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Analysis of Freakonomics

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ciara mcdaniel

on 11 September 2013

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Transcript of Analysis of Freakonomics

Purpose: to refute the legitimacy of conventional wisdom

"The conventional wisdom is often wrong. ... Conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed and devilishly difficult to see through, but it can be done" (Levitt 13).
Achieves purpose by providing statistics and case studies that reinforce the idea that many things that happen tend to be counterintuitive.
For example when a case study at Israeli daycare centers tried to reduce late child pickups by initiating a fine, conventional wisdom says that the fine would discourage late pickups however after the fine was enacted the number of late pickups increased.
Author's ethos (which was built through newspaper clippings about the author at the beginning of every chapter) helped the author to achieve the purpose because it established the author's credibility as a writer and as an economist.
Intended audience = young adults
"The most brilliant young economist in America - the one so deemed, at least, by a jury of his elders - brakes to a stop at a traffic light on Chicago's south side" (Levitt ix).
The book discusses raising children, buying homes, and education which are all issues that apply to the lives of young adults.
"Clearly, bad parenting matters a great deal" (Levitt 153). Only those who already are parents or who plan on becoming parents would be concerned with parenting techniques.
The title and subjects discussed (which include comparing sumo wrestlers and teachers) along with the amused/matter-of-fact tone appeals to a younger audience. The book is meant to be engaging and fun rather than strictly factual which is why it appeals to young adults.
finding relationships between seemingly unrelated topics
Levitt and Dubner broke the book up into sections with each section discussing a different topic. Topics include:
School teacher and sumo wrestlers
KKK and real-estate agents
Drug Dealers that live with their mothers
Levitt adopts the persona of a "third person" or an impartial observer
"Consider yourself, then, in the company of a third person - or, if you will, a pair of third people - eager to explore the objective merits of interesting cases" (Levitt 15)
The author attempts to drop any bias he might have and act as an unbiased observer.
The speaker is also someone that the audience can relate to because he is a father which also builds his credibility when talking about parenting.
"The first is that neither of us professes to be a parenting expert (although between us we do have six children under the age of five)" (Levitt 157).
The majority of the support/evidence provided by the author is from case studies and statistics which contributes to the author's logos.
Ethos is built at the beginning of every chapter when a newspaper article praising Levitt is provided which builds his credibility.
Pathos is included in some of the anecdotes that the author provides.
"He often beats the little boy with the metal end of a garden hose" (Levitt 156). It makes the reader feel sympathetic towards the boy and angry towards the father.
The evidence is effective in backing up the author's claim that conventional wisdom tends to be incorrect because he is able to balance logos, ethos, and pathos.
"Fifty-seven percent of the men who post ads don't receive even one e-mail; 23 percent of the women don't get a single response" (Levitt 82). The author uses facts to back up his claims.
The author uses a lot of rhetorical questions
"Is it possible that race really didn't matter for these white women and men and that they simply never happened to browse a nonwhite date that interested them?" (Levitt 83).
Tone: matter-of-fact, objective, and amused
An amused or matter-of-fact tone is more appealing to a younger audience than to an older one.
The tone is effective because it relates to the intended audience. The author's matter-of-fact tone allows him to sound unbiased which contributes to his credibility and helps him to achieve his purpose of refuting conventional wisdom.
"Of the many ways to fail on a dating website, not posting a photo of yourself is perhaps the most certain. (Not that the photo is necessarily a photo of yourself; it may well be some better-looking stranger, but such deception would obviously backfire in time)" (Levitt 82).
The author often puts comic relief within parentheses to show his amusement.
"They were the very women whose children, if born, would have been much more likely than average to become criminals" (Levitt 6). Levitt just tells it like it is and doesn't express his own opinion about abortion.
Freakonomics is similar to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell in that both books are about looking at the world in a new way. (Malcolm Gladwell also wrote a review about Freakonomics)
The ideas expressed in Freakonomics could be used to predict potential outcomes of situations based on the incentives presented.
I agree with most of the author's ideas except his assumption that numbers don't lie. To the contrary numbers and the data they represent are open to interpretation. Just because two things correlate to each other does not mean that one caused the other. Causation does not imply correlation.
I enjoyed the book because it was amusing, provided interesting information, and was thought provoking.
The author's style was to choose subjects that would spark the interest of young adults.
"What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" (Levitt 19).
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