Archives for Freakonomics



Seven Million Copies Sold

Once in a while, we get a report from our publishers about how many copies of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics have been sold around the world. Last we heard — it was a while ago — we were at 5 million.

The latest report tells us we’ve just breached the 7 million mark. Here’s a rough breakdown:
• United States: 4.4 million
•United Kingdom: 1.65 million
•Translated editions: 1 million

With the global population at around 7 billion, those 7 million copies represent a nice round number: 1 book sold for every 1,000 people on the planet.

With Think Like a Freak coming out next week, I hope we get to 10 million copies before there are 10 billion people on Earth.



How Much Does Your Name Matter?

Season 4, Episode 2

When Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney Googled her name one day, she noticed something strange: an ad for a background check website came up in the results, with the heading: “Latanya Sweeney, Arrested?” But she had never been arrested, and neither had the only other Latanya Sweeney in the U.S. So why did the ad suggest so? Thousands of Google searches later, Sweeney discovered that Googling traditionally black names is more likely to produce an ad suggestive of a criminal background. Why? In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, Stephen Dubner investigates the latest research on names. Steve Levitt talks about his groundbreaking research on names, economic status, and race. And University of Chicago economist Eric Oliver explains why a baby named “Cody” is more likely to belong to conservative parents, and why another named “Esme” was probably born to a pair of liberals.



“Freakonomics Ruined My Life”

An e-mail from a reader named Eric Durchholz:

Too smart? Yes and it sucks. I am smarter than everyone I know. I hate it. I had to “come out” as smart recently because for years I dumbed myself down just to be able to communicate with people. I constantly quote books and blogs and podcasts to keep from sounding crazy. Between Freakonomics and the works of Malcolm Gladwell, my relationships have suffered from being smart because thanks to you I see the hidden side of everything. Most people don’t want to see or know the hidden side. The more I quote, the crazier I sound. Is this the downfall that Levitt touched on?

I moved to Chicago from Nashville to study improv and it broke my brain. I came to improv late in life and all those years of study and life experience are available for quick access at all times in my brain. Not only that, when I see things now, I see the hidden side automatically and it has made functioning in the world (of non-academia mind you) very difficult. I worked for big tobacco in promotions for years and we couldn’t promote smoking or cigarettes so I learned the value of the hidden side from the front lines.

Read More »



How Much Does Your Name Matter? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “How Much Does Your Name Matter?” (You can download/subscribe 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.)

The gist: a kid’s name can tell us something about his parents — their race, social standing, even their politics. But is your name really your destiny?

The episode draws from a Freakonomics chapter called “A Roshanda By Any Other Name” and includes a good bit of new research on the power of names. It opens with a conversation with NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and his two children, E and Yo. Their names are a bit of an experiment:

CONLEY: Of course it’s hard to separate out cause and effect here until Kim Jong-Un allows me to randomly assign all the names of the North Korean kids…but my gut tells me that it does affect who you are and how you behave and probably makes you more creative to have an unusual name.

Indeed, there is some evidence that a name can influence how a child performs in school and even her career opportunities. There’s also the fact that different groups of parents — blacks and whites, for instance — have different naming preferences. Stephen Dubner talks to Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney about a mysterious discrepancy in Google ads for Instant Checkmate, a company that sells public records. Sweeney found that searching for people with distinctively black names was 25% more likely to produce an ad suggesting the person had an arrest record – regardless of whether that person had ever been arrested.  Read More »



Presidential Debate, Freakonomics Style?

Last night’s Presidential debate inspired speculation — albeit contradictory speculation — about whether the candidates had read a certain book: Read More »



Upgrades to Freakonomics.com

It’s been nearly 18 months since we relaunched this website, and we continue to try to improve it. Many of the improvements were spurred on by reader suggestions — so: thanks!

Here are a few changes we’ve recently made:

1) We’ve added a Freakonomics Radio Archive page to make it easier to find or listen to any particular episode. Let us know how this page is working for you, and any further improvements we should consider. Also, on our Radio page, we have grouped our one-house specials by season. We have so far released two seasons (each with five one-hour specials), and a third is on the way this fall.

2) We have reconfigured the blog’s comments section by adding a “view all comments” button and paginating the comments so that you can skip to a particular page of coments.

3) There is now a “print” button on the blog so that you can print out individual posts. Read More »



Freakonomics: What Went Right? Responding to Wrong-Headed Attacks

Warning: what follows is a horribly long, inside-baseball post that most people will likely have little interest in reading, and which I had little interest in writing. But it did need to be written. Apologies for the length and the indulgence; we will soon return to our regular programming.

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I. Going on the attack is generally more fun, profitable, and attention-getting than playing defense. Politicians know this; athletes know it; even academics know it. Or perhaps I should say that especially academics know it?

Given the nature of the Freakonomics work that Steve Levitt and I do, we get our fair share of critiques. Some are ideological or political; others are emotional.

We generally look over such critiques to see if they contain worthwhile feedback, or point to an error in need of correction. But for the most part, we tend to not reply to critiques. It seems only fair to let critics have their say (as writers, we’ve already had ours). Furthermore, spending one’s time responding to wayward attacks is the kind of chore you’d rather skip in order to get on with your work.

But occasionally an attack is so spectacularly ridiculous, so riddled with errors and mangled logic, that it’s worth addressing.

The following essay responds to two such attacks. The first one was relatively minor, a recent blog post written by a Yale professor. The second was more substantial, an essay by a pair of statisticians in American Scientist. Feel free to skip ahead to that one (at section III below), or buckle up for the whole bumpy ride. Read More »



“Football Freakonomics:” Is Momentum a Myth?

In the first segment of “Football Freakonomics,” Dubner examines the phenomenon of momentum and whether we can actually prove its existence in football games. Here’s a taste of what he found in the data: since 2007, immediately after a long kickoff or punt return, NFL teams are nearly four times as likely to score a touchdown on the next play than they are on a given play from scrimmage. Read More »