Experimental Economics On TV

The Murdock Mysteries, imported from Canada and now on Ovation in the states under the moniker Artful Detective.  It used to be on PBS but we have not seen it there recently.  It is now in its tenth season plus a three TV movies.  It started in late 19th century Toronto and is now into the early 20th century.  Murdock is a police detective at Station #4 in Toronto who is very active in science and meets a number of historical figures from Winston Churchill to Thomas Edison.

In “Nolo Contendere” from season nine, Crabtree, Murdock’s constable, conducts a an economics experiment to find a murderer while he is in prison for pleading the title.  Murdock’s scientific skills are well known so Crabtree says that Murdock has a science solution to finding finger marks (never fingerprints) that have been wiped off the murder weapon.  Therefore, since the inmates believe it is only a matter of time before the murderer is discovered, Crabtree starts a betting pool on who did it.  The neat part is that they recognize that is is not the favorite that did it.  Rather it is the person who odds are lower than expected.

Sidebar: you might argue that this could not be replicated since it is Crabtree’s opinion about expectations.  That, however, is just a matter of technology.  Today, we could predict the odds based on observables and create Crabtree’s expertise.  In fact, criminal activity probably has much more strongly correlated expectations than the stock market does.  End Sidebar.

So the person with the greatest gap between actual and expected odds becomes the main suspect.  That leads to solving a number of interrelated cases and eventually freeing Crabtree so he can rejoin the Constabulary.

Murdock is a show that has gotten better as it has gotten older.  It is not a conservative show or a liberal show although it is very interested in issues like woman’s right to vote.  It has interesting characters in interesting times with interesting mysteries.

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