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Like other posters, I too am surprised that Gladwell would inject "wow" every five minutes in his reading of Freakonomics. Unless Gladwell's "wows" were similar to my own reaction, which was more like "wow - I can't believe the authors base so many conclusions on so many unstated (and untested) assumptions."

Just one example regarding the authors' correlating legalized abortion in NY to NY's crime rate: Freakonomics doesn't even consider its assumptions that

1) everyone who got an abortion in NY was a NY resident (don't you think people were going there for abortions from states where abortions were not yet legal?),

2)the people who commit crimes are committing them in the same places where they are born and there is no interstate or international mobility, and

3)the father (and his genetics, any drug use, and presence) has no role in any crime-committing offspring

I was wowed so often by the authors' many implied assumptions that I gave up about 2/3 of the way into Freakonomics.


Ever heard of Ochkam's Razor? Seems to me that everyone is ignoring the simplest explanation: chaos theory. You can't predict certain behaviours, because they are umprediclable.

Angry Crying

ATROASBIHRATCAR*, what would be more interesting than (A) a book that assumes crime statistics are correct and speculates on reasons for their change is (B) a book that assumes that nothing has changed except how people report crime - and, instead, speculates on reasons for that change.

That is, rather than a hypothesis that muggers robbed 200 fewer people in Central Park in 2005 because there were no broken windows within five blocks, I'd prefer to see proposals such as:

- We've become so desensitized to violent crime that a plain old mugging doesn't even rate a trip to the police station

- The people getting mugged are different - perhaps New York has more new residents that are unlikely to complain

- The definition of violent crime evolved to become more strict in New York than other parts of America

A book that took aim at the fundamental statistical assumptions would be far more satisfying. Reading some of the comments above is a bit like listening to sales managers come up with wild-ass guesses as to why they didn't meet last month's quota - without even asking if the order entry system was maybe just down for a week.

* At the risk of appearing stupid because I haven't read all the comments and references

David Harmon

Speaking as a New Yorker, a few points:

1) NYC crime stats for the past few years are coming under fire (so to speak) as it turns out the Police Department has been "leaning" on the stats, notably by downgrading felonies to lesser crimes.

2) The real effect of heavy "police enforcement" (whether you call it Broken Windows or whatever) is to ship huge numbers of people off to jail, mostly young men and boys from the underclass and minority communities. Of course, since this includes many of the "troublemakers", that will cut crime by keeping them off the streets. Of course, it also gets rid of a lot of husbands/boyfriends and fathers, leaving their families in even worse straits. One little problem... jail sentences aren't usually forever. Eventually, you have to let all those guys loose again. Now they have criminal records, barring them from much of the legal workforce; they're unlikely to have gotten any real education in jail; and they've spent the last few years in a hell of beatings, rape, and other abuse. What do *you* think's gonna happen?

Bob Calder

Shouldn't we have been seeing rising SAT scores and lower dropout rates along with the dropping crime rate? Also nobody talked about whether crime statistic reporting changed over the period and in what ways. I used to have a friend who told me about how the various local agencies fudged their reports and lobbied for different standards. For instance, right now my county (6th in size in Florida) has great arrest rates but poor conviction rates. There are multiple metrics that can be used to corroborate the authors' assertions. Somebody just has to do it and quit yacking who is right.

This reminds me of what is happening in education. The NSF which has been pressing for rigor in education studies is having its funding cut. The Dept of Educaiton which is notoriously feel-good and sloppy is having its funding raised. Do you agree with me that it is being done to bolster fuzzy brained theories like merit pay and vouchers? Just like broken windows, you have a bunch of people arguing over a result with no real idea what is causing it or what might be a whole lot more effective if we just put some effort into figuring it out. Common sense often leads us astray. (That's a quote from S J Gould.)

Tracy Little

I wanted to commend you Malcolm on your books and articles; you are where I am working to be one day.

v[[a*pE-r+(s th'e G#rA;"t--E

I intuitively grok the blinking banner ad in my head that secretly whispers loudly in my third ear that Broken Windows is indeed true.

I think we need to do what makes sense, even if statistics don't bear them up. If I keep my property attractive, looking like someone cares about it, there will be less vandalism and littering.

I know I hesitate to toss a cigarette butt on a pristine lawn.

Malcolm, I will post my web analysis of this blog on Vaspers the Grate today. I have a few recommendations and some accolades, too.



Excellent Article!


I feel that the freakonomics book is a very good book to open peoples eyes. social st teacher made us read it

publisher weekly

Though the idea of listening to an economics text may bring to mind nightmarish visions of incomprehensible facts, figures and graphs, this audiobook is refreshingly accessible and engrossing. Journalist Dubner reads with just the right mix of enthusiasm and awe, revealing juicy morsels of wisdom on everything from what sumo wrestlers and teachers have in common (a propensity to cheat) to whether parents can really push their kids to greatness by buying them Baby Einstein toys and enlisting them in numerous before- and after-school activities (not really). The only section that doesn't translate well to the format is the final one on naming conventions. The lists of "White Girl Names" and "Black Girl Names," and "Low-End" names and "High-End" names can be mind-numbing, though the text that breaks up these lists will intrigue. Overall, however, these unusual investigations by Levitt, the "rogue" of the subtitle, make for meaty-and entertaining-listening. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 14). (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.


You mention that the "Pill" should have the same effect as abortion did. But I think the rise in crime rate 18 years after the pill was released makes perfect sense. The only people who could afford or were knowledgable about the pill were the upperclass. So the only unwanted pregnancys that were avoided were that of the upper, and maybe middle class. Not the lower class poor who couldn't afford or support their children. Those people were still having lots of children.


I'm disappointed in so many of these remarks. Everyone seems so focussed on abortion and has totally missed the authors' point. No where does either author suggest that abortion was a cause just a correlation. And they very specifically address at the end of the chapter that it's not an effecient method of crime control. Gladwell has so much to offer and I'm surprised that other readers wouldn't be thrilled that contemporary thinkers are reading each other's materials and giving the rest of us more ideas to toss about and ponder.

Bernard Guerrero

I have to agree somewhat with Matt's point above. My first thought on reading Mr. Gladwell's understandable question about why the Pill didn't have a similar putative effect as legalized abortion was that the Pill was more likely to be used by a completely different socio-economic group, and in a rather different context. Not that I have any evidence on hand to prove said conjecture (but I'll see what I can dig up.)


Wow...great blog.

my $0.02: I definately believe poor and uneducated women do not use "the pill."


I have to maintain a healthy skepticism about the data or interpretation of the data. If Americans are really that much sicker than the those in the U.K., I expect a wider gap in life expectancy.

The table in the following link makes no adjustments for higher mortality rates among American minority groups.


Mark E. Logsdon

I Saw you on C-SPAN Sunday and I liked what I heard. I have long hair,too. I am a 51-year-old disabled veteran in a wheelchair. I am also an independent candidate for state Senate in Missouri's 30th district this year. I admire intelligence, & I perceive you to be an intelligent person. I also belive in brevity very much, so I will soon conclude this response.
I just thought I'd check out your website & see what's here.

Ewing Wal;ker

The MD's in the USA make more money than those in the UK. A simple answer.

'nuff said...

The New Yorker... The articles tell me more than I want to know!

Jacquie Hamblin

I enjoyed your visit with Brian Lamb on Q&A. I was particularly interested in the fact that you are from Elmira, Ont. I have been through that community many times on my way back to the states from visits to my sister, usually early in the morning when the Mennonite children are on their way to school--a lovely time of day in that region.
I always read your articles in the New yorker so I guess I am a fan although I resist that definition. It sounds so tabloid.
Sincerely, Jacquie Hamblin


Interesting. Why are these authorsso damn afraid to talk about race instead of couching it in terms of class? West Virginia is a very poor almost all white state but the crime rates are very low. Why is that? duh.
Margaret Sanger was clearly a racist and a eugenist and apparently her dream came true; it s simple fewer black babies=lower crime.


Dear Malcolm,
I thought you were very interesting on
the Charlie Rose show today, May 15, 2006. I am an ex-New Yorker living in Florida. I hope you will, in the future, spend some time on important websites like those of Friends of the Earth,American Rivers,Defenders of Wildlife,Earthjustice,Environmental Defense,Greenpeace,League of Conservation Voters,National Audobon Society,National Environmental Trust,National Parks Conservation Assoc.,National Wildlife Federation,Natural Resources Defense Council,Physicians for Social Responsibility,Sierra Club,The Ocean Conservancy,The Wilderness Society,Union of Concerned Scientists,World Wildlife Fund, besides sites like "Gawker" which seemed to me to be a waste of time for someone
who is a gifted writer.
Regarding writing about the mundane, how about writing about the important, like breathing, even New Yorkers have to breathe.
I left New York because I could no longer breathe there and soon I will have to leave Fort Lauderdale because it is becoming another New York (population and pollution).
I look forward to reading you and seeing you again on t.v.


While two crimes for certain decreased with respect to Broken Windows and Abortion, respectively the breaking of windows and aborting of babies.

I am very tempted to jump down the highly slippery slope of... oh ok its no worse a Hypothesis than the others..

A boy and girl discover the girl is pregnant. Boy breaks up with girl. Goes to far end of town (or across the street) and throws a rock. Girl goes to far end of town to think, and throws a rock. Child is born gives mother grief, mother goes to far end of town and trows a rock. Child neglected by mother who didn't want the child, is angry, goes to other end of town and throws a rock..

Abortion saves windows!


One data point that made Levitt's argument compelling to me was the following data point:

Five states legalized abortion at least two years before Roe v Wade and those states saw crime begin to decline earlier than the other 48 states.

There were lots of other correlations such as states with higher abortion rates had a higher drop in crime.


Who cares whether Freako is 'true' or not? A book is good if its fun to read. I don't care if Ahab chased a Freako whale or if Lazarus walked again 'for real'. As long as pages turn and audiences can be had/made literature rocks along. Go on with your freakin' self Levitt.

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