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Episode No.
Date
Length
No. 129

How to Fix Medical Research

Monica Bertagnolli went from a childhood on a cattle ranch to a career as a surgeon to a top post in the Biden administration. As director of the National Institutes of Health, she’s working to improve the way we find new treatments — despite regulatory constraints and tight budgets.

4/12/24
61:03
EXTRA

Remembering Daniel Kahneman

Nobel laureate, bestselling author, and groundbreaking psychologist Daniel Kahneman died in March. In 2021 he talked with Steve Levitt — his friend and former business partner — about his book Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (cowritten with Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein) and much more.

4/5/24
47:07
No. 128

Are Our Tools Becoming Part of Us?

Google researcher Blaise Agüera y Arcas spends his work days developing artificial intelligence models and his free time conducting surveys for fun. He tells Steve how he designed an algorithm for the U.S. Navy at 14, how he discovered the truth about printing-press pioneer Johannes Gutenberg, and when A.I. first blew his mind.

3/29/24
62:33
No. 127

Rajiv Shah Never Wastes a Crisis

After Haiti’s devastating earthquake, Rajiv Shah headed the largest humanitarian effort in U.S. history. As chief economist of the Gates Foundation he tried to immunize almost a billion children. He tells Steve why it’s important to take big gambles, follow the data, and own up to your mistakes.

3/15/24
63:57
No. 126

How to Have Great Conversations

The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg wrote his new book in an attempt to learn how to communicate better. Steve shares how the book helped him understand his own conversational weaknesses.

3/1/24
53:34
No. 125

Is Gynecology the Best Innovation Ever?

Cat Bohannon’s new book puts female anatomy at the center of human evolution. She tells Steve why it takes us so long to give birth, what breast milk is really for, and why the human reproductive system is a flaming pile of garbage.

2/16/24
53:31
No. 124

Daron Acemoglu on Economics, Politics, and Power

Economist Daron Acemoglu likes to tackle big questions. He tells Steve how colonialism still affects us today, who benefits from new technology, and why democracy wasn’t always a sure thing.

2/2/24
49:16
No. 123

Walt Hickey Wants to Track Your Eyeballs

Journalist Walt Hickey uses data to understand how culture works. He and Steve talk about why China hasn’t produced any hit movies yet and how he got his own avatar in the Madden NFL video game.

1/19/24
55:23
No. 122

Arnold Schwarzenegger Has Some Advice for You

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a bodybuilder, an actor, a governor, and, now, an author. He tells Steve how he’s managed to succeed in so many fields — and what to do when people throw eggs at you.

1/5/24
43:53
No. 121

Exploring Physics, from Eggshells to Oceans

Physicist Helen Czerski loves to explain how the world works. She talks with Steve about studying bubbles, setting off explosives, and how ocean waves have changed the course of history.

12/22/23
50:16
No. 120

Werner Herzog Thinks His Films Are a Distraction

The filmmaker doesn’t want to be known only for his movies. He tells Steve why he considers himself a writer first, how it feels to be recognized for his role in The Mandalorian, and why he once worked as a rodeo clown.

12/8/23
54:24
No. 119

Higher Education Is Broken. Can It Be Fixed?

Economist Michael D. Smith says universities are scrambling to protect a status quo that deserves to die. He tells Steve why the current system is unsustainable, and what’s at stake if nothing changes.

11/24/23
51:46
No. 118

“My God, This Is a Transformative Power”

Computer scientist Fei-Fei Li had a wild idea: download one billion images from the internet and teach a computer to recognize them. She ended up advancing the state of artificial intelligence — and she hopes that will turn out to be a good thing for humanity.

11/10/23
48:06
No. 117

Nate Silver Says We’re Bad at Making Predictions

Data scientist Nate Silver gained attention for his election predictions. But even the best prognosticators get it wrong sometimes. He talks to Steve about making good decisions with data, why he’d rather write a newsletter than an academic paper, and how online poker led him to the world of politics.

10/27/23
48:02
No. 116

Abraham Verghese Thinks Medicine Can Do Better

Abraham Verghese is a physician and a best-selling author — in that order, he says. He explains the difference between curing and healing, and tells Steve why doctors should spend more time with patients and less with electronic health records.

10/13/23
54:31
EXTRA

Nobel Laureate Claudia Goldin on “Greedy Work” and the Wage Gap

Claudia Goldin is the newest winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Steve spoke to her in 2021 about how inflexible jobs and family responsibilities make it harder for women to earn wages equal to their male counterparts.

10/9/23
47:01
No. 115

The Future of Therapy Is Psychedelic

For 37 years, Rick Doblin has been pushing the F.D.A. to approve treating post-traumatic stress disorder with MDMA, better known as Ecstasy. He tells Steve why he persisted for so long, why he doesn’t like calling drug use “recreational,” and what he learned from his pet wolf.

9/29/23
57:00
No. 114

Is Perfectionism Ruining Your Life?

Psychologist Thomas Curran argues that perfectionism isn’t about high standards — it’s about never being enough. He explains how the drive to be perfect is harming education, the economy, and our mental health.

9/15/23
58:30
No. 113

Do We Have Evidence of Alien Life?

Avi Loeb is a Harvard astronomer who argues that we’ve already encountered extraterrestrial technology. His approach to the search for interstellar objects is scientific, but how plausible is his argument?

9/1/23
54:07
No. 112

Reading Dostoevsky Behind Bars

Reginald Dwayne Betts spent more than eight years in prison. Today he’s a Yale Law graduate, a MacArthur Fellow, and a poet. His nonprofit works to build libraries in prisons so that more incarcerated people can find hope.

8/18/23
58:57
No. 111

Can a Moonshot Approach to Mental Health Work?

Obi Felten used to launch projects for X, Google’s innovation lab, but she’s now tackling mental health. She explains why Steve’s dream job was soul-destroying for her, and how peer support could transform the therapeutic industry.

8/4/23
61:41
No. 110

Drawing from Life (and Death)

Artist Wendy MacNaughton knows the difficulty of sitting in silence and the power of having fun. She explains to Steve the lessons she’s gleaned from drawing hospice residents, working in Rwanda, and reporting from Guantanamo Bay.

7/21/23
66:43
BONUS

Extra: An Update on the Khan World School

Sal Khan returns to discuss his innovative online high school’s first year — and Steve grills a member of the school’s class of 2026 about what it’s really like.

7/14/23
28:49
No. 109

David Simon Is On Strike. Here’s Why.

The creator of The Wire, The Deuce, and other shows is leading the Writers Guild on the picket lines. He and Steve break down the economics of TV writing, how A.I. could change television, and why he’s taking a stand even though he’s at the top of the game.

7/7/23
63:08
No. 108

Ninety-Eight Years of Economic Wisdom

Robert Solow is 98 years old and a giant among economists. He tells Steve about cracking German codes in World War II, why it’s so hard to reduce inequality, and how his field lost its way.

6/23/23
58:34
No. 107

Bringing Data to Life

Talithia Williams thinks you should rigorously track your body’s data. She and Steve Levitt trade birth stories and bemoan the state of STEM education.

6/9/23
63:44
No. 106

Will A.I. Make Us Smarter?

Kevin Kelly believes A.I. will create more problems for humanity — and help us solve them. He talks to Steve about embracing complexity, staying enthusiastic, and taking the 10,000-year view.

5/26/23
56:46
No. 105

Can Data Keep People Out of Prison?

Clementine Jacoby went from performing in a circus to founding a nonprofit that works to shrink the prison population.

5/12/23
55:02
No. 104

The Joy of Math With Sarah Hart

Steve is on a mission to reform math education, and Sarah Hart is ready to join the cause. In her return visit to the show, Sarah explains how patterns are everywhere, constraints make us more creative, and literature is surprisingly mathematical.

4/28/23
56:45
No. 103

Rick Rubin on How to Make Something Great

From recording some of the first rap hits to revitalizing Johnny Cash’s career, the legendary producer has had an extraordinary creative life. In this episode he talks about his new book and his art-making process — and helps Steve get in touch with his own artistic side.

4/14/23
61:32
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