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Author of “Freakonomics” talks economics, human behavior

TAMPA, Fla. – Stephen Dubner, award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality, spoke about data, economics and human behavior at the Tampa Theatre on Feb. 16, 2012.

Best-known for his New York Times best-selling books, “Freakonomics” and “SuperFreakonomics” that he co-authored with the economist Steven Levitt, Dubner focused his lecture on the same combination of economics and popular culture that are seen in the books.

Dubner began his lecture with an experiment needing some participation. He asked the audience to raise their hands if “after you use a public toilet, you don’t wash your hands.”

Dubner’s lecture continued as he told stories about different scenarios that studied or illustrated certain human behaviors.

“That’s the point of ‘Freakonomics,’” Dubner said. “We look at data to see what it tells us about the world.”

Though he claimed not to be a comedian, many of his stories received a good reaction from the audience. After discussing Florida’s hygiene habits, Dubner explained a scenario called “The Dictator Game” which explored whether or not humans are actually altruistic.

“[Data] may tell us the world is scary or dangerous, but often it’s the opposite,” Dubner said. “I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about in the world right now.”

Some of his anecdotes were even amusing. Dubner explained research conducted by Kevin Chen of Yale. Chen taught monkeys how to use currency to buy food until the experiment took an unexpected turn toward monkey prostitution.

Dubner also announced that the “Freakonomics” enterprise, which also includes an award-winning blog, a documentary film and a public-radio project that Dubner hosts, will have a new addition. Dubner has begun work on a third book with Levitt exploring many of the same concepts of behavioral economics.

“I like to know what the data has to say,” Dubner said. “I see people, but I also see data points.”

Dubner’s lecture was a part of the Frontier Forum series, presented by USF Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Faculty, USF Office of the Provost, USF College of Arts and Sciences and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Events    
Author: Meghan Mangrum