My IPA colleagues have a series of blog posts about our experience moving evidence into policy. The first lays out the org’s strategic ambition for what we plan on doing differently over the next several years. The second is on how to get non-research-oriented partners (like governments and NGOs) involved in the research process from the start to make sure they have ownership and the questions address their needs. The third is about what to do after you have the findings, to make sure they get used and don’t just languish in a report on a website.
Brilliant coverage of Brexit from a Financial Times Southern Africa correspondent writing about it the way foreign correspondents cover African politics.
University of Virginia economist and public policy prof Sally Hudson is running for the State House of Representatives there, challenging the incumbent Democrat in the primary. This is not an endorsement (I don’t know enough about the candidates), but it did remind me of something I saw Dartmouth economist & public policy prof, journalist, speechwriter, and former political candidate Charlie Wheelan say. Talking to a bunch of policy students, he said it’s unfortunate that the people who are really good at policy usually don’t have the stomach for politics and the personalities who are successful in politics usually aren’t the types who want to get into the weeds on policy.
I haven’t listened to all the episodes of the IRC & Vox podcast Displaced yet (I discovered on my phone I have 836 podcast episodes I’ve individually chosen and downloaded but not yet listened to), but I have yet to hear a bad episode of that show. One of the many interesting parts of the interview with Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, about innovation and failure, comes about 43 minutes in, where she talks about how she tries to surround herself with reminders of failing to make it a normal part of daily life and nothing to fear. One way she does this is keeping the rejection letter from her attempt to get on her local community board on her refrigerator. She has a book coming out in a few weeks on the topic.
ICYMI there was a fascinating and troubling discussion on Twitter this week following the Nairobi attacks, where the New York Times apparently showed (I didn’t look) graphic photos of dead bodies, even though they wouldn’t have done it for a U.S.-based school shooting or terror attack for example (even the death of U.S. soldiers is usually communicated through returning caskets with flags rather than bodies on the battlefield.) I’ll refer you to Jeffrey Paller’s great as always This Week in Africa newsletter for links to the specific arguments and defenses from the Times but it’s probably Ken Opalo’s words that stuck with me the most:
The Innovation Growth Lab conference on entrepreneurship and business growth is looking for submissions of RCT/field experiments (deadline Feb 11th).
The African Institute for Development Policy is offering a policy communication fellowship for Ph.D. students in their 3rd to 5th years from a list of 20ish countries studying some specific topics related to gender and health.
And if you have’t seen it, this AeroMexico commercial came out last year apparently, but it’s just making the rounds now*:
* don’t take the science of genetic ancestry too seriously (h/t Tim Ogden).
Hope everybody’s off to a great new year, and good luck to all the job candidates interviewing at ASSA. Also, remember from the last links that Ben Casselman, who’s been co-reporting on sexual harassment in economics for the New York Times, is there and happy to meet confidentially with anybody who wants to tell him about their experience. If you’re not on twitter, feel free to email me and I’ll put you in touch with him (confidentially of course).
At the Data Colada blog Uri Simonsohn realizes that publishing articles with links online (such as to news articles) is problematic as links die or change over time. He reviewed links in his articles since 2005 and found over half didn’t work anymore, and recommends a simple fix: Instead of the direct URL, link to the Internet Archive version of it.
Preanalysis plans (PAPs), where you specify your analysis before you see the data, can be a bit controversial. Some say a PAP ties your hands and prevents you from exploring things you might only find out about later. Psychologist and open science advocate Sanjay Srivastava offers six strategies which you can use instead of or alongside a PAP to allow for more flexible analysis without letting you fool yourself.
Daniel Kahneman explains why he’s become less interested in understanding happiness and more in how to live a satisfying life (if the article’s intermittently gated, try in your browser’s incognito mode). You can take Yale’s popular course on happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being from Professor Laurie Santos online for free and decide for yourself. A couple interesting observations from Kahneman, about British economist Richard Layard who started paying attention to the research and bringing improving overall happiness and well-being into policy there:
“The involvement of economists like Layard and Deaton made this issue more respectable,” Kahneman added with a smile. “Psychologists aren’t listened to so much. But when economists get involved, everything becomes more serious, and research on happiness gradually caught the attention of policy-making organizations.
“Much of Layard’s activity on behalf of happiness in England related to bolstering the mental health system. In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start – because the extent of illness is enormous and the intensity of the distress doesn’t allow for any talk of happiness.”
Given how common we’re discovering this is, it’s likely Fryer’s not the only one in economics. You can report bad behavior to the reporters, Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersly, who guarantee anonymity and will be at ASSA (I can confidentially put you in touch with Ben if you’re not on Twitter).
If you’re having career issues because of harassment, many senior faculty will help, including Jennifer Doleac, who’s offered to assist people in this situation navigate what to do next and connect them with people who can help.
You can also report to the NSF if you know of any sexual harassment by a PI on one of their grants.
Palm oil may be the worlds most hated product for destroying rainforests, and it’s in everything. But if economics is about anything, it’s about tradeoffs. In Ryan Edwards’ job market paper he looks at Indonesia, where he estimates the rapid expansion of palm oil exports since 2000 led to 2.7 percentage point faster poverty reduction and 4% faster consumption growth, at the cost of more rapid forest loss and more fire. A back of the envelope calculation finds 2.6 of 10 million Indonesians lifted from poverty this century were because of palm oil
Tim Ogden hosted an all-star cast for a discussion on microcredit, and how to think about how it interacts with the rest of developing economies. You can see the recording here.
Job: I believe IPA will be interviewing at ASSA for the new Ph.D.-level lead position using our org’s scale (over 200 RCTs happening now around the world), to develop new methods. It’ll be based in New York or DC but will involve working closely with Andrew Dillon at Northwestern and our network of PIs. Please pass it along if you know anybody who might be interested.
If you get this Friday AM, last I heard there were a few slots left for the webinar this afternoon on the latest thinking on microcredit/microloans (depending on what field you’re coming from). It’s at 1PM (US Eastern Time) from Tim Ogden at NYU’s Financial Access Initiative, featuring Gisella Kagy, Cynthia Kinnan, Karthik Muralidharan and Bruce Wydick.
Two great job market papers:
Amazing work by Anne Karing of Berkeley working with my IPA colleagues in Sierra Leone. Vaccinations have to be done in a sequence over a child’s first year, and it’s hard enough for people in rich countries to remember and keep up with it, let alone somewhere with scarce resources and lots of travel required. It required a massive amount of work upgrading the way health records are kept locally on top of the experimental work, but she tested the effects of handing out simple, color coded silicone bracelets to some mothers that publicly showed where their children were in their vaccination schedules. If I’m reading it right, the bracelets advertised to other mothers in the community that these mothers were keeping on schedule, and that influenced them to do the same. The simple bracelets increased vaccination rates by up to 14 percentage points which is a huge bump from a simple social signal.
A really cool paper from Meera Mahadevan at Michigan, who looked at elections in a large state in India, and then what the constituents of winners were then billed for electricity to nighttime satellite images of what they were actually using. Magically, the constituents of the winners of elections were later billed less for electricity than what the satellites showed they were actually using.
The latest Freakonomics episode features work by Gharad Bryan, James Choi, and Dean Karlan (with the voices of the latter two), on testing the effects of the religious part of a religious aid program for very poor people in the Philippines. It turned out the program worked better with the religious component than without, boosting earnings. The larger episode is about the Protestant work ethic and if its effects are real and measurable. (Apple)
A nice thread from John Holbein on teaching analysis of policies in his class. Every class group analyzing a change in a public policy found zero effect, and he reminds us that journals full of positive results condition us to expect something different than reality. He says we need more of a culture around precise nulls. (He also includes his class syllabus)
Is microcredit for the poor good, bad, or neither? Maybe good for some, but bad for others – if so how can we predict whom it’ll help and whom it’ll hurt to target it better? Tim Ogden’s going to be hosting a webinar next Friday Dec. 7th, with Lauren Falcao Bergquist, Cynthia Kinnan, Karthik Muralidharan and Bruce Wydick to hash it out. Make sure to register ahead of time at the link above.
And what someone called “the coolest job in the world” a Ph.D.-level (or equivalent) position to use the whole network of IPA studies and research offices around the world to develop new and better methods in econ.
Scott Cunningham, of the causal inference mixtape and who studies sex work, and I had a discussion about why people take strong moral stances and how economists can engage them better.
While economists are pretty good at calculating costs and benefits, that’s not how many people reason, especially on moral areas (sex work, markets for organs). I cite some psych research there on how often people don’t even have access to their own moral reasoning systems, which often leads people to talk past each other. Here’s Stanford’s Robb Willer TED talk (I know, it’s still good though) on how to reason from someone’s else’s moral perspective.
This JEP article: “Market Reasoning as Moral Reasoning: Why Economists Should Re-engage with Political Philosophy” makes a similar point about why economists’ arguments might miss the mark and fail to engage with how most people reason.
[Side note: Scott has a 2-day workshop for data scientists, law, policy, and other data professionals on causal inference methods]
I’ve said for a while that it’s under-covered, but the fight over the census methodology (which amounts to who gets counted), has to be one of the under-covered stories of the year, because of the many, many policy decisions that are based on census data . Emily Bazelon explains it in the New York Times Magazine.
For more current updates, and good explainers NPR’s Hansi Lo Wong is covering the court battle daily.
Also if you’re killing time, read the abstracts from Jennifer Doleac’s thread of job market papers from women job candidates. I’m just going to drop you into the long thread here, at this dramatic paper from Jagori Saha showing how social protection programs in times of drought can save girls’ lives in India.
IPA’s Peace and Recovery program has a postdoc opportunity for working with Chris Blattman and a great team building evidence on reducing violence (broadly defined), deadline for applying Nov 26th!
Some examples of the work Chris is doing himself in this video (though the post-doc can do much more):
In a really great example of how more charities should work, Evidence Action and GiveWell announced together they were stopping fundraising on No Lean Season, the effort that had been a GiveWell top charity. The latest round of data from their gradual scaling-up failed to find the previous effects, and they’re going back to understand what changed.
David McKenzie’s great (as always) links has a nice short summary on new thinking from big names in Universal Basic Income making the argument that the effort to target cash to the neediest and the precision required aren’t worth it, and it should be universal.
Seven current and former graduate students at Dartmouth’s prestigious psychology and neuroscience department have filed a class action suit against the College. They allege three prominent professors promoted widespread drinking, sexual harassment of students, and rape. According to the suit, the College knew of allegations against one of the professors in 2002, and subsequently promoted him. Here’s a statement from one of the students and a more detailed description and link to the filing.
Since then I’ve seen colleagues of theirs online reflect that they’d heard rumors or seen suspicious things there that should have been tip-offs, wondering if they should have said something at the time. If you ever find yourself wondering anything similar, the answer is, if at all possible, yes.
Amid talk of recounts and undervoting, it’s helpful to remember unintended policy consequence #6,053; that the 2002 Congressional Act (reacting to the Bush-Gore recount) promoting electronic voting probably resulted in more voting mistakes because of hastily designed electronic interfaces (starting on p. 15 here)
Unintended effects of policy #8,932: When states legalized medical marijuana, condom purchases went down, frequency of sex went up, and the birthrate went up.
A reminder for the academic interview fly-out season that I’ve seen a few people mention: don’t assume grad students can afford to put travel on their credit cards and wait to be reimbursed; offer to book the travel for them (managers, same for employees).
In an interview with Paul Romer on government’s role in innovation, he also advocates for economists staying out of political debates (he thinks Brexit was partially a reaction to people not liking economists telling them what to do). He thinks economists should stick with calculating pros and cons of different options, and leaving the debates to politicians (I didn’t know his father was governor of Colorado). Stay for the bit at the end about Berkeley faculty.
Chris Barrett & John Hoddinott review the state of development economics as seen through submissions to the NEUDC conference (being held at Cornell starting tomorrow): Overall they were struck by the high quality of the papers, most papers were empirical, rather than theoretical, though wth fewer with RCTs than they expected. There were few macroeconomics topics, with little on trade. And in geographic areas of interest, Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania were underrepresented with most of the research being done in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Some encouragement when life has you down: Johns Hopkins molecular biologist Carol Greider describes with good humor, how in 2009, a grant committee met and deemed her application not worthy of discussion, even though she had won the Nobel Prize two hours earlier.
A new report (if you can ignore the overblown headline) looks at the massive Millennium Villages project, promoted by economist Jeffrey Sachs. It spent a *lot* in Ghana (a budget of $27 Million from a variety of sources, including local government and communities) on economic makeovers of selected locales, but did not have an overall effect on poverty, hunger, or many of the other outcomes it set out to improve. Full report here.
When Ryan Briggs asked him about why they didn’t have solid design for measuring outcomes in 2014, well, you can read it for yourself.
The image above comes from Lyman Stone, showing that Africa does not have particularly high fertility when you take income into account. Or as he explains, fertility isn’t the problem, poverty is the problem.
A new Vox section, Future Perfect, focuses on solutions to social problems, and also has a podcast (of course).
You’ve probably seen excitement in recent years over the idea of just giving poor cash, but it’s important to remember cash alone helps in some ways but isn’t a panacea. This article looks at work by my IPA colleagues and others starting to compare cash alone to a 6-pronged approach called the “Graduation Model” for the world’s poorest, living on less than $1.90 a day.
Baird, McKenzie, and Ozler write in VoxDev about why the classic econ 101 trade-off between leisure and labor (as people get more money they should work less) doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to cash transfers to the poor.
And, a nice op-ed (with some help from a journalist) from the eight-year-old Swedish girl who found the 1,500-year-old sword in the lake some time ago, as her father was rushing her so he could watch the World Cup finals:
I was yelling, “I found a sword, I found a sword!” Daddy went to show it to our neighbours, whose family has lived in the village for more than 100 years, and they said it looked like a Viking sword. Daddy didn’t get to watch the football in the end.
A slight, shy, balding, 49-year-old when the 1980 Nobel was announced, Cronin was relieved when the university sent Larry Arbeiter to his home at 7 a.m. to help him handle the deluge of requests for press interviews. Arbeiter, a writer in the university’s press office, suggested that Cronin satisfy all the interview requests at once by holding a 10 a.m. news conference. ”Oh,” Cronin insisted, ”I can’t do it then. I’ve got a 10 o’clock class this morning.” With a good reporter’s instinct, Arbeiter asked what course Cronin was teaching, thinking of news photos of the newly minted Nobelist lecturing to his awed and adoring students. ”No, no,” Cronin told Arbeiter, ”I’m not teaching a course, I’m taking Chandrasekhar’s graduate course on the theory of relativity.”
A few days after the Nobel, Romer spoke to NYU graduate students, according to Emma van Inwegen, he spent about half the time talking to them about his research:
Every year the World Bank releases its World Development Report, taking stock of one aspect of development, diving into what we know, and looking to what might be ahead. This year’s is out and the theme is The Changing Nature of Work. If wealthy countries have already transitioned to digital economies, what does that mean for countries with large populations of farmers and unemployed, and that are still working on building industrial sectors?
The National Academies has just put out their comprehensive review and update on the science of learning: How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures. (The II refers to an update of the first in 1999). Note that it’s free to read online or download a PDF.
The popular photo & personal storytelling project Humans of New York (Facebook, & Instagram) has been in Nigeria and Ghana profiling people’s stories. One that jumped out at me was Ghanaian Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang. He got a Ph.D. in West Virginia, but afterwards faced with the decision to stay in the U.S. where job prospects were better or return to Ghana, he decided to go back so that his child wouldn’t have to grow up experiencing the racism he saw here (though he jumped in to add that he enjoyed living in both places).
A reminder for profs that first generation college students might not realize they can ask for help in extenuating circumstances, like extensions on work. It’s helpful to explicitly say it.
And on the grad level Shelly Lundberg explains that grad students from minority backgrounds or untraditional paths might not realize the unspoken things about grad school that one needs to know (like how to choose an advisor), and what do to about it. She makes some helpful recommendations about how faculty and fellow students can make sure everybody’s successful.
My vague impression is that the health community has done a better job responding to more recent outbreaks of Ebola, but now it’s appeared in a conflict zone in the DRC, and traditional public health approaches of contact tracing and using the new vaccine to immunize contacts of the infected, are much more difficult to accomplish in those circumstances.
Previews of AER: Insights are up, including lots of names you’ll recognize, including Karlan, Mullainathan, and Roth who look at debt traps in India and the Philippines. Part of being poor is being stuck in cycles of debt, but if their high-interest debts are paid off for them, does eliminating that drag help them stay debt-free? Unfortunately, most were back in debt in six weeks, and one to two years later, those who’d had their debt paid off were borrowing at the same rates as those in a comparison group who hadn’t had any intervention.
The new President of the San Francisco Fed, Mary Daly, whose research focuses on labor and inequality is now on twitter. She’ll also have a great-sounding podcast, “Zip Code Economies” looking at the micro-economies, and particularly local stories about disadvantaged people trying to do better in life.
This weekend I’m planning on reading this crazy-looking story about the Ocean’s 11 team that tricked the government of Angola into sending $500 Million to an accountant’s front office in London and how they were caught (h/t Ken Opalo)
A very nice interview with new physics Nobel laureate Donna Strickland. And don’t forget, Monday’s Columbus Day in the U.S., but also when the econ Nobel is being given out, so if you have any economist friends you’ve been meaning to catch up with, feel free to call them at 4:30AM, don’t worry, their ringers will be on.
I’ve been really enjoying the Vox and IRC collaboration podcast Displaced (Apple). Some highlights for me were Rachel Glennerster (who had an amazing response to the Guardian op-ed on RCTs), Alix Zwane, Owen Barder, and Stefan Dercon. I think I pinpointed one reason it feels so informative – the hosts have clearly read up on the topic, and the way they ask questions gives you all the background you need to get right into a really interesting discussion.
Practical advice for women (and everybody) on packing, wardrobe, and general interviewing tips
Attribution, last week I mentioned the @Econ_RA twitter account, which gathers and shares RA postings. That account comes from PhD candidate Sarah Bana, who’s on the job market now. John Holbein tweets about her job market paper, where she looks at vulnerability to losing one’s job and what happens next – which workers go on to new jobs and which stay unemployed? (Read the tweet to find out)
The Liberian government has approved an extension of the partnership school initiative (privately operated public schools), that was RCTed, but educators are in a waiting game to see who will fund it.
A new paper in the Journal of Finance finds an amazing coincidence: in 2009-2010 while the House Financial Services Committee was considering banking reform, banks delayed home foreclosures in their districts, by on average 6 months, even though there were no differences in delinquencies in those districts. The authors calculate the cost to the banks of these delays was much greater than banks’ campaign contributions to the committee members.
It’s been 10 years since the book Nudge. Behavioral Scientist has interviews with Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Thaler mentions the dark side of nudge principles:
I worry a lot about what I have called “sludge,” which is nudging for evil or just making things harder. When I sign books “nudge for good,” it is meant as a plea, not an expectation. Bernie Madoff was an expert at nudging, as were all great con men. In my nightmares there are behavioral science units whose assignment is to figure out new ways to fleece customers, employees, and competitors.
Just a guiding principle of behavioral econ is if you want people to do something, make it easy (nudge), the flip side is that if you don’t want people to do something, you can make it hard (sludge). CVS for example, makes it very easy to opt-in to receiving text messages (hit next on the checkout screen), but very hard to opt-out (you have to print out a receipt with a phone number to call and opt-out) .
Labor Economist Mary Daly (above) is the incoming President and CEO of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. She has a pretty unconventional background (if I remember, she dropped out of high school). You can hear her explain the whole story and how she got interested in economics on the St. Louis Fed Women in Economics podcast. (Apple).
Brookings has a fellowship for researchers or NGO leaders from developing countries (particularly Francophone West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Islands), interested in girls’ education. If you come with data they’ll offer additional training in how to analyze it. Deadline OCTOBER 1, and please share with interested colleagues.
JOB: The University of Chicago Booth Center for Decision Research (home to Richard Thaler and many top researchers) is looking for a communications person. If you can talk to people about research, you’re already ahead of most social scientists.
And for the aspiring RAs the @econ_RA twitter account will share RA job postings, courtesy of UCSB grad student (and job market candidate!) Sarah Bana.
You can also see IPA, J-PAL, and a few other orgs’ RA and other job postings at our shared jobs portal.
The AEA discussion boards for sharing job postings, advice, and asking and answering general professional advice are open!
Via Lee Crawfurd, UNICEF and UNESCO’s statistics offices seem to be fighting over who gets to announce statistics on numbers of children out of school. According to the post at least, with UNESCO set to release updated formal figures, UNICEF leapfrogged them and released their own figures based on an updated calculation from last year’s data.
You may remember the kerfuffle (w/response) about 3ie’s review of the evidence on community-driven development (allowing communities to decide how aid money is spent) concluding that it didn’t empower marginalized groups. Rachel Glennerster explains her new paper, with Katherine Casey, Ted Miguel, and Maarten Voors, from Sierra Leone, which finds something similar. Although the aid money part is helpful, the communal decision process doesn’t seem to change power structures.
When a prominent Yale medical school professor who held an endowed chairmanship was found guilty of sexual harassment, the family his chair had been named for requested it be removed from him. So Yale gave him to a new one. (UPDATE: after an uproar, a lot of bad PR, and a letter signed by 1,000 students, faculty, and alumni, an hour ago the Dean apologized and removed that one as well).
It’s been a big week for cash, with two studies out on cash transfers based on data from my IPA colleagues:
Craig McIntosh and Andy Zeitlin worked with IPA, USAID, Catholic Relief Services, and GiveDirectly in Rwanda to compare a standard WASH (water/sanitation/hygiene) and nutrition program to cash. You can read the summary, brief, or full paper from IPA, or very good article from Dylan Matthews at Vox, or blog post (with link to longer brief) from Sarah Rose and Amanda Glassman at CGD.
The upshot is that they RCTed both the program and two levels of cash, one calibrated to be of similar cost to the nutrition program (with about $117 going to the participants), and another much larger cash transfer (about $532 – for comparison the average yearly income is about $700 in Rwanda). Neither the nutrition program nor the small cash transfer had many effects, but the large cash transfer did help on several outcomes. Some might read this as “cash wins,” but an equally valid take would be that bigger investments work better than smaller ones: The smaller cash amount, equivalent to the WASH program, didn’t have many effects on health outcomes either.
Cyrus Samii points to a this paragraph as a real key in thinking about the contribution of the cash comparison idea:
This points to an inherently different way of thinking about cash-transfer programs as a ‘benchmark’. While transfer programs maximize scope for choice and therefore provide an important window on beneficiary priorities, a comparison to other more targeted programs will inevitably require policymakers to explicitly make tradeoffs across outcome dimensions, across beneficiary populations, and between large benefits for concentrated subgroups or small benefits that are diffuse over a broader target population. By contrast with the index fund analogy, part of the value of cash transfer programs as a benchmark is that they may require donors to be explicit about their preferences, and to justify interventions that constrain beneficiary choices.
The other study , with Chris Blattman, Nathan Fiala, and Sebastian Martinez, looked at a ~$400 per person grant (ostensibly to get a career off the ground) in Uganda. This isn’t the first look at the program, in fact it’s the third check-in, nine years after the money was handed out.
First, I can’t stress enough how hard the field staff in Uganda (including the folks above) worked to do the detective work tracking down the people nine years after the program and convince them to sit for several-hour interviews about their lives, families, and livelihoods.
Findings-wise, the cash recipients had been doing better economically than a comparison group, both two and four years after the first transfer. But by year nine, that control group who didn’t get anything had caught up and were doing pretty much just as well. This might want to help us reconsider how we think about programs that offer a theoretical boost “out of poverty” and whether it really changes how things would have been otherwise. (Not that four plus years of increased earnings from a one-time grant isn’t a good outcome for a program.)
Nice thoughts from Berk on the implications, and another good article again from Dylan Matthews. There Berk makes a good point that I think often gets lost in general “cash” discussions. Cash isn’t one intervention, it’s a category of interventions that can do many different things, and there are an infinite number of variations (who in the household gets it, how much, all at once or spread out over time, conditional on them doing something or free, if over time do they know how long it’s guaranteed for?), which we should expect to do different things. As Berk also points out at the end of the Vox piece:
“We’re not arguing ‘cash good versus cash not good.’ Cash is good!” he said. “But the only way to give it isn’t, ‘I’ll drop 1,000 bucks on you and go away.’”
David McKenzie has a nice post and discussion on descriptive studies in development. In his back and forth with Lant in the comments he mentions the count of how many development econ studies in 14 journals in 2015 were RCTs (9.7%).
Google introduced a data set search, which trawls for publicly available data sets, similarly to how Google Scholar works. Here they describe how it works and how to describe your data set to get it found.
A UK inquiry into the aid sector found it rife with sexual abuse of beneficiaries and sexual harassment within organizations, both of which were largely ignored by the organizations themselves. The “boys club” culture of organizations meant women were often afraid to report abusive behavior, and whistleblowers who did were often punished.
A short lesson on the Battle of Adwa, where Ethiopia repelled Italy’s attempts at colonization.
Sociologists often research the same topics as economists (I’d argue often with more illuminating methods and frameworks), but don’t seem to be as influential in policy debates. Justin Fox speculates on why.
India dropped the law against homosexual sex which dated from colonial times. Here are the stories of some of the activists who fought against the law.
Yale explains the new Y-RISE initiative, which aims to systematically understand how effective programs can be scaled, with networks focused on different lines of inquiry (such as political economy, spillovers & generalizability) led by a number of great researchers.
With semesters starting, don’t be this professor (but do browse the supportive replies to have your faith restored):
Sepak Takraw, Southeast Asian kick volleyball, involves players doing backflips and spinning kicks to get their feet above the net and spike it downward. Compilation reel here (but don’t need the sound to appreciate it).
An interview with Card & Krueger (from a couple years ago) on the history of causal identification in economics and more recent developments (via Eric Chyn, part of a longer discussion on the history of causality in research).
If you’re going to be traveling (or if you just like books), check out David Evans’ blog book review category for a nice mix of fun and scholarly book recommendations to make your travel go faster.
Next time you find yourself cursing power outages, remember the story (h/t Emmanuel Quartey) of a massive Russian malware attack originally targeted at Ukraine that tore through computer networks around the world locking computers, deleting terabytes of data, and inflicting an estimated $10 Billion in damages. The massive shipping conglomerate Maersk was crippled – as huge container ships moved all around the world, the network tracking the ships’ contents and locations was offline, and the critical domain servers needed to restore the other computers were also all infected. Except one:
After a frantic search that entailed calling hundreds of IT admins in data centers around the world, Maersk’s desperate administrators finally found one lone surviving domain controller in a remote office—in Ghana. At some point before [the malware] NotPetya struck, a blackout had knocked the Ghanaian machine offline, and the computer remained disconnected from the network. It thus contained the singular known copy of the company’s domain controller data left untouched by the malware—all thanks to a power outage. “There were a lot of joyous whoops in the office when we found it,” a Maersk administrator says.
Snot corn! That’s crop scientist Sarah Taber’s nickname for the variety of maize native Mexicans cultivated that allowed it to grow very high in very poor soil. According to a genetic sequencing published by UC Davis researchers, the secret is in the mucus-like goop around roots that are out in the open. The bacteria in the goop allow the plant to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, effectively fertilizing itself from the air. (Many farmers apply nitrogen fertilizer to crops, but this can have a lot of negative consequences for the environment, and be expensive or inaccessible for poor farmers). More background and explanation here. Scientists have been working on this problem for decades, but it turns out people in the mountains of southern Mexico figured it out thousands of years ago. (Also, follow Dr. Taber for a lot of interesting and funny insights into food and agriculture.)
Ontario’s new conservative government announced a halt to its basic income experiment, just over a year into what was supposed to be a 3-year experiment. This seems to highlight one of the risks with government-run UBI trials, they often run into politics, and are either diluted or ended as political winds change.
The working paper I mentioned a while back on Iran’s national cash transfer program for 70 million people has been published in JDE (no negative effects on people’s working, and seems to have encouraged some to work more).
Bots may be filling out researcher MTurk study surveys. Check your data, and you can report quality inconsistencies here.
If you can get past me at the beginning, this Planet Money episode The Poop Cartels (Apple/iTunes link), I think shows the power of good econ theory put into practice. Molly Lipscomb of the University of Virginia explains how she, with Laura Schechter, and a big research team in Senegal tried to introduce what some people have also called the “Uber for Poop.”
Peter Biar Ajak is a former Sudanese “lost boy” who went on to train at Harvard and Cambridge and is a research adviser for the International Growth Centre in South Sudan. He was arrested and is being held without access to a lawyer following a tweet critical of the government. Read more from Amnesty International, or follow the Free Peter Biar account.
A few years ago six randomized controlled trials found introducing a new microcredit program had some positive effects, but on average did not boost people’s economic outcomes. Dahal & Fiala have a new working paper suggesting this is because of statistical power with low take-up, but they do find effects with pooled data. BUT NOT SO FAST – Rachael Meager has a paper forthcoming in AEJ: Applied using Bayesian hierarchical models and doesn’t find those clear cut average effects using pooling which allows for variation between programs and contexts. She explains here.
I think this approach allows for nuance that we often don’t see in methods that just count interventions and effect sizes. It makes me a little happier after the depression spiral that Eva Vivalt sent me into by pointing out how findings in dev econ are often so difficult to replicate in new contexts on the 80,000 Hours podcast. (Reading Rachael’s paper at the time probably would have been a better coping mechanism for me than stress eating.)
The University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales, in Why Every Good Economist Should be a Feminist, talks about measures that departments can take to let all faculty thrive. He points to a dispute between a female junior professor at Columbia Business School and the more senior professor accused of sexually harassing her, who also held control over the joint data set that she had put a lot of time into developing. In addition to the $750,000 court judgement against him, another interesting thing to come out of it:
The Columbia Business School faculty proposed an interesting default rule to resolve these power imbalances. In case of disputes between a senior and a junior faculty, the intellectual property right of a joint project should be automatically allocated to the junior faculty, to protect the weaker contracting party. Such a rule should be adopted by all departments.
The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah had a thoughtful public discussion with the French Ambassador Gérard Araud about what it means to different ears when calling the African immigrant or children of immigrant players on France’s World Cup team “African” or “French,” and whether those identities are in conflict (in France, does referencing African heritage make the players sound not legitimately French?). Here’s Noah’s video, and you can see some of Auraud’s responses to that if you scroll back a few days on his twitter feed (make sure you’re checking ‘tweets and replies’.)
It’s really worth reading Belgian player Romelu Lukaku tell his story of growing up poor to play in the World Cup:
When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker.
When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.
Also see this interesting Rough Translation episode on how Brazil decides who is of enough African descent to benefit from government programs.
And 15 years ago, a friend tried the old trick of leaving $20 in the bound copy of his dissertation at the University of Chicago library to see if anybody would ever read it. After mentioning it on twitter, one of the library staffers went to check on it:
Petronia (above), an online course and game from the National Resource Governance Institute, lets users run a fictional country where oil is discovered to see if they can avoid the resource curse. (h/t David Batcheck)
From the Stata journal– A new command, baselinetable, creates handy summary stats tables for your baseline reports to make sharing your findings much easier. It exports to Stata, Excel, CSV, etc to make it really easy to create better tables for your reports. In Stata use: net describe st0524, from(http://www.stata-journal.com/software/sj18-2)
Summer podcast listening:
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and Rough Translation (Apple) from NPR is one of my perennial favorites*. They look at how a question we deal with in the U.S. is playing out elsewhere in a fantastic RadioLab/Planet Money style that really brings you there. This season includes how a sexist Argentinian talk show suddenly turned feminist, trying to improve Ghana’s preschools, and how apologies translate across cultures and the self-described housewife who brokered an international one.
Displaced (Apple) from Vox and the International Rescue Committee is really good, about different aspects of international migration. The hosts and guests are both very knowledgeable and it’s very well-produced. Each episode is a master class in the subject.
The Freakonomics conversation with Richard Thaler reflecting back on his career and a offering peek into the Nobel award experience was fun, and it was nice to listen to old friends sharing a laugh.
For the more insider talk on econ, the Neolib podcast (Apple) Noah Smith and Rachael Meager episodes were interesting.
Having come to economics from other fields, I think econ has a massive blind spot in measurement. Note that when you say “measurement,” most economists will immediately start clustering standard errors in their heads. But on the World Bank Data Blog, Matthew Lokshin asks about the underlying data quality. When we fiddle with the stats, what if we’re watering the garden while the house is on fire? He shows how in one survey, answers changed as the survey went on, perhaps as surveyors figured out which questions would send them into loops of follow-up questions. There are so many ways for the questions you ask and the way the survey is carried out to change the data, why don’t more people pay attention to the data collection process? Or, as Thomas de Hoop responded, “There seems to be a too strong belief that measurement error is almost always random.”
If you missed the bizarre story about the U.S. threatening other countries about breastfeeding guidelines, here it is. More background: Anttila-Hughes, Fernald, Gertler, Krause, & Wydick estimate 66,000 infant deaths in 1981 alone from the promotion of formula feeding in low- and middle-income countries where the water is dangerous for babies. But the conversation that followed seemed to conflate policy on breast vs. formula feeding everywhere. My understanding of the research is that it’s the water that’s the dangerous part, and there aren’t massive health benefits to the children in wealthy countries (but check with Emily Oster’s forthcoming book).
From last year, but worth a look: Michael Clemens looked at data from all of the nearly 180,000 apprehended unaccompanied children apprehended coming into the U.S. from 2011-2016 from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. He then tried to estimate the relative contribution of poverty vs. violence in their home regions to the migration. He estimates both play a roughly similar role, but also that even short-term increases at home lead to long-term sustained departures. One amazing note:
…the number of 17 year-old migrants apprehended during this period was over 8% of all 17 year-olds in the region at the beginning of the period.
And a Polish environmental charity got a big phone bill, thanks to a a stork that was being tracked with a GPS tracker. The tracker was last located in Sudan, but someone found it, took out the SIM card and racked up $2,700 worth of phone calls.
[* Disclosure, I played a very small part in the early development of the show, but that doesn’t change my recommendation for it]