Science in the era of sensationalism
Published on 19 February 2021
Freakonomics is a word for an original way to view the world, by uncovering the influence of economic prompts and cognitive biases in particular on our choices. This type of research purports to reveal unconscious or unexpected factors that are confirmed by scientific studies, and this makes it even more intriguing. But as the astronomer Carl Sagan highlighted, the problem is that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. And such evidence does not always exist, as we will see.
Conclusive results are not always so conclusive
Steven Levitt, an Economics Professor at the University of Chicago and the creator of “Freakonomics”, is famous for having claimed to have found a link between the legalisation of abortion and a subsequent reduction in crime in the USA in 2001. His hypothesis, backed by a study co-authored by John Donohue, was that because mothers from underprivileged backgrounds now had access to abortions, they were no longer, or were less frequently, giving birth to children at high risk of committing crimes.