Saturday, April 23, 2005

what color is your jellochute?

[Post #2 about Freakonomics]

If you are a social scientist in a discipline other than economics, probably the most annoying thing economists often do when writing for the popular masses is to presume that no idea really exists until it has been discovered and formulated by some economist. So, despite the many feet of literature that exists on race and "oppositional culture", et cetera, including literature cited in the Fryer article in question, Levitt writes:
In a paper called 'The Economics of 'Acting White'," the young black Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. argues that some black students "have tremendous disincentives to invest in particular behaviors (i.e., education, ballet, etc.) due to the fact that the may be deemed a person who is trying to act like a white person (a.k.a. 'selling-out') Such a label, in some neighborhoods, can carry penalties that range from being deemed a social outcast, to being beaten or killed.'"
As if Fryer discovered it. An interesting thing is that Fryer isn't even the first author on "The Economics of 'Acting White'" paper, but since he is the young-Black-Harvard author, and has collaborated with Levitt to boot, he gets the credit. Go figure.

Which is not to say that sociology isn't cited in Freakonomics. The book does have a whole chapter on first names, after all, and so if you look in the endnotes you will find a reference to Stanley Lieberson's book on first names, A Matter of Taste. In the endnotes to the names chapter, you will also see sociology used to back up the seemingly farfetched example of twin black boys named "OrangeJello and LemonJello, also whose parents further dignified their choice by instituting the pronunciations a-RON-zhello and le-MON-zhello". Don't believe it?Check the endnotes:
ORANGEJELLO AND LEMONJELLO: Although these names have the whiff of urban legend about them--they are, in fact, discussed on a variety of websites that dispel (or pass along) urban legends--the authors learned of the existence of OrangeJello and LemonJello from Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, who swears he met the twin boys in a grocery store.
Google "OrangeJello LemonJello" and try to decide for yourself what you think of the names. I sent McAdam an e-mail just now asking for confirmation. Anyway, the names chapter also features what I think is the lone instance of a sociologist being important enough to be elevated into the main text of the book:
The clerks in New York City civil court recently reported that name changes are at an all-time high. Some of the changes are purely, if bizarrely, aesthetic. A young couple named Natalie Jeremijenko [you can imagine how I love that last name] and Dalton Conley [yes, the sociologist!] recently renamed their four-year old son Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Jeremienko-Conley.
Never let it be said that serious economists do not take the offerings of sociologists seriously.


valerio said...

Jeremy, you have some good points there, especially the one about "probably the most annoying thing economists often do when writing for the popular masses is to presume that no idea really exists until it has been discovered and formulated by some economist". I read Dubner's article about R. Fryer in the NYT recently, and have to say I found it really weird. It was one of that everybody-can-do-it stuff, while Harvard got something to brag about. I don't want to say that Fryer is not a good scholar, but is he really that good? I mean--incentives and 'selling out'? How original can you be with using such concepts? My favorite was his idea to stimulate Afro-American kids' performance in school by giving them money for doing well. How cool is that! Wish I were in school where Fryer was allowed to do his economic experiments...

jeremy said...

I'm interested in learning more about the outcome of the experiment of paying kids for test performance. It would be great if it worked.

Ms. A said...

So, what does McAdams say? credits the Lemonjello and Orangejello story as being one of a long line of racist stories meant to perpetuate the idea that black folks are too stupid to even name their own kids properly.

By the way, it was Anonomyous 10:01 from the 'seduction style' posting who passed on the word that you've complained that I never comment on your blog...hence this.