Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson


Book Review No. 2 is Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. That last part of the subtitle is really an endorsement of profiling. That somebody chooses to buy life insurance, Watson, is evidence the buyer does not intend a spectacular exit from this life. The absence of such insurance is not proof of terrorist intent, but in combination with other things, some of which remain classified, might be.

Most of the book, however, is devoted to the same sort of well-established anomalies whose treatment I found wanting in Freakonomics, and that has provided material for a number of competing books. It's time for something more substantive than another reminder about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Congress passes a law banning lead in metal toys, and Chinese manufacturers switch to cadmium instead. (Cadmium is in the same column of Mendeleyev's Periodic Table as zinc and mercury. There has to be a reason for that substitution, can we talk about relative prices?) What cracked me up, however, was the two Steves griping about how too many other researchers, including Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, reviewed here, had crowded their own work on age effects out of the research conversation. Social scientists have been aware of these effects for some time. See Barnsley and Thompson, Birthdate and Success in Minor Hockey: The Key to the NHL in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science in 1988, and Hurley, Lior, and Tracze, A Proposal to Reduce the Age Discrimination in Canadian Minor Hockey, in Canadian Public Policy in 2001. The economics problem, which to the best of my knowledge has not yet been investigated, is whether organized sport is leaving talent unused in an inefficient way in the setting of eligibility dates. In Canadian youth hockey, the eligibility date is January 1, meaning that when the season begins in October, the youngest players in a tryout have the October to December birthdates and the greatest disadvantage competing for slots. But those players would be at least as good, or marginally better than, the January kids in the immediately-younger tryouts. Why not set the eligibility date for October of the previous year, or for July? It's not as easy as it looks: organized baseball in the States has an August 1 eligibility date, with pitchers and catchers reporting in February ...

Perhaps I'm jaded by being a working economist, or perhaps it's my familiarity with Sherlock Holmes. There's an instructive chapter on the work of a Viennese physician who wondered why moms and babies delivered by physicians died more frequently than those attended by midwives. Give me data, Watson ... But if you know the evolution of scientific medicine, even this chapter might not be sufficiently instructive to induce you to buy the book.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: economics

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