Gary Taubes

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Gary Taubes joined Russ Roberts on EconTalk to discuss his new book The Case Against Sugar.

This episode is another example of Roberts’s excellent podcast work. I don’t finish every episode, but do start each one. The subjects are interesting and the questioning and conversation is engaging. If you read this blog, you’ll like that podcast.

Two mini ideas before the notes.

I was shooting hoops with my daughter on an otherwise nice spring day, except for the wind. For each shot, I had to aim slightly left of the target if I wanted the ball to go it. I think biases, backgrounds, and beliefs are like the wind. We all have these unseen forces that push our conclusions one way or the other. If we want to be most accurate we need to aim a little left.

After half an hour we came inside and I thought, “that was fun.” Shooting hoops with your kids has an asymmetric return. Taubes makes the case that eating sugar is also asymmetrical. If you stop eating licorice sticks that’s a small payment for the potential upside if Taubes is right.

Onto our notes.

1/ Who comes up with new ideas? “You could argue that the times when paradigms shift, they are often driven by people outside the field with a different perspective and who aren’t trapped by the belief system of the field.”

Michael Mauboussin wrote in More Than You Know that one attribute of successful active investment managers is “geographic location.” Those people have one foot in the old (their domain) and one in the new (their location). There are other examples of this.

  • George Lucas worked in Hollywood (old) but moved to San Francisco (new) to get out of the, as Taubes says, “belief system.”
  • Warren Buffett worked for Ben Graham in New York (old) but moved to Omaha (new).
  • Paul Farmer studied medicine and medical anthropology at Harvard (old) but practiced, almost completely, in Haiti (new).
  • Sam Hinkie read investor letters (old) and applied that to running an NBA team (new).

Danny Meyer asks himself the question, “Whoever wrote the rule?” when he’s considering a new venture. In asking that Meyer gets out of the old belief system.

2/ “Nature does not divide itself neatly into textbooks.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Taubes said:

“Last fall I was doing a BBC interview by Skype on a program where the host was a very charming geneticist from Cambridge or Oxford and he studied the genetics of obesity. I said to him, ‘Do you know what regulates the flow of fat into and out of fat cells?’ He said, ‘We don’t know that.’ I responded, ‘No you don’t know that because you are a geneticist and don’t read endocrinology textbooks, but this was worked out in the 1960’s.”

Recently I finished The Well-Education Mind (basically Tools of Titans for classical education) and was struck by how connected education can be. In the book, Susan Wise Bauer lays out a schedule of education where everything is tied, knotted, and strung together like glistening spider web. Facts don’t bob alone by themselves but instead are connected. I knew this but I don’t learn like this.

3/ Experimentation. Toward the end, Roberts talks about schools, and tells Taubes:

“Your honesty about the data reminds me of when I passionately suggest we should try an alternative to the public school system…when I say that people say, ‘what’s the evidence that your system will be better?’ I say, ‘that’s really hard to accumulate.’…all I see is that we’ve had three generations of inner city kids that haven’t gotten an education.”

Experimentation, said Brent Beshore is the secret to business success (if there is any secret at all). Ken Grossman spent his first year of work at Sierra Nevada experimenting with new recipes and systems. Take time to experiment on new things, but then, writes Andy Grove, GO!

“The time for listening to the Cassandras is over. The time for experimentation is also over. The time to issue marching orders – exquisitely clear marching orders – to the organization is here.”

Thanks for reading.

ps To circle back to where we started, what’s the wind for Russ Roberts? He’s a great interviewer but he has a lens he sees the world through too. So do I. So do you. Also, podcasts have an asymmetric return (all learning does). I like how Ramit Sethi put it:

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