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Melissa Lafsky

Google and Click Fraud: Behind the Numbers

Last week, we cited a study finding that 16.6 percent of all pay-per-clicks on the Internet were fraudulent in the fourth quarter of 2007, up from 14.2 percent for the same quarter in 2006. The statistic, as reported by MediaPost, was compiled by Click Forensics, an independent auditor that has created the Click Fraud Index. Given what must be billions . . .


The Rise of Click Fraud: Is Everyone on the Internet a Criminal?

We’ve written quite a bit about online identity theft here at Freakonomics. But there’s another form of crime that’s been spreading through the Internet over the past few years: click fraud. As its name suggests, the crime involves clicking on a Web site’s ads repeatedly (or, in some cases, employing a software program to do it) in order to pad . . .


Free Books on the Internet: HarperCollins, Oprah, and Yale Join the Fray

Given our fondness for all things publishing here at Freakonomics, we’ve been following the development of e-books with particular interest. In the past few weeks, it appears that the free e-book movement has officially begun. Last week, publishing monolith HarperCollins (the publisher of Freakonomics) announced that it would offer free electronic editions of a group of its books on the . . .


Global Warming and the Minefield of Unintended Consequences

Dubner and Levitt recently wrote a column discussing the unintended consequences of legislation intended to help the neediest segments of society. Few movements for change have met with as many unintended consequences as the efforts, both in the public and private sector, to combat global warming. Take biofuels (another topic Dubner has addressed here and here). Hailed as the darling . . .


The Economics of Obesity: A Q&A With the Author of The Fattening of America

We’ve blogged about obesity at length here at Freakonomics. The health economist Eric Finkelstein has been studying the subject for years, and, along with co-author Laurie Zuckerman, has just published a book, The Fattening of America, which analyzes the causes and consequences of obesity in the U.S. Finkelstein agreed to answer our questions about the book. Q: You state that . . .


Are Men Really More Competitive Than Women?

The conventional wisdom holds that men and women have different abilities when it comes to competition (a view that’s certainly being challenged in the current Democratic primary). Labels like “lacking the killer instinct,” “peacemaker,” and “avoiding confrontation” are commonly assigned to women in competitive environments, while the supposed male knack for thriving in competition is cited as a reason for . . .


What Do DVD Rentals and Airport Security Have In Common?

Both are provided by companies offering cash prizes in exchange for new business ideas. Just as Netflix announced plans to pay a $1 million prize to anyone who comes up with an algorithm for movie recommendations that is 10 percent more accurate than its own, airport security company Clear is now offering $500,000 to whoever comes up with the best . . .


Can Economic Incentives Get You Pregnant?

Fertility has become a big business in the U.S., with Americans spending up to $3 billion a year on treatments, drugs, and methods aimed at enabling couples to conceive. Discussions of modern infertility have focused on cultural factors like the rising average age of marriage and the influx of women in the workforce, with studies linking it to environmental and . . .


How to Rig an Election? Ask the Author

We’ve covered the history of dirty politics in the U.S. here at Freakonomics. But what about the modern state of affairs? Allen Raymond knows a thing or two about bending the rules in the electoral process. A former G.O.P. political operative who served as chief of staff to a co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and supervised numerous election victories, . . .


Is Too Much Attention Paid to Small InTrade Contracts?

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw recently posted this chart depicting an InTrade contract on the probability of a U.S. recession in 2008, with the following commentary: In online betting, the probability of recession is now about two-thirds, compared to about one-half a few weeks ago. Evidence pointing toward a recession is certainly present, as Larry Summers and others have noted. Still, . . .


What Can Hidden Video Teach Us About Our Healthcare System?

Dr. Gretchen Berland, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and former documentary filmmaker, writes in the New England Journal of Medicine of an extraordinary experiment she has conducted over the past 10 years. It involved giving videocameras to people in wheelchairs, and asking them to document their daily lives (samples of the videos can be seen . . .


Is California’s Environmental Policy Worth Fighting For?

California’s environmental policy has made headlines recently, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing that he plans to sue the federal government over its refusal to let the state enact its own plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and instead adopt a more lax federal plan. While the E.P.A.’s regulation promises to increase fuel efficiency standards by 40 percent come 2020, the . . .


Is ‘Stop Liking Men Who Drive Hot Cars’ Sound Climate Advice?

Richard Gray at the U.K. Telegraph reports that Sir David King, a University of Cambridge chemist, staunch global warming activist, and one of Britain’s top government scientists, gave the following advice to a woman who asked him what she could do to curb global warming: “[S]top admiring young men in Ferraris.” King’s larger point — that we should act individually . . .


Shaping the World at Versailles: A Q&A With the Author of A Shattered Peace

Any history book will give you a chapter on the Treaty of Versailles, during which delegates from around the world gathered in France to hammer out peace terms following World War I. The men (and occasional woman) who negotiated the outcome may have had their own individual and national agendas, but their decisions arguably set the stage for decades of . . .


What’s the Significance of Your Sign? A Guest Post

A reader named E. Allyn Smith, a Ph.D. student in linguistics at Ohio State University, wrote in with the following observations. I’ve been thinking about birthdays a lot lately, because November 15th to the 27th is one of the annual “birthday rushes” in which I have eight birthdays in two weeks. It got me thinking that not only are there . . .


Love Your Job? That Doesn’t Mean You’re Better at It

The conventional employer wisdom has always been that a happy employee is a more productive employee. Countless dollars are spent every year on initiatives to raise employee morale, create camaraderie in the workplace, and eliminate practices that could lead to a hostile work environment, all so that companies can boost their retention rates and productivity levels. So is it really . . .


Do Mothers Pass On Racism More than Fathers?

Dubner has blogged before about the difficulty of gathering accurate data from adults on subjects like racism. The problem, he noted, lies in people’s tendencies to give answers that are socially appropriate but don’t necessarily reflect their actual views. Children, however, are not often so guarded (or disingenuous, depending on how you look at it). As such, they can provide . . .


Creating the Car of the Future: A Q&A With the Author of Zoom

It’s tough to imagine a world without cars. They serve as a base for our social and economic structure in a way that wasn’t thought possible a century ago. But the rapid growth of an automobile-based culture has produced economic and environmental consequences that, if left unchecked, could cripple society. As such, we’re facing a major dilemma: we can’t tell . . .


North Carolina Collectively Cuts Water Consumption By a Third

Last week, the data-aggregating site Swivel (which we’ve discussed before) posted a chart showing the recent and dramatic drop in North Carolina’s water demand. The reduction occurred after Governor Mike Easley, in the face of a state-wide drought, issued a plea to North Carolina residents in mid-October, asking them to cut their water consumption in half by Halloween. He then . . .


Jonathan Coulton Answers Your Questions

Last week, we asked for your questions for singer/songwriter/Internet celeb Jonathan Coulton. Thanks to all of you (including John Hodgman, or at least “John Hodgman“) for the questions, and thanks especially to Jonathan for his answers. Q: You’ve been getting a lot of mainstream media play over the last year. How has that been different from the attention you’ve gotten . . .


‘Tyranny of the Media’: Will New FCC Regs Enforce Majority Rule?

Controversy over corporate media consolidation has been brewing for decades. In 1975, the Federal Communications Commission enacted a rule prohibiting a single media company from owning both a newspaper and radio or TV station in the same city. Twenty-eight years later, the issue drew national attention when former FCC Chairman Michael Powell introduced a plan to overturn the ban. His . . .


Is Web Video Really Hurting TV?

The current conventional wisdom is that the rise of Internet video may mean the end of television as we know it — a view that extends to the music industry as well, as we’ve seen before. Viacom’s $1 billion copyright infringement suit against the Google-owned YouTube continues to lumber on, and the TV writers’ strike has led to speculation that . . .


The Complete History of Dirty Politics: A Q&A on Anything for a Vote

Today, you’ll recall, is Election Day. Which means that one year from now, we will be electing a new president (as if it really matters). The race is starting to heat up, as candidates shed their friendly veneers and start getting nasty with their rivals. (For what it’s worth, on the Republican side, Ron Paul — whom we’ve discussed before . . .


The Economics of Sugar Daddying

Not long ago, Levitt wrote about a Craigslist posting in which a woman solicited advice in marrying a man who made more than $500,000 a year. That posting eventually made the international media rounds, from the Times to the BBC News to Scientific American. But journalists have yet to jump on the wealth of posts like the following, posted in . . .


Politicians Aren’t the Only Ones Who Use Fuzzy Math; Journalists Like It Too

This week’s New Yorker features an interesting article by Hendrik Hertzberg about American presidential dynasties. He quotes an A.P. article by Nancy Benac which states that “[f]orty per cent of Americans have never lived when there wasn’t a Bush or a Clinton in the White House.” Really? That’s amazing. Hertzberg quotes Benac further in the next paragraph: “Talk of Bush-Clinton . . .


Can Religion Offset the Effects of Child Poverty?

Dubner and Levitt have written quite a bit about parenting, both in Freakonomics and on this blog. In particular, they’ve focused on what parents can do to help produce “successful” offspring. The key, they’ve found, is this: be well-educated and successful yourself, and your children are more likely to follow suit. But what about children from impoverished backgrounds? What steps . . .


Here’s Why Yankees Fans Aren’t the Only Ones Rooting Against the Red Sox

Earlier this year, Massachusetts furniture chain Jordan’s Furniture announced a marketing gimmick that would delight any diehard Red Sox fan: if the Sox went on to win the 2007 World Series, all furniture sales made between March 7 and April 16 of this year would be refunded. The chain, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., sensibly bought an insurance . . .


The Case for Open Immigration: A Q&A With Philippe Legrain

A British economist and journalist, Philippe Legrain has served as special adviser to the director-general of the World Trade Organization and worked as the trade and economics correspondent for the Economist. For his latest book, Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, he spent over six months interviewing immigrants across the globe and researching immigration policies in wealthy countries. (Click here for . . .


Man Masters Flight, and Music Goes Digital

Between the lawsuits against file-sharers and news of Radiohead’s digital-only album release, the digital distribution of music has become a big story. We recently hosted our own discussion on the issue here.. But for some people, this is very old news. Take the case of Peter Alexander, an economist in Washington, D.C., who has been researching and writing about the . . .


Crime, Celebrity, and Kissing On Screen: A Q&A on The King of Bollywood

Anupama Chopra knows first-hand about Bollywood, India’s burgeoning film industry. As a former film writer for India Today magazine and the wife of famed Indian writer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, she’s spent more than 15 years watching from the inside as the industry weathered widespread social change, rapid expansion, and economic globalization. Her new book, King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan . . .


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