Freakonomics is an “alternative” look at debunking some of the established wisdom as far as our ideas about life in general and economics in particular go. It is an irreverent and funny book about some of the truths that we take to be self-evident. It is one of the books in the new genre of non-fiction that attempts to question some of the academic theories that all of us take for granted. There are other books like “Black Swan”, “Undercover Economist” and “Tipping Point” that have tried to explain social phenomena in terms of going beyond the academic dogma.
The topic for this essay is the “Perfect parent” hypothesis that deals with some of the myths concerning child rearing and safety that parents use in bringing up their children. The essay looks at the chapter in detail along with the material presented and then attempts to support the claims as well as present some criticism of the same. However, Freakonomics can also fall into the trap that it has laid for established theories. For instance, chapter five that deals with a “Perfect Parent” hypothesis can easily be debunked by theories that contradict the authors’ claims. Usage of Data and otherwise
Freakonomics relies heavily on statistical evidence to debunk many of the “truths” and offers some data to prove some counter-intuitive truths. As the authors’ state, they want to expose “the hidden side of everything”. Towards this, the authors’ take on many established certainties and prove that we often tend to overestimate the potential risk in say, flying and under-estimate the risk associated with driving when statistical evidence clearly shows that more people die in road accidents than air accidents. The book is definitely an attempt to look for the “hidden connections” as can be seen from the linkage of abortion to the low crime.
The example of Roe. vs. Wade and the resulting decrease in crime is a good example of this. While it makes sense to blame everything on our inability to measure risk or use quantitative analysis in everyday life, the fact remains that with the abundance of theories being floated on a daily basis, there is no “one correct” way to lead a life, let alone parenting. While the purpose of this essay is not to debunk “Freakonomics”, nonetheless we should remain cautious about “information overload” . This is one tendency that would make us derive some meaning out of the current age.
Chapter Five: The Perfect parent hypothesis The chapter deals with the question “What makes a perfect parent? ” It deals with the statistical evidence to prove that: – Though there is correlation between parents who are highly educated, kids not from single homes and their test scores, it is not enough to establish a cause and effect scenario between two sets of factors – The data also proves that black children doing badly at school most probably means that they are from a low income household rather than that they are black. An example of this would be the success of black golfer Tiger Woods.
Having an upbringing that was virtually elitist, the success of Tiger Woods proves the above hypothesis. Though the authors’ have not quoted this as an example, they nonetheless state that the data from the ELCS scores is highly encouraging for anyone who wants to have a shot at the “black white” hypothesis of doing badly/well at school – The other set of data that the authors’ present relates to the child safety seats that sell in millions compared to having a child in a rear seat. This is what they call the “outrage reduction” for the obsessive parenting.
This can be compared to the example of a terrorist attack like 9/11 that can be seen in terms of “sensational” value as compared to the number of people who die from gun shot wounds. Countering the authors’ claims in Chapter Five The main criticisms against chapter five are: – Overgeneralization – Attempt to dazzle – Usage of anecdote when the authors’ make claims based on data The authors’ contention that “good parenting” as the experts claim may not hold the key and their frank admission that many of the outcomes of a child’s personality cannot be measured kind of stand out against their other claims.
The last point refers to the black kid who had to fend for himself at the age of twelve and the white kid who has all the advantages. The black kid turned out to be Levitt’s co-author while the white kid turned out to be the Unabomber. The point being made here is when the authors’ use so much data, what is the point of using anecdotes. The authors’ repeatedly try to discourage the “anecdotal evidence” and instead concentrate on statistics to prove their point. So, this is one trap that the authors’ laid for themselves .
Also, the temptation to dazzle with “truths” sometimes is overarching and can be avoided. Conventional wisdom The books’ as well as the chapter five’s thesis is all about how conventional wisdom can often lead us wrong. And it is here that the authors’ score their best. Often, we take the “truths handed down” to us as the norm and though scholarly studies have tried correcting the myths, the authors’ deserve credit for putting out the evidence in a fashion as understood by everybody.
Conclusion Though we have taken one “truth” as our thesis and provided views on both sides i. e. to support as well as debunk, nonetheless the book is an entertaining read and is a serious attempt to get past the “scholarly daze” that most of the academic journals and mainstream research provide. At times, the book might seem to be “like a journalist explaining economics” but the reason for this is that the authors’ are trying to put their point across to laypeople.