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Steven Levitt

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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.

3/12/21
38:27

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.

3/5/21
43:04

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.

2/26/21
44:36

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, toymaker, 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.

2/19/21
42:58

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 and hosts the podcast Cautionary Tales. 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. 

2/12/21
42:30

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.

2/5/21
29:22

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.

1/29/21
35:13

Sue Bird: “You Have to Pay the Superstars.”

She is one of the best basketball players ever. She’s won multiple championships, including four Olympic gold medals and four W.N.B.A. titles — the most recent in 2020, just before turning 40. She also helped negotiate a landmark contract for the league’s players. Sue Bird tells Steve Levitt the untold truth about clutch players, her thoughts about the pay gap between male and female athletes, and what it means to be part of the first gay couple in ESPN’s The Body Issue.

1/22/21
40:25

Paul Romer: “I Figured Out How to Get Myself Fired From the World Bank.”

For many economists — Steve Levitt included — there is perhaps no greater inspiration than Paul Romer, the now-Nobel laureate who at a young age redefined the discipline and has maintained a passion for introducing new ideas to staid debates. Levitt finds out what makes Romer a serial “quitter,” why you can’t manufacture big ideas, and what happened when Romer tried to start a charter city.

1/8/21
34:10

Suzanne Gluck: “I’m a Person Who Can Convince Other People to Do Things”

She might not be a household name, but Suzanne Gluck is one of the most powerful people in the book industry. Her slush pile is a key entry point to the biggest publishers in the U.S., and the authors she represents have sold more than 100 million books worldwide. Steve Levitt talks with Gluck — his own agent — about negotiating a deal, advising prospective authors, and convincing him to co-write Freakonomics.

12/25/20
36:11

Moncef Slaoui: “It’s Unfortunate That It Takes a Crisis for This to Happen”

Born in Morocco and raised mostly by a single mother, Moncef Slaoui is now one of the world’s most influential scientists. As the head of Operation Warp Speed — the U.S. government’s Covid-19 vaccine program — Slaoui has overseen the development and distribution of a new vaccine at a pace once deemed impossible. Steve Levitt finds out how the latest generation of vaccines improve on their predecessors, why “educated intuition” is important in innovation, and what we can do to be better prepared for future pandemics.

12/11/20
36:36

Peter Attia: “I Definitely Lost a Lot of IQ Points That Day”

He’s been an engineer, a surgeon, a management consultant, and even a boxer. Now he’s a physician focused on the science of longevity. Peter Attia talks with Steve Levitt about the problem with immortality, what’s missing from our Covid response, and why nicotine is underrated.

11/27/20
38:25

Does Advertising Actually Work? (Part 1: TV)

Companies around the world spend more than half-a-trillion dollars each year on ads. The ad industry swears by its efficacy — but a massive new study tells a different story.

11/18/20
40:18

Caverly Morgan: “I Am Not This Voice. I Am Not This Narrative”

She showed up late and confused to her first silent retreat, but Caverly Morgan eventually trained for eight years in silence at a Zen monastery. Now her mindfulness-education program Peace in Schools is part of the high-school curriculum in Portland, Ore. Steve Levitt finds out what daily life is like in a silent monastery, why teens find it easier than adults to learn meditation, and what happy children can teach their parents.

11/13/20
38:39

Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That’s Actually a Bad Strategy”

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.

10/30/20
47:30

Susan Wojcicki: “Hey, Let’s Go Buy YouTube!”

She was the sixteenth employee at Google — a company once based in her garage — and now she’s the C.E.O. of its best-known subsidiary, YouTube. But despite being one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, few outside of Silicon Valley know the name Susan Wojcicki. Levitt talks with her about the early days of Google, how her background in economics shapes the company’s products, and why YouTube’s success has created a range of unforeseen and serious issues.

10/16/20
30:36

Ken Jennings: “Don’t Neglect the Thing That Makes You Weird”

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

10/2/20
42:18

When Your Safety Becomes My Danger

The families of U.S. troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan are suing several companies that did reconstruction there. Why? These companies, they say, paid the Taliban protection money, which gave them the funding — and opportunity — to attack U.S. soldiers instead. A look at the messy, complicated, and heart-breaking tradeoffs of conflict-zone economies.

9/23/20
47:57

Kerwin Charles: “One Does Not Know Where an Insight Will Come From”

The dean of Yale’s School of Management grew up in a small village in Guyana. During his unlikely journey, he has researched video-gaming habits, communicable disease, and why so many African-Americans haven’t had the kind of success he’s had. Steve Levitt talks to Kerwin Charles about his parents’ encouragement, his love of Sports Illustrated, and how he talks to his American-born kids about the complicated history of Blackness in America.

9/18/20
39:29

Mayim Bialik: “I Started Crying When I Realized How Beautiful the Universe Is”

She’s best known for playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, but the award-winning actress has a rich life outside of her acting career, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist. Steve Levitt tries to learn more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.

9/4/20
45:27

Steven Pinker: “I Manage My Controversy Portfolio Carefully”

By cataloging the steady march of human progress, the Harvard psychologist and linguist has become a very public intellectual. But the self-declared “polite Canadian” has managed to enrage people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Steve Levitt tries to understand why.

8/21/20
42:24

Season 9, Episode 48

Most Americans agree that racial discrimination has been, and remains, a big problem. But that is where the agreement ends. And: research shows that having a distinctively Black name doesn’t affect your economic future. But what is the day-to-day reality of living with such a name? To find out more, check out the podcasts from which this hour was drawn: . . .

7/30/20

How Rahm Emanuel Would Run the World

As a former top adviser to presidents Clinton and Obama, he believes in the power of the federal government. But as former mayor of Chicago, he says that cities are where real problems get solved — especially in the era of Covid-19.

4/26/20
48:14

Season 9, Episode 17

Research shows that having a distinctively black name doesn’t affect your economic future. But what is the day-to-day reality of living with such a name? Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck, a newly-minted Ph.D., is well-qualified to answer this question. Her verdict: the data don’t tell the whole story. To find out more, check out the podcasts from which this hour was drawn: . . .

12/26/19

Season 9, Episode 16

A kid’s name can tell us something about his parents — their race, social standing, even their politics. But is your name really your destiny? To find out more, check out the podcast from which this hour was drawn: “How Much Does Your Name Matter?”

12/19/19

Hello, My Name Is Marijuana Pepsi!

Research shows that having a distinctively black name doesn’t affect your economic future. But what is the day-to-day reality of living with such a name? Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck, a newly-minted Ph.D., is well-qualified to answer this question. Her verdict: the data don’t tell the whole story.

8/14/19
40:48

How Much Does Your Name Matter? (Replay)

A kid’s name can tell us something about his parents — their race, social standing, even their politics. But is your name really your destiny?

8/7/19
55:35

Why Is My Life So Hard? (Replay)

Season 7, Episode 15 This week on Freakonomics Radio: most of us feel we face more obstacles than everyone else — which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us — which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy. Stephen J. Dubner asks, “How can we avoid this trap?” To find out more, check out the podcasts from which this hour . . .

12/14/17

Why Is My Life So Hard?

Season 6, Episode 40 This week on Freakonomics Radio: most of us feel we face more obstacles than everyone else — which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us — which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy. Stephen J. Dubner asks, “How can we avoid this trap?” To find out more, check out the podcasts from which this hour . . .

6/8/17

The Most Dangerous Machine

Season 6, Episode 35 This week on Freakonomics Radio: Uber is disrupting profitable sectors by using one of the world’s most dangerous machines. Plus, Stephen J. Dubner learns that data from Uber’s users is helping answer one of the most elusive questions in economics. To find out more, check out the podcasts from which this hour was drawn: “Why Uber Is an Economist’s Dream” . . .

5/5/17

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