IPA’s weekly links



  • World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer is giving up some of his management duties, in part due to frictions over trying to get researchers to communicate better, pressuring them to create shorter presentations and use fewer run-on sentences (like this one). Bloomberg and FT’s reports seem gossipy and read like only part of the story. Romer has responded with a post on his personal blog, and offered a public mirror of the internal blog he uses to communicate with World Bank staff.
    • Taking on global poverty and trying to get economists to communicate clearly seems ambitious. But from my experience in both areas I have faith there’s a solution out there to the first.
  • If you’re doing any traveling this weekend, some podcasts:
    • The two Planet Money episodes on how the biggest shock in modern currency, surprise demonetization, happened in India. Turns out it was the brainchild of an engineer who just sold his idea relentlessly for years with a powerpoint of cartoons and got to PM Modi early on (Part 1, Part 2, or iTunes episodes 770 & 771).
    • If you’re in the humanitarian relief world – Tiny Spark talks with a veteran aid worker and a psychologist who specializes in aid workers on how to avoid burnout. One of the most interesting things was how much bad management contributes to aid worker demoralization. (iTunes)
    • Tyler Cowen talks with Raj Chetty (web or iTunes)
  • On that last one (getting back to World Bank) – it’s worth noting Cowen and Chetty both attribute some of the success of Chetty’s papers to the attention his group pays to the writing. He explains that it takes many revisions that go into writing it in a way that makes circuitous methods accessible:

    CHETTY: That is our strategy. I think the other thing that’s extremely important is, we spend a lot of time on trying to achieve clarity. There are ways to write papers in economics that are more accessible to the public and thereby have greater  impact, and there are ways to write papers that are more technically oriented and narrow the set of readers.

  • Two job opportunities:
  • Rachel Glennerster and Mary Ann Bates have a piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about how to decide if a successful program will work in another context. They propose four steps:
    • Step 1: What is the disaggregated theory behind the program?
    • Step 2: Do the local conditions hold for that theory to apply?
    • Step 3: How strong is the evidence for the required general behavioral change?
    • Step 4: What is the evidence that the implementation process can be carried out well?

On the Development Impact Blog, David Evans walks through applying those steps to decide whether a technology-aided teaching program that worked in urban India would also work in rural Tanzania.

  • Also in the same issue of SSIR, Blattman, Faye, Karlan, Niehaus, and Udry have a straightforward piece (written for the general public) on what we know and still need to find out about just giving the poor cash.

And the award for best RAs of the year goes to the ones on this Argentina study that found having someone else in a public bathroom increased urinal flushing and hand washing:

Researchers first identified three male restrooms that allowed observers to reliably hear whether a user flushed the urinal and washed his hands. For each user who entered the restroom, researchers alternated assignment between the treatment and comparison group. When a treatment group-assigned individual entered the restroom, an observer entered the restroom eight seconds afterwards and placed himself at another urinal. The observer acted as another user of the restroom without flushing the urinal or washing his hands and stayed in the restroom until the participant left. For individuals assigned to the comparison group, the observer waited outside the restroom and listened to determine whether the participant flushed the urinal and/or washed his hands. To avoid any possible influence by a third party, observers excluded instances when other people were also using the restroom.

Wonder if the RAs were trained in physics.