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Last post, I wrote about how many nations in the developing world, such as Egypt, subsidize gasoline and diesel fuel to keep the price at the pump artificially low. There are many ways in which this policy is ineffective, counterproductive, and just plain dumb: it wrecks the public finances of cash-strapped countries in order to create traffic congestion and air pollution, raises the world price of oil, and transfers money from the poor to the wealthy.
In fact, writing about this folly got me pretty irritated, and I’m ashamed to admit I decided to take out my frustration on you readers. So I challenged you to come up with arguments in favor of fuel subsidies, manipulatively using the siren’s song of a prize of Freakonomics swag to get you to twist your brains into pretzels.
Thanks to those of you who gamely tried; many of you confessed it wasn’t easy. For example, poor reader Rob complained that “I’m getting a brain cramp trying to think of a defense for Egypt’s policy.” Rob, I apologize and recommend sitting in a dark room while listening to a CD of soothing ocean sounds for awhile. Read More »
Rutgers University fired Mike Rice – the head basketball coach – last Wednesday. This firing came about after ESPN released a video that showed Rice abusing his players. Such a video had already been seen by Rice’s boss at Rutgers in November, but until the video was shown to the public, Rutgers did not feel compelled to fire Rice.
The thing that people don’t want to hear, but which is true, is that this is probably closer to the norm than not.
Shirley goes on to note that he doesn’t think many coaches are actually hitting players. But he does note that coaches do tend to have a certain approach in conveying information to players (an approach Shirley describes in the interview).
Is this general approach to coaching effective? To date, I am not aware of any study of the effectiveness of college coaching. A study I co-authored with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello and published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) looked at 62 NBA coaches across thirty years of data. Across this sample, only 14 coaches were found to have a statistically significant and positive impact on player performance. So most NBA coaches do not appear to make their players more productive. Read More »
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “100 Ways to Fight Obesity.” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
Steve Levitt runs a consulting firm called The Greatest Good. It is occasionally hired by a philanthropist or foundation to look into societal problems. That’s what happened recently, when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asked The Greatest Good to put together a brainstorming session on childhood obesity. Stephen Dubner moderated the event. In this podcast, you get to be a fly on the wall as a dozen participants explore the biological, behavioral, political and economic angles of obesity. Read More »
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “100 Ways to Fight Obesity.” [MUSIC: Jonathan Clay; “Carousel” (from Everything She Wants)] DUBNER: Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and coauthor. He stands about 5-foot-11 and weighs 160 pounds. So he does not have a weight problem. But he has been thinking about our collective […] Read More »
FiveThirtyEighter Nate Silver Answers Your Questions About Politics, Baseball, and The Signal and the Noise
We recently solicited your questions for Nate Silver regarding his new book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t. Not too surprisingly, a lot of the questions were about politics and baseball. Below are Nate’s answers to some of them. Thanks to him for playing along and to all of you (as always) for sending in the excellent questions.
Q. Under what circumstances will a voter actually change his/her mind about whom to vote for? I understand that this rarely happens (this study for example), and that most of the action involves undecided voters deciding whom to vote for.
Also, if political scientist are right that voters rarely change their minds, how can a large swing in the polls ever occur? A classic example that your briefly mention in your book is that of Michael Dukakis, who was ahead of GHW Bush by 10% at one point in 1988. -Alan T
A. We see more big shifts in the primaries, when voters don’t have that much information about the candidates. Dukakis was a relative unknown at the start of the 1988 race, before the two parties could advance their own narratives. You rarely see big swings in voter conversion in late stage presidential races, though. If I knew how to cause such a swing, I’d be drawing a big salary from one of the campaigns right now. Read More »
Glenn BECK: Glenn Beck. I’m an entrepreneur. I am a reluctant, believe it or not, commentator. And dad. Stephen DUBNER: All right, now to the theme of our conversation today — when I say media bias, you say what? BECK: Yes. [THEME] ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is FREAKONOMICS […] Read More »
The rogue trader is a recurring character in the story of finance over the last 20 years. This is the guy who makes secret, unauthorized bets with his bank’s money, driven by some seeming combination of inadequacy and a huge appetite for risk, and abetted at times by an amazing lack of internal controls.
The deeper he goes, the harder he has to work to conceal his deception until one day, it inevitably comes crashing down. The bank loses billions, the trader (sometimes) goes to jail. The story is repeated every several years. The latest version broke in September when UBS announced it had lost more than $2 billion as a result of rogue trader Kweku Adoboli.
In his new e-book, How to Be a Rogue Trader, Financial Times columnist John Gapper explains why this story has become so familiar over the years. As he puts it, the rogue trader is a species of sorts within the world of finance, a special breed with certain behaviors and characteristics that are consistent through time. Gapper delves into evolutionary biology and the research of Daniel Kahneman to better understand the nature of men like Nick Leeson, Joe Jett, and Jerome Kerviel. Read More »
Last spring, we posted on Phil Tetlock’s massive prediction tournament: Good Judgment. You might remember Tetlock from our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.)
Tetlock is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, well-known for his book Expert Political Judgment, in which he tracked 80,000 predictions over the course of 20 years. Turns out that humans are not great at predicting the future, and experts do just a bit better than a random guessing strategy. Read More »