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Don't Panic: Stories Of Coping Amidst Chaos

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

This week we bring you two very different perspectives on how to deal with life's most tumultuous moments.

We begin in 2015, 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
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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.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Chris Benderev is a founding producer of and also reports stories for NPR's documentary-style podcast, Embedded. He's driven into coal mines, watched as a town had to shutter its only public school after 100 years in operation, and, recently, he's followed the survivors of a mass shooting for two years to understand what happens after they fade from the news. He's also investigated the pseudoscience behind a national chain of autism treatment facilities. As a producer, he's made stories about ISIS, voting rights and Donald Trump's business history. Earlier in his career, he was a producer at NPR's Weekend Edition, Morning Edition, Hidden Brain and the TED Radio Hour.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.