SuperFreakonomics, Illustrated edition
beautifully analyzes random real-life human interest stories & shows how you can draw value from good data. The authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner put life into dull topics with their entertaining and data-centric storytelling.
The biggest takeaway for me from the book is how data can be used to derive insights and solutions. I was fascinated by the story of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis
who in 1847, while working in Vienna General Hospital's First Obstetrical Clinic proposed the practice of washing hands with an antiseptic solution before operating. At that hospital, doctors' wards had three times the mortality of midwives' wards. He arrived at this suggestion after carefully analyzing the data about deliveries in both wards. Semmelweis's observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards. Semmelweis's practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist's research, practiced and operated, using hygienic methods, with great success.
Doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center were coaxed into sanitizing their hands through $10 Starbucks gift card incentives. There was greater compliance after a photograph showing gobs of colonies of bacteria was made into a screen saver that haunted every computer in Cedars-Sinai. Good data (in this case an image) can change behavior.
Some of the stories in the book can also be read online on the New York Times
website where the Freakonomics columns by the authors are archived. The Freakonomics series of books has a dedicated website
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