In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, Stephen Dubner and Kai Ryssdal talk about the unexpected reasons why American food got so bad. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
In his forthcoming book An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, economist Tyler Cowen pinpoints specific moments in history that affected American food for decades to come. From Prohibition to stringent immigration quotas to World War II, Cowen argues that large societal forces threw us into a food rut that lasted for roughly 70 years: Read More »
In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, we look at the economics of charity — specifically, what works (and what doesn’t) when trying to incentivize people to give. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.)
In Australia, Dick Smith’s electronics empire has afforded him enough success to be able to donate about 20 percent of his annual income to charity. But, he says, this kind of generosity is no longer the norm: Read More »
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Misadventures in Baby-Making.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript. What’s it about? In a nutshell: for many years, we’ve been wowed by new technologies and policies meant to make childbirth a safer and more manageable enterprise. But, as always: beware the unintended consequences.
Given that the world’s population is approaching 7 billion, we begin the episode with a look back at another landmark moment in population history. In the late 1970’s, as we moved past the then-unfathomable 4 billion mark, scientists were trying to get a handle on population growth. In the Netherlands, Geert Jan Olsder, a math professor at the University of Twente, co-wrote a paper called “Population Planning: a Distributed Time-Optimal Control Problem,” in which he imagined an island nation with no emigration or immigration – just births and deaths. The essential riddle was this: as the population aged, and as longevity increased, what was the right birth rate to prevent the island from becoming overpopulated? Olsder came up with an elegant equation to describe the solution. Not long after, he shared this paper with a Chinese scholar who happened to be visiting the university. Olsder could never have predicted the repercussions of that chance encounter: Read More »
This year alone has seen teacher-cheating scandals in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, and elsewhere; in this week’s Times, Sharon Otterman reports how New York State is trying to curtail cheating and offers some specific instances of past cheating:
A charter school teacher warned her third graders that a standardized test question was “tricky,” and they all changed their answers. A high school coach in Brooklyn called a student into the hallway and slipped her a completed answer sheet in a newspaper. In the Bronx, a principal convened Finish Your Lab Days, where biology students ended up copying answers for work they never did.
This comes as little surprise to Steve Levitt, who several years ago recognized what most legislators and school administrators were unable (or unwilling?) to foresee: that the introduction of high-stakes testing would create incentives that might encourage some teachers (especially bad ones) to cheat on behalf of their students. So he developed an algorithm to catch cheaters, which was so successful that then-Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan brought Levitt in to help identify and fire cheating Chicago teachers. Read More »
Parts of the East Coast are still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Irene. The storm wreaked havoc, causing more than 40 deaths and billions of dollars in damages. One thing that is striking about hurricanes is that, even after years of study, all we really know how to do is deal with the symptoms; we don’t actually have a way to treat the disease itself.
So what if there were a hurricane “vaccine”? Read More »
There’s a natural ratio of men to women for our species, and it is not equal. For every 100 girls, 105 boys are born. But in some places, like India and China, the ratio is skewed. One Chinese city recorded an astounding 163 boys born per 100 girls. So, why is this happening?
The expanding use of this technology has allowed expecting parents to abort unwanted girls and keep the boys. The ability to sex-select has caused the disappearance of an estimated 160 million girls in Asia alone.
What do Wall Street forecasters and Romanian witches have in common? They usually get away, scot-free, with making bad predictions. Our world is awash in poor prediction — but for some reason, we can’t stop, even though accuracy rates often barely beat a coin toss.
But then there’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop forecasting. Predictions covering a big crop like corn (U.S. farmers have planted the second largest crop since WWII this year) usually fall within five percent of the actual yield. So how do they do it? Every year, the U.S.D.A. sends thousands of enumerators into cornfields across the country where they inspect the plants, the conditions, and even “animal loss.”
This week on Marketplace, Stephen J. Dubner and Kai Ryssdal talk about the supply and demand of predictions. You’ll hear from Joseph Prusacki, the head of U.S.D.A’s Statistics Division, who’s gearing up for his first major crop report of 2011 (the street is already “sweating” it); Phil Friedrichs, who collects cornfield data for the USDA; and our trusted economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt. Read More »
Another thing to add to the list of things to be paranoid about: your paycheck might kill you. Notre Dame economist William Evans, along with Timothy Moore from the University of Maryland, analyzed more than 75 million deaths in the U.S., and found something interesting.
On the first day of each month, the death rate goes up. Read More »