My Conversation with Mary Roach

Here is the transcript and podcast, here is the summary introduction:

She joins Tyler for a conversation covering the full range of her curiosity, including fear, acclimating to grossness, chatting with the dead, freezing one’s head, why bedpans can kill you, sex robots, Freud, thinking like an astronaut, the proper way to eat a fry, and why there’s a Medicare reimbursement code for maggots.

Here are a few excerpts:

ROACH: It is never uncomfortable. People sometimes say, “The questions that you ask people, is it an awkward interview? When you went to Avenal State Prison for the rectum chapter of Gulp, and you, talking to this convicted murderer about using his rectum to smuggle cellphones and other things, was that not a very awkward conversation to have?”

A little bit, but then you have to keep in mind, this is somebody for whom hooping, as it’s called, is . . . everybody does it. It’s just something that you do; it’s everyday to him. Like for a sex researcher, talking about orgasm is like talking about tire rotation for a car mechanic.


COWEN: To do a whirlwind tour of some of your books, you have a book on corpses. If you could chat with the dead, what would you ask them?

ROACH: Oh, if I could chat with the dead. Are we assuming the personality or the body?

COWEN: Well, both.

ROACH: The corpse?

COWEN: The corpse.

ROACH: Oh, is this a research corpse or . . .

COWEN: It’s a research corpse.

ROACH: …So what I’d say to the cadaver is, “Is this embarrassing for you? Are you OK with this? Are they treating you respectfully? Do you wish you had some clothes on?”


COWEN: Why do only 18 percent of people who are in the position to have a life-after-death experience actually have one? What’s your view on that?

ROACH: The trouble seems to be remembering the near-death experience.


COWEN: Why are bedpans dangerous?

There is much, much more at the link.  Jonathan Swift, Elvis, Adam Smith, and Jeff Sachs all make appearances, in addition to Catholicism, bee larvae, Mozambique, whether people know what they really want in sex, and whether it should be legal to harvest fresh road kill in Oregon.


Jumping any sharks?

I'm shocked that you're shocked about New Hampshire having the highest median income. Have you missed the Free State Project? Are you not familiar with the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance? Obviously I'm from New Hampshire, but it's peculiar that an economist wouldn't know about our free-market haven... we even come with a socialist control group (they call themselves Vermont, we don't call them... and we don't let them on the Connecticut River, either).

Anyway, get up to speed ;)

NHLA site is

NH papers are full of my op-eds:

Also a lot of relatively high-income MA workers have homes in NH.

That's true. Dean Kamen is trying to make Manchester into a biotech hub, but right now a lot of people live in southern NH and work in MA.

There's a reason they live in NH... look at the crime rates of NH vs. MA.

And a great many of those high-paying jobs are with defense contractors. Not Libertarian at all.

Someone has to make the swords, Ethan. The problem is keeping them from coming under central control... the President isn't supposed to be able to unilaterally declare war, 'member berries? Unfortunately the US, unlike the Swiss, doesn't remember its own Constitution.

The Swiss have stayed out of wars since 1815. Yet they live in the absolute worst geopolitical spot on Earth ;)

One unique thing about NH is that it has 400 state legislators... so they aren't professional politicians. And the NHLA has a newsletter that actually keeps them more informed on statehouse bills than, e.g., Texas legislators are.

The other unique thing about New Hampshire is it's 94% white.

Not unique. Vermont and Maine are equally white.

We're adding Bhutanese refugees as fast as we can, Anti ;)

There are several unique things about NH, but racial composition isn't one of them. Neither is our absence of gun laws, Vermont doesn't have them either.

Looking forward to the interview with Mary Rosh.

I used to look forward to Tyler's interviews.....but I will pass on this one.

I thought Roach relaxed after the first ten minutes (maybe after the deep Freudian analyses that are interesting but outside her field had passed?), and I really enjoyed the rest of the conversation.

Tyler actually guffawed at one point. I don't think that I ever heard him laugh before.
Long, fun, sometimes graphically gross interview.

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