Take a deep breath and dive into another season of LeVar Burton reads out now LeVar Burton reads is just that. It's me reading short fiction aloud with some soundscapes and music. I read stories by your favorite authors like Neil Gaiman and Kurt Vonnegut, but I really enjoy introducing you to your next favorite author. You can start listening to season seven of LeVar Burton reads right now in Stitcher ABAL podcasts or wherever it is you get your lesson on. Welcome to people I mostly admire.
This is a special bonus episode, a live event recorded over Zoome and presented by WNYC and The Green and New York City.
The event featured Steve Levitt in conversation with his Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, covering topics such as the birth of this podcast, The Power and Limits of Data Science, and why Levitt's efforts to make the world a better place usually anger everyone across the political spectrum.
Good evening and thanks for joining us tonight. I'm Stephen Dubner. I'm one of the co-authors of the Freakonomics book series and I also host Freakonomics Radio, which is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
And the man on the other side of your screen is my Freakonomics friend and co-author Steve Levitt.
Levitt, would you like to introduce yourself? Sure.
Steve Levitt and I teach economics at the University of Chicago. For the last 20 years, I've read books with Dubner and more recently I've kind of given up on academics and decided it would make sense to try and maybe have a little impact on the real world. So I've started a center called Risk at UT Chicago that's trying to do good and against my better judgment, I started a podcast of people I mostly admire.
Now you say against your better judgment, as if somehow you were press ganged into service, you were begging to have your heart out.
No, it's not that you forced me. It's just that I pretty much try to avoid anything that has actual requirements and demands that me and or deadlines. And so it breaks all my rules to actually do something where I'm obligated to someone else to show up at some time to do something.
So Levit, we should say that our partnership began quite a few years ago when I interviewed you for the New York Times magazine article that ultimately led to Freakonomics. And so I thought I'd basically just interview you again tonight, although, you know, you may end up turning things around since you yourself are now an accomplished interviewer with your people.
I mostly admire podcast. So that's my first question. Which side of the mike do you prefer?
Oh, God, I would take being the interviewee a thousand times or so.
OK, I return to the question, why on earth are you hosting a podcast if you so hate doing anything and especially interviewing people?
Not that I hate it.
I really I you know, I had never literally hadn't interviewed anyone in my entire life before the podcast, and I didn't really understand the pressure, the intense pressure that comes with interviewing. Because when you're the interviewer like you, I'm used to, I am like and I'm just going to be who I am. And whatever happened to happen when I'm an interviewer, I feel this infinity of possibilities. You can take the interview anywhere. And I feel enormous pressure about taking the right direction.
At the same time, I'm trying to really, like, engage with them and be empathetic and whatnot. When I'm done with one of my interviews, I have to go home and sleep for hours.
It's completely, totally exhausting. So I have found your guests interesting in your interviews. Really, really fascinating. But I'll be honest with you, my favorite thing about people I mostly admire is how much of you is in it.
So, for instance, here's you in conversation with first the actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik and then the literary agent, Susanne Gluck.
So whenever young people asked my advice about getting a PhD in economics, I almost always try to talk them out of it.
Getting uppity sounds fun and romantic. It's not open all sorts of doors.
But the truth is, really is it's brutal and it's hard.
It destroys many people's self-confidence and sense of self-worth. Does that describe your experience at all?
Yes, it literally I mean, it near broke my spirit.
I go even farther. And my advice when people ask me about writing a book, what do you say? I say, don't write a book.
Please don't write a book for sure. Don't write a book. If your reason for writing a book is you want people to read it. All right.
So here you are on your podcast telling everyone to not get a PhD and did not write books.
The obvious paradox being that you have a PhD and you have written books. So what's the point you're trying to make here?
So, look, I couldn't believe more strongly those two things don't get a PhD, don't write a book. And I think this is fallacy by people who get really lucky. Like I've gotten really like like our book with some kind of a miracle. Right. That we sold so many copies. People liked it, opened so many doors. I mean, the fact that I got a Ph.D. and was able to be successful economist was super lucky. But to not take into account the fact that the typical experience of getting a Ph.D. sucks and the typical experience of writing a book is you write the whole book and you sell like seven copies.
I mean, look, I think if it's fun to write a book, write a book, if it's like burning a hole in your in your belly to write a book about a book, but just don't expect anyone to read it.
So you mentioned that you've started this project at the University of Chicago called the Center for Radical Innovation for Social Change or Risk. Tell us quickly what you're trying to accomplish there.
Yes, I've just got a group of fifteen incredibly talented young people and we are using the umbrella of academics, but not trying to write papers, not trying to get things above us, but just looking at problems.
And particularly we're kind of trying to. Social problems that people haven't solved, and the fact is, if it's an easy social problem and it's a popular social problem, people solved it a long time ago.
The only ones that are left over are the ones that are either really hard or really unpopular. So we're trying to find mostly the ones that are not so hard but are super unpopular. Like once said, a philanthropist wouldn't touch because they're worried that other people be mad at them, the giver, for instance.
So, for instance, I believe that the biggest single impact on the criminal justice system that we will have had in the last hundred years could come from using technology in a smart way, such as GPS and other monitoring technologies and people who are under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. And I say those words and everybody flips. I mean, like everybody at that point gets incredibly irate, Big Brother, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And no matter what I say, like, well, like, don't you think being locked up in prison is more intrusive, them having someone knowing where you are and chips. But but it's really this miraculous thing and that if we can track people, potential criminals, people who have formerly been criminals now been released and we can cross reference that with with the list of the crimes and where they're happening, we basically can catch people for sure when they commit crimes.
If you can catch people for sure, they don't commit the crime. If they don't commit the crime, you don't need to lock them up. So you have this virtuous cycle where you can let enormous numbers of people out of prison only lock them back up if they do wrong. But almost no, that's wrong because of deterrence, save an enormous amount in in hardship and personal hardship and spending. So of lower prison populations, lower crime. But the thing is, nobody's doing it.
And if you talk to Flatrock, I've tried to raise general funds from from foundations. And they just said to me, are you crazy? We would never fund that. That's like the worst project I've ever heard of, you know, and the right and the left hated for different reasons. That's what I kind of know. I'm onto the right track is when the right hates it. For one reason, the left hated for another reason. I actually feel pretty good about it.
So it sounds like you're really setting yourself up to succeed there.
Yeah, but the thing is, we're working with Cook County and the sheriff there, Tom Dart is an amazing visionary and we've got a thousand these bracelets on and they're working and they're changing people's lives. People are being let out of jail. That wouldn't be otherwise. And they're not committing crimes. And it's like I'm super passionate about it because I really believe that a lot of the success that's required when you want to change the world is an idea. Can't win the day.
People don't other people can't have the excitement and vision about your idea. But if you just show a tool in a way that's so simple and so obvious, then like, oh yeah, why would they so upset about I remember why so upset about me wrote about life insurance is a great example of one hundred years ago where people thought life insurance was the worst thing in the world because how could you profit from the death of a loved one? Now nobody thinks about that.
They think about it in a more sensible way. So, you know, we had a dozen project, but that's the kind of thing we're working on.
So I have noticed that in your interviews as a host, the the center the risk center is kind of creeping in to a lot of the conversations.
And it actually sounds like you're on a recruiting mission.
Perhaps if there were 100 or 200 amazing teachers whose words were broadcast to every student, I think that gets at the point you made about access and how that could really level the playing field for people who are not as privileged as you and I have been. First of all, I think we should talk about this off the air because I think it's an amazing idea.
I run a Senate Chicago, and we are always looking for smart, creative people who have ideas and who want to change the world. So we will definitely keep a seat warm for you if you ever decide you want a change of career in that direction.
Oh, that's very nice. Thank you. I will definitely keep that in mind. You know, let me put my time on it. Yeah.
Seriously, Steve, I would love to work with you on this.
So that was you apparently offering jobs to Mayim Bialik, who stars in the Big Bang Theory, and then Ken Jennings, the all time Jeopardy! Champion, and then you can kind of multi hyphenate who's best known as a winner of the reality show Survivor. So it sounds like your strategy overall is basically trying to skim the cream of nighttime television and get them to the University of Chicago to help you solve your problems.
You see through me.
That is correct. And it's working. It's working great. So my mom and I are working on a couple projects trying to do some social good. You actually made something he cared deeply about, which I also care deeply about in terms of organ donation. He made a connection to me where Risk is now working with one of the big organ donation groups because of you, Ken Jennings. He was just being polite. But but yet two out of three is not bad.
A few work friends of ours have pre-recorded some questions. So here's a question that was sent in by Katie Milkman, who's a professor of. Operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania. Hi, Stephen. Stephen, what open question do you think economists should focus on in light of the Black Lives Matter movement?
I actually had a long conversation with Kerwin Charles on people I most admire. He grew up in Guyana, but he's black. I think we both agreed that. Not the whole answer, but. But economics is a huge answer, right? If you could if you could get something like economic equality, increased economic opportunities for African-Americans, it would have a huge impact.
I mean, that relates back to education. So, I mean, what I really quizzed on, like everybody knows that the how to do it is much harder. I don't think we have great answer to that.
But but for sure, there are obviously there are other issues, discrimination, even conditional on economics. But I made a really good point. If you're African-American and you graduate from Princeton, you have a pretty good life, you know, on a lot of different dimensions. So the challenge to economists is how do we work on the education production function, how to make public schools better? How do we give the kind of skill set to get jobs, you know, like data science, knowledge or or other tech things more equally distributed in society?
So, I mean, that's the obvious thing.
It's pretty early days for having this podcast, which you mean to be an engine of discovery for new ideas or for collaboration, at least with ideas that you're having. I'm curious if you feel you're making any progress, even tiny.
You know, really, I think I'm mostly just in the position of trying to publicize what other good people are doing. I mean, another of the interviews I've done is with a woman named Kavali Morgan, and she has succeeded somehow against all odds in getting mindfulness class as a, you know, a term long class in all of the Portland schools. And I think that's just really, really important. I think we neglect mental health in the school system just because we didn't think about it 50 or 100 years ago.
So before people in most of my guest hosted on the Freakonomics podcast where I did one on math education, and that turned out to be amazing. So I basically just complained, absent much evidence about how bad I thought math curriculum was. And that's really turned into a movement.
We've been working with 15 different organizations, Joe Bolat, Stanford and and others. And we've got now actually a consortium we've put together a website called 21 C Math, that org where we have a lot of resources where we're trying to really make a difference. So that's one place we've started a tutoring program that we piloted over the summer, remote learning and working with a bunch of school districts.
And so it is a case where much more than usual, I'm not just saying things, I'm actually doing something.
You're listening to people I mostly admire. Featuring a live conversation between Steve Levitt and his Freakonomics co-author, Stephen Dubner. They'll return after this short break.
Hey, I'm Christine, and I'm Caroline, and we're back with brand new episodes of Unladylike, the show that finds out what happens when women break the rules. This season, we're breaking the rules around sexting, Botox, even twerking, where you bounce think you are working it out.
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And we're kicking off the season with one of our unladylike Hall of Fame heroes, Samantha Bee, and really monologuing here today.
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Stay tuned, y'all. We're dropping new episodes every Tuesday. Don't miss a single one. Subscribe to Unladylike Institue Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast.
Here's another question from a colleague and close friend, John List, who is also an economist at the University of Chicago and who has appeared in many episodes of Freakonomics Radio.
Hey, guys, this is John. First, congrats on ten great years. Second, thank you so much for having me along on some of the ride. It's been great to learn from you and it's been also wonderful to be part of some of your shows. So here is my simple question. We've all been around policy makers a long time. And what I think is a fundamental disconnect is the distance between where we are scientifically and where current policies are in many cases.
So what I want you to do is I want you to tell all of the academics if you had to shake them and tell them one thing that they could do better to get more of their research to change the world through policies. What would you tell those academics to do? And secondly, for policy makers, what would you tell policymakers to look for and to explore, to get more of the secrets that we have locked in our academic journals unlocked?
So some of those great ideas can change the world.
I like those questions from John Levitt. Any thoughts? So it's absolutely true that the incentives that academics have to fight 100 percent against implementation of policy, all the incentives for an academic is to have a great idea to test it, preferably in some randomized study to get it published in a top journal and then to never think about again and go do that over and over and over.
And that's how the accolades come. And virtually never does an academic paper and a top journal translate into policy. You have to go behind ideas. And actually that's exactly my motivation for risk. The center I'm running, reflecting on 20 years of nothingness, have no impact whatsoever of constantly feeling like the ideas go nowhere. We're trying to do exactly that next step. We're trying to take really good ideas, simple ideas, and just prototype them in a way that a public policymaker needs to have zero imagination instead of zero innovation.
We're going to show you exactly the seven steps.
We're going to make it happen on a small scale, but like in a real world setting with all of the kind of structure around it. And if it works for us and you want to do it, we're going to be able to hand you that machinery so you can wholesale copyright. So the secret to getting things adopted is to make the cost of adoption zero to just copy it. So like what we're doing in Cook County with the GPS ankle bracelets, if that works well, we're going to have software.
We're going to have protocols so that someone who wants to do it doesn't have to think at all. They say, whoa, that worked in Kokanee, how do I do it? And we can just mail them a big box with everything they need to do and they can do it right.
So you are sympathizing with the academics dilemma, which makes sense since you're coming from academia, which is that they're just responding to the incentives of how you get ahead in your profession.
But you could also, I would think, be able to sympathize with the policy makers side especially. I mean, it's tricky because when you say policymakers, sometimes that means a politician, sometimes it's not.
Sometimes it's a civil servant. But the politicians are certainly the ones out front. And at the risk of joining the cheering squad of an incredibly unpopular team at the moment, which are politicians, you know, almost every politician I've ever gotten to know, even a little bit, it's obvious that for the most part, most of them got into it for what we think of as the right reasons for public service. And then they find that the incentives in this particular game that they're playing are totally orthogonal to the ideas that they were getting into.
And so they need to do things for reputation. They need to do things for raising money and so on.
And, you know, the thing about policy that comes out of academia is it's almost always an interruption of the status quo. Like there wouldn't be a suggestion of policy if it were new. And what politicians typically do is stay as close to all forms of status quo as they can.
So speaking to the policymakers out there, whether they're elected or not, do you have any advice for how to use academic research that you truly believe in? And I guess it's either be bold and courageous about it. In other words, not worry about all the actual political realities or find some other channel to. Come forward with it, even if it goes somewhat against your personal incentives. Yeah, so I would go even further in defense of politicians, which is most really nice.
Academic results are somewhat misleading because they're done at a very small scale with a set of extremely motivated and talented people as a hidden component. Like I'll give you an example not to not to make fun of Jeff Sachs, but a little bit to make fun of Jeff. Jeff Sachs wrote a book about how we could save the billion people on the planet. So I get that.
But basically, he talked about well, I took a bunch of Harvard masters and Kennedy School students, APHC students, and we went like one poor African village and like put in mosquito nets. And these villagers turned out really great. And they did that like seven different African villages. Not great. If you have a million Harvard Kennedy students motivated people who want to go to Africa and live in an African village and work tirelessly with incredible human capital to do it.
Well, maybe you could save the world. But most academic studies have hidden in them the secret inputs of talent and drive. And so almost everything that looks good in academic studies fails when you do it at scale anyway. And actually, John List is really right at the forefront of that thinking. And how can we learn better? So, look, I don't blame any politician for being skeptical about taking academic results and doing and in some sense and my little tiny way, I'm trying to fix that.
I'm trying to find a way to be an intermediary.
I should mention, if anyone wants to hear more about that, we made an episode of Freakonomics Radio called Policymaking is Not a Science Yet. And Levit, I remember when we were talking about you hosting people I mostly admire and what kind of people you'd want to interview and what kind of people you would not want to interview on the not side was politicians.
But I have noticed in several of your interviews that you seem determined to get nonpoliticians to run for office.
Do you ever think of going into politics? I do not. Would you ever consider running for office? Oh, God, no.
It strikes me that you would be a fantastic public servant.
I admire public servants very much, but it just did not seem like a good fit for my temperament.
OK, so that was in reverse order. Ken Jennings turning you down again, Suzanne Gluck, who happens to be your literary agent and mine. And before that, Kerwin Charles, who's now the dean of the Yale School of Management that you mentioned earlier.
But I have to ask Levitt, since you're pushing for everyone else to run for office and you say that your new research center is about finding evidence based policy to make the world a better place.
Why are you not running for something?
So I would not want to run for office. I mean, honestly, I wouldn't mind being president. I'd be fun to be president if you could just be president and not have to do it. My dream is to have one of my friends get to be president. And so without me having to do anything, they're going to invite me and they're going to build a little kaleck closet off of the Oval Office that I'm going to get to sit in and I'm going to get to whisper about every possible policy issue.
So that's kind of my dream. So actually, it's funny, by the time I'm done interviewing almost everyone, I'm dreaming about them being president.
They're not taking it up, though.
Some of my favorite conversations that you've had with people are extracting information or wisdom. And I'm thinking of one with Nathan Myhrvold, who's the the former CTO of Microsoft. This is a long time ago, but he's very, very, very polymathic. He trained as an astrophysicist and as a mathematical economist, and he runs an invention firm and a lot of other things.
But and I don't mean to, you know, pat you on the back too much or make you blush, but I really love the wonder with which you receive some of the systems.
I want to play one clip, but I blow the candles when you light the work. That is just a tiny bit of the solid wax and you can light it. But then the heat from that candle flame melts a little puddle of the paraffin wax, which then gets sucked up the whip and it burns.
So the candle makes its own fuel because the candle flame can only really burn liquid or vaporized paraffin, not solid paraffin.
I had no idea how a candle works. And there's so much about modern life that we just we think we understand. But if you said, you know how to candle work, I would sort of course, like to think I want to look at candles in a completely different way from not.
So did you really not know how a candle.
Oh, my God, that's amazing. I mean, think about it your whole life. Candles burn. And then all of a sudden, Nathan Myhrvold, who was like an unbelievable genius and so much fun to talk to, he explains to you in a simple way how a candle works. I mean, don't you love it? I do love that.
It also reminded me, have you heard of this idea called the illusion of explanatory depth that comes from psychology? It's that like we think we know stuff and that someone asks you anything and you're literally you literally cannot explain anything. Right.
Like, how does the zipper work? How does a ballpoint pen work? How does a toilet flush? So I'm curious now that you've learned how a candle works. Did that lead to any deeper insight?
Look, the people who talk about, like, real joy in life, it's the people who are able to, like, look at a candle and see all of the wonder in the world and the candle thing. Look, I'm not as childlike as I'd like to be, but in those moments where I can get back to, I think it was just such joy that goes with that kind of insight. I love it. I mean, I got to go to dinner at one of the fancy restaurants with Nathan.
My God. I mean, it was the most amazing experience. And I don't like that kind of food. I like fancy food. You know, I like fast food, but I like to actually hear him describe the making of it was like the most incredible gift.
The psychologist Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania is my co-host on the No Stupid Questions podcast. She's also the author of the wonderful book Grit. And here's a question from Angie.
Do you think understanding the hidden side of everything actually changes behavior for the better? And if so, do you have any examples from your own lives?
So trying to look at the hidden side of everything, that's essentially all I do all day long. And I think it's fun if nothing else and the entire world becomes a sandbox to try to figure out apply things. And I think a good example of where it worked at that covid. So I think a lot of people's reaction to covid was a sense of being overwhelmed and helpless. And I think my reaction was, OK. The problem I've spent my entire life studying data and studying human behavior, like what better problem and covid to try and figure things out.
And I think, you know, I don't think anybody listen to me, but I do think the things I was saying made sense. Give me an example. What have you contributed?
So, for instance, it is completely, entirely clear from the beginning that if it's true that it can be transmitted by people who don't have symptoms, then we will get absolutely nowhere. If we don't test people who don't have symptoms until in a world in which no one gets tested unless they're like sick already, we aren't going to do very well in the other. Like, really simple thing is from day one, I loved it when the authorities and the very beginning said, look, if you're a regular person to not buy masks, masks do not work.
And we need every single one of them. For the people who are in the hospitals, like both of those can't be true. I can't both do the math, don't work, and that we need it for the people in hospitals. You know, it's also true. Is that kind of our only possible way out of this is if masks really work because, you know, we're not testing very much who are not contact tracing very well and felt like we just got to put on a massive pray.
Well, you also like the idea of a big incentive for testing, including being entered into a lottery that might pay you a few million dollars, for instance, right?
Yeah. So that's that's true in a world in which you had ample tests and people really were going to test and the government had a sensible program about testing, then I think a question that you run into is, well, why would anyone test not that much fun to have that thing stuck up your nose? And Paul Romer, who I've interviewed for people I most admired, his solution involve testing every single American once a week. And you'd have to go to Walgreens or something and tip your nose back.
And they have somebody 52 times, you know, stick this in your nose when you have no reason to think you're sick and just contact. Well, people will do it because it's it's, you know, the right thing to do. And I thought, would you do that to me once? Like the chance that I'm ever going to go shopping Walgreen's again is essentially zero.
And so although we should say there are more and more saliva tests, also, you didn't mention vaccine development, which is I mean, it's amazing when you read the history of every vaccine development in the world and how it took you know, it's going to be 10x longer than this. It's pretty remarkable.
Also, the other thing that's really interesting in this setting about vaccine development in general, there is a real avoidance of wasting resources of running, say, look, we're only going to use the best vaccine more or less in the long run, but we've got 10, 20, 30, 50 vaccines running in parallel, incredibly expensive. And it's actually a great example of when there's something valuable. You should have this enormous amount of redundancy and people fight that usually like that.
Of all the really awesome things we've got to go with that stands out heads and shoulders above it.
Here's a question from a listener, Rachel Grimmelmann, watching on Facebook. Her question is, how can we use. Behavioral economics to motivate people to be more cautious when it comes to covid-19, i.e. wearing masks and so on, especially young adults in college.
I like this question and my view from trying to do an episode on this very fact is that what we talk about, behavioral economics are basically nudging or kind of using behavioral science to influence human behavior has been mostly a massive failure in light of covid and public health behavior. I found no evidence that really any of those smart, small nudges could cut through the noise of mass, you know, concerns. And I'd love you to tell me I'm wrong. Do you have any countervailing evidence?
Look, they don't really work very well in general and just give you a couple percent. They get really cheap and for free, whatever. So they're useful. But now I can barely walk on the street without somebody from some company organization saying we want you to use behavioral economics to transform everything about we do. And it turns out that really, honestly doesn't, like you said, work very well. And whenever you say the sentence, I want behavioral economics to transform whatever I'm doing, you should just cut the word behavioral and say, I want to use economics to transform because it's like behavioral economics is good for a couple percent.
But regular economics is the kind of economics we do in Freakonomics about incentives. Right. So you can use financial incentives. Financial incentives would work on covid. I guarantee you there's enough money. The value of somebody who's sick, not infecting other people is so huge to society that we could pay people enormous amounts of money not to infect other people if we chose to.
But social pressure, I mean, my God, if I walked on my street in Chicago outside the show and I don't have a mask on, people screaming at me, they tell me I'm an awful person and I fear that deeply. So any social pressure is enormous. But I think regular economics, I think about incentives.
So here's a related question. This is coming from Corey Blackburne, who's watching on Facebook. Corey wants to know any words of advice for fledgling data scientists to catapult a career into something meaningful. And I just want to add to the question or maybe a preface to the question, which is I have a sense that many, many people think that data science and big data are the latest magic bullets that will solve absolutely everything. And again, I see a lot of evidence of good intention and poor outcomes.
And I see a lot of it's almost like moral hazard where people think, oh, now the data scientists will figure out X, Y and Z. And it strikes me as a good tool to have. If you have people who know what they're doing and they know how to ask really good questions, but that's not what I see. So tell me that first and then get out of that depressing mode and give Corey something to be less depressed about.
Yeah, that's super insightful point that you just made, Dubner. I couldn't agree more that a lot of times people think of big data as a substitute for good thinking as opposed to a compliment to good thinking, like when you are really thinking smartly and cleverly about a problem and you have really great data, you can often make a lot of headway. And without both, you sometimes can't. But really, big data has proven immensely powerful ad and data science and at a certain class of problems, which is prediction problems.
If you're trying to predict the future, if you're a Netflix and you're trying to figure out what kind of movie I really like, these tools have been amazing. If you're trying to figure out by looking at a picture whether in that picture it's a cat or a dog or of a person holding a gun. Amazing progress. I'm on most of the questions we care about more than any question where the question is why did something happen? These tools aren't that great.
When I work with firms that have data scientists there, what I find almost uniformly is that they operate in an incredibly complex space.
They're very concerned with technicalities, with techniques, with things being hard.
And I think the answers are often very simple. Right. And so I try to always two simple things and try to relate them in very basic ways, like my favorite kind of graphs or what I call big bar, little bar graph. Okay.
The graphs that have one really little bar and one really big bar and those are the kind of graphs that I show to CIOs if I'm trying to convince them of something and the CEOs say things like, wow, that makes sense to me. I don't understand how you take the same data that my data science team has, and I never understand anything they're saying. OK, so it might say, oh, well, the answer is just two things really simply.
But I think it's more complicated. We think about incentives because much of the power that comes to data scientists in firms and organizations is because they're completely, totally inscrutable and the other people have no idea what they're doing. And by having a set of skills that no one else has, you can willpower, power, because no one can understand why you're do. You have a very special town. And so I have. The luxury of being an outsider, of being a big shot economist so I can do simple things and people don't second guess me, but if you're a data scientist, I would experiment, right?
So sometimes do things simply and sometimes do things super complicated. See what kind of results to get. Look, I do think just by virtue of being in data science, I think you're in the right spot. I think the future belongs to the science. It's just a great job.
So I encourage everybody who's interested in STEM kind of stuff, take a shot at doing a little data science and if it appeals to you, that's a fantastic investment.
So to wrap things up, I wanted to ask you about how you wrap things up on your show, people I mostly admire. Here's a clip that we put together from the last few minutes of multiple interviews.
All right. Last question. Last question. All right. Last question. It seems to me you've lived a really good life. Do you have advice about living a good life?
So what advice would you give on leading a life worth living?
So how about I'm living a great life?
So that sounds a little bit like a midlife crisis in radio playing out before our eyes.
What I really want to know is why, you know, a lot of people who interview others, you do kind of develop a signature question often to end with or a signature saying and I'm curious why this is a question you chose.
And really what I want to know is if you've gotten a good answer yet. So honestly, let me say, I wouldn't have known I did that. Like, totally unconscious is a reflection of my own thinking. And the people I'm talking to have often had great success, often in different dimensions. And I think kind of in a broader sense, it seems like that's the right question.
Well, let me ask you this name a person known unknown, living dead, whose life you look at and say, oh, that's the way to go.
I go, God, you know, Willson's kind of one of my idols. He taught me in college. He's the guy who studies and it's in his class. Fundamentally changed my life. I mean, it's the only person I can say any teacher who I would say, wow, what I learned from that person. I live my life totally differently. Give me an example. Among other things, I had an intense fear of death as a child.
I would wake up in the night screaming, afraid of death. And E.O. Wilson taught me not to be afraid of death. And he did it in a weird way. He basically made me understand how unimportant I am because I think this fear of death in large part stems with like a very overblown sense of self and your importance in the world. And he convinced me in a very nice way that I mattered. Not at all. But then he brings you back.
He's like he's like maybe like boot camp or something where they rip you cut off your hair and they bring you down to nothing. And he said, look, you don't matter on a cosmic scale, but among the people that you interact with, you're everything on a local level. You're incredibly important, set to the right way to think about living a life. It's on a local level. And I don't know for whatever like maybe if I took it now, I would think it was stupid.
But as an 18 year old, it blew my mind. And, you know, it's weird. My grandfather, he was someone who enjoyed life in a way that I've rarely seen anybody enjoy life. And then he and then he committed suicide when my grandmother was dying of cancer because he was ready to move on. And to me, that was an incredibly influential thing. He basically committed suicide shortly after I took Ethan's class.
Honestly, that along with the class, it freed me up to really live a better life.
Well, it it was great to see you.
I miss you. Let me just ask you, do you feel now that you were the interviewee and not the interviewer that you don't need to go sleep for five hours?
Oh, I'm ready to go. I know probably nothing for me. People I mostly admire is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, and it's produced by Freakonomics Radio and Sicher, this episode was produced by Matt Hickey with help from Mary to do.
Our staff also includes Allison Craig Lowe, Greg Rippin and Karen Wallace. Our intern is Emma Terrell. All of the music that you heard on the show was composed by Luis Guera thanks to WNYC and The Green Space for their assistance with this episode.
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