A Great Free Course on the Economics of Cities

Ed Glaeser, the Harvard economist who has dazzled Freakonomics listeners and readers with his insights on cities (and a zillion other things) is offering a free, online HarvardX course called “Cities X: The Past, Present and Future of Urban Life.” Here’s the blurb: For the first time in human history, more than fifty percent of […]

An Aptly Named Men's Room

In a few weeks we'll be putting out a Freakonomics Radio episode about baby names. To hold you over until then, here's an article about a naming-rights story that is amusing and has the added benefit of appearing to be true: a men's room named after law professor Bill Falik. Yes, that would appear to be an aptonym.

(HT: Michael Jones)

Harvard Shuts Down its Nobel Prize Pool

Last week we posted about Harvard's Nobel Prize Pool, where people could place bets predicting this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics for $1 per entry. The Harvard economics faculty ran the site for a few years, dubbing it, "the world’s most accurate prediction market." Apparently, Harvard wasn't too keen on the idea, as the following notice now appears on the site:

Unfortunately, we have been advised by Harvard University to immediately shut down the Nobel pool due to legal reasons, and we have decided to comply with this request. We will fully reimburse the money of all participants, and we apologize for any inconvenience this creates for you. All participants will be contacted by email.

For anyone who watched the site closely over the last week, do you remember the odds for the actual winners, Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims?

FREAK-est Links

This week, it's official: coffee helps women with depression, charting the world mood through Twitter; our gloomy consumer confidence levels over the last three years; a marijuana DNA database; how geo-thermal plants can help produce lithium for electric car batteries; and Harvard and Yale's endowments post killer returns.

Bring Your Questions for Author Steven Pinker

With Libya finishing off a bloody revolution, the war in Afghanistan nearly a decade old, and Mexico engulfed in a savage drug war -- it might not seem like it, but we're living in the most peaceable time in history. That's more of a commentary on just how violent our past is, rather than the tranquility of the present.

In his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker lays out the difference in stark contrast, quantifying the dramatic decrease in violence over the ages, and uncovering the reasons for its decline. Pinker operates under the premise that the past is like a foreign country, and that we need to be reminded of its brutality. Starting with a tour of human history that stretches back to 8000 BCE, Pinker offers glimpses along the way, and shows how in the early going, violence persisted even as society and culture evolved.

Did Gender Inequality Start With the Plow?

From a pair of Harvard economists, Alberto Alesina and Nathan Nunn, and a UCLA business school professor, Paola Giuliano, comes this working paper (Abstract here and below; full version here) that tests the hypothesis that current gender role differences can be traced to shifting methods of agriculture, particularly the introduction of the plow, which required significant upper body strength, grip strength, and burst of power that favored men over women.

Where Harvard Grads Live: The Answer to the Freakonomics Quiz

Last week I posed a question: what five cities are home to the greatest number of my Harvard classmates?

Without a doubt, this was the hardest quiz ever on this blog. Over 1,000 guesses were made; the first 851 of these guesses were wrong. (Actually, blog reader Len sort of had the right answer earlier, but it is totally obvious, if you've ever seen the red book that is my data source, that he cheated.)

Not until John F. came along with comment number 821 did someone end the misery by getting all five cities correct (with number of my classmates in parentheses):

Freakonomics Quiz: Where Does the Harvard Class of 1989 Live Now?

I could find nine people from my class who are famous/semi-famous/infamous. Interestingly, not one of them sent in an entry to be published in the book. Overall, about 40 percent of the people in the class sent in updates. What was most surprising about the famous people not writing in is that many of them are famous because they are writers.

The other thing that struck me as interesting and somewhat surprising was the geographic distribution of my former classmates. Let's see whether the distribution is surprising to the blog readers by running a contest.

Oh, Alma Mater!

I did my undergraduate work — which consisted mainly of playing in a punky/country/rock band called The Right Profile — at Appalachian State University, which is located in the mountain town of Boone, N.C. (Levitt probably would have gone there too, if he had gotten in, but he had to settle for Harvard.) A.S.U. is […]

Gladwell on the Ivy League

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest piece in the New Yorker is interesting as always. It is about Ivy League admissions. I particularly like this quote (especially the last sentence): The Ivy League schools justified their emphasis on character and personality, however, by arguing that they were searching for the students who would have the greatest success after […]