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Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

SuperFreakonomics (2009) explains why thinking like an economist can help us understand our modern world. These blinks illustrate key economic principles and the importance of collecting data with colorful stories from human history, and offers surprising solutions for the global problems that we face today.

Key idea 1 of 9

Statistics can give us brilliant insights into our world.

Are you one of those people who gets irritated when someone around you leaves behind their rubbish? It might leave you wondering what it is that makes them behave so inconsiderately. You might even wish you could get into their heads and find out.

Of course, that’s a thought we often brush aside; we can’t get into other people’s heads. Even so, we can change their undesirable behaviors. After all, governments and public bodies do this all the time, by creating incentives that reward us for doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, incentive schemes rarely work out as planned. More often than not, they have rather damaging knock-on effects, putting the law of unintended consequences into action.

Take the introduction of volume-based trash pickup fees. This was supposed to be an incentive for people to produce less waste. Instead, people came up with creative ways to avoid the fee. In Germany, many people started flushing uneaten food down the toilet, increasing the rat population as a result.

But if we could predict people’s reactions to incentives before we put them in place, we’d save ourselves a lot of time and trouble. And how can we do this? By using statistics to get inside their heads.

By collecting and analyzing data and statistics, we can begin to understand why people behave the way they do. The following blinks reveal some fascinating and surprising stories gathered by the authors to highlight the importance of statistics in understanding human actions.

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