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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Book Review: SuperFreakonomics, Reviewed by Zan Jones

January is a busy month for Susan in her clinical practice. That might surprise you because you might think it is December. Her practice is really busy in January because so many people have family issues, marital issues, and difficulties with their expectations soon after the holidays. That is why I asked to step in for Susan and review a book we both have been reading.

SuperFreakonomics, by the economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, was even more enjoyable than their first book, Freakonomics. SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything. I think this book will entertain you and make you feel smarter for reading it.

The book begins with an interesting perspective on drunk driving. While all of us would campaign that drunk driving is bad, most of us can't answer the question: "Why do so many people get behind the wheel after drinking?" It could be because drunk drivers rarely get caught - 1 arrest for every 27,000 miles driven while drunk. But, on a per mile basis it is 8 times more dangerous to walk drunk than to drive drunk. (One caveat: a drunk walker isn't likely to hurt anyone else.) Conclusion: friends shouldn't let friends walk drunk.

I counted over 100 intriguing questions and answers in the book. Listed below are my 5 favorites:

  1. How is a Street Prostitute like a Department Store Santa? The answer: both take advantage of short-term job opportunities brought on by holiday spikes in demand. The authors go on to discuss how the annual wages for a prostitute have gone down from $80,000 a century ago to about $16,000 today. Why? Lack of demand. Not for sex but for prostitutes. Women's lib and casual sex are to blame. The prostitute explanation was interesting. And even though I am a little prude, I still enjoyed it.

  • What is the worst month to have a baby? If you know someone in Michigan who is having a baby this year you should hope it's not born in May. If so, the baby is roughly 20% more likely to have visual, hearing or learning disabilities as an adult. Same issue if you live in southeastern Uganda. Why? The simple reason is: Ramadan. Parts of Michigan have a substantial Muslim population as does southeastern Uganda. Islam calls for a daytime fast from food and drink for the entire month of Ramadan. Most Muslim women participate even while pregnant. The effects are strongest when fasting coincides with the first month of pregnancy.

  • Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance? Surprisingly, "terrorists" tend to come from well educated, middle-class or high income families. By examining the banking history of terrorists after September 11, certain "terrorist" behaviors were identified. Would-be terrorists are more likely to: own a mobile phone, be a student and rent, rather own, a home. Would-be terrorists are least likely to: have a savings account, withdraw money from an ATM on a Friday afternoon and buy life insurance. So if a budding terrorist wants to cover his tracks, he should go to the bank and change his name to something un-Muslim and buy life insurance.

  • Why did 38 people sit by and watch an innocent woman be murdered? Social psychology students have all heard this story. In March 1964, on a cold, damp night, a 28-year old woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked, chased, stabbed in her back, raped, stabbed again and left to die. The murder took 35 minutes and of the 38 people who saw it not one person called the police. The incident inspired research on what is now called "bystander apathy." To find out how this event ties in with the John F. Kennedy assassination, the ACLU, TV and the Andy Griffith Show you'll have to read the book.

  • According to the government, who visits retirement homes? Data from a U.S. government study shows that an elderly parent in a retirement home is more likely to be visited by his grown children if they are expecting a sizable inheritance. My argument is that the children of wealthy families are simply more caring of their parents. However, the data show no increase in retirement home visits if a wealthy family has only one grown child; there has to be a least two. This suggests that the visits increase because of competition between siblings for the inheritance. I'm glad I have 2 kids!

If you'd like to find out the best time of day to visit the ER, ways to postpone death, solutions for global warming, how well car seats work and if a sex-change can boost your salary then pick up a copy of SuperFreakonomics.

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