Vacation Reading

Written by pete

Topics: Uncategorized

During my summer vacation, I read two interesting books.

The first book was the national bestseller Freakanomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The second book was The Language Police by Diane Ravitch.

Today, I’ll talk about Freakanomics. In my next posting I’ll discuss The Language Police.

Freakanomics has been heralded as a groundbreaking examination and rebuttal of the conventional wisdom found everywhere. I must say, I really enjoyed the book. But, I’m really quite frightened.

I’m not frightened because the book was particularly insightful. And it’s not the implications of any of Levitt and Dubner’s observations that alarm me. In fact, once you apply rational thought to observations of social phenomena, most of the conclusions in this book just simply make sense.

What bothers me is the reaction to this book. Critics everywhere are beside themselves. Steven Levitt is evidently some kind of hero (or rogue economist) because he examined facts, analyzed data, and drew logical conclusions about topics that people typically fail to explore because they are uncomfortable. Since when do you get to be a hero for telling the truth?

I suppose it took bravery to ask the diffcult questions asked in the book in the first place. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Levitt and Dubner are among the last of a dying breed. They don’t decide the answer ahead of time and reverse engineer the data to fit their theory. Many of today’s scientists and statisticians have bastardized the scientific method such that it is easy to define data sets that will support any outcome. Or worse: with a single data set, different methods can be applied to support different outcomes.

I see evidence of this type of behavior every day in my professional career as an IT Strategist. Most heinously, I see reverse engineering in the area of software and project estimation. In future articles, I will explore this area of rampant fact-bending and mis-application of mathematical technique.

Now, back to Freakanomics. You should read it, but read it with a critical eye. The book makes no apologies for not drawing any overarching conclusions from the several related-but-not-in-an-obvious-way studies that are outlined in its chapters. Ironically, that is left as an exercise for the reader. Just be careful if you choose to arrange the facts in order to support whichever societal implications you find most emotionally pleasing.

  • CristianStar

    It seems that you have a things with psychology: I suggest that you read something about quantum psychology because if you think sociology is interesting, well, you haven't read anything about quantum psychology.
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