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.
The pharmacist e-mailed the numbers, and Saltz stared at the figures on his computer screen. Zaltrap, the drug that was extremely similar to Avastin, cost roughly $11,000 a month. (And because that extra 42 days wouldn’t be possible without taking the drug for, say, seven months before—which was roughly what was happening in clinical trials—the price for that six-week life extension could be as high as $75,000.)
“Wow,” he said to himself, “that’s a deal-changer for me.”
That may not seem like a heretical statement, but the unspoken rule in American health care is that doctors should never consider the cost of a medicine that might be beneficial to patients. When the FDA approves a new cancer drug, it analyzes safety and effectiveness only. Medicare is obliged to reimburse payment for the drug, and private insurers in most states must cover the cost. Any doctor who considers cost—or the value of a costly drug—risks being accused of “rationing” health care.
Very interesting backgrounder on Stephen Salter, the British scientist who, in the course of trying to turn ocean waves into electric power, discovered a potential way to prevent, or at least limit, the impact of hurricanes:
Devastating tropical storms of the kind that battered the U.S. last week could be weakened and rendered less deadly using a simple and cheap technology based on a surprising component – old car tyres.
One of Britain’s leading marine engineers, Stephen Salter, emeritus professor of engineering design at Edinburgh university and a global pioneer of wave power research, has patented with Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold the idea of using thousands of tyres lashed together to support giant plastic tubes which extend 100m deep into the ocean.
Wave action on the ocean surface would force warm surface water down into the deeper ocean. If non-return valves were used, he says, the result would be to mix the waters and cool the surface temperature of the ocean to under 26.5C, the critical temperature at which hurricanes form.
A report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds that no progress was made in reducing motorcyclist deaths in 2011. Based upon preliminary data from 50 states and the District of Columbia, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities remained at about 4,500 in 2011, the same level as 2010. Meanwhile, earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projected that overall motor vehicle fatalities declined 1.7 percent in 2011, reaching their lowest level since 1949. Motorcycle deaths remain one of the few areas in highway safety where progress is not being made.
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.
The study, led by the University of Colorado Boulder with co-authors at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other organizations, suggests that an unusual, 50-year-long episode of four massive tropical volcanic eruptions triggered the Little Ice Age between 1275 and 1300 A.D. The persistence of cold summers following the eruptions is best explained by a subsequent expansion of sea ice and a related weakening of Atlantic currents, according to computer simulations conducted for the study.
“At least one nightmare scenario can be safely crossed off worst-case climate list,” Andy Revkin writes by e-mail. “Even with intense ocean warming through this millennium, thawing won’t reach the big subsea methane deposits. There were ample signs this was overblown but new work goes farther.”
Given that methane, molecule for molecule, has at least 20 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide, it’s important to get a handle on whether these are new releases, the first foretaste of some great outburst from thawing sea-bed stores of the gas, or simply a longstanding phenomenon newly observed.
If you read the Independent of Britain, you’d certainly be thinking the worst. The newspaper has led the charge in fomenting worry over the gas emissions, with portentous, and remarkably similar, stories in 2008 and this week.
If you read geophysical journals and survey scientists tracking past and future methane emissions, you get an entirely different picture. …:
[T]he authors found that roughly 1 meter of the subsurface permafrost thawed in the past 25 years, adding to the 25 meters of already thawed soil. Forecasting the expected future permafrost thaw, the authors found that even under the most extreme climatic scenario tested this thawed soil growth will not exceed 10 meters by 2100 or 50 meters by the turn of the next millennium. The authors note that the bulk of the methane stores in the east Siberian shelf are trapped roughly 200 meters below the seafloor… [Read the rest.]
One of the first times I met Danny Kahneman was over dinner, just after SuperFreakonomics was published. Shortly after we were introduced, Danny said, “I enjoyed your new book. It will change the future of the world.” I beamed with pride at this compliment. Danny, however, was not done speaking. “It will change the future of the world. And not for the better.” While I’m sure many people would agree with his last sentence, he was the only person who ever said it to my face!
If you don’t know the name, Danny Kahneman is the non-economist who has had the greatest influence on economics of any non-economist who ever lived. A psychologist, he’s the only non-economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that he is among the 50 most influential economic thinkers of all time, and among the ten most influential living economic thinkers.
A National Post graphic does a good job showing causes of death across Canada by percentage, and notes that, for the first time, cancer is the leading cause in every province, responsible for about 30 percent of all deaths. That is a heartbreaking number, not least because cancer is a disease (or set of diseases, really) about which so much is still unknown.
As we wrote in a section of SuperFreakonomics called “We’re still getting our butts kicked by cancer,” seeing cancer statistics like this might naturally lead one to conclude that the “war on cancer” has been a dismal failure. That, however, would be an overstatement. While it’s true that we are, as one oncologist told us, “still getting our butts kicked,” there is somewhat of a silver lining in the cancer death rate.
Well, it’s actually happening. An idea reported on extensively in SuperFreakonomics has come to fruition, and some mad scientists are getting their way (and a little government funding) to build a garden hose to the sky – and save the world by cooling it down.
A team of British researchers called SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering), is attempting to pump particles of water into the atmosphere as a test run before moving onto sulfates and aerosols that would reflect sunlight away from earth, mimicking a volcano effect. SPICE is building the garden hose at an undisclosed location, with £1.6 million in UK government funding and the backing of the Royal Society.
We just got word that the new paperback edition of SuperFreakonomics will land on the 6/12 New York Times best-seller list. Freakonomics is still on the list too (88 weeks on paperback list after >100 on hardcover), and it’ll be fun to see if baby brother can hang in as long as the original. Thanks to all for reading!
Iced tea and lemonade are hardly perfect complements — they can each be happily consumed individually — but more and more I see them being served together. I have always known this combo as an “Arnold Palmer”; increasingly, however, as in this ad at the New York chain drugstore Duane Reade, it is known simply as “half-iced tea, half-lemonade.”
I like an Arnold Palmer just fine, but to my taste the best combo drink of all time is a cranberry juice and Fresca. What? You’ve never tried it?! Thank me later.
This has gotten me thinking about other wonderful complements in life. Surely many of them are in the realm of food and drink. But there’s also driving a convertible in cold weather with the heat on, e.g.
What are some of your favorite — especially underappreciated — complements? Tell us in the comments section and we’ll take five of the best and vote for the favorite. Winner gets a free copy of new SuperFreakonomics paperback.
Yesterday, we ran a contest to give away five copies of the new paperback edition of SuperFreakonomics (which can be bought on Amazon and elsewhere). There were more than 640 entries! Thanks for all the support, and for betraying your thirst for free stuff.
So let’s have another contest right now. Last week, when we asked the best way to give away books, your second preference was “really hard contests on blog.” Okay then. But instead of having a quiz here on the blog, we’ve put it on our new Facebook page. So go ahead and “like” our page (if indeed you like it), and try your hand at the quiz. We’ll send a free SuperFreakonomics paperback to the first five people who receive perfect scores. (The tricky part is that you’ll do much better on the quiz if you’ve read the book but hey, the world’s not perfect is it?) Good luck!
Yesterday, the paperback edition of SuperFreakonomics was published in the U.S. (only $10.54 at Amazon!). And we used a random-ish contest to give away five copies. If I had known there would be so many respondents — more than 600 as of this writing — I would have had the winning comments correspond to higher values! Anyway: thanks to all for playing, and congratulations to the winners, who are:
The paperback is published in the U.S. today. Here’s what the cover looks like.
You can buy it on Amazon (and elsewhere).
There is a Facebook quiz forthcoming.
It includes lots of bonus material.
And just for kicks, we’ll give away five copies right here and now. Earlier, we asked your preferred method of giveaway and your strong preference was “random.” So why don’t we do things the way radio stations used to give away free records (maybe they still do this?) — you know, “The 28th caller will receive …” All you have to do is post a comment below. We’ll pick five comments from the lot, including the numbers represented by:
1. Steve Levitt’s age
2. Our publisher’s street address
3. The uniform number of my all-time favorite football player
4. The suicide rate (per 100,000) in Hungary
5. The episode number of our “Power of Poop” podcast
SuperFreakonomics comes out in paperback in the U.S. tomorrow. It includes a 16-page color insert with material from the Illustrated Edition of the book. Here’s an example, detailing the clever experimental variations the economist John List worked through on the Dictator Game:
(Click through to see a bigger version)
Next Tuesday, May 24, SuperFreakonomics will finally be published in paperback in the U.S. It has already sold more than half a million copies in hardcover in the U.S. (with more than 1 million sold worldwide), and the Illustrated Edition has gone bananas too. The paperback cover, as you can see here, is not much of a departure from the hardcover.
The book itself has some key additions: a 16-page color insert with illustrations, photos, etc. from the Illustrated Edition; an author Q&A (which you helped write); a transcript of the first Freakonomics Radio podcast (“The Dangers of Safety”); and a pair of essays by Levitt and Dubner about what their fathers taught them.
We should probably give away a bunch of copies of the new edition, yes?
A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests a sensible, non-ideological take on why health care costs rise faster than their efficacy. This echoes a recurring theme here, that it’s often the cheap and simple solutions that work the best.
In the wake of Japan’s tragic earthquake and tsunami, Felix Salmon argues against donating to the cause. Salmon cites concerns about the hobbling effects of earmarked funds, uncoordinated NGOs, and Japan’s wealth.
One session at the recent AEA meetings addressed “popular economics,” with a panel including Diane Coyle, Robert Frank, Steve Levitt, and Robert Shiller. (Shiller wrote a bit about it on Slate.) Many interesting things were said. To me, the most interesting was that Frank is writing a book arguing that Charles Darwin, more so than Adam Smith, is the true forefather of modern economics. (He has already written a Times column on the topic.)
In Romania, life has gotten even harder for practicing witches, as spelled out in a recent A.P. article: “A month after Romanian authorities began taxing them for their trade, the country’s soothsayers and fortune tellers are cursing a new bill that threatens fines or even prison if their predictions don’t come true.”
Sometime in the late spring, our second book, SuperFreakonomics, will be published in paperback. As with Freakonomics, we’re going to add some bonus matter to the back of this edition. And, as with Freakonomics, one thing we’ll include is a Q&A in which we answer questions from readers. And where do these questions come from? You! So ask away in the comments section; here’s your chance to be a published (albeit unpaid) author. Posted below is the Table of Contents from SuperFreak, but feel free to ask questions unrelated to the content as well. Thanks in advance.
I ran into an old friend the other day whose actor husband is a regular on the TV show House. We caught up on friends and family, etc., including a few mutual acquaintances who have died since we last spoke. As we parted, I couldn’t help but laugh: at least these unfortunate deaths, I thought, were nowhere near as numerous as those on the kind of TV show her husband appears on.
A lot of meat and poultry gets eaten during the holiday season. Did you ever find yourself wondering: Hmm, what’s the trend line over the past 100 years for U.S. per-capita consumption of beef vs. chicken vs. pork vs. turkey?
It’s that time of year again – ChristmaHanuKwanzaa, that is – and if you’re reading this blog, there’s an obvious gift to be thinking about: the new illustrated edition of SuperFreakonomics. It will not fit in a stocking (it is quite large – a “coffee-table book,” some people call it), but otherwise it is giftable to the max.
One of my favorite images from the new Illustrated SuperFreakonomics (beautifully designed by No. 17) is a decision tree showing how Gary Becker, a young man who was better at handball than math, nevertheless chose math and became the Nobel-winning economist whose research made possible books like ours.
We are pleased to announce the publication of a new book: SuperFreakonomics: The Illustrated Edition. It’s a large-format book built around the original text of SuperFreakonomics, with hundreds of new visual elements and quite a bit of new text as well.