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The Boat Was My Friend

...The cliff edge of workaday morality

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Ben Aaronovitch
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Tom Holt
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"Freakonomics"?? Really? REALLY?

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt

For a book that so heavily relies on (mostly) untested assumptions, the repeated, passionate references to the distinction between causality and correlation is impressive if not audacious, to say the least. 

Suffice to say, “"As Levitt sees it, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions". 

Exactly, Stephen. And that would work extremely well as an inside joke too. Unless you are implying that, in contrast with the usual textbooks, Freakonomics actually uses science to pose those questions. In which case, and given the absolute lack of evidence, statistics and insight on any methodological tools here, I can’t help wondering: Science? What science? Where? GIVE ME ONE PAGE. 

The other unfortunate thing here is the “Revised and Expanded edition” issue, which can generally mean a number of things, but in the case of Freakonomics in specific, it was, as we know, the result of a huge wave of negative feedback from reviewers due to:

a) the fact that the authors massively exaggerated some of their assumptions (because, obviously: when you think you’re using science when you really are not, that’s just bound to happen) and, as if this isn't enough already, the authors’ reliance on some quite noticeable mathematical monstrosities.

b) The self-praise:
“Hi. I’m Stephen J. Dubner. And I’m co-authoring this book. The other author is Steven D. Levitt and he’s such a genius, radical economist that we’re thinking we’ll stuff Freakonomics with tons of newspaper clippings on how awesome he is. And that’s gonna be all over the place. Yes! Oh, in case you’re wondering what a too-cool-for-school unconventional genius like Steven D. Levitt is doing writing books instead of just being a weird recluse in permanent scientific euphoria, worry not! He wasn't interested in writing anything, silly ones (as if)! Not unless it was with me, because, in case you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a kickarse, amazing journalist too! So please read us. Please. We’ll make you feel important and scientific”.

So apparently they got the message and scrapped most of that out of the book, hence the “Revised and Expanded” edition.

But honestly, when I found all that out, for a moment I thought I needed to double check that I was actually reading the revised thing.

And it’s certainly not my fault that Nick Hornby has the answer to nearly everything. I don’t remember which issue of The Believer he wrote that in, but it was along the lines of: "Freakonomics was a cool book and it made me feel smart. But what was it about?”
Exactly, thank you.

Two stars, because some of the questions they pose have interesting political and social implications, even though all questions are always posed through prose (with the use of loose logic at best) and absolutely not through the use of science.

Oh. And the title is.. er.. misleading (Today I’m nice).