Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an American data scientist, economist, and author, renowned for his innovative work in leveraging big data to uncover hidden behaviors and trends in society. Born on August 1, 1982, in New York, he graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Stanford University and earned his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. Stephens-Davidowitz gained prominence through his work as a data scientist at Google and as a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times, where he utilized Google search data to gain insights into the human psyche and societal trends. His bestselling book, "Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are," published in 2017, explores how internet search data can reveal truths about our desires, beliefs, and prejudices. This groundbreaking work has established him as a thought leader in the field of big data and its implications for understanding human behavior. Stephens-Davidowitz's contributions extend to academic research and public speaking, where he continues to influence the fields of economics, sociology, and data science.

Books Mentioned on People I Mostly Admire #75 with Seth Stephens-Davidowitz:

Exploring A Data Scientist’s Approach: Insights from “People I Mostly Admire” Podcast with Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

In episode 75 of the podcast “People I (Mostly) Admire,” host Steven Levitt engages with guest Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an author and former Google data scientist. This discussion delves into the intersection of data analysis and personal development, offering unique insights into how data can be leveraged for self-improvement.

A Data Scientist’s Approach to Personal Makeover

Seth discusses his latest book, “Don’t Trust Your Gut,” branding it as a self-help guide for data enthusiasts. He shares a fascinating anecdote about his personal makeover journey, using data to enhance his appearance. By creating numerous versions of his face using AI and conducting surveys, Seth identified that sporting a beard and wearing glasses significantly boosted perceptions of his competence. This experiment underscores how data can offer unconventional yet effective solutions to everyday concerns.

Insights on Achieving Success and Wealth

The podcast also explores the paths to success and wealth. Surprisingly, data reveals that mundane businesses, like auto dealerships and beverage distribution, often lead to significant wealth, debunking the myth of glamorous industries being the most lucrative. Seth emphasizes the importance of ownership over wages in accumulating wealth, highlighting how unassuming business ventures can lead to substantial financial success.

The Role of Genetics in Sports

A particularly intriguing segment of the podcast examines the impact of genetics in sports. Through an analysis of twins in various sports, it’s revealed that genetics play a substantial role in athletic success, particularly in basketball and track and field. This finding challenges the common perception of pure talent and hard work as the sole determinants of sports achievement, instead spotlighting the role of genetic predisposition.

Expanding the Horizons of Data-Driven Decision Making

The second part of episode 75 of “People I (Mostly) Admire” continues the intriguing conversation between Steven Levitt and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. This section delves deeper into how data can inform personal and business decisions, challenging conventional wisdom with hard facts.

Data Insights on Business Success

Seth’s exploration of the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs provides a counterintuitive revelation: success in entrepreneurship increases with age, peaking around 60 years. Contrary to popular belief, older entrepreneurs often have an edge due to their accumulated experience and insights. This data challenges the stereotype of young tech-savvy entrepreneurs as the most successful.

The Impact of Genetics in Sports

The conversation shifts to sports, where Seth discusses the significant role genetics play in certain sports. Using twin studies, he explains that sports like basketball and track have a high genetic component, while others like diving and equestrianism show less genetic influence. This insight is a reminder of the complex interplay between nature and nurture in athletic achievement.

Understanding the Keys to Happiness

Seth shares insights from his research on happiness, emphasizing the importance of simple, obvious activities that bring joy, such as spending time in nature or with loved ones. He stresses the need to cut through the noise of modern life and focus on these fundamental happiness drivers, a concept often overlooked in the pursuit of more complex solutions.

The Journey of a Data Scientist

Seth’s personal narrative as a data scientist is particularly compelling. He discusses the challenges he faced in academia due to his unconventional research approach and how this led to his successful career outside academia. His story highlights the importance of following one’s passion, even in the face of rejection and traditional norms.

Deep Dives into Data-Driven Insights

In the final part of episode 75 of “People I (Mostly) Admire,” host Steven Levitt continues his engaging conversation with Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former Google data scientist and author. This segment offers a deeper understanding of how data analytics can revolutionize our approach to everyday decisions and perceptions.

Uncovering Truths through Google Trends

Seth shares his groundbreaking work using Google Trends to study societal issues like racism in the United States. He explains how analyzing Google search data revealed hidden truths about racism, showing a discrepancy between people’s online searches and their public statements. For instance, the frequency of racist searches on Google was disturbingly high, providing a more authentic picture of racial attitudes in various regions.

The Effect of Racism on Political Outcomes

One of the key insights from Seth’s research was the impact of racism on the electoral success of Barack Obama. By comparing the performance of Obama in regions with high frequencies of racist searches to the performance of previous Democratic candidates, Seth was able to estimate the electoral cost of racism. His research suggested that Obama lost a significant number of votes due to racial bias, particularly in regions with higher rates of racist Google searches.

The Honest Lens of Data

Seth’s use of Google Trends for social science research underlines the value of big data in revealing truths often concealed in traditional surveys. His approach to data science not only provided new insights into racism and its effects but also showcased the potential for data to uncover societal attitudes that might otherwise remain hidden.

Reflections on Academic Challenges

Seth also reflects on his academic journey, discussing the challenges he faced in getting his unconventional research recognized within the traditional academic economics community. Despite the significance of his work, he faced rejection from academic institutions, a journey that highlights the difficulties faced by researchers pursuing innovative, non-traditional methods and topics.

Concluding Thoughts: The Transformative Power of Data

The final part of this podcast episode encapsulates the transformative potential of data science. From uncovering hidden societal issues to challenging traditional academic norms, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s insights offer a compelling argument for the power of data in understanding and improving our world. This conversation serves as a testament to the role of data-driven analysis in shaping our perceptions and decisions in the modern age.