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55 Conversations Later, Here’s What Our Data-And-Society Podcast Taught Me

Our podcast What’s The Point kicked off with a conversation between FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver and me about our society’s relationship with data. This week, I’m wrapping up my hosting duties with a conversation with my editor, Chadwick Matlin, about, well, the same thing. This is the final What’s The Point episode, at least for now — but the feed will live on! Sparks, our science series, will continue to publish there, and other shows will appear in the feed from time to time.

After 50-plus episodes, I’m not walking away with any theory-of-everything insights. But I have become a little more concerned about online privacy, developed an admiration for the coach of the U.S. team at the International Mathematical Olympiad and am now a fanboy of the Canadian long-form census. I think Volkswagen is deeply sketchy.

Throughout, I’ve tried to tackle the central question of “how data is changing our lives” (that’s what’s in the show’s blurb, at least) from four main angles:

  • How data and algorithms act as hidden forces that can have real-world consequences.
  • How big data is affecting particular industries, for better or for worse.
  • How data journalism can tell stories that other types of journalism may not be able to.
  • How self-quantification is changing our behavior, our notions of privacy and, maybe, our personalities.

The closest I can come to summing up what this series of conversations has meant probably comes out of something Neil deGrasse Tyson said on the second episode of this show: “Are you wired for doubt?” If you’re wired for doubt, you’re as wary of the party line as you are aware of your own biases. You’re eager for solutions but realistic about the fact that the world often operates in shades of gray. Let’s call it earnest skepticism.

Below is a smattering of episodes that are still rattling around in my brain and, I hope, showcase the range of conversations we’ve been able to convene. Maybe it’s a chance for you to relisten or dip into the archives for the first time. Here are 10 favorites:

And then there’s our collaboration with the folks behind “Dear Data,” in which we asked listeners to visualize data about their podcast listening habits. Stay tuned — we’re going to find a fun way to display all the amazing entries soon.

Now, if you’re considering unsubscribing to the feed, please don’t! Sparks is still coming every month, and we have some big, new ideas in the works that will touch on some of What’s The Point’s main themes. And if you’re eager to hear my voice, you can find me every Monday on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast. I’ll also be part of ESPN’s new 30 for 30 podcasts, coming in the spring.

Thanks to everyone at FiveThirtyEight and elsewhere who made this show possible. I think I got everyone a shoutout by name in the episode itself. And thanks to all the listeners. This has been a true community, and I’m honored to have been part of it. Talk soon.

If you’re a fan of What’s The Point, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, and please leave a rating/review — that helps spread the word to other listeners. And be sure to check out our sports show Hot Takedown as well. Have something to say about this episode, or have an idea for a future show? Get in touch by email, on Twitter, or in the comments.

What’s The Point’s music was composed by Hrishikesh Hirway, host of the “Song Exploder” podcast. Download our theme music.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.