I know it's a little late in the game, but I just read Freakonomics over the weekend. It's a good read, and I applaud the authors for bringing economic reasoning to the masses (okay, the small percentage of folks who actually read nonfiction). On the other hand, in some ways I was underwhelmed. Some of the "brilliant insights" from the book, while perhaps not in general circulation, didn't strike me as either especially brilliant or original. Within the range of normal, parenting doesn't really affect children's test scores? Old news. Swimming pools in the yard are much more dangerous to children than guns in the house? Anyone remotely familiar with the literature on gun safety would have easily guessed this, as owning a gun is not very dangerous. And the fact that pools pose significant safety problems seems pretty well known, too. Legal abortion may (I'm not convinced that this has been "proven") reduce crime rates? Many years ago, I asked a (conservative)relative what she thought about whether abortion should be legal. She responded, "I want abortion to be legal because otherwise those kids will grow up to mug my kids." Low-level drug dealers don't get paid much? I read an article many years ago in Insight on the News about how teenage residents of slums go back and forth between menial jobs and drug dealing. "Gun buybacks" and other popular quick fixes don't reduce gun crime? Duh! [It's true that Leavitt is rebutting common notions promoted by the news media, but perhaps because of my background writing about "junk science," I'm not exactly shocked that the MSM tends toward illiteracy on scientific, statistical, and technical issues--anyone remember the breast implant fiasco?] (I did find the material on catching "cheating teachers" in Chicago quite interesting, however.)
Sure, Leavitt deserves a lot of credit for using the tools of economics and statistics to get hard(er) data on these matters, and for trying to answer interesting real-world questions instead of retreating into the typical academic economist's world of math. But the plaudits he's received for having such an incredibly original and creative mind strike me as excessive, as very little in the book seemed especially new or original. But an A+ to Leavitt (and Dubner) as popularizers.