Caffeine, Alcohol, and Television: What’s True? — Emily Oster

#080 — Caffeine, Alcohol, and Television: What’s True? — Episode 080

Conventional wisdom—and most official recommendations—tell us that we must abstain entirely from coffee and alcohol for the duration of pregnancy to avoid very serious consequences. And once our kids are born, experts urge us to keep our children away from screens to prevent behavior problems and poor academic performance in the future. But what does the data say?

Is it really the end of the world to have a cup of coffee in the morning? How about an occasional glass of wine? What is wrong with letting our kiddos watch an episode or two of Dinosaur Train

When economist Emily Oster got pregnant, she also got curious about the advice she was getting. Some recommendations were based on her age alone, and sometimes she found it difficult to get any answers at all. So, she started digging into the data.

Eventually, Emily’s research became Expecting Better, and today, she joins me to discuss her approach to writing for a popular audience and the somewhat unintentional way the book was born. Emily describes how her background as an economist shapes her decision-making and how to go about judging the quality of a particular study. I ask Emily for insight on the data around caffeine, alcohol, and screen time for kids, and she explains why two people can see and understand the same data—yet make different, and equally valid, decisions. Listen in for Emily’s take on making corrections to our thinking based on new evidence and get a sneak peek at what’s covered in her forthcoming book!


Get the complete show notes with episode quotes, photos, and time stamps at


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Emily Oster is a highly-respected economist and professor at Brown University. Her research interests range from development and health economics to research design and experimental methodology. Emily’s work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the bestseller SuperFreakonomics, and FiveThirtyEight, among many other publications, and she is the author of Expecting Better: Why Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know.



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