You already know what you’re going to get: a section on the joys and uses of cost-benefit analysis, some dashed-off thoughts about utilitarianism and negative freedoms, three or four chapters on nudges and their importance to the design of seatbelt policy, the primacy of Daniel Kahneman–style ‘slow thinking’ over intuition and moral heuristics, a Learned Hand quote, and a few weak anecdotes about Sunstein’s time as President Obama’s regulator-in-chief, all delivered through a prose that combines the dreariest elements of Anglo-American analytical style with the proto-numerate giddiness of a libertarian undergrad who’s just made first contact with the production possibility frontier.
In 2003, the two of us made a wager. We had just left a talk by a renowned scientist when Pierre quipped, ‘It must be amazing to work in his orbit, where his brilliance and the intellectual exchange of ideas must raise the level of scholarship of everyone around him.’ Josh, a bit more sardonic in nature, replied, ‘I don’t know. I bet he consumes a lot of scarce research resources and commands an oversized amount of attention. He might well suck all the oxygen out of the room.’ Without missing a beat, Pierre countered that this was really an empirical question. Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, we have some answers. It seems we were both right. These results paint a picture of scientific fields as scholarly guilds to which elite scientists can regulate access, providing them with outsized opportunities to shape the direction of scientific advance in that space.
The samples contained a surprise: huge amounts of iridium, so much that it would have taken tens or hundreds of millions of years to deposit at background rates. What could explain it? The Alvarezes came to a radical conclusion: the high concentration of iridium in the band must have come from outer space, and it must have been delivered in bulk by a colossal asteroid strike – an event destructive enough to have triggered the end-Cretaceous extinction. The iridium-rich clay band at Gubbio was the shroud of dust and debris that had eventually settled on a devastated world.