profit Journalism Keeps Coming

As the economics of high-end journalism continue to worsen, it is interesting — and, if you’re a fan of journalism, encouraging — to see how much non-profit journalism is being created. NPR is of course the most famous model but there’s also ProPublica, Pierre Omidyar‘s First Look Media, and a lot of other foundation- and philanthropist-funded projects.

Add to this list The Marshall Project, a “not-for-profit, non-partisan news organization dedicated to covering America’s criminal justice system.” It’s being launched by Neil Barsky, a former journalist, hedge-funder, and most recently film director. (He’s also a friend of mine, but don’t hold that against him.)

Here’s the rest of the Marshall Project’s mission statement: Read More »



More Predictions That Didn’t Come True

Thank you, Politico (the Magazine), for taking a look back at various predictions for 2013 to see how they worked out.

In our “Folly of Prediction” podcast, we discussed how the incentives to predict are skewed. Big, bold predictions that turn out to be true are handsomely rewarded; but predictions that turn out to be false are usually forgotten. With the cost of being wrong so low, the incentives to predict are high.

In his Politico piece called “Crystal Balderdash,” Blake Hounshell doesn’t let us forget the bad predictions. A few examples: Read More »



A Baby Name That Really Tells You Something About the Parents

The underlying point of everything we’ve ever written about baby names is that the name is essentially the parents’ signal to the world of what they think of their kid — whether it’s a signal of tradition, religion, aspiration, affiliation, or whatnot.

Here is a very pure example of that principle: a baby named Colt .45 Stratemeyer. It’s via Jim Romenesko, from a birth announcement in the Tillamook (Oregon) Headlight-Herald:

Colt .45 Stratemeyer was born Nov. 26, 2013 at Tillamook Regional Medical Center. He weighed seven pounds, two ounces. He joins his older brother, Hunter Allen Stratemeyer, 3. Baby Colt’s parents are Joshua and Rebekah Stratemeyer of Toledo.

I assume the announcement is legitimate, though I can’t say for certain. I am guessing there are fiction writers out there who could write a short story or maybe even a novel with no more inspiration than this birth announcement.



Question of the Day: What Do You Want to Know About Interesting People?

We are setting up a new series of interviews for Freakonomics Radio in which we’ll identify interesting/accomplished/prominent people and ask them a series of Freakonomics-ish questions, ranging from their professional accomplishments to personal quirks. I am eager to hear your suggestions on both:

1) The people you’d want to hear from; and

2) What kind of questions you’d like to hear them asked.

No idea is too big/small, outlandish/traditional, etc.

Thanks in advance.