Famous Boos

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, "Boo...Who?", tackles the phenomenon of booing. Why do we do it? When and where (if ever) is it appropriate? While we focus mostly on modern examples, audiences have been voicing their displeasure for millennia. Tracing the boo back to its origins takes you to ancient Greece, and the Festival of Dionysia, when playwrights competed to determine whose tragedy was the best. Audience participation was considered a civic duty. At the Colosseum in Rome, booing, or the lack thereof, often determined whether a gladiator lived or died.

Hard to say exactly what a boo sounded like back then. Maybe more of a shout, a jeer, or a whistle, rather than the extended, cow-like booooooo we issue today. According to linguist Ben Zimmer, the first time the word "boo" appeared as an expression of dissatisfaction was in the diary of a British schoolboy in 1833. Zimmer wrote about it here. Below, we've compiled a list of some noteworthy boos. It is not remotely encyclopedic, and leans very heavily on very recent events. So feel free to supplement with more examples in the comments section.

The Academic Origins of China's One Child Policy

In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Misadventures in Baby-Making,” we describe an academic paper by a Dutch mathematics professor that might have been one of the inspirations of the controversial One Child Policy in China.

Here's the story: in the early 1970s, Geert Jan Olsder co-authored the paper “Population Planning; a Distributed Time Optimal Control Problem.” He saw population as a mathematical constraint problem, where an optimal birth rate could be found:

“Given a certain initial age profile the population must be "steered" as quickly as possible to another, prescribed, final age profile by means of a suitable chosen birth rate.”

The model considered the natural birth rate and mortality rate, an economic constraint, and time. And like any good empirical scientist, Olsder makes this warning in his paper:

“This paper is not concerned with the social and political problems involved in establishing the best mechanism for a program of population management....The optimal birth rate may unbalance the age distribution during the time interval concerned, which could give rise to economic and social problems.”

Mara Hvistendahl Answers Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for Mara Hvistendahl, recent podcast contributor and the author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. Below, Mara responds to some of your questions, addressing everything from dowries to polyandry. Thanks to everyone who participated.


Q While there certainly are downsides, with unattached men getting into trouble and being rowdy, won’t a shortage of females help increase the value and position of women in cultures that have been historically resistant to providing them an equal place in society? In theory, they should be able to demand higher standards during courtship and, once married, the threat of divorce would ensure better behavior on the part of men. Of course, a shortage of workers is one of the economic prerequisites to slavery so I guess it can go both ways. -Mike B

Talk Back: Tell Us Your Election Stories

Ever notice anything strange around town when elections are coming up?

Our latest podcast, "Wildfires, Cops, and Keggers," looks into the odd by-products of electoral politics -- that is, not just which politicians get elected, but what kind of below-the-radar shenanigans happen before (and sometimes after) an election, usually inspired by how an incumbent's incentives are lined up. Maybe property taxes dropped in the run-up to an election, only to spike once an incumbent had won another term. Maybe more cops and firemen were hired during campaign season.

Given that many of these election-cycle fluctuations occur in less-scrutizined local elections, we want to hear from you any interesting examples you've witnessed. Tell us your election stories in the comments below!

Bring Your Questions for Mara Hvistendahl, Author of Unnatural Selection

Mara Hvistendahl's research features prominently in our latest podcast, "Misadventures in Baby-Making." Her book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, looks at how advancements in prenatal technology have led to extreme cases of gender selection across much of Asia.

As economic development spurs people in developing countries to have fewer children and gives them access to technologies such as ultrasound, parents are making sure that at least one of their children is a boy. As a result, sex-selective abortion has left more than 160 million females "missing" from Asia's population. It's estimated that by 2020, 15 percent of men in China and northwest India will have no female counterpart. The consequences of that imbalance are far-reaching and include rises in sex-trafficking, bride-buying and a spike in crime as well.

Mara is currently a Beijing-based correspondent for Science. She has kindly agreed to answer your questions on her book and research. So, as always, fire away in the comments section, and we will post her replies in due course. In the meantime, here is the table of contents of Unnatural Selection.

Picking the NFL Playoffs: How the Experts Fumble the Snap

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction,” is built around the premise that humans love to predict the future, but are generally terrible at it. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.) But predictions about world politics and the economy are hard -- there are so many moving parts.

In the podcast, you'll hear from Freakonomics researcher Hayes Davenport, who ran the numbers for us on how accurate expert NFL pickings have been for the last 3 years. He put together a guest post for us on football predictions.

Picking the NFL Playoffs: How the Experts Fumble the Snap

As careers in journalism go, making preseason NFL predictions is about as safe as they come these days. The picks you make in August can't be reviewed for four months, and by that time almost nobody remembers or cares what any individual picker predicted. So when Stephen asked me to look at the success rate of NFL experts in predicting division winners at the beginning of the season, I was excited to look back at the last few years of picks and help offer this industry one of its first brushes with accountability.

Freakonomics Poll: When It Comes to Predictions, Whom Do You Trust?

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, "The Folly of Prediction," is built around the premise that humans love to predict the future, but are generally terrible at it. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

There are a host of professions built around predicting some future outcome: from predicting the score of a sports match, to forecasting the weather for the weekend, to being able to tell what the stock market is going to do tomorrow. But is anyone actually good at it?

Radio in Progress: Political Word Watch

For an upcoming Freakonomics Radio episode, we've been doing some research on media bias. We came across this paper by Northwestern researchers, part of a growing body of work that uses computational analysis to turn political speech into data. Simply by examining speech patterns, the researchers were able to predict the political affiliation of U.S. Senators with 94% accuracy.

They broke down the nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs most common to each party. For instance: liberals use the adjective “gay” while conservatives favor “homosexual." Adverbs preferred by liberals include “disproportionately,” “ecologically” and “indiscriminately”; conservatives favor “morally," "objectively” and “constitutionally."

Freakonomics Poll: Would You Stop Someone From Jumping Off a Bridge?

In the last Freakonomics Radio episode “The Suicide Paradox,” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here) we talked to a San Francisco cabbie with a long name who said something that caught our attention:

One night I picked up a guy, I think down nearby Tenderloin and he want to go Golden Gate Bridge. Must be 11 o’clock at night. And I said “okay,” so I drove on Franklin Street. He said, “You want to ask me why I go to Golden Gate Bridge this late?” I said, “No, but if you want to tell me I guess I will listen to it.”

And he said “I’m going to go and jump off the Golden Gate Bridge” and I said, “Okay.” He said, “You’re not going to stop me?” I said, “No, why should I?”

The cabbie doesn't know what happened to his passenger, but he did call the coast guard immediately afterwards. Suicide isn't illegal in the U.S., and as a citizen of a country that prides itself on individual rights - what would you do?

Suicide vs. Homicide by State, per 100,000

In the latest Freakonomics Radio podcast,'The Suicide Paradox," we explore, among other things, why suicide is twice as prevalent in the U.S. as murder. From the CDC, here's a breakdown of state-by-state suicide and homicide rates.