Uncommon Knowledge: Freaks and geeks, and beyond

NBC105 7/29/1999 Saturdays (8-9 p.m. ET) FREAKS AND GEEKS -- NBC Series -- Pictured:(l-r) James Franco as Daniel, Jason Segel as Nick Baron, Linda Cardellini as Lindsay Weir, Seth Rogen as Ken Miller, John Daley as Sam Weir, Martin Starr as Bill Havenchuck, Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber -- NBC Photo: Chris Haston Library Tag 09251999 Living
NBC photo
The cast of NBC’s “Freaks and Geeks.”

Economists found that middle- and high-school students who scored lower on an intelligence test relative to their classmates were more involved in smoking, drinking, unprotected sex, and physical fighting, compared with students who earned similar intelligence scores but had lower-scoring classmates. In other words, relative intelligence — over and above absolute intelligence — in one’s grade helped determine risky behavior. This was explained by relatively less intelligent students’ greater popularity, friendship with smokers, lower self-perceived intelligence, and lower expectations for college.

Elsner, B. & Isphording, I., “Rank, Sex, Drugs and Crime,” Journal of Human Resources (Spring 2018).

Nothing to lose

Residents of some Nebraska counties gained access to special raffle-reward savings accounts. Those Nebraskans’ casino and lottery spending decreased relative to residents of nearby counties that didn’t get the accounts, suggesting that the accounts quenched some gambling desire. Indeed, the substitution effect was strongest for local low-frills gambling, rather than for gambling at destinations with amenities.

Cookson, A., “When Saving Is Gambling,” Journal of Financial Economics (forthcoming).

Chronic voters

According to an analysis of voting patterns in ballot initiatives in Massachusetts and other states, support for legalizing marijuana was higher in local areas with better climates for growing, as indicated by the US Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map. This was true even controlling for local partisan, age, income, and racial demographics.

Branton, R. & McGauvran, R., “Mary Jane Rocks the Vote: The Impact of Climate Context on Support for Cannabis Initiatives,” Politics & Policy (April 2018).

Age discrimination from the start


Media outlets and venture capitalists alike perpetuate the stereotype that highly successful startups tend to have young founders. Researchers at MIT, Northwestern University, and the US Census Bureau analyzed government and venture-capital data to see if that stereotype was true. It was not. “All evidence points to founders being especially successful when starting businesses in middle age or beyond, while young founders appear disadvantaged.” This was largely due to industry experience.

Azoulay, P. et al., “Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship,” National Bureau of Economic Research (April 2018).

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Debt load

Survey data from selective colleges revealed that student debt led to lower grades and graduation rates, even controlling for SAT score, tuition level, race, gender, family income, and whether a student chose a technical major over a nontechnical one. An experiment with students at a selective university found that students who expected to earn a lot after graduation — but not those who didn’t — experienced significant cognitive impairment after being made to focus on their college costs and debt.

Destin, M. & Svoboda, R., “Costs on the Mind: The Influence of the Financial Burden of College on Academic Performance and Cognitive Functioning,” Research in Higher Education (May 2018).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at