It began with my dissatisfaction with the very repetitive policy-focused discussions going on at the time (in the academy and outside it) concerning “development failure.” The question was always, “Why do development projects fail?” and “How can we do it better the next time?” But these did not seem to me very productive questions. Lesotho was knee-deep in “failed” development projects, and to come in and say that they were failing seemed to me to be not actually saying very much—that was obvious on its face.
So I instead found myself more and more interested in another set of questions, which was, “What is it that these projects are in fact doing?” I said, let us set aside these normative questions of success and failure, and let us be good anthropologists and be descriptive: what is going on here?
Once I started asking that question, I found that the intellectual work that was being done in these development agencies and development reports and in development discourse generally was quite substantial.
There was a tendency toward academic snobbery, I think, to look at these development intellectuals as people who were just being really bad anthropologists, to point out that what they were saying was not very well supported, and to pick it apart. What I wanted to say is that they are not doing good anthropology because they are not trying to do good anthropology—they are trying to do something else, and they are actually very good at doing that something else.
That something else has to do with constituting usable objects, meaning the objects that can be attached to programs that development agencies are there to set up. It has to do with creating the points of engagement with the knowable world that make it possible for them to do their jobs—that make it possible for these programs to build a case for why they need more money to do the next project, and why the next project is going to turn out differently than the previous one.
I wanted not only to say that this technical work is important, it is an action in the world—it is not just talk, it is a material practice that produces material effects—but also to open up the question of “what are those effects?”
The full interview is interesting, in spite of the fact the interviewers have the annoying habit of speaking in six-syllable jargon.
The book is is number one on my list of books development workers and academics should read, but usually don’t.
Here is an article-length version of the book.
Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia, And Ernesto,
If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer with you. You practically will not remember me, and the smaller ones will not remember me at all.
Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions.
Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard so that you can master technology, which allows us to master nature. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone is worth nothing.
Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.
Until forever, my children. I still hope to see you.
A great big kiss and a big hug from,
From the Guardian,
A new Firefox add-on, dubbed Dark Side of the Prism, automatically plays tracks from the seminal 1973 [Pink Floyd] album whenever a user visits sites, such as Google or Facebook, embroiled in the scandal over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) snooping programme.
A friend, Justin Blinder, is the ingenious programmer.
- How to play the drums and piano if you don’t play the drums and piano
- How social network analysis could have identified “terrorist” Paul Revere in 1775
- Is a green revolution underway in Africa?
- What is neoclassical economics anyways?
- PRISM fears give private search engine DuckDuckGo its best week ever
A new paper by Eble and Boone:
The randomized controlled trial (RCT) has been a heavily utilized research tool in medicine for over 60 years. It has enjoyed recent popularity in the social sciences, where it has been used to evaluate questions of both policy and theory.
The early economics literature on RCTs invokes the medical literature; but seems to ignore a large body of this literature which studies the past mistakes of medical trialists and links poor trial design, conduct, and reporting to exaggerated estimates of treatment effects.
Using a few consensus documents on these issues from the medical literature, we design a tool to evaluate adequacy of reporting and risk of bias in RCT reports. We then use this tool to evaluate all reports of RCTs published in a set of 52 major economics journals between 2001 and 2011, alongside a sample of reports of RCTs published in medical journals over the same time period.
We find that economics RCTs fall far short of the recommendations for reporting and conduct put forth in the medical literature, while medical trials stick fairly close to them, suggesting the risk of exaggerated treatment effects in the economics literature.
The medical sciences are a little too rabid and narrow-minded about a number of questionably important practices, but given that most of these practices are low cost and potentially high benefit, and since some of them are quite important, point taken.
h/t Don Green
A reddit thread. Some of my favorites:
I stood underneath a conveyer belt dropping gravel out of a rock crusher and picked out chunks of odd-colored rock for 10 hours a day without a break. At the rate the gravel was being poured, I may have possibly extracted .001% of the river rock, as i was picking it up by hand, one piece at a time.
I’m an aviation meteorologist at a location without planes.
I once worked a job where I would receive forms that were scanned into a machine that put them into some software. But since the scanner wasn’t perfect, I would have to manually type the mistakes into the machine. It was actually faster to not look for mistakes and just retype the entirety of the forms. We would then shred the forms. I was like the backup to a machine who wasn’t very good at its job.
So my friend has a job walking around a building making sure it isn’t on fire. It is an old building and is no longer up to fire code. So untill the building gets renovated in 2-3 years 3 people have to walk the halls and make sure it isn’t on fire.
A reader emails:
I’ve been reading your posts for PhD applicants and they’ve helped me a lot. However, there is a topic that you haven’t addressed and I would be very grateful if you can write about it. The topic I’m refering is age limit to start a PhD. How old is too old to start a PhD? I keep hearing that anything beyond 25-26 is too old for most schools and, even if you get in, it is harder to you to get a job when you graduate. In your opinion/experience, is this true? Is there an age cutoff?
Well, I was 28 when I started my PhD. There were people older than me in the class. There were also a lot of young people. Probably the median was about 25 or 26. Older age has had both advantages and disadvantages to me.
Frankly, though, I don’t think this is a first-order concern for an admissions committee, who are mostly concerned with your raw intellectual potential and ability to produce distinguished research.
If someone is 28 or older, with a previous career, an admission committee will probably reflect on whether that experience is going to contribute to or detract from the person’s research potential, and what the career switch says about a person’s focus. So a lot will depend on your specific story and experience.
I’ve sat on committees where experience was an advantage: political science applicants who had spent several years as international correspondents or in the state department, economics applicants who had spent several years in Treasury or finance, or sustainable development PhDs with careers in environmental science. All, however, had a good rationale for a PhD and a very clear intellectual and academic thread to their previous work.
Other faculty out there have comments?
I’m slowly getting around to cleaning up all my datasets–not just the paper replication files but the full datasets and raw survey data and the like, with codebooks for ease of new analysis.
Most of these will be of marginal interest, but you never know. Details below the fold.
…researchers primarily at the National Cancer Institute parsed health information from more than 400,000 volunteers, ages 50 to 71, who were free of major diseases at the study’s start in 1995. By 2008, more than 50,000 of the participants had died. But men who reported drinking two or three cups of coffee a day were 10 percent less likely to have died than those who didn’t drink coffee, while women drinking the same amount had 13 percent less risk of dying during the study. It’s not clear exactly what coffee had to do with their longevity, but the correlation is striking.
Other recent studies have linked moderate coffee drinking — the equivalent of three or four 5-ounce cups of coffee a day or a single venti-size Starbucks — with more specific advantages: a reduction in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, basal cell carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), prostate cancer, oral cancer and breast cancer recurrence.
Perhaps most consequential, animal experiments show that caffeine may reshape the biochemical environment inside our brains in ways that could stave off dementia.
The part of my brain that teaches causal inference says a lot of this is probably third factors that influence both beverage choice and health.
The part of my brain that rationalizes my own vices says, “awesome!”
Possibly my lowest coffee moment was waking up one morning in a rural school in Liberia, where my wife and I were studying an ex-combatant reintegration training program. The kitchen was closed because the students had decided to strike/protest, and the yard was full of teachers and hundreds of ex-combatants yelling at one another in menacing ways. While Jeannie was asking me whether we should get out of there, I was trying to find dry Nescafe, mix it with cold mineral water, and shoot it in order to stave off the migrane I knew was just moments away, because it was already 10am and my body had not yet been caffeinated. Since then I have started drinking more decaf.
A type of group therapy designed for trauma victims has proved extraordinarily helpful for survivors of sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo, enabling women to overcome the shame, nightmares and terrifying flashbacks that had left them unable to work or take care of their families or themselves, researchers report.
An article about the therapy, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, is a rare event: a rigorous study of a treatment meant to heal the mental and emotional scars of women in a part of Africa where rape has become a routine weapon of war. Congo, with two decades of civil war, has been called the rape capital of the world by the United Nations. The country has little or no treatment for those with mental health problems.
A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington in Seattle and the International Rescue Committee brought a type of treatment called cognitive processing therapy to Congo. They adapted the method to treat women who could not read or write, and taught it to local health workers who had a high school education or less.
…The improvement from group therapy was striking, the researchers found. Six months after treatment, only 9 percent of the women who received group therapy still had anxiety, depression or PTSD. By comparison, 42 percent of the women who had individual support still had those problems.
I often heap criticism on psychology studies, but this one is excellent. Then again, I might be biased because I’m married to one of the authors.
Now there is the challenging question of scale. Some researchers estimate that about 40 percent of the women in the region have been victims of sexual violence.
there is only one way in this world to achieve true happiness, and that is to express yourself with all your skill and enthusiasm in a career that appeals to you more than any other. In such a career, you feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement. You feel you are making a contribution. It is not work.
An excerpt from How to Avoid Work, written by William J. Reilly in 1949.
Via Brainpickings, which has many more interesting quotes from the book.
I am curious how culturally specific is this sentiment. Reader thoughts on your own country/culture?
“For all these reasons, right or wrong, your field is now the poster child for doubts about the integrity of psychological research,” Kahneman writes. “I believe that you should collectively do something about this mess.”
That is Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, apparently in an email to psychologists who work on “priming” experiments–the ways that subtle cues change our behavior. Ouch.
Why? Failure to be able to replicate classic studies is a “train wreck looming” for the field, due to a “storm of doubt” about the results.
These guys may be conspicuous for non-robust findings, and psychology is worse than average, but I would not be surprised if economics and political science are nearly as guilty–especially the non-experimental work, but the meagre experimental work too.
Article here. hat tip @deankarlan.
The authors attempted to implement randomized experiments to evaluate the impact of seven matching grant programs offered in six African countries, but in each case were unable to complete an experimental evaluation. One critique of randomized experiments is publication bias, whereby only those experiments with “interesting” results get published. The hope is to mitigate this bias by learning from the experiments that never happened.
This paper describes the three main proximate reasons for lack of implementation: continued project delays, politicians not willing to allow random assignment, and low program take-up; and then delves into the underlying causes of these occurring.
Not earth-shaking but important to do and unfortunately unusual that the authors took the time to write up these results.
Kudos to them: Francisco Campos, Aidan Coville, Ana Fernandes, Markus Goldstein, and David McKenzie, all at the World Bank.
I am looking for a research manager in Ethiopia on rather short notice. The project description is here. The question is simple: “More sweatshops for Africa?”
But first, a bit about you: at minimum you have a social science or science/health BA and ideally a little work or field experience. You could also have an MA and considerable experience. The core job will be running data collection over the next 1-2 years, based out of Addis. The more advanced your training, the more likely it is you would be engaged in statistical analysis, data management, and writing.
(Update: you could also be a PhD student who works 50% on this project in country and 50% on your own research)
The position would start in Ethiopia before the end of the summer, and ideally as soon as possible. Candidates already in Ethiopia, including and especially Ethiopians, are strongly encouraged.
If interested, there is more below the fold.
Our partisan bark appears to be worse than our bite.
Partisanship seems to affect factual beliefs about politics. For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the deficit rose during the Clinton administration; Democrats are more likely to say that inflation rose under Reagan.
We investigate whether such patterns reflect differing beliefs among partisans or instead reflect a desire to praise one party or criticize another. We develop a model of partisan survey response and report two experiments that are based on the model. The experiments show that small payments for correct and “don’t know” responses sharply diminish the gap between Democrats and Republicans in responses to “partisan” factual questions.
The results suggest that the apparent differences in factual beliefs between members of different parties may be more illusory than real.