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What I Told the American Library Association

I recently had the privilege of addressing the American Library Association‘s “Summit on the Future of Libraries” at the Library of Congress in Washington. I was mostly there to give a talk about Think Like a Freak, but I took advantage of the setting to speak about libraries as well. Here is some of what I said:

I know you didn’t invite me here to tell you how much I love libraries … but I’m going to do it anyway.

Without the public library in the town in upstate New York where I grew up, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. Not that I wouldn’t be alive – even I don’t think libraries are that powerful – but I don’t know if I would have become a writer.

It was in that library that I learned to read. It was in that library that I learned to write. It was in that library that I learned to do research. My first research project was a historical essay about a little overgrown Quaker cemetery up on a hill behind our house, a cemetery that nobody alive knew anything about – but the library did.

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What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Imagine a fantasy world that’s exactly as the world is today except that two things are missing: alcohol and marijuana. And then imagine that tomorrow, both of them are discovered. What happens now? How are each of them used – and, perhaps more importantly, regulated? How would we weigh the relative benefits and costs of alcohol versus marijuana?

That’s the topic of our latest podcast, “What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol?” (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, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Read More »



Why Use the Best Lumber in a House That Won’t Last?

A Freakonomics Radio listener named Kevin wrote in response to our recent episode called “Why Are Japanese Homes Disposable?” First, here’s a quick summary of that episode:

It turns out that half of all homes in Japan are demolished within 38 years — compared to 100 years in the U.S.  There is virtually no market for pre-owned homes in Japan, and 60 percent of all homes were built after 1980. In Jiro Yoshida’s estimation, while land continues to hold value, physical homes become worthless within 30 years. Other studies have shown this to happen in as little as 15 years.

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Bring Your Think Like a Freak Questions for Levitt and Dubner

On 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 … Read More »



Black-Market Study Notes in Korea

We recently got an e-mail from a reader we’ll call C.:

I’m a professor at an English-language liberal arts college in Seoul, South Korea, where I teach Greco-Roman classics in translation. Compared to most any American school, the academic climate here is hyper-competitive, and my Korean students are studying machines who will do whatever it takes to get good marks. If you’re familiar with the insanity of Korean education, those are my students, the ones who’ve spent years in private tutoring academies 6 days a week, doing nothing but preparing for our admissions exam.

I just learned through the grapevine that some students who took my freshman core course on Western Civ. are selling their notes, study guides, and reconstructed versions of the exam. The prices they charge current freshmen vary, depending upon the grade the seller received from me. Students who did very well (A or A+) can charge $200 for their notes; students who received Bs can ask $120 to $150. Students with a B- or lower can’t find buyers.

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Think Like a Freak: Our New Book Out on May 13

Good news (for us at least): our new book is done! It’s called Think Like a Freak. It will be published on May 13; but you can pre-order now on Amazon.com, B&N.com, iTunes, or any of your finer online bookshops.

Think Like a Freak is, like our two earlier books, a blend of storytelling and data. But Think has a slightly different mission than Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. Here’s how we explain it in the first chapter:

The first two books were rarely prescriptive. For the most part, we simply used data to tell stories we found interesting, shining a light on parts of society that often lay in shadow. This book steps out of the shadows and tries to offer some advice that may occasionally be useful, whether you are interested in minor lifehacks or major global reforms.

Although we tell a million stories in Think,  the emphasis is usually on problem-solving:

It strikes us that in recent years, the idea has arisen that there is a “right” way to think about solving a given problem and of course a “wrong” way too. This inevitably leads to a lot of shouting—and, sadly, a lot of unsolved problems. Can this situation be improved upon? We hope so. We’d like to bury the idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way, a smart way and a foolish way, a red way and a blue way. The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally; that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations; that we think with neither fear nor favor, with neither blind optimism nor sour skepticism. That we think like—ahem—a Freak.

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Let Us Know What Kind of Free Stuff You Really Want

When we ask people to contribute to our public-radio Freakonomics podcast, our sponsor station WNYC offers some of the standard public-radio gifts: a Freakonomics t-shirt, a coffee mug, copies of our books, etc. I am curious what sort of gifts people really want. The radio station tells us that people love love love tote bags, but as someone who almost never carries a tote bag, I am skeptical. But I am also happy to be proven wrong. So please let us know via the poll below, and also write in answers in the comments. Thanks. Read More »



A Herd-Mentality Nudge on the Singapore Subway

Our “Riding the Herd Mentality” podcast argued that one surprisingly effective way to encourage pro-social behavior is to simply tell people that everybody else is already doing it.

A reader named Freek Rijna — “Jep, that’s my real name and it’s typically Dutch. :-)” — sends in this example from the Singapore subway. “Thought you might enjoy it,” Freek writes. “Not sure about the penguins though …”

I see Freek’s point. Also, I might have to stop for a minute to think whether “alighting” means getting off or getting on …