Freakonomics Podcast: Abortion and Crime, Revisited

The authors of the book, Freakonomics, created some controversy when they laid out the case that the legalization of abortion in the United States in the 1970s was largely responsible for the dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s and beyond. In this podcast, the main author and economist behind the study discusses the fallout and criticism from that case but more importantly discusses several important concepts related to the human sciences and how people acquire knowledge generally.

Some interesting moments:

33 minutes: the challenges for a layperson to learn about social science research and the limitations of media reporting and sensationalism. Also talks about the nature of creating knowledge in economics.
47 minutes: on the challenges of explaining to people what economists do and the validity of their methods despite seeming sophisticated to the nonexpert.

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There’s A War On Sugar. Is It Justified?

Interesting podcast episode that delves into whether sugar should be regulated. In evaluating that claim, they delve into the difficulty of proving claims of about health and nutrition scientifically. What does good science look like in nutrition? How do you prove a causal relationship? Both relevant questions when we look at this issue.
“Some people argue that sugar should be regulated, like alcohol and tobacco, on the grounds that it’s addictive and toxic. How much sense does that make? We hear from  a regulatory advocate, an evidence-based skeptic, a former FDA commissioner — and the organizers of Milktoberfest.”

Freakonomics Podcast: Bad Medicine, Parts 1, 2, and 3: The Story of 98.6, Drug Trials, and Death Diagnosis

Part I:

“We tend to think of medicine as a science, but for most of human history it has been scientific-ish at best. In the first episode of a three-part series, we look at the grotesque mistakes produced by centuries of trial-and-error, and ask whether the new era of evidence-based medicine is the solution.”

Part II:

“How do so many ineffective and even dangerous drugs make it to market? One reason is that clinical trials are often run on “dream patients” who aren’t representative of a larger population. On the other hand, sometimes the only thing worse than being excluded from a drug trial is being included.”

Part III:

“By some estimates, medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. How can that be? And what’s to be done? Our third and final episode in this series offers some encouraging answers.”

Freakonomics Podcast: This Idea Must Die

A really interesting podcast in which experts in various fields discuss ideas that seem to persist that really should go away. Sometimes these are ideas that exist among experts (the use of mice in clinical trials of cancer drugs) and sometimes these are ideas that exist among common people (the idea that people are either left or right brained)

“In our latest episode of Freakonomics Radio, we run that progression in reverse. Rather than asking if a new idea is a good one, we ask whether it’d be better if some of the ideas we cling to were killed off.”

Freakonomics Podcast: The Maddest Men of All. Episode about Behavioral Economics

Another interesting discussion on the field of behavioral economics (see a previous post on the topic). Some really interesting discussions on this podcast about the contrast between classical economics and behavioral economics. You get some insight into the different approaches to knowledge and assumptions between two related fields in the human sciences.

You also get some interesting insights about how we make decisions. To what degree are our decisions motivated by reason? And to what degree are they motivated by emotion? Is it ethical for someone to use their knowledge of our emotional decision making to push us to make a decision they want us to make (i.e. buy something we otherwise wouldn’t)?

“Let’s take an example where you go to an airline website and it … quotes you a price for your seat to Sacramento, whatever it may be, and it says only four seats left at that price. Now, that works on me. I’ve spent eight years studying this stuff, I know it’s an attempt to exploit my scarcity bias, but it still makes me click. That’s just the way I’m wired. Now implicit in that line is that subsequent seats will be more expensive. But actually the person in their weasel wording hasn’t exactly made that promise, have they? They’ve merely said at this price. At this price is not quite clear. It could be that the subsequent four seats are being sold actually at a lower price.”

How can we measure the effectiveness in charitable giving?

Much of our charitable giving is governed by emotions. We are far more often to give to a cause if the story or cause grabs our attention by moving us emotionally. Sometimes the charities are effective at branding themselves or their cause and sometimes we personally identify with the cause.

There are some people who want to change the way we think about charitable giving by identifying the “return on investment” of each dollar donated rather than letting our emotions decide for us. What happens when we decide to figure out the most effective use of our charitable dollars? How can we measure the impact? What criteria do we look at? Do we focus on saving lives or improving quality of life? Is it possible to even quantify these things?

Much of the approach these people use try to apply mathematical approaches to identify effectiveness. How can we use math to help us determine truth? What are the assumptions built into these mathematical models? Does quantifying this stuff to determine effectiveness dehumanize charitable work?

What if it was “mathematically proven” that the the most effective approach to charity were to give money away with no conditions or strings attached to the recipients? Would your emotional or intuitive revulsion to such an idea keep you from donating? How do you decide what is right when different ways of knowing conflict with one another?

Sometimes people prefer to donate to causes that build tangible structures like schools in foreign countries though it turns out that building schools may not actually that effective based on the cost.

Below are some links to evaluate this topic and these questions.

1. Is It Nuts to Give to the Poor Without Strings Attached?

2. Planet Money Podcast: The Charity That Just Gives People Money

3.Measuring the Bang of Every Donated Buck

Scoring charitable work is evolving from an art into a science

4. Give Well: Real Change for Your Dollar

Homepage for an organization that seeks to quantify the impact of various charities.

5. Smart Aid for the World’s Poor

How can rich countries best help poor ones? Matt Ridley identifies five priorities

6. Freakonomics Podcast:Fixing the World, Bang-for-the-Buck Edition

7.Don’t Build Schools in Afghanistan

8.Poker Players Use Science To Effectively Give To Charities