Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Almighty Buck Science

Monkey Business and Freakonomics 182

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the cashing-out-in-banana-chips dept.
marct22 writes "Stephen J Dubner, co-writer of 'Freakonomics' said there will be a second Freakonomics book. One of the items that will be covered is capuchin monkeys' use of washers as money, buying sweets, budgeting for favored treats over lesser treats. He mentioned that one of the experiments had similar outcomes as a study of day traders. And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Monkey Business and Freakonomics

Comments Filter:
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:24AM (#18809237) Homepage Journal
    If you're thinking of buying Freakonomics, don't bother. Half the book is "letters from our website".

    It's one of those books you buy at the airport before a long trip only to discover that it only takes half the trip to read it.
    • by 26199 (577806) * on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:36AM (#18809275) Homepage

      It was short. But also one of the most interesting short books I've read.

      So I hereby counter your unrecommendation ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moosesocks (264553)
      I concur. Freakonomics stripped a bit too much of the science away in an attempt to make the book accessible.

      Naked Economics [amazon.com] tries to do the same thing as Freakonomics, but achieves a much higher degree of success. Freakonomics was dumbed down to an almost insulting level, and many of the examples provided felt somewhat outlandish. Naked Economics does a much better job of distilling economic theory down to plain english, and picks much more relevant examples. I also found it to be a pretty entertainin
      • by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:54AM (#18809545) Homepage Journal
        From the descriptions on Amazon, it seems like Naked Economics tries to be something completely different than Freakonomics. The entire point of Freakonomics is applying economic theory to areas economists don't usually look at, and describe some of the more interesting results in an entertaining and accessible way, not to be an economy textbook. You say it was "dumbed down" - I say it was written with a specific audience in mind: People who are not interested in economics, i.e. most of us, but who might find a description of some of the results of applying economic theory to everyday situations interesting and entertaining.

        It never spends much space on economic theory, even "distilled to plain English", because that isn't the purpose of the book.

      • by Erwos (553607) on Friday April 20, 2007 @06:46AM (#18809919)
        Speaking as someone who actually did econometrics and hard math/statistics economics in school, I could not agree more with this critique of Freakonomics. It is an entertaining read, to be sure, but he's omitted a lot of the data to support his conclusions, making it more of a "just believe me" book than an actual primer to non-traditional economics.
    • Yup. I agree. "Undercover Economist" is far for informative and interesting, although written from a London persective.
    • by ocbwilg (259828)
      I don't recall so much of the "letters from our website", but I do recall being seriously disappointed with this book. For starters, it's very short. I know, that may not sound like a bad thing, but it is representative of a lack of detail. They cover several topics that I thought had the potential to be really interesting, but for the most part they cover them with a "studies have shown" or "we were able to show" or similar statements. They didn't really go into any of the details of their analysis of
  • Washers (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!
    Wow! I need to hit up home depot!

    3 week later, in prison... "I need to learn how to spell Cancun."
  • Monkey prostitutes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:36AM (#18809277) Homepage Journal
    And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!

    Proof positive that it's the oldest profession?

    I find it interesting how monkeys can be compared to day traders. I think to goes to show how similar us humans really are to other animals. In many ways we're more a fortunate combination of traits than having truly unique traits.
    • by antoy (665494) <alexis.thenull@net> on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:25AM (#18809455)
      I find it interesting how monkeys can be compared to day traders. I think to goes to show how similar us humans really are to other animals.

      I think it simply goes to show how similar day traders are to monkeys.
      • by montyzooooma (853414) on Friday April 20, 2007 @05:49AM (#18809719)
        Careful - the monkeys may sue for defamation of character.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zotz (3951)
        "I think it simply goes to show how similar day traders are to monkeys."

        "He also devised two games that showed monkeys could end up feeling as if they'd won or lost, even though they'd actually broken even. Their seemingly irrational preference for the "winning" game had Chen questioning how useful the monkeys would be as a touchstone for studying human behavior. Then he found that a similar study of day traders conducted by another researcher resulted in the same psychological preference. Even when they ca
    • Or maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:25AM (#18809457) Journal
      Or maybe, it just shows that you can compare anything to anything, if you carefully choose only the aspects that sorta superficially support your idea, do a lot of sophistry to make them look even more supportive, and keep your fingers crossed that noone notices all else you've ignored.

      Let me tell you a joke: "A researcher puts a flea on a piece of paper and yells, "JUMP!" The startled flea jumps. The researcher cuts off the flea's legs, puts it back on the piece of paper, and yells, "JUMP!" The flea doesn't jump. The researcher notes, "Fleas hear with their legs. A flea whose legs have been cut off can't hear any more.""

      Or here, let me offer definitive proof that cats are nerds, or at least nerds act just like cats. Cats:

      - are naturally attracted to books and keyboards. Mine always used to come curl up on the book I was reading.

      - aren't very social, and don't deal well with extended periods of social interaction. (Keep petting one too long after it signalled "I've had enough," and it might just scratch.) They also actually need periods of being alone or left alone. Also, bringing a new cat home might just result in a fight over who's alpha, instead of, "hi, welcome to the team."

      - except for a few modified/selected races, only "talk" when they actually have something to say and/or when all else failed. (See the widespread myth that meowing is somehow only for communicating with humans.) They're also not good at telling you what they want or why. How introverted is that?

      - have a problem with authority and obeying orders. (See, "herding cats.")

      - have unbalanced diets, by human standard, and would rather not eat their veggies

      - have weird sleep schedules, by human standards.

      - like it warm. I can just see a cat coming to the office in mountain boots and a sweater in July, if it were anthropomorphic.

      - really dislike being stuffed in a suit and tie.

      - really don't like showering, or being given a shower. Actually, "loathe" just about starts to describe it.

      - play (with) all sorts of stuff that makes no sense for a normal human.

      - never discovered complex courting rituals.

      Etc. There you go. I've proven beyond all doubt that nerds act just like cats. Funny how similar we are to animals, eh?

      In practice it just shows how easy it is to find _some_ animal that matches whatever you want to match, if you just look hard enough and ignore what is _really_ happening there. E.g., I've thoroughly ignored the fact that a nerd surviving on say, chocolate or pizza/chinese food only, is doing it because of taste preferences or being too lazy for anything else, while a cat is actually biologically made to be a meat-only eater. ("Obligate carnivore.") E.g., I've thoroughly ignored the fact that a cat's attraction to books isn't because it actually wants to read, and to your keyboard isn't because it wants to program. Etc.

      To get back to the topic, yeah, you can compare anything from the real economy to a monkey play-economy, but it's just material to make Joe Sixpack feel better about his not understanding the real economy. Day trading especially is a complex phenomenon, including such aspects as being, basically, a form of gambling. I.e., when you see monkeys playing cards/dice/3-cups/whatever, then you'll have an essential ingredient in it. Sure, you can look at it superficially being just like monkeys and bottle caps changing hands, but that's the kind of superficial over-simplification that's outright useless except maybe as an emotional metaphor.
      • Humans thrive on metaphor and symbols. In fact we are the only species on the planet that can create, manipulate, fuse, and synthesize in everything we do. Perhaps it is true that some metaphors are more useful than others, but metaphors more often than not help people understand. The proof? Look at the continued success of poems; Are these essential to human development? Many would argue yes.

        Humans are a fickle species. We demand to be entertained, humored, amused. Perhaps its our irrational emotions tak

        • Yes, but, see, the trick is to know when it's just a funny metaphor which shouldn't be taken seriously. Nothing against the human species coming up with entertaining metaphors, similes and other figures of speech, but the trick is to know that that's not, in fact, an accurate model of reality.

          Yes, if we couldn't dream, fantasize, whatever, we'd probably be less successful than snails. But equally if we took all phantasies to seriously, we'd be even less successful. The trick is to _not_ jump off the house j
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by maxume (22995)
            Trained monkeys enacting a silly pseudo economic game *is* a decent description of the real world.

            (Or do you think pretty, shiny diamonds truly are useful, and so on?)
      • "nerds act just like cats" except when cats do it, its cool!
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Honestly you simply are stereotyping cats. And you are being silly for the sake of making a joke but I have to correct you.

        a cat does not inherently act that way, humans promote that behaivoir in them. I have had 5 cats in my lifetime as well as trained 4 more for friends because of how cats act from my rearing.

        Cats if raised correctly will tolerate anything and can learn that humans are harmless and will not hurt me. Instilling this fact (you can even instill this fact into the cats mind of a dog if you
        • by Moraelin (679338)

          Honestly you simply are stereotyping cats. And you are being silly for the sake of making a joke but I have to correct you.

          Very much so. It was _supposed_ to be a thoroughly silly illustration of anthropomorphising animals, and anthropomorphising all wrong at that, to make fun of people who do that to draw some conclusions about human behaviour.

          So I'm not going to disaggree with your corrections there. E.g., yes, I know what they really wanted when they curled up on my book. Very much so.

          So, on the whole, y

        • by Alioth (221270)
          My cats keep my hours, but I didn't go out my way to train them to be like that.
      • Re:Or maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

        by A Name Similar to Di (875837) on Friday April 20, 2007 @09:57AM (#18811055)
        Or maybe, it just shows that you can compare anything to anything, if you carefully choose only the aspects that sorta superficially support your idea, do a lot of sophistry to make them look even more supportive, and keep your fingers crossed that noone notices all else you've ignored.

        Allow me to start by mentioning my bias, I liked the book, took classes from Steve Levitt, and worked for him for a while during and after college. It may help to know that those gimmicky "comparisons" really were not a part of Levitt's academic papers [uchicago.edu] which the book is based on. Here's a bit of background on Freakonomics, basically Levitt writes a ton of clever papers that win him some recognition. Dubner took these papers and simplified them to try and make them accessible to the non-economic public. Sure, stylistically, there's issues that I have with it as well (and these are issues I have with virtually every pop-science book out there). But I feel as if you've belittled the book's content based on some style choices designed to draw the reader in.

        Perhaps I've misunderstood your point, but gimmicky comparisons aside, there's a lot of well thought out content to that book that shouldn't be outright dismissed or characterized badly due to some tasteless introductory paragraphs.
      • by khallow (566160)
        I like how you use a metaphor to attempt to discredit metaphors. Let me add that you never show a problem with the original "monkeys versus day traders" comparison.
    • "I think to goes to show how similar us humans really are to other animals."

      Kenan Malik would disagree.

      That said, there are some things I disagree with Kenan Malik myself. ;-)

      In any case, his book 'man, beast and zombie' is an interesting read, which make you wonder of the intrinsical (?) differences between humans and animals (and AI's).

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Actually, 1000 monkeys typing on a keyboard would probably make more money than your average day trader.
    • by abb3w (696381)

      Proof positive that it's the oldest profession?

      Depends how you define "profession", I suppose. It does suggest that prostitution seems to develop pretty quickly after the conceptual introduction of the idea of "trade", and perhaps some medium of exchange. The more abstract "trader" is likely to predate it, since the conceptual leap of trading something desirable for something desirable in a different manner is not required; trading grapes for bananas or some suchmay have come first. However, Prostitutio

    • In many ways we're more a fortunate combination of traits than having truly unique traits.
      Fortunate? These monkeys are getting laid for *washers*!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 20, 2007 @03:37AM (#18809283)
    of our monkey-shagging overlords?

    1) capture monkeys
    2) provide a selection of washers
    3) !!sex!!
    4) profit!!

    In Africa, monkeys shag you!

    God, Slashdot is soooo predictable these days....

    And why was my capcha 'incest'? Is someone trying to make a point?

  • by metushelach (985526) on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:06AM (#18809385)
    If anything, Day Traders are the closest thing you can find to prostitutes.

    Only difference is that prostitutes usually dress up nicer and generally have a better taste in men.
    • I'd rather compare them to gambling addicts. They'd die or kill, whatever necessary, for an inside tip.
  • Bonobo prostitution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dargaud (518470) <<ten.duagradg> <ta> <2todhsals>> on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:09AM (#18809397) Homepage
    I remember watching this video about the sexual life of Bonobo apes (cousins of chimpanzee with a social life very similar to humans in many respects, in particular sex). One funny part was a young male coming to a female resting on a branch with a banana. The males makes it very clear what he wants in exchange, they do the deed and the the female eats the banana after he leaves. The funny part is that in the commentary they explain that this specific female never goes looking for food...
  • by yada21 (1042762) on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:42AM (#18809511)
    How can they use washers as money? I assume they're the normal kind made of base metal (not silver or gold) so anybody could mine some more zinc or steel and make more of them. Where's the intrinsic value? It's just another fiat currency like dollars except in this case the 'the man' is the zookeeper.
    • I assume they're the normal kind made of base metal (not silver or gold) so anybody could mine some more zinc or steel
      1) Right, because we can't mine or silver or gold anymore, we just have to use what we already have.

      2) I think you'll find a lot more silver and gold coming out of mines than steel.
  • by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Friday April 20, 2007 @04:56AM (#18809555) Journal
    The only reason you don't see amoebas doing the same thing is because they don't have opposable thumbs.
  • and I've taken economics in college, but the kinda freakonomics people should hear more about (and do something about) is how the top 1% of the American population controls 95% of the wealth. Between 1979 and 1997, income for the middle class rose 9%m while income for the top 1% rose 140%! Now that's freaky [nader.org]!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Odd how we haven't had any sort of economic collapse, isn't it? So the people who know how to make money just make more. Wow. What a concept.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fruey (563914)
      You say "the top 1% of the American population controls 95% of the wealth"

      The article you quote says "The top 1 percent owns over 38 percent of the nation's wealth"

      You got confused with "The top 1 percent's financial wealth is equal to that of the bottom 95 percent" which is not the same.
    • Your complaints are meaningless unless you propose a solution. Oh, and any solution which causes business to LEAVE the US, driving pay for the average American DOWN, is probably a stupid solution.

      Put up or shut up.
      • It's a simple two step process.

        1) I would discuss the issue. there needs to be an open dialogue with a free exchange of ideas. However this cannot be done without performing step two.

        2) Reform the media in the United States. Inform the general public. Give the airwaves back to the public. There are a handful of transnational media conglomerates that control the news and entertainment in the United States [corporations.org]. Discussing unfair wealth distribution is a complex issue, which will not increase their profit base, th
        • by PTBarnum (233319)
          Those transnational conglomerates didn't make their fortunes by sitting in a room and saying "let's keep people pacified and preoccupied", they did it by sitting in a room and saying "let's figure out what news and entertainment people will take time to read or watch, thus attracting a valuable demographic and increasing our advertising rates". The way to be a profitable news outlet is to be a popular news outlet.

          There are segments of the population that are very interested in economic issues, and as a re
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jackbird (721605)
        How about restoring highly regressive tax rates on stratospheric tax brackets, as well as the inheritance tax, closing loopholes allowing people to offshore their wealth, and funding the IRS to enforce the laws.

        Check out the top tax brackets from the 50s and 60s (a time of great economic growth) sometime.

  • Monkeys... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mockylock (1087585) on Friday April 20, 2007 @09:36AM (#18810845) Homepage
    Lucky little bastages. I wish I could toss my wife some washers or food for some service. He needs to do experiments to see if a metal band around a Capuchin's ring finger stops the process of copulation. The males will give the females all of the washers and food, and the females will in turn become celibate or have intercourse with different monkeys.
    • by HungWeiLo (250320)
      It's been shown in numerous studies that a band consisting of gold and diamonds causes an allergic reaction of which a typical symptom is excessive bloating.
  • Could this guy be deliberately setting up "experiments" to get weird results? My guess is that bizare stuff will sell more books, but is it more credible than the more traditional, boring, studies?

    The titles of these books sound more catchy than the typical titles of most scientific studies, I'll say that.

    What do other real economists think of these studies?
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Could this guy be deliberately setting up "experiments" to get weird results? My guess is that bizare stuff will sell more books, but is it more credible than the more traditional, boring, studies?

      No, I believe he is purposefully setting up weird experiments to see if he can get surprising results that might be something you can apply to traditional, boring conclusions and gain some insight.

      He makes no bones about the fact that he's stepping outside of the box, and then trying to compare that to more mainst

  • by Nevyn (5505) * on Friday April 20, 2007 @10:30AM (#18811407) Homepage Journal

    One of the items that will be covered is capuchin monkeys' use of washers as money, buying sweets, budgeting for favored treats over lesser treats. He mentioned that one of the experiments had similar outcomes as a study of day traders. And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!

    The NY Times article on that study, from 2005, can be found here [nytimes.com].

    • by mshurpik (198339)
      Thanks. And it's suspicious. With regards to the prostitution incident, the article freely admits that they didn't even try to reproduce it. And their excuse was, "it wouldn't reflect well on anyone involved if the money turned the lab into a brothel."

      Oh really, reproducible claims wouldn't reflect well on anyone. I'll keep that in mind.
  • My first thought when I read that description was this:

    1. Monkey finds money laying around.
    2. Monkey brings the money home and shows it to his wife.
    3. Wife is impressed and, after a little heavy petting, puts out.
    4. Guy's happy, wife goes shopping.

    Sounds to me as though the researcher's proved monkeys essentially get married. Nothing new there as far as I know.
  • And lastly, he watched capuchin prostitution!

    Big deal. Five minutes of C-SPAN will show you the same thing . . .

You will lose an important disk file.

Working...