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‘Freaky’ Coincidence March 16, 2006

Posted by scan man in Books, Medicine.

Over the past few days I was preoccupied with some personal issues which – to use our colloquialism – were ‘eating my brain’. I’ve had some respite since yesterday. Last night, Suresh very thoughtfully gave me a book to take my mind off more irritant issues. I must say he succeeded.

The book is ‘Freakonomics‘ by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I’ve just read about 60 pages, but I must confess I am hooked.Freakonomics cover

It was a bit ‘freaky’ to find that ‘Roe v. Wade’ was favourably mentioned within the first five pages!! Truly a different take on the abortion issue 🙂

I’m sure I’ll post more about this as I read more….


1. Moof - March 17, 2006

Okay Dr. Scan Man … you’re got my curiosity up now …

It was a bit ‘freaky’ to find that ‘Roe v. Wade’ was favourably mentioned within the first five pages!! Truly a different take on the abortion issue.

You know that now you’re going to have to tell all of us just exactly how it was “favorably mentioned,” eh?


2. It's me, T.J. - March 17, 2006

I will be very interested in your upcoming posts.

I am not familiar with this book.


3. scan man - March 17, 2006

Hi Moof & TJ, I did not intend this post to be a preview. However, since both of you don’t seem to know of this book, I’ll probably have to explain. I’ll do that after I’ve read some more…

4. Domesticator - March 18, 2006

I checked out the author’s blog. There is an interesting link there referencing the Levitt/Donahue paper, written in 2001 that explains the link between crime rates and the legalization of abortion. Very interesting and different perspective.

5. scan man - March 20, 2006

Thanks Domesticator. I read the Crime Drop post in the authors’ blog. (Anybody interested can read it here. If you follow the links in the post you’ll get the pdf versions of the original papers).
I think they made their point better in the book. Anyway, you’ve saved me the trouble of explaining.
Everyone, please buy &/or read the book. I don’t know the authors & I’m not going to make any money out of this 😉
You will never believe that economics and statistics could be made this interesting unless you read the book.

6. Moof - March 24, 2006

Dr. Scan Man … I found an extremelyinteresting post on another weblog regarding the book Freakonomics – particularly their notion that Roe VS Wade is what cause a drop in the crime rate:

I found it on a blog called Gladwell.com … the article is quite fascinating.

Here’s a quote from the post:

“Levitt’s argument (and for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the argument from now on as Levitt’s) goes something like this (and keep in mind that I’m grossly simplifying it here). The huge declines in urban violent crime rates happen, more or less, eighteen years after the passage of Roe v. Wade. States that legalized abortion earlier than the Supreme Court ruling saw their violent crime rates fall earlier. When you look at falling crime rates, the reductions in violent behavior are almost all concentrated in the generation born after the legalization of abortion, not before. People undergo abortions, in other words, for a reason: because they are poor, or don’t want a child, or live in an environment where it is hard to raise children. An unwanted child has a higher chance, when he or she grows up, of becoming a criminal. By removing a large number of unwanted children, legalized abortion ended up lowering the crime rate. Levitt makes it clear that he’s not passing judgment on this. He’s not pro-abortion, as a result of this observation. He’s just explaining the way he thinks the world works. He also stresses—and this is because even more important—that he doesn’t think that crime fell in major American cities solely because of abortion. He thinks abortion is simply one of several factors—albeit a significant one—in the crime drop.

Is Levitt right that legalizing abortion has played a role in lowering violent crime rates? Levitt has a few critics, and he’s dealt with them pretty effectively, I think. (Check out Freakonomics.com) There are some other technical critiques of his work from fellow economists, that, I have to confess, I can’t follow. My own response is chiefly that I find the argument incomplete.. For instance, the biggest drop in fertility in the U.S. came with the advent of the Pill in the mid-1960’s. The Pill allowed lots of women who would otherwise have become pregnant not to become pregnant because they were poor, or didn’t want a child, or lived in an environment where it was hard to raise children. But the fertility drop caused by the Pill didn’t lead to a decrease in crime eighteen years later. In fact, that generation saw a massive increase in crime. The advent of abortion in the early 1970’s, meanwhile, caused a far, far smaller drop in U.S. fertility but—Levitt argues—that drop is consistent with a fall in crime. In other words, the unwanted children whose births were prevented by the Pill would not have gone to become criminals. But unwanted children whose births were prevented by abortion would have gone on become criminals. Why is this? I can think of some hypotheses. But they are just that: hypotheses. I would have been a lot happier with Freakonomics if the crime chapter had been twice as long—and spent more time explaining just what is so peculiar, in terms of crime rates, about births prevented by abortion.”

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