Boncella Researched Argument Essay

Nick Boncella
AP Language and Composition
Mr. Lane
The Hidden Side of Everything
Section I
The novel Freakonomics analyzes many different popular topics in today’s culture.
Using concepts developed through economics and a little bit of statistics, authors Steven Levitt
and Stephen Dubner explain what is causing, or in some cases solving, problems in today’s
society. Much of the information is gathered from enormous databases containing data about
every person in a state_ or through conducting experiments and analyzing their results. Either
way, many of the conclusions these authors make could not be determined by the average
American citizen. These conclusions resulted from out-of-the-box thinking that _leaves many
people second guessing even the most subtle thoughts a person has during a day. For example,
do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have anything in common? Although an average citizen
may not be able to immediately link anything between these two groups of people, the analysis
from this particular chapter leaves the reader thinking about the tricks a person could do to
improve his or her own lives. Without uncovering any more specific details from the remaining
chapters, this novel could change the way a person thinks. I found myself wanting to read more
to uncover additional secrets about today’s world.
Section II
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, both authors of Freakonomics, have very credible
backgrounds in economics and journalism. Levitt graduated from Harvard University in 1989
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with a Bachelor of the Arts in economics, and later attended MIT to receive a doctorate of
philosophy. In 2003, he won the John Bates Clark medal which is awarded to the most
promising U.S. economist under the age of forty, and in 2006 was named one of Time
magazine’s “Top 100 People Who Shape Our World.” He is currently working at the University
of Chicago teaching economics as the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor and the
director of The Becker Center of Price Theory (Department of Economics). The coauthor,
Stephen Dubner, is a well-known journalist that has written four books and countless articles.
He graduated from Appalachian State University in 1984, and currently writes for the New York
Times (Stephen J. Dubner). After Freakonomics was published, both men created a blog to
discuss various issues associated with their latest novel. Together, they continue to “keep the
conversation going” on their blog (Department of Economics).
Section III
In section I, I stated a specific example from the first chapter of the book about school
teachers and sumo wrestlers. Not many ties can be linked between the two groups, but further
analysis shows something very interesting. Both groups of people cheat in order to receive
personal incentives. The Chicago Public School system implemented a plan to award teachers if
their students received high test scores. From 1993 to 2007, answers from thirty thousand
students were being recorded into a huge database (Levitt and Dubner 26-28). Many of the
scores seemed to be too high, and the finger was pointed at the teachers. Many of the teachers in
fact were helping their students by giving them answers to the test and even erasing wrong
answers and filling them in with the corrects ones, which is strictly prohibited. On the other
hand, what would cause a sumo wrestler to cheat? The Japanese sport of sumo wrestling
strongly influences the way a wrestler lives and how much money he makes. Each wrestler tries
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to make it to the top of the ladder by defeating all of the other wrestlers (Levitt and Dubner 40).
With that being said, predicted and actual winning percentages showed the authors what they
were looking for. Wrestlers that had nothing to gain from a victory often allowed their
opponents to beat them because their opponent usually needed the win to live to a better life. If
this were to happen today in sports, it would be equivalent to allowing the opponent to win in
order to gain money. This has happened before in Major League Baseball, and the man found
guilty was heavily fined and exiled from baseball. To connect teachers and sumo wrestlers, both
cheat to gain personal incentives. By explaining that they share something in common, the
authors develop their argument by explaining that many conclusions cannot be determined
without thinking economically or abstractly. The authors appeal heavily to logos to convey their
argument. They appeal to logos by including facts such as: teachers were given a $25,000 bonus
for their students receiving high test scores (Asimov and Wallack). Another way they appeal to
logos is by using statistical data. Many of the sentences used to convey their argument contain
numbers and statistics that are from credible resources. Levitt’s background as a distinguished
economist also attributes to logos as well as ethos.
Another highly debated topic from the novel is parenting. What makes a perfect parent?
One quality of a prefect parent would be that they keep their children out of danger. The authors
present a perfect example of parents hindering their children’s safety without the parents even
knowing it. The parents allow their child to go over to a friend’s house that has a pool rather
than to a friend’s house that is known to hold a gun. This decision seems perfectly rational at
first, but not after data is viewed. In one given year, there is one drowning of a child for every
eleven thousand residential pools in the United States. Meanwhile, only one child is killed by a
gun for every million-plus guns (Levitt and Dubner 149-150). The child is almost one hundred
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times more likely to die at the house with a pool than at the house holding a gun! Again, the
authors develop their argument by thinking abstractly. Before reading this novel, I would have
never thought that allowing my child to play at a house with a gun would be safer than allowing
my child to play at a house with a pool. The authors develop this part of their argument strictly
through logical thinking. The authors also appeal to pathos leaving their readers in a sense of
shock after revealing such enlightening knowledge. Even though the words contain very little
emotional power, the reader still feels emotion through pure logic. These two examples of
school teachers and sumo wrestlers and parenting help to develop the authors’ argument
throughout the entire novel.
Section IV
During my research, I found one particular source that directly attacked the argument of
the authors in Freakonomics. Author Steven Malanga immediately attacks Levitt’s credibility by
saying that he has only published his articles in obscure journals. Malanga continues by
belittling Levitt and his correlation of legalized abortions lowering the crime rate (Malanga).
When I read Levitt’s idea that abortions had lowered the crime rate, I had also questioned its
truth. Levitt stated that increased police forces and innovative policing strategies slightly
reduced crime, and that abortion greatly reduced crime. Levitt’s rationale behind his statements
was that the women getting the abortion was most likely in the lower class, and as a result her
child was going to have to resort to a life of crime (Malanga). In this particular incident, Levitt
seemed to jump to conclusions because for once in the book he did not include any statistical
data to prove his point, which I thought was a little odd. I agree with author Steven Malanga that
abortion was not the most influential factor that reduced crime. I also agree with Malanga that
Levitt and Dubner states their ideas as if they are Scripture. Although both authors clearly
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explain why they think what they think, many of the chapters seem as though they are not to be
questioned. Levitt’s analysis does not mention any research done by other economists, and in
doing so disregards them. It’s one thing to offer wisdom to others with your own data, but it’s
quite another to ignore all the facts that do not fit into your research.
In the same source, Malanga states that in the field of economics new theories that are
developed from innovative research are immediately tested to see if their results can be
replicated. Two economists, Ted Joyce and John Lott, quickly took up counter studies and
questioned the methods and conclusions of Levitt. Ted Joyce found that the homicide rates of
older people were declining at a faster rate than the younger generations that have been affected
by legalized abortions. Joyce’s findings proved that legalized abortions only slightly affected the
decrease in crime, which was significantly less impact than Levitt had previous thought. John
Lott directly observed the legalization of abortion, and concluded that it increased illegitimate
births and single-parent families (Malanga). Lott’s conclusion was legalized abortion actually
attributed to a very slight increase in crime, opposite to Levitt’s conclusions.
Section V
Despite the powerful counter arguments against Freakonomics, I think the authors’
argument is valid. The novel offers conventional wisdom about popular topics in today’s society
for any American to wisely learn about. Even though there are criticisms of the novel, Levitt and
Dubner successfully analyzed data and made appropriate conclusions. After reading the novel
and conducting research, I found myself with a greater wealth of knowledge and also with the
ability to observe a subject from a different perspective. As a reader, I think the novel has done
exactly what the authors intended it to do.
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Section VI
Works Cited
Asimov, Nanette, and Todd Wallack. "The Teachers Who Cheat." SFGate. n.p., 13 May 2007.
Web. 4 May 2010.
Department of Economics. Steven D. Levitt. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2010.
Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. N.
pag. Print.
Malanga, Steven. "Where Freakonomics Errs." City Journal. n.p., 11 July 2005. Web. 4 May
Stephen J. Dubner. Ed. Mary K. Elkins. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2010.
Ideas and Content
Word Choice
Sentence Fluency
Lower Order Concerns
Presentation (Research Guide)
Introduction and Conclusion
GRADE out of 50
42 See comments regarding Sections II and III; you do a good part with a
few specific sections of the book but neglect the argument as a
whole and its development