Auto Ads by Adsense

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Review: Superfreakonomics

 I guess I never read Superfreakonomics before because it had acquired a bad reputation for its attempt to minimize the impact of global warming. Written by the same folks who brought you Freakonomics, it's an attempt to impose economic analysis on a whole host of phenomenon. The style is easy to read and a lot of fun, with lots of little factoids like the following:

the schoolteacher corps began to experience a brain drain. In 1960, about 40 percent of female teachers scored in the top quintile of IQ and other aptitude tests, with only 8 percent in the bottom. Twenty years later, fewer than half as many were in the top quintile, with more than twice as many in the bottom. It hardly helped that teachers’ wages were falling significantly in relation to those of other jobs. “The quality of teachers has been declining for decades,” the chancellor of New York City’s public schools declared in 2000, “and no one wants to talk about it.” (pg. 62)

There's a well known section about doctors not washing their hands, and another interesting factoid that complemented the above, about the inverse of what happened to the school teachers:

 An excellent doctor is disproportionately likely to have attended a top-ranked medical school and served a residency at a prestigious hospital. More experience is also valuable: an extra ten years on the job yields the same benefit as having served a residency at a top hospital. And oh yes: you also want your ER doctor to be a woman. It may have been bad for America’s schoolchildren when so many smart women passed up teaching jobs to go to medical school, but it’s good to know that, in our analysis at least, such women are slightly better than their male counterparts at keeping people alive. (pg. 115)

The big one is the section about global warming and its dismissive attitude towards it. That hasn't aged well. What did age well is the geoengineering solutions such as throwing sulfur into the stratosphere to reduce solar heating. That's been explored by science fiction novels in recent years, but not in convincing fashion. For instance, nobody has explored the impact of doing that on solar panel efficiency, and one thing that this book didn't forecast was how quickly the prices of solar panels and wind turbines dropped. So the book comes across as superficial and glibe.

The book was a lot of fun to read, but I guess non-fiction of this sort doesn't age well.

No comments: