Introducing “Freakonomics Experiments” (Ep. 111)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Introducing ‘Freakonomics Experiments.'” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

In it, Steve Levitt tells Kai Ryssdal about a new website we’ve just launched that will help you make tough decisions in life while also taking part in academic research. And there’s Freakonomics swag to be had, too. (Levitt blogged about the new project yesterday.)

So if you or someone you know has a tough decision to make, head over to [DEFUNCT]. You can read about the experimental design [DEFUNCT] and check out the FAQ [DEFUNCT].

For instance:

Q: Just what is Freakonomics Experiments?

A: Freakonomics Experiments is a set of simple experiments about complex issues — whether to break up with your significant other, quit your job, or start a diet, just to name a few.

Sometimes in life you face one of these decisions, and you just don’t know what to do. In the end, whatever you decide will essentially be a flip of a coin. Freakonomics Experiments helps you make the decision by flipping that coin for you. Over the next few months, we’ll then check in with you with surveys and other materials. In turn, you’ll help further scientific research. Unlike most games of chance, participating in this experiment is win-win.


Q: What will you do with all this data?

A: We have a team back at the University of Chicago poring over the Freakonomics Experiments data, looking for interesting and intriguing results. We’ll likely publish our findings in academic journals, as well as in a future book. One thing we will absolutely not do is give away your information to anyone. Your identity and all other data we collect is 100% safe with us.

Q: How do you ensure that I stay anonymous throughout these experiments?

A: We have a lot of experience with these types of projects, and we have never had any problems keeping personal data completely confidential. Only the University of Chicago research team will have access to your data, and they’ll use it solely for analysis. We’ll also rely on a unique ID—and not your name—when looking at the data.

Next week’s podcast will feature a much longer conversation about, including the story of the podcast that inspired it.

Enter your name...

I loved your IRB explanation: "There's something called an Institutional Review Board that tried to keep people like you safe from people like us..."

rob'n with a y

I don't know about you, but I would not want a bunch of economists makin decisions for me. Just the thought of the flip of a coin or chance as the decision maker takes my my breath away- literally. I read that intro to my daughter- at the moment, it looks like she's going back to school. i.e., really at the moment. It changes from one minute to the next.


I am now selling coins with two heads and them (and two tails on them if you prefer) so you can play this segment to someone and make the decision for them.

Bobby Kolev

I find this potentially interesting - depending on how it would develop.
I'll read more of it.

What caught my attention is the simple summarization that I've came to find for myself long ago and that I still struggle to explain to my wife - that many decisions in life can not possibly be taken by a thoughful research and objective logic and, at the end of the day, end up being a result of the intellectual equivalent of a coin toss.

It doesn't mean one has to toss a coin every time they face a tough decision however it does have a pretty darn good use for all those (especially close to us) people who spend eternety trying to find the best possible choice...which can't be easily defined let alone found.

I don't know if your experiment has anything to do with that, but if it doesn it'll definitely be of interest.

Rob'n FYI

I realized something. Being a good parent means being a good listener. I heard my daughter's pain. Wants to please mom, but does not want to go back (take time to apply to colleges more in line with her interests). Once her feelings were acknowledged, it was easy for her to decide. Wooh! A long work day! So, assuming the coin represents two sets of opposite feelings, if one is not stronger, I can see its value. If one is stronger, you don't need the coin.


I've already found a problem with your experimental design. I don't have a problem I need solved, but I have an incentive to participate -- Freakonomics swag! I think the potential gain from Freakonomics swag is much higher than the potential cost of lying on a web survey...


What is the music the comes in at 13:08


Wikipedia entry on "Flipism":

Kevin Riemer

I recently listened to this segment as a podcast which made me think of a poem (actually a Grook) by Piet Hein the Danish scientist, mathematician, inventor, designer, author, and poet.

Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No -- not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.