Freaking Out

The new Freakonomics book is out. I got it on Audible, and, to be honest, it’s a lot like listening to an extended podcast (some of which are included at the end). However, there are many new tidbits of Freaky thinking to enjoy:



Some highlights:

  • Nigerian scam emails are purposely made to sound ridiculous, because scammers know they will need to expend a lot of effort cultivating potential victims. As a result, they want to weed out early (at the email phase) marks that are only slightly gullible, and focus in on those most likely to go “all the way” and hand over money. This leads to a lower response rate to emails, but a higher “quality” pool of targets. As a result, among the best countermeasures to make scamming less profitable is to “reverse spam” the spammers with fake responses. Even more daring is to purposely engage in scam baiting (eg. the stories posted at, a site I spent more hours than I should have in grad school pursuing) to waste the time of would be fraudsters.
  • A theory was offered that African-Americans are more likely to suffer from hypertension as a result of the middle passage. The selection pressure of enslaved Africans who were able to survive the long trans-Atlantic voyage favored those with higher salt retention, as the idea goes.
  • A good way to force decision makers to overcome echo-chamber optimism before the launch of a new project is to give them a exercise called a premortem. Tell them: “assume the project is a failure. What went wrong?” Now, voicing concerns does not seem like being overly pessimistic.
  • My favorite of all – The Wisdom of Solomon when he proposed to split the baby was to create a “separating equilibrium.” That is, the real mother would rather give up the child than have the order carried out. This is similar to the trial by ordeal of the Middle Ages, in which those with a guilty conscience  would fear divine retribution and confess before the ordeal was carried out.

Overall, to Think like a Freak, means to think like an economist, which often leads to correct but socially unacceptable notions. In any case, the book  is a worthy addition to the growing Freakonomics media empire.



Author: lnemzer

Associate Professor Nova Southeastern University

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