Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Why Axis. Competent but done already.




If you’ve read around in social science circles, you most likely will have come across the Israeli daycare study.  Researchers noticed that there was a social cost to picking up children late, and determined to see what would happen if a true monetary cost was applied – instead of being shamed for picking up the kids late, what would happen if you had to pay a price.  It was seen that where you had to pay for picking up your kids late, more kids were picked up late. 
I have seen it short-handed so often that the question of who did the study has faded into the background.  Like the Jam Study or the Marshmallow study, they are social science catnip, glommed onto by writers both popular and academic.

So—when I was reading this book, and in the introduction the waiters (using an awkward “We” formation for first person) started to imply that they were the ones who did it, I got mad.  That’s until I looked up the original study and found that one of the coauthors of this book was one of the coauthors of that study.  I suppose that if I were in the field deeper, I would know that, but I knew just enough to jump to mistaken conclusions.

All that was to set up this: the authors know what they’re talking about.  This book is a well-written defense of the importance of not only looking at incentives but also taking your hypotheses into the field for testing.  That is the key take-away.  The problem is that theirs is not the first to make those claims. This book, like the reference to the daycare study, feels generic because I have read so many authors doing similar work that nothing pops out.  If you have not read Ariely or Geno or Sunnstein with Thaler, this book will open your eyes to a cool field of study. Otherwise, it is only for completest.