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People I (Mostly) Admire
46 minutes | Jun 12, 2021
31. Peter Leeson on Why Trial-by-Fire Wasn’t Barbaric and Why Pirates Were Democratic
He’s an economist who studies even weirder things than Steve. They discuss whether economics is the best of the social sciences, and why it’s a good idea to get a tattoo of a demand curve on your bicep.
44 minutes | Jun 5, 2021
30. Dambisa Moyo Says Foreign Aid Can’t Solve Problems, but Maybe Corporations Can
The African-born economist has written four bestselling books, including Dead Aid, which Bill Gates described as “promoting evil.” In her new book about corporate boards, Dambisa uses her experience with global corporations to explore how they can better meet society’s demands. And she explains to Steve why, even as a Harvard and Oxford-educated economist, her goal in life might sound “a little bit like a Miss America pageant.”
46 minutes | May 29, 2021
29. Bruce Friedrich Thinks There’s a Better Way to Eat Meat
Levitt rarely interviews advocates, but the founder of the Good Food Institute is different. Once an outspoken — and sometimes outlandish — animal-rights activist, Bruce has come to believe that market-driven innovation and scientific advancement are the best ways to reduce global meat consumption. Steve and Bruce talk about the negative externalities of factory-farmed meat, and why Bruce gave up antics like streaking at Buckingham Palace.
45 minutes | May 22, 2021
28. Professor Carl Hart Argues All Drugs Should Be Legal — Can He Convince Steve?
As a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Columbia University who studies the immediate and long-term effects of illicit substances, Carl Hart believes that all drugs — including heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine — should be legalized. Steve talks to Carl about his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, and Carl tells Steve why decriminalizing drugs is as American as apple pie.
44 minutes | May 15, 2021
27. Daniel Kahneman on Why Our Judgment is Flawed — and What to Do About It
Nobel laureate, best-selling author, and groundbreaking psychologist Daniel Kahneman is also a friend and former business partner of Steve’s. In discussing Danny’s new book Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, the two spar over inconsistencies in criminal sentencing and Danny tells Steve that “Your attitude is unusual” — no surprise there.
36 minutes | May 8, 2021
26. Memory Champion Nelson Dellis Helps Steve Train His Brain
He’s one of the world’s leading competitors, having won four U.S. memory tournaments and holding the record for most names memorized in 15 minutes (235!). But Nelson Dellis claims he was born with an average memory and that anyone can learn his tricks. Steve gives Nelson’s techniques a shot, without much hope — and is surprised by the result.
44 minutes | May 1, 2021
25. Sam Harris: “Spirituality Is a Loaded Term.”
He’s a cognitive neuroscientist and philosopher who has written five best-selling books. Sam Harris also hosts the Making Sense podcast and helps people discover meditation through his Waking Up app. Sam explains to Steve how to become spiritual as a skeptic and commit to never lying again.
50 minutes | Apr 24, 2021
Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That's Actually a Bad Strategy.” (Episode 6 Rebroadcast)
He graduated high school at 14, and by 23 had several graduate degrees and was a research assistant with Stephen Hawking. He became the first chief technology officer at Microsoft (without having ever studied computer science) and then started a company focused on big questions — like how to provide the world with clean energy and how to optimize pizza-baking. Find out what makes Nathan Myhrvold’s fertile mind tick, and which of his many ideas Steve Levitt likes the most.
58 minutes | Apr 17, 2021
24. Amaryllis Fox: “What Does This New Version of Mutually Assured Destruction Look Like?”
She spent nearly a decade as an undercover C.I.A. operative working to prevent terrorism. More recently, she hosted The Business of Drugs on Netflix. Amaryllis Fox — now Kennedy — explains why intelligence work requires empathy, and she soothes Steve’s fears about weapons of mass destruction.
43 minutes | Apr 10, 2021
23. Greg Norman & Mark Broadie: Why Golf Beats an Orgasm and Why Data Beats Everything
Steve Levitt is obsessed with golf — and he’s pretty good at it too. As a thinly-veiled ploy to improve his own game, Steve talks to two titans of the sport: Greg “The Shark” Norman, who was the world’s top-ranked golfer for more than six years; and Mark Broadie, a Columbia professor whose data analysis changed how pros play the game.
46 minutes | Apr 3, 2021
22. Sal Khan: “If It Works for 15 Cousins, It Could Work for a Billion People.”
Khan Academy grew out of Sal Khan’s online math tutorials for his extended family. It’s now a platform used by more than 115 million people in 190 countries. So what does Khan want to do next? How about reinventing in-school learning, too? Find out why Steve nearly moved to Silicon Valley to be part of Khan's latest venture.
46 minutes | Mar 27, 2021
21. Pete Docter: “What If Monsters Really Do Exist?”
He’s the chief creative officer of Pixar, and the Academy Award-winning director of Soul, Inside Out, Up, and Monsters, Inc. Pete Docter and Steve talk about Pixar’s scrappy beginnings, why it costs $200 million to make an animated film, and the movie moment that changed Steve’s life.
40 minutes | Mar 20, 2021
20. John Donohue: “I'm Frequently Called a Treasonous Enemy of the Constitution.”
He’s a law professor with a Ph.D. in economics and a tendency for getting into fervid academic debates. Over 20 years ago, he and Steve began studying the impact of legalized abortion on crime. John and Steve talk about guns, the death penalty, the heat they took from their joint research, and why it’s frustratingly difficult to prove truth in the social sciences.
39 minutes | Mar 13, 2021
19. Marina Nitze: “If You Googled ‘Business Efficiency Consultant,’ I Was the Only Result.”
At 27— and without a college degree — she was named chief technology officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, Marina Nitze is trying to reform the foster care system. She tells Steve how she hacked the V.A.’s bureaucracy, opens up about her struggle with Type 1 diabetes, and explains how she was building websites for soap opera stars when she was just 12 years old.
42 minutes | Mar 6, 2021
18. Robert Sapolsky: “I Don’t Think We Have Any Free Will Whatsoever.”
He’s one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, with a focus on the physiological effects of stress. (For years, he spent his summers in Kenya, alone except for the baboons he was observing.) Steve asks Robert why we value human life over animals, why he’s lost faith in the criminal-justice system, and how to look casual when you’re about to blow-dart a very large and potentially unhappy primate.
44 minutes | Feb 27, 2021
17. Emily Oster: “I Am a Woman Who Is Prominently Discussing Vaginas.”
In addition to publishing best-selling books about pregnancy and child-rearing, Emily Oster is a respected economist at Brown University. Over the course of the pandemic, she’s become the primary collector of data about Covid-19 in schools. Steve and Emily discuss how she became an advocate for school reopening, how economists think differently from the average person, and whether pregnant women really need to avoid coffee.
44 minutes | Feb 20, 2021
16. Joshua Jay: “Humans Are So, So Easy to Fool.”
He’s a world-renowned magician who’s been performing since he was seven years old. But Joshua Jay is also an author, toy maker, and consultant for film and television. Steve Levitt talks to him about how magicians construct tricks, how Joshua’s academic studies of magic have influenced Levitt’s life, and whether Jesus might have been a magician.
44 minutes | Feb 13, 2021
15. Tim Harford: “If You Can Make Sure You're Not An Idiot, You've Done Well.”
He’s a former World Bank economist who became a prolific journalist and the author of one of Steve Levitt’s favorite books, The Undercover Economist. Tim Harford lives in England, where he’s made it his mission to help the public understand statistics. In their conversation, Steve gives Tim some feedback on his new book, The Data Detective, contemplates if it’s possible to tell great stories with data, and Tim explains how making mistakes can be fun.
31 minutes | Feb 6, 2021
14. Yul Kwon (Part 2): “Hey, Do You Have Any Bright Ideas?”
He’s so fascinating that Steve Levitt brought him back for a second conversation. Yul Kwon currently works at Google, but he’s been a lawyer, political organizer, government regulator, organ donation activist, and Survivor winner. Steve asks Yul why he’s so altruistic, how Google and Apple are helping track COVID-19, and whether the best way to pick a president might be a reality show.
36 minutes | Jan 30, 2021
13. Yul Kwon: “Don't Try to Change Yourself All at Once.”
He has been a lawyer, an instructor at the F.B.I. Academy, the owner of a frozen-yogurt chain, and a winner of the TV show Survivor. Today, Kwon works at Google, where he helped build tools to track the spread of COVID-19. But things haven’t always come easily for him. Steve Levitt talks to Kwon about his debilitating childhood anxieties, his compulsion to choose the hardest path in life, and how Kwon used his obsession with game theory to stage a come-from-behind victory on Survivor.
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