Saturday , August 15 2020
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Tim Harford: Undercover Economist

Cautionary Tales – The Village of Heroes

Not far from where I grew up, there’s a village called Eyam with a story to tell – a story of a plague, and of tragedy, and of heroism. That old tale sits easily with stories of our modern response to the pandemic: too many people seem unwilling to suffer the slightest inconvenience to help others. Has human nature really changed so much? Or might it be that the old story, and the new ones, are leading us astray? Written by Tim Harford with Andrew...

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What the pandemic teaches us about our priorities, our planet, and the degrowth movement

What the pandemic teaches us about our priorities, our planet, and the degrowth movement Certain environmentalists have long argued that economic growth must end for the sake of the planet. “Degrowth” is concisely defined by one proponent, Riccardo Mastini, as “the abolition of economic growth as a social objective”. Degrowth represents the view that sufficiently sharp reductions in carbon dioxide emissions cannot be achieved through new technology, pricing incentives or even...

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What the pandemic teaches us about our priorities, our planet, and the degrowth movement

What the pandemic teaches us about our priorities, our planet, and the degrowth movement Certain environmentalists have long argued that economic growth must end for the sake of the planet. “Degrowth” is concisely defined by one proponent, Riccardo Mastini, as “the abolition of economic growth as a social objective”. Degrowth represents the view that sufficiently sharp reductions in carbon dioxide emissions cannot be achieved through new technology, pricing incentives or even...

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Can the pandemic help us fix our technology problem?

Can the pandemic help us fix our technology problem? We have a technology problem. By that, I mean that we currently lack the technology to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. We don’t have a cheap, easy, self-administered test. We lack effective medicines. Above all, we don’t have a vaccine. But I also mean something vaguer and more diffuse. We have a technology problem in the sense that scientific and technological progress has been sputtering for a while. That is evident in...

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Book of the Week 24 – Dark Data by David Hand

Book of the Week 24 – Dark Data by David Hand What is Dark Data? Consider the example of the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster. Should the shuttle launch, despite fears that low temperatures might weaken the “o-ring” seals? A graph of seven previous occasions when the o-rings had been stressed showed no relationship between temperature and the degree of damage. Alas, what was missing was the data from all the launches where there had been no damage at all: in each case,...

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Book of the Week 23 – How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi

Book of the Week 23 – How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi ‘”Racist” and “antiracist” are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other.’ Just one of the ideas that stuck with me from Kendi’s thought-provoking polemic. It seemed original (it was certainly new to me)...

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Cautionary Tales – The Spreadsheet of Life and Death

Clive Stone was dying, and the drug that might help him was unavailable: a spreadsheet somewhere said that the numbers didn’t add up. But Clive Stone wasn’t a man to accept that sort of decision without a fight. How do we value human life? What happens when we turn flesh-and-blood people into entries on a spreadsheet? And, perhaps just as worryingly, what happens when we don’t? Written by Tim Harford with Andrew Wright. Producers: Ryan Dilley with Pete Naughton....

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The cost of keeping schools closed will be grave

The cost of keeping schools closed will be grave British parents received mixed messages this week. On one hand, most children would not be going back to school until September at the earliest. On the other, zoos would be reopening. It’s a shame about the decay in maths and reading skills, but look on the bright side: penguins! The closure of schools in many countries around the world puts the dilemmas of the pandemic in particularly sharp relief. There are no easy answers, but...

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Book of the Week 22 – The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova

Book of the Week 22 – The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova I’ve been a fan of Maria Konnikova’s writing for a while. She’s a Harvard-educated academic psychologist who switching to writing and turned out to be even better at that than psychology – her book, The Confidence Game, is a modern classic with a great mix of psychological research and true storytelling. Just my kind of thing. The new book, The Biggest Bluff, sees Konnikova taking on the world of professional poker in...

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Cautionary Tales – A Tsunami of Misery

Saving people from an urgent threat can cause their lives to be blighted in profound, yet hidden ways.A monstrous wave and then a nuclear disaster forced Mikio and Hamako Watanabe from their home. But being saved from the potential dangers of a radiation leak destroyed their lives in a different way. Why do urgent dangers prompt us to take action, when far worse long-term ills are so often ignored? WARNING: This episode discusses death by suicide. If you are suffering...

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