This summer one of the books I picked up was called Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I enjoyed it so much I immediately read their sequel, SuperFreakonomics. The two books identify, describe, and explain various economic phenomena from cheating in the sport of Sumo wrestling to the socioeconomic effects of baby’s names. I found the accounts and analysis extremely interesting and I highly recommend both books, so you can imagine my reaction when I discovered that there is a free podcast on iTunes called “Freakonomics Radio.” Because there are so many great stories, it’s easy to forget specific details, which is why I went back and listened to a podcast yesterday named “Those Cheating Teachers.” This particular chapter was first mentioned in the original Freakonomics, and it breaks down the tendency for teachers to help their students cheat on important placement tests, such as the SAT exam. The book and podcast focused on an example of Chicago area teachers who, in order to make themselves look good as well as earn more funding for their schools, deliberately cheated to improve SAT scores. Many were eventually caught after Arne Duncan, who at the time was CEO of Chicago public schools, brought in Levitt to help catch the cheaters. Levitt, an economist by trade, had developed an algorithm to identify abnormal test scores. Although neither the book nor the podcast attempt to explain the complex algorithm, both articulate the essence of the patterns that Levitt looked for when combing through the mounds and mounds of data. Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics are intriguing because they not only detail various scenarios but also demonstrate a uniquely intelligent way of analyzing data by examining the underlying motives behind the decisions we all make on a daily basis. If you are a nerd like me and this sounds awesome, there are over a hundred videos you can subscribe to if you go ahead and click the link, here.
PS. There is also a Freakonomics movie and you can watch the trailer for it below.