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In Search of Some Freakonomics Guinea Pigs

A few weeks back, we launched Freakonomics Experiments, a website designed to help you make both big and small decisions in your life when you’re feeling stuck. First, we try to get you thinking differently about the choices with the hope you can figure it out on your own. If that fails, we flip a coin to help you decide.

Now, we are looking for a handful of folks who are willing to take it to a whole other level. We are looking for an intrepid few who, in the name of Freakonomics, are willing to let a coin toss decide a handful of life decisions. We want to get to know you, watch your life unfold at the mercy of fate, and make you characters in our next book.

If you think you have what it takes, fill out the online application and you just may be one of the few, the not-so-proud, the Freak guinea pigs.



The Best “Green” Hotel Message I’ve Ever Seen

I’m always suspicious of companies who tout how environmentally friendly they are, when being green happens to coincide with cost savings for the firm.  The best example is the ubiquitous message you see in hotel rooms asking the guest, in the spirit of the environment, not to have the sheets and towels washed during your visit.  I have a hard time believing that if the situation were reversed – that the green answer was quite costly – the hotels would be such tree huggers.  (For the record, I don’t care at all whether my sheets and towels get washed, so I cooperate.)

At a hotel in China, I finally found a “green” message that I found compelling: Read More »



What’s the Real Crime Rate in China?

Official statistics would certainly suggest that crime in China is extremely low.  Murder rates in China are roughly one-fifth as high as in the United States.  According to the official crime statistics there, all crimes are rare.  China certainly feels safe. We walked the streets in rich areas and poor and not for a moment did I ever feel threatened.  Graffiti was completely absent.  The one instance where I thought I finally found some graffiti near a train station in the city of Shangrao, the spray painted message on a bridge turned out not to be graffiti, but rather a government warning that anyone caught defecating under the bridge would be severely punished.

Yet, there were all sorts of odd behaviors that made it seem like some crimes were a big problem. 

First, there seemed to be an obsession with the risk of counterfeit money.  Our tour guides felt the need to teach us how to identify fake money.  Whenever I bought something with currency, the shopkeeper went through a variety of tricks to validate the legitimacy of the bills.  Read More »



Christmas in China

I spent 12 days in China with my family over Christmas this year, a whirlwind tour that took us to seven different cities, including the birth-cities of my two adopted daughters.  In a series of blog posts this week, I recount a few observations from the trip.

 

Last I heard, the Communist Party in China wasn’t that enthusiastic about Christianity.  You never would have known it spending Christmas there with my family a few months back.

We arrived in the Beijing airport to the sounds of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer playing in the background.  Pretty much the only music we heard the whole trip was Christmas music.  This was true not just in places frequented by tourists, but also in shopping malls and restaurants as far-flung as Nanchang and Zhenjiang  — two cities where we didn’t see a single American in two days.
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Having Trouble Making a Big Decision? We Can Help

We all face big choices from time to time.  Which college to choose?  Should I break up with my girlfriend?  Should I quit my job?  Should I dye my hair blond?

Sometimes the decisions are easy and obvious.  Other times, no matter how much you think about it, no clear answer emerges.  Your life might be very different depending on what path you take, but you just can’t tell which choice will leave you better off.

If you find yourself in that kind of bind, we are launching a new website today, www.FreakonomicsExperiments.com, that just might be your savior. Read More »



Fryer and Levitt Go Ghetto

In academia, it is seen as an honor when someone wants to reprint one of your published papers in an edited volume of collected papers. It is really an honor if someone wants to take the time to translate it into another language.

Roland Fryer and I feel so honored.

Back in 2004, Roland and I published a piece in the journal Education Next describing our research on racial test-score gaps. That paper was recently translated into ghetto English. The new version is here. It is a must-read (although very, very NSFW). Usually something gets lost in the translation, but I would say in this case it is an improvement.



Jimmy Kimmel Thinks Like a Freak

Starbucks recently came out with an ultra-high end cup of coffee. Wondering whether that cup of coffee was really worth $7, Kimmel took to the streets and ran some experiments.  He didn’t however, do what you might expect.  Rather, he pulled a page out of the old wine tasting experiment I ran twenty years ago. It is definitely worth watching.  Read More »



Forget About Anchored Putters…This Is What the USGA Should Really Be Doing

Last week, the governing bodies of golf announced a ban on anchored putters.  Historically, when golfers putt (i.e. roll the ball along the green to try to get it into the hole), they swing the putter back and forth freely.  In recent years, a growing number of golfers have used a different technique, wedging the butt end of the putter into their stomach, or resting it against their chin.  For a variety of reasons, the head honchos of golf are against anchoring the putter.  I don’t have a strong opinion pro or con on this decision.  My hunch is that a careful data analysis would show that anchoring the putter doesn’t do much to help or hurt most golfers.  (For instance, I am about equally bad either way.)  Golfers who don’t play in tournaments can continue to use anchored putters if they like.  Tournament golfers will adjust.

In my view, the attention given to anchored putting is a distraction from the real issue that bedevils golf: pros hit the ball too far and everyday golfers hit the ball too short.  Pros hitting the ball too far is a problem because there is a huge stock of old golf courses, the value of which are greatly depreciated by the increases in distance.  Classic old courses aren’t hard enough to challenge the pros.  In response, large investments are made to stretch the distance of these courses to keep up.  And changes in the tournament courses alter the perceptions of golfers.  The course I grew up playing was hard enough when I was a kid, but now is perceived as too easy because it doesn’t compare to the championship courses.  Read More »