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Science & Environment

Don't Panic! What We Can Learn From Chaos

After a long history of civil war and corruption, many Liberians didn't trust their government's attempts to control Ebola.
After a long history of civil war and corruption, many Liberians didn't trust their government's attempts to control Ebola.

Chaos is neither friend nor foe. It just is. This week: two very different perspectives on how to deal with life's most tumultuous moments.

We begin in 2015, in a poor slum in the West African country of Liberia. Police have just discovered a young man, dead and covered in stab wounds. Tests show he was infected with a terrifying disease that causes raging fever, severe internal bleeding, and kills up to 90 percent of the people it touches: Ebola.

Officials realize that the suspects in the case, young men in a local street gang, may have become infected themselves and spread the highly contagious virus across the neighborhood. But the gang members are reluctant to quarantine themselves. And some of them, including a man nicknamed "Time Bomb," are nowhere to be found.

Look familiar? Tim Harford says "clean desk policies" can stifle your creativity.
Jess Milton / Getty Images
Look familiar? Tim Harford says "clean desk policies" can stifle your creativity.

What follows is a truly unconventional effort by epidemiologists to contain the chaos and prevent a lethal epidemic from engulfing the country.

Then, we get a little messy. We talk with author Tim Harford about the surprising benefits of untidiness and disorder in our everyday lives.

This episode was produced by Chris Benderev, Jenny Schmidt, and Maggie Penman. It was edited by Tara Boyle. Our team includes Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu and Laura Kwerel. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.