Sunday, August 10, 2014

The first book I read was "Freakonomics: A Rouge Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything," by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, published in 2006. In the book, the two authors look at several different issues, such as how much parents matter in development or cheating on standardized testing. To explain the issue, they use different sets of data and economic principles to show why their explanations are correct, and why conventional and common sense thinking leads to incorrect conclusions. They also postulates that emotions and common sense are the main things that impede people from seeing the truth in things.

Throughout the book, Levitt mainly uses logos in the form of data tables as well as analysis of those sets to try and support his point. For each topic he brings up, he provides a separate data set to support his claim. For example, to show what factors of parenting influenced children, he used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which correlates different factors with test scores to see how strong the correlation is. He then analyzes this data in detail, such as in this excerpt from analyzing why having books in the house correlates strongly while parents reading to a child doesn't, "Most parents would look at this correlation and infer an obvious cause-and-effect relationship...Isiah does beautifully on his reading test at school; this must be because his mother or father regularly reads to him. But Isiah's friend Emily, who also has a lot of books in her home, practically never touches them...And Emily tests just as well as Isaiah...most parents who buy a lot of children's books tend to be smart and well educated to begin with (And they pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids." By providing analysis of the data, he convinces the reader that his point is valid. He also shows pathos to outline the opposing views, however not to prove his own points. An example is when he is trying to explain the decreasing crime rates by showing all the other explanations that newspapers had cited, with the introduction, "Of the seven major explanations on the list, only three can be shown to have contributed to the drop in crime. The others are, for the most part, figments of someone's imagination, self-interest, or wishful thinking. One of the greatest measurable causes of the crime drop does not appear on the list at all, for it didn't receive a single newspaper mention." By showing how the wrong conclusions are all based on pathos, he can establish the legitimacy of his logos, which ignores all emotions and focuses only on facts.

The purpose of the book is to convince others to apply logic to the world, and to not follow common sense, or presume that others are looking out for your best interests. In short, the author wants people to think more critically about everything and everyone. This can be seen by how he presents both his argument and the opposing sides points. In almost all of his explanation of the conventional answers to questions, he explains it by showing how emotions and so called common sense often leads to the wrong answer, such as how teachers and real-estate agents are considered to be morally just because of their public role, and therefore must not cheat others. By presenting legitimate facts that prove these common and easy to make assumptions wrong, he is showing how one should think through things and judge the world, through critical analysis and empirical data.

Levitt presents himself as knowledgeable and experienced with the topic, which in this book, changes every few chapters. Although he is not an expert on every question considered in the book, he does not claim to be, and instead uses the work of other experts, as well as the type of analysis he promotes as his purpose, to seem familiar with all of the topics. He also presumes that the audience is uneducated about this topic, or already has strong preconceptions or negative opinions about the topic and his perspective on it, such as how everyone refused to accept that legalized abortion led to the crime drop, instead of a better economy or police work being the cause of the drop. His goal in presenting himself and many other esteemed researchers as experts in the topics, so to destroy all of these misconceptions that the audience has, and refuses to let go of.

The second book was "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Society," by Jared Diamond, published in 1997. In the book, Diamond explains how different societies around the world, especially in the Pacific Ocean or indigenous people in North America evolved, and to a lesser extent, how societies and people in Europe and China evolved to eventually take over the Pacific and North American ones. He posits that there are several factors that allowed for this domination, especially germs, technology, as well as farming and herding capabilities.

Diamond mainly uses logos to support his argument. He does this by providing data on something that civilizations need, or examples of technology, achievements, species, and diseases that grew in the area to support his claims, such as in the lines, "Among the world's thousands of wild grass species, Blumler tabulated the 56 with the largest seeds, the cream of nature's crop...Virtually all of them are native to Mediterranean zones or other seasonally dry environments. Furthermore, they are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Fertile Crescent or other parts of western Eurasia's Mediterranean zone, which offered a huge selection to incipient farmers: about 32 of the world's 56 prize wild grasses....In contrast, the Mediterranean zone of Chile offered only two of those species, California and southern Africa just one each, and southwestern Australia none at all. That fact along goes a long way toward explaining the course of human history." He also uses ethos by using anecdotes that show that he is familiar with the topic and the people involved. This can be seen in lines like, "It poignantly brought home to me the Indians' perspective on what I, like other white schoolchildren, had been taught to view as the heroic conquest of the American West."

The purpose of the book is for people to stop relying on or believing in racist theories of biological inequalities, as they are horrible and untrue. This can be seen by the evidence he presents. Half of the evidence he presents in great detail the evidence for other factors that caused civilization's to evolve, such as the number of plant and animal species that could be domesticated available in each area as well as whether the continent had a north-south or west-est axis, and how that resulted in many inequalities in societies. However, the other half of his evidence is to prove how all people are biologically the same. Instead of focusing on how people's differences in things like culture caused advantages, he focuses on how everyone is inherently the same, in an attempt to convince others of that.

The audience of the book is presumed to be uneducated about the topic, but with deeply rooted ideas that go against the idea being presented. This can be seen, once again, with how much effort is spent trying to produce evidence to disprove the assumed racist and unequal beliefs of the reader.  Diamond also presents himself as very knowledgeable familiar with the topic. He does this by using anecdotes of his time spent with natives of various Polynesian and Pacific islands, especially to show how equal in intelligence they are to Europeans to prove his point. This stance is also needed to legitimize his stories as real facts that actually support his idea.