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DUBNER: You guys are going to eat steak and mashed potatoes for the next three weeks. And you guys are going to eat mung bean stew. 

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Why do we buy exercise equipment that we’ll never use and health food we’ll never eat? 

DUCKWORTH: Who am I? I’m like Beyoncé. What would Beyoncé do? She would drink the sparkling water. 

Also: Is social media net positive for society? 

DUBNER: I personally would much rather have people rant online than punch someone in the face in real life.

*      *      *

Stephen J. DUBNER: So, Angela, I have a habit, and I suspect many other people do as well, of acquiring, often by purchase, what I’ve come to think of as aspirational objects, which is to say, I will buy stuff that I think I want, or maybe more accurately, that I would like to want, but which in fact I’ll never actually use. So, one tiny example: at home we probably have 600 boxes of quinoa in our cupboard. 

Angela DUCKWORTH: Quinoa.

DUBNER: Yeah, as far as I know, we’ve never actually eaten quinoa at home. 

DUCKWORTH: High-protein grain. 

DUBNER: Well, it’s not actually a grain, per se. It’s close to a grain. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh. It’s a legume? 

DUBNER: No, it’s neither. It’s a seed, I believe. But that’s beside the point. Also, similarly, I have over my lifetime bought hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books that I’ve never read, or at least not more than a few pages of. 

I know many people who have bought closets and basements full of exercise equipment, and golf equipment, and nutritional supplements, and hair oils. So, my question is: Are such acquisitions nothing but a waste of time and energy, or is there an upside in such aspirational thinking, even if the thought rarely translates into deed?  

DUCKWORTH: So, aspirational consumerism. I mean, that’s a bit of an irrational behavior. And especially the repeated part, right? I can understand buying the first bag of quinoa, not using it, and then whatever, money down the drain. But the second bag of quinoa, and even the third, now that’s interesting.

DUBNER: And I should say, just to draw the fuller picture, I do like to keep things tidy. I will go through our cupboards at home and— 

DUCKWORTH: You’ll purge them. You’ll Marie Kondo

DUBNER: Yeah, I’ll purge. So every, let’s say, six months, I’ll throw away or donate eight boxes of quinoa, because there are literally 11. But then, over the next few weeks—   

DUCKWORTH: You’ll buy more! Okay. So, of course, when you buy that next box of quinoa, you don’t think, “Let me buy another box of quinoa that I can, six months from now, donate.” You’re actually thinking, at that moment, that you’re going to make the quinoa, right? 

DUBNER: Oh yeah. Because for every box of quinoa that I’ve bought, there have been approximately one trillion articles written about the benefits of quinoa. And I’ve read them all. 

DUCKWORTH: By the way, it’s quite good. 

DUBNER: It’s okay. 

DUCKWORTH: How do you know? You haven’t made your quinoa. 

DUBNER: I’ve eaten it out. But, you know, when you’re cooking at home, it’s more of an investment. When you’re out, you say, “Oh, quinoa, sure.” All I have to do is say the word and it’s going to be brought to me. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, herein I think maybe is the solution to this, at least a clue. So, what is it that quinoa and books and exercise equipment have in common? 

DUBNER: Self-improvement.

DUCKWORTH: And effort. So, I think the difference between quinoa on the menu and quinoa in your cupboard is— And by the way, Stephen, you just have to boil it. It’s not that much effort.  

DUBNER: I know it’s not a big investment, but it’s a big investment for the payoff. 

DUCKWORTH: For the quinoa payoff, which is small in your view. 

DUBNER: But the riddle to me is, why is this a repeated behavior? And what does that say about either me as an example of the human species, or about the human species, which is we have this kind of tendency? So, what this phenomenon reminds me of a little bit, maybe even a lot, is— One of my favorite books when I was a kid was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Did you ever read that? 

DUCKWORTH: Loved it. Can’t tell you anything about it, but I remember reading it. Which is another interesting question. Why can’t we remember anything about the books we love? 

DUBNER: I share that fascination. I’ve had this debate with a friend who reads much, much, much more than I do, because I’m a quite slow reader. And I estimated once that I remember between one and five percent of what I’ve read. And he was shocked, in part because he’s got a better memory. But then he was like, “Well, why do you bother?”  

DUCKWORTH: You’re not reading to remember what you read. 

DUBNER: Yeah. You’re reading for the experience. And also life isn’t always that efficient. I might have to read 100 books to learn something life-changing in one of them. 

DUCKWORTH: Right. But anyway, I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and having no memory of what was the plot, or who were the characters, why don’t you tell me what the connection is to quinoa? 

DUBNER: So, it’s about a family, the Nolan family in Brooklyn, and basically how they struggle to get by. They’re very poor. And it’s mostly the mother, who we hear about as Mama, and then the two kids, Francie, the daughter, and Neeley, the son. Every day, or maybe multiple times a day, Mama would give the kids a cup of coffee. And neither of them really liked coffee. But they would hang onto it and they would swirl it around. They’d put their hands on it to keep warm. And then they would dump it down the drain. 

And one day, Mama’s sister, she had these two sisters who were a little bit better off than she was, they saw that their sister would let these kids waste coffee all the time when they had no money and said, “That is ridiculous. That is criminal.” And what the mother explained was that, “You know what? When you have so little in the world, just to get the feeling, once a day, of having more than you need and being able to get rid of it is a taste of what luxury must feel like. And I think that that’s really important to them.”

And I was so struck by that because this felt like the Brooklyn of my parents. It felt like the poverty of my own family, because we didn’t waste anything. And so I wonder if maybe my quinoa acquisition is a signal to myself that, you know what? I’m never going to eat that quinoa. But I like the notion that I can afford now to buy it and put it in the cupboard, and then, six months later, get rid of it. 

DUCKWORTH: And then, do it all over again. Okay. So, let me ask you, is the aspiration here that you would like to be the sort of person who actually cooks the quinoa and eats really healthy and is on the cutting edge of the most nutritious foods? Or I think what I’m hearing is that you would aspire to be the sort of person who has enough money in the bank that they could willy-nilly buy, and then give away, and then buy, and then give away boxes of a very bougie, expensive grain. Which of those two aspirations rings true for you? 

DUBNER: I think both. And I think you’ve identified them quite nicely and specifically. But I brought this question to you because I really want to get your take on what this kind of behavior says about our own, I guess, identity. Obviously, there’s a long literature on conspicuous consumption. But what I’m talking about is actually inconspicuous consumption. These are the things that we’re buying for private. 

DUCKWORTH: I love the idea that a scientist named James March came up with, which is to say, whenever anyone does something, especially when they do it repeatedly, like buy quinoa, buy books, etc., there’s two explanations.

One is a rational explanation — in that person’s mind, the expected benefits outweigh the expected costs. Now, that explanation for the quinoa buying is that maybe you think that it’s just a little bit of a self-control trick, that if you buy 11 boxes of quinoa, at least you might eat one of them. And so that’s the neoclassical economic model of anything. And I think you could make some argument for that playing out. 

But I think his other model for understanding any behavior is maybe more relevant. So James March said sometimes we’re not making cost-benefit decisions at all. Instead we ask three very different questions. And those questions are: What situation is this? Who am I? And what does someone like me do in a situation like this? This is a completely different calculus. This is the calculus of identity. 

And I think that that explanation for why you might be repeatedly buying books you don’t read or quinoa that you don’t cook— He calls this identity thinking the logic of appropriateness. Is this an appropriate thing to do given who I am and the situation? So, here’s an example. I felt like this a lot when I was a mom of younger kids. Now I’m a mom of older teenagers. But there would be times that I had to use a lot of self-control to manage my emotions. Whatever. They were fighting with each other, spilling things all over. 

DUBNER: You know they were children, and that’s what children do though.

DUCKWORTH: It was so annoying though, right? But anyway, I do think that rather than thinking to myself — at any level, this could be all below the waterline of consciousness — what are the benefits of losing my temper? What are the costs of resentment? Which is the way an economist might imagine. I think it was more like: what situation is this? They’re children, after all. Who am I? I’m a mother. What does a mother do in a situation like this? 

DUBNER: She blows up at her children.

DUCKWORTH: Exactly. No. So I think March is right that in many cases it is a heuristic. It is a shortcut. And I think oftentimes, by the way, advertisers take advantage of this. Who am I? I’m like Beyoncé. What would Beyoncé do? She would drink the sparkling water. So I do think this aspirational consumerism is very bound up with identity. And I think it happens very quick, and it doesn’t require a lot of deliberation. 

Maybe what’s at play here is not only the logic of appropriateness and Stephen’s aspirational identity, but also optimism. You hold on to some hope that tomorrow won’t be like today and you’ll change. I don’t think you’re alone there. And I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing, because if you just settled with: look, this is the way I am. I’m a non-quinoa person. I’m a non-reading person. I don’t ride my exercise bike. Then you would never actually change in those positive directions. 

DUBNER: That’s generous of you to dismiss my quinoa problem with optimism, which is a positive trait. But I will say this. I could see there being the downside of: oh, I keep thinking I will change, and I don’t. And that you could therefore beat yourself up more because of your frustration with your own ability to change a habit or to start a new habit. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, well, there is a word for that too, Stephen. It’s sometimes called false-hope syndrome. And it comes from Janet Polivy, who’s a scientist who has spent most of her career studying obesity and dieting. And what often happens when people embark on an ambitious health kick is that at the beginning they set these aspirational goals that are wonderful but really unrealistic. 

And then, quickly reality comes crashing down. And then, as you point out, that can be almost worse, and maybe even, in some cases, absolutely worse, than having never tried in the first place. You’ve got yo-yo dieting and changes to your metabolism, but also you have your own motivation where you feel like, “Oh, gosh, I’m never going to be successful.” That seems like a little bit beyond what’s going on with your quinoa consumption. But, you tell me. Are you disappointed with yourself?  

DUBNER: I mean, honestly, I don’t care at all. I mostly feel it when I open the cupboard to make dinner and I see these boxes and I just think, “Well, that’s just stupid. It’s just a waste of time and money. And I should stop.”

DUCKWORTH: All right. I have another suggestion for you that has nothing to do with identity and psychoanalysis.

DUBNER: Just buy mac and cheese, and eat it and get over it. 

DUCKWORTH: No, no, no, no, no, no. Because you’re going to have two cupboards — one for all your quinoa, and another for all the mac and cheese that you’re also not eating. 

DUBNER: That does sound like a bad spy novel, “The Quinoa Cupboard.”

DUCKWORTH: It sounds terrible, but nobody will remember what they read anyway. But here’s my suggestion. Why don’t you make a plan to boil some quinoa this very night, Stephen? I do think that closing the gap between the person that we would like to be and the person that we are — I don’t think the solution is not buying quinoa. But I do think figuring out how to get closer to that aspiration — there’s a good impulse in human beings to want to close that gap. 

DUBNER: Well, Angela, you’ve tolerated my discussion of quinoa and books and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. What about you? Do you have aspirational consumption? 

DUCKWORTH: The only thing I can think of is that I bought a multivitamin. 

DUBNER: Like one pill or a whole bottle of them? 

DUCKWORTH: Sorry, it came in a bottle. 

DUBNER: You bought a loosie. 

DUCKWORTH: And I put it first of all in the drawer that we have all the medicine in. And didn’t take it. And then I thought, “Duh. I’m a behavioral scientist. I have to make the cue more salient.” So I put it on the counter.  

DUBNER: Okay. 

DUCKWORTH: And then I still didn’t take it. I don’t even know if I took one of them.  

DUBNER: Why did you buy it? 

DUCKWORTH: I think it’s probably a good thing to take a multivitamin. I mean, even though the research on vitamins is mixed and scant, I don’t think there’s much evidence that it’s bad for you, especially now with the coronavirus. Somebody recommended it. Was it you? 

DUBNER: I don’t think it was me. 

DUCKWORTH: I think it was somebody that I trusted enough to buy the vitamin.  

DUBNER: Well, that wouldn’t be me then. Plainly. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, maybe not. And whoever it was, they didn’t tell me how to take it.  

DUBNER: Now, when you say, “they didn’t tell me how to take it,” you do understand the process of opening your mouth and putting something in it and getting some water? 

DUCKWORTH: Hey. You jest, but I think that’s partly the problem. I know that’s not like running a marathon, but there’s a little effort there. The water, the cup. And I don’t really like swallowing big-ass pills. You get that feeling— You know that feeling in your throat where you feel like it’s still there, but you know it’s not there? 

DUBNER: Mmhmm, right.

DUCKWORTH: And then you drink more water, you still feel like it’s there. Okay, so, done the wrong way, the vitamin swallowing could be a bummer for an hour. 

DUBNER: So, to this day you still have an unopened bottle of multivitamins in your home? 

DUCKWORTH: Hey, it’s only been there for a few weeks. But yes, I have an aspirational bottle. But I will tell you this, Stephen. I think this is an opportunity for me to learn how to close the gap. 

DUBNER: I agree. I think that this public embarrassment may help a little bit. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, this is commitment.  

DUBNER: And I think we’ve also constructed a really nice SAT-style riddle, which is: “As quinoa is to Stephen Dubner, the multivitamin is to Angela Duckworth.” 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss whether social-media use is actually contributing to the rise of anxiety and depression in teenagers.  

DUCKWORTH: Did you hear that this Silicon Valley executive doesn’t even allow cell phones?

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: Stephen, I have a really simple question for you. Is social media net positive or net negative for society? 

DUBNER: Great question. 

DUCKWORTH: Thank you. 

DUBNER: My answer: I don’t know. Let’s define social media, for starters. So, does that include what we think of as the primary social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, maybe a handful of other lesser-knowns? Or does it include representations of more traditional media? What do you do with YouTube? As with any question, it starts to get complicated fast. 

DUCKWORTH: I mean, we could bound this conversation a little bit by just saying, I think the platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, where it is many-to-many communication. So the people who are on the platform are also the content generators. That’s what I think of as social media.  

DUBNER: Even if you bound it like that, I think the question’s really hard to answer. It is easy to make the argument, at this moment at least, that the answer is no, not net positive. That it’s net negative. But I think the way that most people who make that argument arrive at that argument is an indicator of the problem itself. The problem being that noise is noisy, and signal, you often have to hunt for. 

And so it’s easy to see the downsides and perhaps less easy to see the upsides. And I just think of a lesson that I learned a long time ago that has been taught by people in many, many fields — in history and theology and anthropology — which is that, almost without exception, any tool that’s invented can be used for multiple purposes. 

DUCKWORTH: For good or for bad. 

DUBNER: Yeah, if you just want to make it binary, there’s good or bad. So, somebody invented a knife at some point, and the knife can be used to stab and kill your neighbor. It can also be used to perform surgery that will save somebody’s life. So, I would like to think that we all collectively know that by now. But I think that the nature of the ecosystem makes it really hard to have a cost-benefit conversation, which is, as you probably know by now, my preferred way of looking at things. 

DUCKWORTH: So the cost-benefits of social media are just— It’s just a complex calculus.  

DUBNER: Yeah. This might sound like a weird aside, but this is where my brain went. You try to think about what is gained by something that’s hard to measure, or what might have been lost by something if it hadn’t been available. 

DUCKWORTH: Right. The counterfactual. 

DUBNER: And the example that I think of is, do you know the story of the forceps and their discovery and their use? 

DUCKWORTH: I remember reading an article in The New Yorker about forceps delivery for childbirth. Is that what you’re talking about? You pull the baby out with these huge clamps that you put around their head — just yank out the baby.  

DUBNER: Yeah. The forceps have probably been around a long, long, long time. 

DUCKWORTH: They seem pretty medieval. 

DUBNER: It’s been argued that it was one of the many inventions that happened throughout history that then get lost, and rediscovered, and lost. Because, obviously, people have been having babies for a long time. So whenever there’s a baby, I guess, that presents itself feet first and butt first— 

DUBNER: Which, by the way, Stephen, I just wanted to tell you, I was a breech birth. 

DUBNER: Oh, that explains a lot. You were ready to go. You came out running. But I believe the story goes that there was a family called Chamberlen, a multigenerational family of doctors, who I believe were French Huguenot and ended up living in England. And one of them had “invented,” or reinvented, or discovered the forceps and used it for his clientele. 

DUCKWORTH: His patients. 

DUBNER: And then passed along this tool to his son, who passed it to his son. And I want to say that maybe some of their clientele included royalty at some point. In other words, they were doctors who treated patients of a certain station. And what they didn’t do is they didn’t share the technology. They kept it in their practice. It was a business secret. And so, when I think about that story, I think immediately, “Wow, how many mothers and babies died because that information was not shared?” 

DUCKWORTH: Interesting. So that’s on the plus side for social media. That there is this massive sharing — at least when people choose to. And they do seem to choose to share all kinds of information on social media. 

DUBNER: Yes. You think, “Well what are the upsides for someone in 2020 to have access to so many different angles on the world, so many different potential friends or teachers or influencers and so on?” And that is really hard to answer. But I think most people worry about troubled adolescents. 

We know that when there’s one bad example, we know that when someone bullies or—

DUCKWORTH: Cyberbullying.

DUBNER: Yeah, then we all hear about that, and then we take that fairly anomalous event and turn it into the norm. But I feel like we don’t have a great sense of how broad the norm is yet when it comes to social media, honestly.  

DUCKWORTH: Well, let’s drill down a little bit into teenagers and social media use, because they sure are on social media a lot. Hours and hours and hours a day. And the intuition that a lot of people have is that this is really bad, and that it’s making them depressed and anxious, and it’s accounting for secular trends. The trend for depression and anxiety to be on the rise in that exact age group. People can point a finger at social media and say, “That’s the reason.”  

DUBNER: And it’s not for nothing that many Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs who are parents keep their own kids off of screens entirely, or want to. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Starting to paint a pretty guilty picture. But there are many social scientists who would argue that the data, beyond these anecdotal, “Did you hear that this Silicon Valley executive doesn’t even allow cell phones in their house?” Beyond that, and just intuition, that the association between using social media and your documented self-reported negative and positive emotion is quite small. There are very few really good studies. There are lots of not-so-rigorous studies.  

DUBNER: And is that because it’s really hard to do that? Because it’s not funded well?  

DUCKWORTH: I think everybody wants to do what you always want to do in a scientific study, which is you— 

DUBNER: Randomize. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, exactly. The experiment is really one of the greatest inventions that humankind has ever had. There’s a treatment condition. There’s a control condition. Go. Let’s see what happens. So, there have been a few random assignment experiments, and one that was just published by psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin did randomly assign teenagers to do social media. Now, one of the challenges is you can’t say, “Hey, for two weeks, just don’t be on social media.” They won’t comply. 

DUBNER: And we should say the same problem has been observed in many nutritional studies.  


DUBNER: “You guys are going to eat steak and mashed potatoes for next three weeks. And you guys are going to eat mung bean stew. Go!”

DUCKWORTH: You can’t randomly assign people, because they don’t stay in their condition. But in this case, the clever design was they created a mock social media app, and they were like, “Hey, we want you to test drive this new program.” And the crucial feature of this fake social media app is that it did have, as all these media apps have, a liking function. So you could like or choose not to like people’s profiles or not. 

And then, they manipulated the feedback that these teenagers got. So, you are either told that lots of people liked your profile and what you posted, or you’re told that not so many people did. And what they found in this experimental research is that when you are liked by fewer of your peers in this mockup app, you report feeling rejected more and the things that go along with depression. So that’s causal. 

DUBNER: That’s totally predictable. But did the effect hold over any period of time? Or I’m guessing the experiment has no idea. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, yeah, they did not actually run a longitudinal field experiment. Now we get into ethics. Once you discover that kids who have profiles that aren’t liked as often, it’s pretty hard to say, “Let’s keep tricking them into thinking that people don’t like them.” 

DUBNER: Yeah. But it also is a lesson on the limitations of this kind of experiment, generally.  

DUCKWORTH: Well, just as we’re praising the scientific method to the high heavens, we have to say that there are real limitations. And one of them is, you just can’t in good conscience do experiments where you think that the control condition, or the treatment condition, is going to be bad for people over the long term. 

DUBNER: Let’s not forget, before everybody hated Facebook, everybody loved Facebook, because all of a sudden I can now connect with everybody from my past and present and future life. There was no way to do that. That benefit didn’t disappear. It just gets countervailed against.

With these sentiments that people don’t like— If you were to ban social media tomorrow, those sentiments will find another outlet. It might be worse. My feeling is, to some degree, it’s nice to have a safety valve online. So if what you’re worried about is people being horrible online, I personally would much rather have people rant online than punch someone in the face in real life.

DUCKWORTH: I have to say that I think that that unfiltered, direct, instantaneous anybody can tweet, anybody can comment, absolutely has its good sides. But I don’t love the— I know you don’t want people to have bar fights or to actually do harm to each other physically. And you’re like, “Oh, at least they can rant on Twitter.” But I do think the frictionlessness of it, the “Well, I’ll just roll out of bed.” Or not even roll out of bed! I’m just going to roll in bed and then whip off my emotional reply to somebody else’s tweet. 

DUBNER: It costs me nothing to be nasty. And if I want I can be anonymous. And even if I’m not anonymous, I’m out of reach of their fist. So I totally agree and sympathize with that position. I just think that humans are adaptive, as you’ve said in many different ways over the time we’ve been doing this show. And it reminds me a little bit of crack cocaine. Why did crack cocaine not die out, but diminish so much?  

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. Why? 

DUBNER: Well, one compelling argument, the most compelling that I’ve heard, is that it was so destructive to the users that the next generation of would-be users, they saw their older brothers and cousins and uncles and aunts using it, and thought, “Holy crap. I am not even going to go near that one. I might do something else. I might even do another drug, but that I am not going near.”

I think we’re at peak crack cocaine version of Twitter and some other social media right now, where the whole gestalt, the whole conversation, in public is, “This is too toxic for too many of us.” And I’m not sure that’s even right, but if enough people really feel that way, then I think that we’ll adapt to it. 

DUCKWORTH: I think you’re wrong. I think it’s going to be more like knives. I think it’s going to be like, it can be bad. Then again, I had a really hard-to-cut steak the other day and I’m sure glad I had a knife. It was much better than the spoon I had been working on that steak with the previous few hours. 

So I think that social media is not going to be a fad. It’s making it possible for people to communicate and, for good or for bad, human beings really like to communicate. We like to tell each other what we think. We like to know what other people are saying. 

The only productive thing I might say is, we do have some rules about knives. You can’t bring them on planes. We try not to give them to young children because they could cut themselves. So, I think your metaphor of social media is like a knife, and it could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing, but probably, understanding that we need some rules and some skill in using this powerful new human invention, I think that’s good advice.  

DUBNER: I also think it would be really nice to know the degree to which it’s used for truly nasty or evil purposes. For people who are particularly upset about the toxic elements that are easily observed in social media, and they think that it is driving things like adolescent anxiety, like political divisions — I think that blaming social media is often blaming the tool, blaming the knife. 

There may also be countervailing benefits that we’re not very good at measuring. The kid who finds a community, the person who is able to give help, or get help, or make connections and so on that we’re not seeing. I mean, what’s not counted is how many millions, billions of people get pleasure sending their parent a photo of their grandchild. 

And those are the kind[s] of benefits that are, A: a little bit hard to measure. And B: even when you measure them, people are unappreciative, because they don’t make a newspaper headline. That’s not the same as saying that “Man killed in Twitter row that comes to life.”  

DUCKWORTH: Well, we could start by just counting all the dog pictures. Because, I don’t even like dogs. And whenever I see a picture of one on social media, I have got to smile. So if we just start counting those.  

DUBNER: You just made the best argument ever in favor of social media, which is you, Angela Duckworth, a very bright person, who has one major intellectual flaw, which is that you don’t love dogs. Social media is powerful enough to get you to be a dog lover. And I think it’s just proved its case. And with that, I need to get off, because I’ve got about 19 Twitter alias accounts that I need to check right now, because it’s been an hour. All right? 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Go to it. 

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio and People I (Mostly) Admire. This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversations.

During the discussion of the history of forceps, Stephen insinuates that the tools were used to deliver breech babies — or, as he puts it, babies who are “feet first and butt first.” While this is sometimes true, forceps are usually associated with a vertex presentation, or a birth where the infant presents head first, in which case, a health care provider might apply forceps to the baby’s head to help physically guide them if labor isn’t progressing. Forceps might also be applied during a breech birth to safely position the baby’s head and neck toward the end of delivery. However, the forceps created by the Chamberlens, the famous family of French Huguenot midwives, were developed solely for vertex births. Forceps for breech births, or Piper’s forceps, were developed in 1929 at The University of Pennsylvania. 

Later, Stephen and Angela reference Silicon Valley executives who demand that their children stay off of screens, but neither mention the names of said executives. Among the famous tech parents who limit their kids’ screen time are Bill Gates, who did not allow his kids to have cell phones until they were 14 years old, and Steve Jobs, who revealed in a 2011 New York Times interview that his kids were prohibited from using the iPad. That’s it for the fact-check. 

No Stupid Questions is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher; our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, James Foster and Corinne Wallace. Thanks also to our intern Emma Tyrell for her help with this episode. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can also follow us on Twitter at NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow.  If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to And if you heard Stephen or Angela drop a reference to something that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out, where we link to all of the major books, studies and experts that you heard about here today. Thanks for listening! 

DUBNER: It’s a real kill-two-birds-with-one-stone idea. 

DUCKWORTH: Or feed-two-birds-with-one-scone idea. 

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  • Marie Kondo bestselling author, star of the Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” and founder of KonMari Media, Inc.
  • James March, former professor of business and education at Stanford University.
  • Janet Polivy, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.


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