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Steven D. Levitt

“No One Can Resist a Jolly, Happy Pig.”

Naturalist Sy Montgomery explains how she learned to be social from a pig, discovered octopuses have souls, and came to love a killer that will never love her back.

3/25/22
46:05

We Can Play God Now

Gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna worries that humanity might not be ready for the technology she helped develop.

3/18/22
41:42

The Professor Who Said “No” to Tenure

Columbia astrophysicist David Helfand is an academic who does things his own way — from turning down job security to helping found a radically unconventional university.

3/11/22
48:38

A Rockstar Chemist and Her Cancer-Attacking “Lawn Mower”

Stanford professor Carolyn Bertozzi’s imaginative ideas for treating disease have led to ten start-ups. She talks with Steve about the new generation of immune therapy she’s created, and why she might rather be a musician.

3/4/22
54:14

How Larry Miller Went from Prison Valedictorian to Nike Executive

Climbing the corporate ladder to become head of Nike’s Jordan brand, he kept his teenage murder conviction a secret from employers. Larry talks about living in fear, accepting forgiveness, and why it was easier to be bookish behind bars.

2/25/22
41:04

The Only Covid-19 Book Worth Reading

Steve loved Michael Lewis’s latest, The Premonition, but has one critique: Why aren’t there even more villains? Also, why the author of best-sellers Moneyball and The Big Short can barely read a page of his first book without cringing.

2/18/22
53:02

How Does Historian Brad Gregory Make a Boring Topic So Mind-Blowing?

A leading expert on the Reformation era, Brad, a University of Notre Dame professor, tells Steve about how the “blood gets sucked out of history,” and why historians and economists don’t quite see eye to eye.

2/11/22
47:25

Was Austan Goolsbee’s First Visit to the Oval Office Almost His Last?

The former chairman of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisors tells Steve how improv comedy was a better training ground for teaching than a Ph.D. from M.I.T., and why he’s glad he was wrong about the automotive-industry bailout.

2/4/22
53:03

Cassandra Quave Thinks the Way Antibiotics Are Developed Might Kill Us

By mid-century, 10 million people a year are projected to die from untreatable infections. Can Cassandra, an ethnobotanist at Emory University convince Steve that herbs and ancient healing are key to our medical future?

1/28/22
50:30

Why Aren’t All Drugs Legal? (Replay)

The Columbia neuroscientist and psychology professor Carl Hart believes that recreational drug use, even heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine, is an inalienable right. Can he convince Steve?

1/21/22
44:47

Are We Under Threat from a New Kind of Terror? (Replay)

Amaryllis Fox is a former C.I.A. operative and host of the Netflix show The Business of Drugs. She explains why intelligence work requires empathy, and she soothes Steve’s fears about weapons of mass destruction.

1/14/22
58:23

Who Gives the Worst Advice?

Steve usually asks his guests for advice, whether they’re magicians or Nobel laureates. After nearly 60 episodes, is any of it worth following — or should we just ask listeners instead?

1/7/22
44:10

Why Is Richard Thaler Such a ****ing Optimist?

The Nobel laureate and pioneering behavioral economist spars with Steve over what makes a nudge a nudge, and admits that even economists have plenty of blind spots.

12/31/21
46:48

Does Death Have to Be a Death Sentence?

In this special episode of People I (Mostly) Admire, Steve Levitt speaks with the palliative physician B.J. Miller about modern medicine’s goal of “protecting a pulse at all costs.” Is there a better, even beautiful way to think about death and dying?

12/29/21
57:45

What Makes John Doerr Think He Can Save the Planet?

The legendary venture capitalist believes the same intuition that led him to bet early on Google can help us reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Steve wonders why his plan doesn’t include a carbon tax.

12/24/21
56:19

Claudia Goldin: What’s “Greedy Work” and Why Is It a Problem?

Harvard economist Claudia Goldin and Steve talk about how inflexible jobs and family responsibilities make it harder for women to earn wages equal to their male counterparts. But could Covid actually level the playing field?

12/17/21
48:38

Jared Diamond on the Downfall of Civilizations — and His Optimism for Ours

He’s the award-winning author of hugely popular books like Guns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse; and Upheaval. But Jared actually started his varied career as an expert on gallbladders and birds. The physiologist turned geographer talks with Steve about his brushes with death, why the Norse Greenlanders wouldn’t eat fish, and why he has never been invited to a cannibal ceremony.

12/10/21
48:27

Andrew Yang Is Not Giving Up on Politics — or the U.S. — Yet

He’s tried to shake up the status quo — as a Democratic presidential candidate, a New York City mayoral candidate, and now the founder of the Forward party. Will his third try be the charm? Andrew talks with Steve about what it’s like to lose an election and why a third political party might be the best chance for avoiding a new civil war.

12/3/21
55:33

The Simple Economics of Saving the Amazon Rainforest

Everyone agrees that massive deforestation is an environmental disaster. But most of the standard solutions — scolding the Brazilians, invoking universal morality — ignore the one solution that might actually work. Originally released on Freakonomics Radio, Steve gives an update on what’s happened in the two years since this episode first ran.

11/26/21
32:35

Max Tegmark on Why Superhuman Artificial Intelligence Won’t be Our Slave (Part 2)

He’s an M.I.T. cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert, and once upon a time, almost an economist. Max and Steve continue their conversation about the existential threats facing humanity, and what Max is doing to mitigate our risk. The co-founder of the Future of Life Institute thinks that artificial intelligence can be the greatest thing to ever happen to humanity — if we don’t screw it up.

11/19/21
31:46

Max Tegmark on Why Treating Humanity Like a Child Will Save Us All

How likely is it that this conversation is happening in more than one universe? Should we worry more about Covid or about nuclear war? Is economics a form of “intellectual prostitution?” Steve discusses these questions, and more, with Max, an M.I.T cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert — who was once almost an economist. He also tells Steve why we should be optimistic about the future of humanity (assuming we move Earth to a larger orbit before the sun evaporates our oceans).

11/12/21
47:56

Edward Miguel on Collecting Economic Data by Canoe and Correlating Conflict with Rainfall

He’s a pioneer of using randomized control experiments in economics — studying the long-term benefits of a $1 health intervention in Africa. Steve asks Edward, a Berkeley professor, about Africa’s long-term economic prospects, and how a parking-ticket-scandal in New York City led to a major finding on corruption around the world.

11/5/21
54:26

Mathematician Sarah Hart on Why Numbers are Music to Our Ears

Playing notes on her piano, she demonstrates for Steve why whole numbers sound pleasing, why octaves are mathematically imperfect, and how math underlies musical composition. Sarah, a professor at the University of London and Gresham College, also talks with Steve about the gender gap in mathematics and why being interested in everything can be a problem.

10/29/21
48:31

Marc Davis Can’t Stop Watching Basketball — But He Doesn’t Care Who Wins

His childhood dream of playing in the N.B.A. led him to a career as a referee. Marc is one of the league’s top performers after over 20 seasons, but he still reviews every single one of his calls. He talks with Steve about being scrutinized by players, fans, and management; how much work — and data — go into being fair; and why he talks about race with his colleagues and his kids.

10/22/21
48:06

Ken Jennings on How a Midlife Crisis Led Him to Jeopardy! (Replay)

It was only in his late twenties that America’s favorite brainiac began to seriously embrace his love of trivia. Jeopardy!’s newest host also holds the show’s “Greatest of All Time” title. Steve digs into how Ken trained for the show, what it means to have a “geographic memory,” and why we lie to our children.

10/15/21
49:11

Mayim Bialik on the Surprising Risks of Academia and Stability of Show Biz (Replay)

This new Jeopardy! host is best known for playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, but she has a rich life outside of her acting career too, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist. Steve learns more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.

10/8/21
51:11

Robert Axelrod on Why Being Nice, Forgiving, and Provokable are the Best Strategies for Life

The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic game-theory problem. Robert, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, has spent his career studying it — and the ways humans can cooperate, or betray each other, for their own benefit. He and Steve talk about the best way to play it and how it shows up in real-world situations, from war zones to Steve’s own life.

10/1/21
45:38

Amanda & Lily Levitt Share What It’s Like to be Steve’s Daughters

Steve shows a different side of himself in very personal interviews with his two oldest daughters. Amanda talks about growing up with social anxiety and her decision to not go to college, while Lily speaks candidly about her battle with anorexia and the conversation she had with Steve that led her to finally seek treatment.

9/24/21
49:10

Leidy Klotz on Why the Best Solutions Involve Less — Not More

When we try to improve things, our first thought is often: What can we add to make this better? But Leidy, a professor of engineering, says we tend to overlook the fact that a better solution might be to take something away. He and Steve talk about examples from Leidy’s book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, and from their own lives.

9/17/21
42:23

Edward Glaeser Explains Why Some Cities Thrive While Others Fade Away

An expert on urban economics and co-author of the new book Survival of the City, Ed says cities have faced far worse than Covid. Steve talks with the Harvard professor about why the slums of Mumbai function so well, high-quality housing in China sits empty, and declining cities hang on for so long.

9/10/21
47:10

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