Published May 24, 2022 by Rebecca Goldfine

Tom Leung's Nerdy Approach to Politics and Policy

Tom Leung ’96 hosts Nerds for Humanity, a weekly analysis show on YouTube, to have in-depth discussions with politicians and experts—including Bowdoin professors and the occasional Bowdoin student and alumnus.
Tom Leung
Tom Leung launched his YouTube show in 2020.

The long-form conversations Leung engages in are meant to be an antidote to the daily diet of clickbait headlines and opinionated voices we ingest as we go through our online lives. 

"I think one of the interesting things about media today is that the ones who know the most about something rarely get the most airtime," Leung said recently in a Zoom interview from his home in the San Francisco area.Meanwhile, he added, too many people who do something outrageous, even if misinformed, do grab our attention, including a few congressional representatives.

Nerds for Humanity focuses on policy and politics and professes a love of charts and graphs. "I try to unpack policy debates with more detail and evidence," Leung said. He describes himself as a "solutions-focused Independent with a love for the scientific method and coming up with data-driven fixes to complex problems." 

Over the past year, Leung has invited five Bowdoin professors to join him on NFH: Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government Andrew Rudalevige, Assistant Professor of Government Maron Sorenson, Professor of Government Michael Franz, Professor of Economics Erik Nelson, and Professor of Government Jeff Selinger. Yordana Gerdzhikova ’23 has made an appearance, as has Phil Sanchez ’96.

Part of the charm of the program comes from the opener, when each guest greets listeners with a personal interpretation of "Hello, nerds!" In his low baritone, Rudalevige let out a bellow: "Hellooo, nerds!" In January, he discussed the first year of Joe Biden's presidency compared to Donald Trump's first year.

Nerds for Humanity with Bowdoin's Maron Sorenson

More recently in May, Leung introduced Sorenson, a specialist in judicial politics. "Nerds, do I have a treat for you!" he said before discussing the US Supreme Court and, of course, the infamous leak regarding the future of Roe vs. Wade. 

Franz flashed a Vulcan salute, from Star Trek. He was interviewed in November to speak about campaign financing, political advertising, and interest groups in America.

Nelson told Leung he was Zooming in from the "nerd capital, Bowdoin College." The two chatted last summer about Nelson's research on the "economics of nature," examining topics like climate change policy and whether people should have to pay for the environmental impacts of personal decisions—such as driving gas-guzzling trucks versus more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Leung launched his YouTube show three years ago, initially to support Andrew Yang's presidential campaign. (It was called Nerds for Andrew Yang, then.) "At the time, I was working at YouTube, and part of my job was to understand the experiences that creators have," Leung said. (These days, he is director of product management at Google Health, which is using artificial intelligence to enhance medical outcomes.) 

As Yang's campaign gained traction, Leung's channel grew with it. When Yang dropped out of the race, Leung decided to keep going with his show because he wanted to continue exploring the ideas fueling policy debates.

The Miracle of Humanity

Leung says since he launched his show his faith in humanity has shifted. "On the one hand, it has increased my concern for humanity seeing the political polarization, climate crisis, growing income inequality, distressed health care, and general anxiety about the prospects for future generations," he said. "On the other hand, the fact that we have a small but loyal following for the show and are able to invite terrific guests to share their perspectives and expertise on these topics means that there are people out there who are curious, leaned-in, and trying to figure it all out together. That is part of the miracle of humanity."

Tom Leung with friends
Tom Leung with his friends Logan Powell and Dan Sacco at their twenty-year reunion.

(NFH, by the way, is just one of a few "passion projects" Leung works on when he's not at Google or spending time with his wife, Wendy, and their two children, Ryan and Brandon. He also cofounded a nonprofit called Of the People, which he describes as Yelp for first-time political candidates, as it helps voters discover and learn about candidates. He also volunteers as his children's football coach and is a part-time career coach.)

On Nerds for Humanity, Leung's guests come from across the country and the political spectrum, and include MAGA supporters like his own brother, Peter Leung. About chatting with his brother, Leung said: "We are clearly disagreeing about almost everything, but there is still a baseline of respect for each other."

Leung said he tries to challenge his guests respectfully, as well as keep arguments grounded in facts. "I was very animated by our previous president and my discomfort with him," Leung said. "His approach was opposite from a nerdy approach: it was emotional, tribal, and divisive, and his arguments and positions did not seem logically consistent or based on data."

Even as a young kid growing up in New Jersey, the son of immigrant parents from Hong Kong, Leung became fascinated with politics—a trait he thinks was passed down from his mother, whose family served in the Chinese nationalist party in the early 1930s. When he came to Bowdoin, he majored in history and economics, wrote political opinion pieces for The Bowdoin Orient, and did a thesis about the modern Chinese communist party's economic reforms after World War II.

After graduation, he went into consulting, then earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. "I got bit by the tech bug in 1999 and have been in tech ever since—start-ups, Microsoft, and now at Google."

He says his wide-ranging interests—technology, politics, his family, humanity!—keep him humming. "Part of the reason why I am generally happy is I have a diversity of pursuits and stimulations: work, family, hobbies, and volunteer stuff. You can still be a liberal arts student even decades after getting that sheepskin from Camp Bobo!"