Thursday, August 04, 2005

The first chapter of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything repeats that subtitle -- "The Hidden Side of Everything." Maybe not everything is covered in this 230-page book, but certainly a large number of seemingly unrelated subjects are, and not ones you'd expect an economist to discuss. But that's why the book is so interesting. Just that first chapter talks about the effect of Roe v. Wade on crime rates in the early 1990s, the influence of realtors on individual house prices, and the effect of candidates' money on election results. And the connections often aren't what you'd expect, a situation that continues throughout the book. (Of course, situations that fit the conventional wisdom are unlikely to be included in such a book -- who'd bother to read about them?)

And it's not just economics -- ethics often comes up, because statistics can be used (if anyone bothers) to unmask teachers cheating on standardized tests, or sports players' records, or even a company's rate of payment at a self-service bagel stand. Even analysis of how descriptions in a real estate ad correlate to the price the house sells for reveals a sort of deception -- that some terms sound complimentary to the seller but mean something quite different to the prospective buyer. So even if economics and statistics sound like the most boring subjects on the planet, you are still likely to enjoy this book because it covers the results, not the part of the analysis process that makes non-statisticians fall asleep.