Risk: Do you Get in a Car?

OSTER: I think that there is a knee-jerk to be like, “Well, if anyone ever said that this might be dangerous, no one should ever do it, ever.” I think that there is sometimes a discomfort with facing up to evidence and also to the uncertainties that come with data, that lead doctors, medical professionals, medical organizations, to want to make more blanket statements than are always appropriate, and to be less comfortable with explaining nuance to their patients than they might otherwise be.

Oster had no such discomfort with nuance. She set out to explore the parenting terrain using data as her guide. The result has been two books. The first, published a few years ago, is called Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong — and What You Really Need to Know. The new book is called Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to PreschoolOster appreciates that there are systemic reasons for the medical field to be cautious: remember: first, do no harm; also, there’s the threat of a malpractice suit. But Oster wanted to think about risk rationally — not as a doctor, hoping to avoid liability; or even as a parent, wanting nothing bad to ever happen to her children. Instead, she just wanted to think about risk as an economist.

OSTER: First of all, let’s interrogate a little bit whether those risks are really real, and are really significant. And then also to interrogate you have to trade off the risks maybe against some other benefits. And in something like pregnancy, you think about treating really severe nausea. There’s this “Oh, don’t take anything for that, just suffer through it.” So actually, that can be really debilitating. And it may make sense for people to take something even if we are not 1,000 percent sure that there are absolutely no risks to it, because it may outweigh some other risks. And I think we sometimes forget that.

DUBNER: And what about facing head-on risks that you’re describing as relatively small while totally ignoring other, let’s say, daily risks that are actually relatively large, like getting in a car?

OSTER: I am constantly comparing things to getting in a car, because getting in a car is very risky. And I think that there are many kinds of risks that people talk about in pregnancy and childhood which are far less risky than getting in a car, where people are like, “Oh, only somebody who’s a terrible parent would even consider doing that.” It’s like, “Well, actually, do you get in the car?”

Extra: David Rubenstein Full Interview

What follows is a conversation with David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, one of the most storied private-equity firms in history. We spoke with Rubenstein in August, 2017, for our six-part series, “The Secret Life of a C.E.O.” Since we spoke, Rubenstein stepped down as co-C.E.O. of Carlyle, but he’s still executive chairman

In Praise of Incrementalism

What do Renaissance painting, civil-rights movements, and Olympic cycling have in common? In each case, huge breakthroughs came from taking tiny steps. In a world where everyone is looking for the next moonshot, we shouldn’t ignore the power of incrementalism.

.. Lessons from Gay Rights Activism

  1. Put your own interests first.  Don’t get distracted by other causes.
  2. Take the moral high ground.
  3. Have weekly meetings (in person)

Satya Nadella: Learning Empathy from Birth of his son with Cerebral Palsy

(35 min)

.. Nadella himself attributes his management success to one word:

NADELLA: Empathy.

He wasn’t always so empathic.

NADELLA: I always ask myself — at whatever, twenty-five when I was interviewing, and somebody says, “What will you do if you see a baby on the street crying after having fallen down?” I answered, thinking this is some trick question. Maybe there is some algorithm that I’m missing, and said “I’ll call 911” only to have that manager, get up, and walk me out of the room saying, “That’s the absolute bullshit answer.” And if you see a baby falling down, you pick them up and hug them. And I was devastated because I remember thinking about it and I said, “How could I not get that?”

By Nadella’s own admission, it took an even more dramatic event for him to “get it.”

NADELLA: On the 13th of August 1996 at 11:29, all — our life changed.

His wife, Anu, an architect, had just given birth to their first child, Zain. He had a severe case of cerebral palsy.

NADELLA It took me multiple years to even understand what had happened because in some sense I was more about, “Why did this happen to us? What happened to me?” And it’s only by observing my wife really step up, give up her career, and do all things she was doing to care for Zain, that’s when I realized nothing happened to me. In fact, really, something has happened to my son, and it’s time for me to step up and see life through his eyes, and do what I should do as a parent and as a father. That’s, perhaps, the biggest lesson for me around empathy. And it’s only developed through your life’s experience. It’s not something that’s really endowed on you. But as long as — with every passing year with, perhaps, every passing mistake you make, you develop more of a sense of being able to see life through other people’s eyes — is going to make you a more effective parent, more effective colleague, and a more effective partner.

Is There a Better Way to Fight Terrorism? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

We talk about what’s known and what’s not known about terrorism; we talk about what’s working and what’s not to prevent it; we talk about whether we overvalue the threat of tactical terrorism and undervalue the threat of strategic terrorism, including cyber- and bioterrorism.

Bring on the Pain!

Bring on the Pain! It’s not about how much something hurts — it’s how you remember the pain. This week, lessons on pain from the New York City subway, the professional hockey rink, and a landmark study of colonoscopy patients. So have a listen. We promise, it won’t hurt a bit.

Most people do what they can to avoid pain. That said, it’s an inevitable part of life. So how do you deal with it?

That’s the question we explore in our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, read the transcript, listen live via the link in box at right or read?the transcript here). We look into a few different kinds of pain, inflicted in different circumstances, to see what we can learn. The biggest takeaway: it’s not necessarily how much something hurts; it’s how you remember the pain.

We start off underground, in the New York City subway, where noise pollution abounds and where one particular noise is downright painful. You’ll hear it in the podcast, and we talk about it with Pete Foley, a longtime “revenue equipment maintainer” with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. He admits that the entry/exit setup in the subway is way sub-optimal, producing lots of needless noise from bleating alarms: