As co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics, Stephen Dubner examined how economics can be used to study human behavior. He talks to Dr. Oz about political fundraising, the fallibility of conventional wisdom and the surprising theories of his next book.
Stephen and economist co-author Steven Levitt were interested in studying the relationship between similar topics—specifically, does one cause the other or not? One example Stephen cites is in political fundraising. Statistics show that the candidate with the most money tends to win elections, Stephen says, but the money follows the politician rather than the other way around. "The most attractive candidate is the one that attracts the most money," he says. He uses the surprising popularity of current presidential candidate Mitt Romney as an example. "Is he a good money-raiser or a candidate people will vote for? I argue it's more the latter."
Another topic the co-authors examined was conventional wisdom and why it's so often wrong. One reason, Stephen says, is that conventional wisdom is informed by the mass media. "The process of forming these wisdoms is imperfect," he says. While journalists strive to tell the whole story, they are bound by the sources and information they're given, which tends to be incomplete. Another reason is more psychological—conventional wisdom appeals to everyone because it's comfortable and familiar, but it doesn't mean it's true. "The majority can be wrong because we like to believe what we like to believe," Stephen says.
For their next book, Stephen and Steven are looking into what makes people good at what they do. They're examining a theory that states that talent is vastly overrated, and because of that, people can be good at many things if they approach them differently. "What accounts for much more is deliberate practice," Stephen says. Good and instant feedback, whether through coaching or teaching is important, as well as focusing more on technique than on outcome. "We're trying to figure out across the board what makes us good and how we can all get better," he says.