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Johan Dzeprailidis

Introduction : Putting the freak in economics
The perils of walking drunk
One of every 140 miles is driven drunk, or 21 billion miles each year.
However, drunk drivers are rarely caught : there is just one arrest for every
27,000 miles driven while drunk.
The average American walks about a half-mile per day and there are
some 237 million Americans sixteen and older, which makes 43 billion
miles walked each year. Assuming that 1 of every 140 miles is walked
drunk (the same proportion that are driven drunk), then 307 million miles
are walked drunk each year. With 1,000 drunk pedestrian deaths per year
and 13,000 deaths in alcohol-related accidents, on a per-mile basis, a
drunk walker is eight times more likely to get killed than a drunk driver.

The unlikely savior of Indian women

It is especially unlucky to be born female in India because many
parents express a strong son preference. For example, midwives are
sometimes paid $2.5 to smother a baby girl born with a deformity. Indian
women face inequalities every day : they earn less money, receive worse
healthcare and less education, are subjected to atrocities. They also run
an outsize risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease
Lots of government measures put into practice to help the Indian
women have a better life failed. But the TV didnt : it seemed to be
empowering women (especially of rural India) in a way that government
interventions had not.

Drowning in horse manure (= Noy dans le fumier de cheval)

The horse was put to work in many ways as modern cities expanded,
pulling streetcars for instance. At the beginning of the 20th century,
200,000 horses worked in New-York. But they caused lots of troubles, for
example, if a horse died, the street cleaners often waited for the horse to
putrefy so they could more easily sawed it into pieces, what was very
disturbing, as well as the noise horses did when walking on the streets.
They were also responsible for many accidents (200 deaths in New-York in
But the real problem was their manure, which attracted lots of flies
and rats that spread deadly diseases. The problem was solved by a
technological innovation : the automobile, cleaner and far more efficient
than the horse.

What is freakonomics, anyway ?

Freakonomics : marrying the economic approach to a rogue, freakish
curiosity (= curiosit bizarre, coquine). The economic approach is defined
as a systematic means of describing how people make decisions and
change their minds; it usually begins by accumulating data.

Toothless sharks and bloodthirsty elephants

In 2001, Time magazine ran a cover package about shark attacks.
There were just 68 shark attacks this year, 4 of which were fatal, which
was totally about average. On the other hand, elephants kill at least 200
people every year and yet, the shark scare played out so constantly that
summer that it didnt quite down until 9/11. The authors just want to show
that they rely on accumulated data rather than on individual anecdotes
which, like this example, could bias the analysis.

Things you always thought you knew but didnt

Chapter 1 : How is a street prostitute like a departmentstore Santa ?

They both take advantage of short-term job opportunities brought
about by holiday spikes in demand. The prostitute : every summer, there is
a surge in demand for prostitution in Washington Park, so the prostitutes
raise their prices by about 30% and work as much overtime as they can.
Some women who are not prostitutes all the year also begin to turn tricks
during this season, appealed by the chance to cash in. Department-store
Santa : its a department-store which focuses on Christmas to sell a large
amount of its products; Santa refers to Santa Claus.

Meet LaSheena, a part-time prostitute

LaSheena describes 4 streams of income : boosting : shoplifting,
selling the swag; roosting : serving as a lookout for the local street gang
that sells drugs; cutting hair; turning tricks (= faire des passes).

One million dead witches

Throughout history, it has always been easier to be male than
female, women had a shorter life expectancy. Between the 13 th and 19th
century, 1 million European women were executed for witchcraft.

The many ways in which females are punished for being born
Its far better to be a woman today than at any other point in history,
but still today, in Cameroon, women have their breast beaten, there was
foot binding in China, and women in rural India continue to face
discrimination in every direction. Even in occidental countries, women still
suffer from discrimination with their income compared to men for
instance : women who went to Harvard earn less than half as much as the
average Harvard man.

Even Radcliffe women pay the price

Title IX creates jobs for women; men take them
This law was designed to prohibit sex discrimination in educational
settings and also required high schools and colleges to bring their
womens sports programs up to the level of their mens programs. When
the law was passed, more than 90% of college womens sport teams had
female head coaches. But this law boosted the appeal of such jobs, which
attracted new customers : men. Now, barely 40 percent of college
womens sports teams are coached by women.

Men also took the place of women in the prostitution field (they
became pimps).

1 of every 50 women a prostitute

It appears that roughly 200,000 women were prostitutes in 1910 in
the United States. Knowing that there were 22 million women between the
ages of 15 and 44, 1 of every 110 woman in that range was a prostitute,
and 1 of every 50 for women in their twenties.

The booming sex trade in old-time Chicago

In old-time Chicago, the Everleigh Club was a very famous house of
prostitution, where girls were offering sexual delicacies that werent
available elsewhere, oral sex.
When prostitution was criminalized in the US, most of the policing
energy was directed at the prostitutes, but when you lock up a supplier,
like a prostitute, a scarcity is created that inevitably drives the price
higher. There was also the penalty for prostitutes not to have a husband
for instance, thats why wages had to be high to entice enough women to
satisfy the strong demand. (See the erosion of prostitute pay)

A survey like no other

Anyone who wants to really understand the prostitution market
needs to accumulate some real data, thats why Venkatesh (the
researcher) hired trackers to observe some facets of prostitutes
transactions and to gather more intimate details from the prostitutes as
soon as the customers were gone. Most of the trackers were former
prostitutes and he also interviewed some prostitutes.

The erosion of prostitute pay

Demand has fallen dramatically, thats why the prostitutes wage
has fallen so far. Not the demand for sex, but the demand for prostitution.
Sex outside of marriage was much harder to come by and carried
significantly higher penalties than it does today ; premarital sex emerged
as a viable substitute for prostitution (70% of the men born in the 50s had
sex before they marry, compared with just 33% of the earlier generation
in the 30s). As the demand for paid sex decreased, so too did the wage of
the people who provide it.

Why did oral sex get so cheap ?

Oral sex imposes a lower cost on the prostitute because it eliminates
the possibility of pregnancy and lessens the risk of sexually transmitted
disease. However, oral sex always had those benefits. But 100 years ago,
oral sex carried a sort of taboo tax, it was considered a form of perversion.
And as social attitudes changed, the price fell to reflect the new reality.

Prostitutes also do not charge all customers the same price : they
use price discrimination. At least 2 conditions must be met : 1 st, you can
clearly identify the customers who are willing to pay more, and 2 nd, the
seller must be able to prevent resale of the product. Black and white skins
are a good identifier, and resale is impossible in the case of prostitution.
With black men, the prostitutes usually tell her price to discourage any
negotiation; but with white men, they let them name a price. Finally,
prostitutes also accord discounts when they are paid with drugs, when sex
act is performed outside, or when the customers uses a condom.

Pimps versus Realtors

Just as you can sell your body with or without the help of a pimp, you
can sell your house with or without a Realtor. A Realtor and a pimp perform
the same primary service : marketing your product to potential customers.
It seems that a pimps services (the prostitute makes more money while
turning less tricks, is less likely to be beaten up or forced to giving
freebies, isnt got arrested by the police) are considerably more valuable
than a Realtors (someone else does all the work, the house is sold faster,
but you pay a high commission).

Why cops love prostitutes

Only 1 in 10 arrests leads to a prison sentence. The cop on the street
doesnt have a very strong incentive to actually make arrests, but the
prostitute has one : sex. Of all the tricks turned by the prostitutes tracked
by Venkatesh, 3% were freebies given to police officers. A Chicago
prostitute is more likely to have sex with a cop than to be arrested.

Where did all the schoolteachers go ?

In 1940, 55% of all college-educated female workers in their early
thirties were employed as teachers. But the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 contributed to multiply the opportunities for smart
women. Thats why more and more women emerged in such professions
than law, medicine, business, finance, and so on. There was also the
widespread of the baby formula, which allowed new mothers to get right
back to work. More than their number, the quality of women teachers fell
as well, due to wages which were falling significantly in relation to those of
other jobs.

What really accounts for the male-female wage gap

While gender discrimination may be a minor factor, its desire that
accounts for most of the wage gap : women have slightly lower GPAs
(Grade Point Average) and they take fewer finance courses and, all being
equal, there is a strong correlation between a finance background and
career earnings; over the first 15 years of their careers, women work less

than men (52 hours/week vs 58), and over 15years, this adds up to six
months less experience; women take more career interruption than men,
after ten years in the workforce, only 10% of male MBAs went for 6months
or more without working, compared to 40% for female MBAs; women are
more likely to leave the workforce or downshift their career to raise a
family, and they also tend to choose specialties that pay less.

Do men love money the way women love kids ?

The big issue is that women love kids. The average female MBA with
no children works only 3% fewer hours than the average male MBA, but
female with children work 24% less. A higher wage is a stronger incentive
for men than it is for women (See experiment p.46).

Can a sex change boost your salary ?

Research showed that women who become men earn slightly more
money after their gender transitions, while men who become women
make, on average, nearly one-third less than their previous wage. But the
research sample set was very small (14 MTFs and 24 FTMs).

Meet Allie, the happy prostitute; why arent there more

women like her ?
Allie is a woman who used to work in the computer field and who
was married. But as her two marriages broke down, she began to be an
escort and earned about 200,000$ a year at the beginning, much more
than with her previous jobs. But in the space of a couple of years, Allie had
increased her price by 67% (from $300/hour to $500), and yet the demand
was not decreasing; most people who bought her services were, in the
language of economics, price insensitive. This job provides her with high
wages, flexible hours, and relatively little risk of violence or arrest.
However, she had to make some sacrifices, like not to have a husband for
instance. She decided to retire because of her age, and she went back to
college to study economics.

Chapter 2 : Why should suicide bombers buy life

insurance ?
Insurance companies dont pay out if the policyholder commits
suicide. So, a terrorist who suspects he may one day blow himself up
probably isnt going to waste money on life insurance. Thus, if a terrorist
wants to cover his tracks, he should go down to the bank and buy some
life insurance.

The worst month to have a baby

It refers to the 9th month after Ramadan, because babies that were in
utero during Ramadan are more likely to exhibit developmental
aftereffects. This is particularly true when fasting (= jene) corresponds
with the first month of pregnancy.

The natal roulette affects horses too

Why Albert Aab will outshine Albert Zyzmor
Its common practice, especially among economists, to co-write
academic papers and list the authors alphabetically by last name. All being
equal, someone with his or her last name beginning with an A would be
more likely to gain tenure (= poste) at a top university or even win the
Nobel Prize than someone whose last name begin with a Z (or any other

The birthdate bulge (= protubrance)

Most of the players of an elite team are born between January and
March, and a very low number between October and December. Most elite
athletes begin playing their sports when they are young, and sports
leagues in Europe usually use December 31 as the cutoff date. That is, a
boy born on January 1 will be in the same team as one born on December
31 even there is one year difference between them. Then, year after year,
the bigger boys like the first one are selected, while boys like the 2 nd one
fall away; this is relative-age-effect.

Where does talent come from ?

The trait we commonly call raw talent is vastly overrated; talent
comes largely by practicing. Not a simple practice, but a deliberate
practice : setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedbacks; and
concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

Some families produce baseball players; others produce

A boy whose father is a former player of the Major League Baseball
is 800 times more likely to play in the majors than another boy. In parallel,
terrorists are less likely to come from a poor family and more likely to have
at least a high-school education. In general, terrorists tend to be drawn
from well-educated, middle-class or high-income families.

Why terrorism is so cheap and easy

Terrorism is effective because it imposes costs on everyone, not just
its direct victims, like the fear of a future attack, and because you can
succeed even by failing.

The trickle-down effects of September 11

In just the three months following the attacks, there were 1000 extra
traffic deaths in the US, because people stopped flying and drove instead.
The attacks also led to a spike in alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress
that translated into extra driving deaths. Money and manpower that
otherwise would have been spent chasing financial scoundrels (=
sclrats) were instead diverted to chasing terrorists. But there were also
good aftereffects, like the decrease in crime thanks to extra police flooding
the cities for example.

The man who fixes hospitals

Craig Feied is an emergency-medicine specialist at WHC and chief
architect of a pilot program called ER One, meant to lead the emergency
room into the modern era. He hired students to follow doctors and nurses,
like Venkatesh hired trackers to interview prostitutes, because they both
wanted to get reliable and real-time data. He believed the best way to
improve clinical care in the ER was to improve the flow of information.
Indeed, the WHC emergency department had a severe case of low data
counts (datapenia). The system he imagined had to be encyclopedic
(containing all the data), muscular (with a great amount of data capacity)
and flexible (able to incorporate new data). A few years after its
implementation (Azyxxi), the WHC emergency department has gone
from worst to first in the Washington region. Doctors were spending 25%
less on information management, more than twice as much time directly
treating patients, whose outcomes were better, doctors were happier, and
the annual patient volume doubled (40,000 to 80,000).

Why the newest ERs are already obsolete

There were some nice emergency departments build in 2001, but
they were built with open bays, divided by curtains, which means there is
no isolation and so many patients could be infected by a single one.

How can you tell a good doctor from a bad one ?

Thanks to a natural randomization, we can more or less determine
which doctors are the best. That is, patients who come at a particular hour
on a particular day are likely to be similar to those who come at the same
hour on the same day the week after. But the doctors working on these
days will be different week after week. So, if you examine the outcomes of
these patients, you can determine which shift of doctors is the best.

Bitten by a client at work

Why you want your ER doc to be a woman
The analysis revealed that women are slightly better than men at
keeping people alive. Better doctors are also likely to have attended a topranked medical school and served a residency at a prestigious hospital.
But one factor that doesnt seem to matter is whether a doctor is highly
rated by his or her colleagues.

A variety of ways to postpone death

You could for instance win a Nobel Prize, get elected to the Baseball
Hall Of Fame, because status seems to work a kind of health-giving magic.
If you are an ordinary person, you could purchase an annuity, because its
steady payout would provide a little extra incentive to keep chugging
along (= continuer davancer pniblement). (See p.83)

Why is chemotherapy so widely used when it so rarely

works ?
The profit motive is one of the factors. Indeed, oncologists derive
more than half of their income from selling and administrating
chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy can also help oncologists inflate their
survival-rate data. Its also tempting for oncologists to overstate the
efficacy of chemotherapy : you get more money and recognition if you say
we are beating cancer than if you admit you havent made much
progress. There is also the fact that oncologists dont like to tell their
patients that there is nothing more to do.

Were still getting our butts kicked by cancer

War : not as dangerous as you think ?
From 2002 to 2008, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were on
average 1,673 American soldier deaths per year. In the 80s, during
peacetime years, there were on average 2,100 military deaths per year.
Though there were many more soldiers than now (2.1 million vs 1.4
million), the rate of death in 2008 was lower than in certain peacetime
years. Some of this improvement is likely due to better medical care.

Nevertheless, it seems that practicing to fight a war can be just about as

dangerous a really fighting one.

How to catch a terrorist

Thanks to the people arrested after the attacks of July 7, Ian Horsley
could create an algorithm based on their banking habits. It appears that
terrorists are more likely to : own a mobile phone, to be a student, and to
rent, rather than own, a home. People with Muslim names are also more
likely to be suspected. Other characteristics have be proven to be
fundamentally neutral however, these are : the employment status, the
marital status, and living in close proximity to a mosque. Next to this,
there is also prominent negative indicators, that is to say terrorists are
unlikely to : have savings account, to withdraw money from an ATM (=
Automated Teller Machines) on a Friday afternoon, and to buy life
insurance. There is a last variable, called variable X, which measures the
intensity of a particular banking activity. All these combined metrics create
a good algorithm to find people who are likely to be terrorists.


Chapter 3 : Unbelievable stories about apathy and

Why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered ?
In 1964, a women called Kitty Genovese was killed by a men called
Winston Moseley, while, according to the New-York Times, 38 neighbors
were attending the scene without even having called the police. The
apathy showed by the 38 people made the impact of the article immediate
and explosive.

With neighbors like these

Malcolm Gladwell speaks about the bystander effect (= effet
spectateur), whereby the presence of multiple witnesses at a tragedy can
actually inhibit intervention.

What caused the 1960s crime explosion ?

It wasnt obvious to isolate the factors driving crime because many
changes were simultaneously happening in American society in the 60s,
such as a population explosion, a growing anti-authoritarian sentiment, the
expansion of civil rights, a shift in popular culture.

How the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) encourages

The ACLU has filed lawsuits against dozens of states to protest
overcrowded prisons and won, which obligated the states letting some
prisoners free. After this decision, the number of arrests per crime fell
dramatically and the time spent in prison by people arrested decreased by
60% as well. So the decrease in punishment seems to be responsible for
roughly 30% of the rise in crime.

Leave it to Beaver : not as innocent as you think

As in the case of India, where TV cable came to different parts at
different times and thus allowed to measure its impact, researchers did
the same for the US. Children who grew up watching a lot of TV, especially
between birth and 4, were more likely to engage in crime when they got
older. Indeed, there is a stark difference in crime trends between cities
that got TV early and those that got it late. According to the analysis, the
total impact of TV on crime in the 60s was an increase of 50% in property
crimes and 25% in violent crimes. The reasons are maybe that kids who
watched a lot of TV never got properly socialized, or never learnt to
entertain themselves. Maybe the parents were more watching TV than
they were taking care of their children.

The roots of altruism, pure and impure

According to Becker, the same person who might be purely selfish (=
goste) in business could be exceedingly altruistic among people he
knew, although that altruism even within a family would have a strategic
Most giving is, as economists call it, impure altruism or warm-glow
altruism (the positive emotional feeling people get from helping others).
You give not only because you want to help but because it makes you look
good, or feel good, or perhaps feel less bad.

Who visits retirement homes ?

An elderly parent in a retirement home is more likely to be visited by
his grown children if they are expecting a sizeable inheritance. The data
even showed that there was no increase in visits if a wealthy family has
only one grown child, but there was when there were at least 2 grown

Natural disasters and slow news days (= jours o il y a peu

A recent academic study found that a given disaster received an
18% spike in charitable aid for each 700-word newspaper article and a
13% spike for every 60 seconds of TV news coverage. So, anybody who
wants to raise money for a Third World disaster had better hope it happens
on a slow news day.

Economists make like Galileo and hit the lab

The brilliant simplicity of the Dictator game
In the game, one person, the dictator, is given $20 and has to
choose between splitting the money in the middle, with each person
getting $10, and keeping $18, giving the second person $2. Generosity
couldnt be rewarded nor could selfishness be punished, because the
second player had no recourse to punish the dictator.

People are so generous!

It appears that 3 of every 4 participants split the money in the
middle, giving the same amount to the second player. And it didnt matter
if the experiment was run in Western Mongolia or in Chicago : people gave.
If people are innately altruistic, then society should be able to rely on its
altruism to solve even the most vexing problem.

Thank goodness for donorcycles

After the first organ transplant was performed, transplantation had a
lot of success. But over time, the normal supply of cadavers couldnt keep

up with the demand for organs, in particular because of the decrease in

the rate of traffic deaths. At least motorcyclists deaths kept up, because
some states allowed them to ride without helmets, thats why surgeons (=
chirurgiens) called them donorcyclists.

The great Iranian kidney experiment

The Iranian government pay people to give up a kidney, roughly
$1,200, with an additional sum paid by the kidney recipient, which is
illegal in the US. The idea had been come up by Barry Jacobs to bring Third
World citizens to the US, to remove one of their kidneys, to give them
some money and then send them back to their country If altruism were
the answer, the demand for kidneys would have been met by a ready
supply of donors, which was not the case. Although the Iranian market has
its flaws, the demand for transplantable kidneys is being fully met.

From driving a truck to the ivory tower

Why dont real people behave like people in the lab ?
John List conducted two similar experiments, one where the
participants knew it was an experiment and so they knew they were
observed, and another one where the participants didnt know they were
being observed. In the second experiment, the participants appeared to
behave differently than the participants of the first one, they were less fair.
This could be because the fairness and trust of the participants of the first
experiment were a product of the participants scrutiny (= surveillance),
which makes List wonder if it was the same for altruism.
First, there is a selection bias. People who volunteer to play Dictator
for instance are more cooperative. List says researchers who ran the
Dictator game induce almost any level of giving they desire. Then, scrutiny
influences laboratory experiments with humans, while it doesnt with
objects for instance; you are more likely to wash your hands in the office
restroom if your boss is already washing hers. Finally, human behavior is
influenced by the context, and the lab context is unavoidably artificial.

The dirty rotten (= lamentable) truth about altruism

If your only option in the lab is to give away some money, you
probably will. But in the real world, that is rarely your only option. List also
suggests that when a person comes into some money honestly and
believes that another person has done the same, she neither gives away
what she earned nor takes what doesnt belong to her. For him, its
certainly not altruism that can be seen in the former researchers


Scarecrows (= pouvantails) work on people too

Melissa Bateson ran an experiment in her own departments break
room. Faculty members paid for coffee by dropping money into an honesty
box and she changed the price list every week. In fact, the prices never
changed but the small photograph on the list did, it was flowers on odd
weeks and a pair of eyes on even weeks. Batesons colleagues left nearly
3 times as much money in the honesty box on the even weeks; the pair of
eyes acts as a scarecrow for humans.

Kitty Genovese revisited

The story reported by the Times about Genoveses murder wasnt
totally true. The first attack occurred in the middle of the night, so it was
difficult to see anything in the street from a window, and at least one man
shouted out the window to leave Genovese alone. The second, and last,
attack occurred in a vestibule, which let us think the number of 38
witnesses has been overstated by the police. And a man did call the
police, but there was no 911 that night and he had to call the operator and
wait for the eventual connection to the police. Other people than this man
also claimed to have phoned the police that night. Moseley has finally
been arrested 2 weeks after, when a man saw him carrying a television
from a house to his car. After checking his neighbors werent moving, this
man called the police and Moseley was finally captured because of a
neighbors intervention.

Chapter 4 : The fix is in (= le changement est l) and

its cheap and simple
Fix can be simple and cheap, so was Semmelweis solution. It often
addresses problems that seem resistant to any solution. Although it
required lots of medical research and money, the polio vaccine can be
considered as a simple fix, since there is no simpler medical fix than a
vaccine. This vaccine also tends to be very cheap if we consider the cost
of the operations that surgeons would have to do if there were no vaccine
(it saved roughly $30 billion). Consider for example the simple addition of
fluoride to water systems that has saved about $10 billion per year in
dental bills. The seat belts introduced in cars were also very simple and
very cheap. The garden hose idea is also a concrete example of a very
cheap and simple fix. However, car seats for children are not so simple;
indeed, more than 80% of car seats are improperly installed and people
often have trouble at using it. They are not so cheap as well, Americans
spend more than $300 million each year buying car seats.


The danger of childbirth

Between 1841 and 1846, in General Hospital of Vienna, nearly 1 of
every 10 mothers who was giving life to her baby died. In 1847, 1 of every
6 mother died from puerperal fever.

Ignatz Semmelweis to the rescue

Semmelweis discovered that women who delivered babies at home
were at least 60 times less likely to die of puerperal fever than women
who came to the hospital. Moreover, there was a huge gap between the
two wards in the hospital (one staffed by doctors, the other one by
midwives) : the death rate in doctors ward was more than twice as high.
Knowing that women were assigned to the wards depending on the day of
the week, it couldnt be that patients admitted in doctors ward were sicker
or weaker.
A professor suddenly died after he had been leading a student
through an autopsy, because the student cut the professors finger.
Semmelweis observed that the maladies he suffered before dying were
identical to those from which maternity patients had also died. He died
actually from cadaverous particles that were introduced into his vascular
system. He understood that it was the doctors who were responsible for
puerperal fever, transferring cadaverous particles from the dead bodies
after an autopsy to the women giving birth. In the history of unintended
consequences, few match this one uncovered by Semmelweis : doctors, in
order to save more lives, conducted lots of autopsies, which led to many

How the Endangered Species Act endangered species

When landowners fear their property is an attractive habitat for an
endangered animal, they rush to cut down trees to make it less attractive.

Creative ways to keep from paying for your trash (= ordures)

The new way of pricing trash (fees on volume) gives people an
incentive to stuff their bags ever fuller or just dump them in the woods; in
Germany, some people flushed uneaten food in the toilet; in Ireland, some
people burned their trash.

Forceps hoarding
The forceps is a simple set of metal tongs, invented by obstetrician
Peter Chamberlen, which allowed doctors and midwives to get a firm hold
on the baby and adroitly pluck it out, head first. But according to the
author and surgeon Gawande, the forceps had to have been millions of
lives lost.


The famine that wasnt

By 1750, the world population had risen to 800 million people.
Famine was a constant worry, and one historian even wrote that the
decrease of the population in England is because agriculture could not
respond to the pressure of feeding extra people. But the Agricultural
Revolution came, which even allowed the US to produce a surplus for

Three hundred thousand dead whales

In the 19th century, whaling was the 5th largest industry in the US.
Every part of the whales was used for something, and whale oil was very
useful. But it appeared that the number of whales collapsed and people
had to find a substitute to it. It was finally a man in Pennsylvania that
discovered oil in the ground, which has the particular asset to be used for
a lot of things, such as lamp oil, lubricant, or heating.

The mysteries of polio

Although many diseases were on their way out during the 20 th
century, polio refused to surrender and it was a mystery, its cause was
unknown. But a vaccine was developed and was finally stamped out.

What really prevented your heart attack ?

Reductions in risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood
pressure, both of which are treated by relatively cheap medicines, but also
aspirins, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers.

The killer car

The rate of death per mile driven was 5 times higher in 1950 than it
is today. Suspects for that were numerous : faulty cars, poorly designed
roads, careless drivers; but not much was known about the mechanics of
car crashes.

The strange story of Robert McNamara

He is a former professor of accountancy at the Harvard Business
School. He used his analytical skills during the war, when he discovered for
instance that the high abort rate among American bombers was more due
to fear than anything else. Thanks to him, this rate dropped overnight (=
du jour au lendemain). He then joined the Ford Motor Company, where he
paid attention to the safety of the cars. He discovered that the materials
used in the cars were too hard in case a human head hit them, which
caused injuries. The best fix, he realized, which was also the simplest one,
was to avoid people hitting their head on the wheel or the instrument
panel : he introduced the seat belt, like the airplanes already had.


Hurray (= hourra!) for seat belts

Seat belts werent well seen when they were introduced, but their
use grew up because of threat of a traffic ticket, expansive publicawareness campaigns, annoying beeps, and eventually a social
acceptance that it is a good thing. Seat belts reduce the risk of death by
about 70% and since 1975, they saved roughly 250,000 lives. And they are
very cheap compared to airbags for example : $30,000 for every life
saved, vs $1.8 million for airbags.

Whats wrong with riding shotgun (= tre devant dans la

voiture) ?
In the event of a crash, the backseat is far safer than the front.

How much good do car seats do ?

A child in a car seat is 54% less likely to die than a child riding
completely unrestrained, that is to say without car seat, without seat belt,
without anything. However, for children 2 and older (under 2 years old,
they are too small to use a seat belt), the rate of death in crashes
involving at least one fatality is almost identical for those riding in car
seats and those wearing seat belts.

Crash-test dummies (= mannequins) tell no lies

Based on the head- and chest-impact data of the crash-test solicited
by the authors, neither the children in the safety seats nor those in the
seat belts would likely have been injured in the crash. Other researchers
claimed that car seats reduce significant injury roughly by 60% relative to
seat belts. However, their analysis was based on parents interviews, and
they are sometimes likely not to say the truth, because they dont
remember well, because they have been traumatized, or even because
they feel social (or even financial) pressure. Nevertheless, the authors
eventually found that for preventing serious injury, seat belts once again
performed as well as car seats for children aged from 2 to 6, but for
preventing minor injury, car seats reduce the likelihood of injury by about
25% compared with seat belts. Looking at another way, maybe the last
advantage is the parents peace of mind, car seats give them the feeling
they have done everything possible to protect their children.

Why hurricanes kill, and what can be done about it

Hurricanes are massive storms created when the topmost layer of
the ocean water edges a certain temperature (27.6 degrees Celsius).
Thats why they start forming only towards summers end (August 15 to
November 15), after the sun has had a few months to warm up the ocean.
Some people think about preventing the water in Hurricane Alley from
getting warm enough to form a destructive hurricane in the first place.

Add details about hurricane solutions, with physical details.

Chapter 5 : What do Al Gore and mount Pinatubo have in

common ?
They both suggest a way to cool the planet, although their costeffectiveness are a universe apart. Al Gore wants people to be willing to
put aside their self-interest and do the right thing even if its personally
costly; he is appealing to the altruistic part of us, our externality-hating

Lets melt the ice cap (= calotte glacire)!

In the mid-70s, scientists were frightened by global cooling : the
average ground temperature in the Northern Hemisphere had fallen by
0.28 degrees Celsius between 1945 and 1968; a decrease of 1.3% in the
amount of sunshine hitting the US between 1964 and 1972. The big fear
was a collapse of the agricultural system, with cooling that had already
shortened the growing season by two weeks in Britain for example.

Whats worse : car exhaust (= gaz dchappement) or cow

farts (= pets) ?
Cows, and ruminants in general, are big polluters, their manure is
about 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide.
The worlds ruminants are responsible for 50% more greenhouse gas than
the entire transportation sector.

If you love the earth, eat more kangaroo

Even buying locally produced food actually increases greenhouse
gas emission, because big farms are more efficient in production than
small farms and transportation represents a small percentage of the
emissions. The best way to help would be to change our diet, thats why
eating kangaroo could help, because there is no methane is their manure.
But changing behavior is hard, thats why scientists try to replicate the
digestive bacteria in kangaroos stomach so it can be transplanted to

It all comes down to negative externalities

The greenhouse gases thought to be responsible for global warming
are primarily externalities. If we knew how much it costs humankind every
time someone used a tank of gas, we could simply impose a tax of that
magnitude on the driver, in order to make sure the driver faces the full
costs of his actions (what is called to internalize externalities). But the
problems of fixing such price and by whom the tax will be collected makes
it very difficult to put into practice.

The Club versus LoJack

The Club is a highly visible anti-theft device which tells the thief that
your car will be hard to steal, but the implicit message is that other cars
without it are easier to steal. In the opposite, LoJack is a small radio
transmitter hidden in the car, whose main advantages are that it helps
recover a stolen car quite fast, and it discounts your insurance premium.
For every additional percentage point of cars that have LoJack in a given
city, overall thefts fall by as much as 20%. Since a thief cant tell which
cars have LoJack, he wont take the risk to steal any car. LoJack is an
example of positive externalities, protecting other peoples cars too.

Mount Pinatubo teaches a lesson

The Pinatubo eruption discharged more than 20 million tons of sulfur
dioxide into the stratosphere, which had the effect of reducing the amount
of solar radiation reaching the earth and so decreased the earth
temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius. It also helped trees grow more
vigorously because they prefer their sunlight a bit diffused.

The obscenely smart, somewhat twisted gentlemen of

Intellectual Ventures
IV is a company that operates like a private-equity firm, raising
investment capital and paying returns when its patents are licensed. It has
been founded by Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung, two eminent
scientists. It currently controls more than 20,000 patents.

Assassinating mosquitoes
In order to restrain malaria, mosquitoes are placed in an empty fish
tank and assassinated by a laser placed more than hundred feet away.
Since the disease is spread by female mosquitoes, the lasers tracking
system identifies the females by wing-beat frequency, because female flap
more slowly than males, and kills them.

Sir, I am very kind of scientist!

When Myhrvold watched the TV show Dr. Who when he was young,
someone asked the doctor if he was a kind of scientist, and the doctor
answered he was every kind of scientists, and thats what Myhrvold
wanted to be too. Indeed, with IV they have a lots of projects in many
different scientific fields : a better internal combustion engine, an
airplanes better fuel efficiency, a new kind of nuclear power for example.

An inconvenient truthiness
IVs scientists agree that human activity has something to do with
global warming, but they believe its exaggerated by the media. About Al
Gores film (An Inconvenient Truth), they believe its purpose was to scare

people; although Al Gore is not technically wrong, some of his scenarios

dont have any basis in physical reality in any reasonable time frame.

What climate models miss

According to Wood, climate models are crude in space and in time.
So there is an enormous amount of natural phenomena they cant model.
He also explains why most current climate models tend to produce similar
predictions : the economic reality of research funding leads the models to
approximately match one another.

Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain ?

Carbon dioxide is not the major greenhouse gas, but the water vapor
is. It appeared that carbon dioxide has little to do with recent warming; it
would instead be responsible for cooling the atmosphere, by dimming the
sun. Based on data over 100,000 years, carbon dioxide levels have always
risen after a rise in temperature, not the opposite. In fact, global warming
began to occur when men started cleaning up the air.
Carbon dioxide could even be good for agricultural productivity :
Caldeiras study showed that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide while
keeping steady all other inputs yields a 70% increase in plant growth,
because it means plants require less water to grow. Overall, more carbon
dioxide is probably a good thing for the biosphere, its just that its
increasing too fast. And the average global temperature over the past
several years has in fact decreased. (See p.187-188)

Big-ass volcanoes and climate change

Big-ass volcanoes shoot sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere rather
than in the troposphere, and there is a drastic change in a variety of
atmospheric phenomena. The sulfur dioxide forms an aerosol cloud and it
can stay for a year or more, compared with one week on average in the

How to cool the earth

A 1992 NAS report suggested creating a multiple balloon screen,
which was meant to deflect sunlight by launching billions of aluminized
balloons into the sky. Another proposal was to release sulfur dioxide in the
stratosphere (idea called Budykos blanket because suggested by Mikhail
Budyko), but these ideas didnt make any economic or practical sense.

The garden hose to the sky

According to IVs estimations, only 100,000 extra tons of sulfur
dioxide per year in the stratosphere would effectively stop global warming,
that is to say not much more than the amount of water that comes out of a


heavy-duty garden hose (tuyau darrosage). Thats why IV calls this project
a garden hose to the sky. (See p. 194,196 for process explanation)

Reasons to hate geoengineering

Its not sure it will work and it could cause environmental damage to
put such a project into practice. However, an environmental-friendly
scientist called Paul Crutzen said its the only option to rapidly reduce
temperature rises and that damage would be minimal. If a problem did
arise, the sulfur injection could be stopped on short notice. Another reason
of hating geoengineering is that it also intentionally alters the earths
natural state; but we have already geoengineered the earth, by having
burned a large part of the fossil fuel available on earth for instance. Such a
project could also become an excuse to pollute, and it could lead to the
problem of who is going to control the injections of sulfur.

Jumping the repugnance barrier

Over time, some ideas thought repugnant became reality : selling
human sperm and eggs; profiting from a loved ones premature death
(parallel with life insurance). Maybe Budykos blanket will be considered
too repugnant as well. If it is, a 2 nd is already planned : extending the
smokestacks (chemines) at a few strategically located burning power
plants. So they would release their sulfur-laden much higher instead,
which will have the same impact as the garden hose project.

Soggy mirrors and the puffy-cloud solution

The role of clouds is to produce a cooling; even man-made-clouds
have a cooling effect, like the clouds made by planes. A cloud requires 3
things : ascending air, water vapor, and condensation nuclei. These last
ones are rarer in the ocean, and an increase of about 10% of reflectivity of
oceanic clouds would cool the earth enough to counteract even a doubling
of current greenhouse gas levels. And the salt-rich spray from seawater
creates excellent nuclei for cloud formation. So IV thought about creating
wind-powered fiberglass boats with underwater turbines that produce
enough thrust (= movement) to kick up a steady stream of spray. There is
no pollution : its geoengineering that the greenest green could love.

Why behavior change is so hard

The cleverest engineer or economist may come up with a cheap and
simple solution, if it requires people to change their behavior, it may not
work. This is due to externalities : when a doctor fails to wash his hands,
his own life isnt the one that is primarily endangered but its the next
patient he treats. The dangerous bacteria that patient receives are a
negative externality of the doctors actions, just as pollution is a negative
externality of anyone who drives a car. The polluter has no sufficient

incentive to not pollute, and the doctor has no sufficient incentive to wash
his hands. This is what makes the science of behavior change so difficult.
When people arent compelled to pay the full cost of their actions, they
have little incentive to change their behavior; people didnt switch from
horse to the car because it was good for society, but because it was in
their economic interest to do so.
Are we capable of behavior change when our own welfare is at
stake ? No. If we were, every diet would always work, and most smokers
would be ex-smokers for instance.

Dirty hands and deadly doctors

Recent studies have shown that hospital personnel wash or disinfect
their hands in fewer than half the instances they should, with doctors the
worst. In a 1999 report, the Institute of Medicine estimated that between
44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year because of preventable
hospital errors and that one of the leading errors is wound infection,
against which getting doctors to wash their hands is the best solution.
(See p. 205)

Foreskins (= ) are falling

Bertran Auvert discovered that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV
transmission by about 60% in heterosexual men. All over Africa, foreskins
began to fall. Circumcision doesnt require a behavioral change, its a
surgical intervention.