IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • 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.”
  • Measuring women’s empowerment can be really difficult (especially if you want to cross contexts or be comparable to previous studies). J-PAL has a new Practical Guide to Measuring Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in Impact Evaluations.
  • 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]

 

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • A nicely designed and helpful media guide for researchers on how to prepare for interviews with journalists, based on a survey of science writers. It’s divided into before, during, and after the interview and gives concrete advice about what to expect and do in each.
  • Having two women on a board of directors appears to be the new having one woman on a board of directors. With “tokenism” becoming more obvious, Chang, Milkman, Chugh, and Akinola report a surprising number of S&P 1500 boards of directors with exactly two women, or “twokenism,” as they call it.
  • David’s great links (as always) this week include a few things I was going to mention, so I’ll just refer you to him. Just one addition – Chris’ thread from March, arguing the real purpose of community driven development was to disburse money without the difficulties and risks of of going through local governments.
  • A very interesting post from Evidence Action, about the failure to replicate a promising intervention that had been RCTed in Kenya years ago. The problem addressed “Sugar Daddies” – adolescent girls in relationships with older men who often pay the girls’ school fees or other expenses, but were also much more likely to have HIV than adolescent boys. The intervention was a simple program that educated girls about HIV rates and seemed effective.
    • Fortunately, the new group, Young1ove, is also committed to evidence and worked to test it again in Botswana before scaling it up. One interesting way they approached it was to carefully thinking with the partners, what they would do next in different scenarios before they knew what the results were:

The partners made a critical ex ante commitment to evidence-based decision-making. Facilitated by Young 1ove, all the partners, including the Government of Botswana and the Global Innovation Fund, agreed on a ‘pre-policy plan’: a breakdown of the potential outcomes of the evaluation and what the policy responses would be for each (something akin to the ‘pre-analysis plan’ often developed by researchers). Jointly, the partners agreed that [the new program] No Sugar would not be scaled unless the evaluation results showed clear evidence of positive impact, namely a clear and statistically significant reduction in pregnancy rates, a clear indication that girls learned and retained knowledge about the HIV prevalence of different age groups, and a downward shift in the age of girls’ sexual partners. Without evidence of impact on these fronts, No Sugar would not be scaled.

Critically, we had this discussion early—well before the evaluation results were in—guaranteeing that it was sober-minded, reflective of what we believed to be the most appropriate response to ambiguous or negative results, and unclouded by genuine but unfounded enthusiasm for a program that might ‘feel right’ but not be grounded in evidence.

  • Young1ove writes about what they’re going to do next in a thoughtful post.
  • Want to help develop more thoughtful work like this? Evidence Action is hiring for a Senior Finance and Operations Manager (DC-based).
  • This week, UNICEF, the IRC, and Campbell Collaboration released a “Mega Map” of evidence in child development research. The map isn’t of studies/evidence but of systematic reviews of evidence in child welfare, so you can find all the reviews in one place. It’s organized by variables and outcomes, and you can play with the filters and layout options in the settings, and hover over cells to see the count and quality of reviews.
  • The CEO of PayPal tried managing his daily life without a bank account, paying bills at check cashing locations, to better understand the hassles and transaction costs, and made his staff to the same.
  • How McKinsey Lost Its Way in South Africa.

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

“Back in school we used to call it chew and pour,” he says. Meaning, for each possible question, the teacher gives you one correct answer to memorize — or “chew” — so that come test time, you can regurgitate it — “pour it” back to her verbatim.

“And then,” adds Agbavor with a chuckle, “you forget about it. Nothing is retained.”

  • That’s from one of my favorite podcasts, NPR’s Rough Translation, which is hosted by their former East Africa correspondent, and is back for another season. In a great episode, they talk to UPenn education researcher Sharon Wolf about her work with some of my IPA colleagues in Ghana trying to improve preschools, and an unexpected wall they ran into from the people most invested in it (web audio & article, iTunes).
  • 3ie has updated their count of impact evaluations over time and by source. As Shayda Mae Sabet and Annette N. Brown report, there’s been a small dip in recent years:

  • Also Annette, Ben Wood, & Rui Müller report their findings trying to verify development econ findings (even when materials are required by journals). I’ll let Brian Nosek summarize:

  • But, (prompted by some of Justin Sandefur’s excellent live tweeting of the RISE education conference) Heather Lanthorn, Akib Khan, and I had a conversation on a more basic question – where do the implementation details get reported? How can a program be realistically copied or tested in another context when there’s no mechanism for saving or reporting how a program was run?
  • Jobs: Want to answer those and more practical questions on science, implementation, and scaling? Check out these jobs at a new Yale center for better understanding how to scale effective interventions (Director, and Program and Communications Manager). The initiative will be led by Mushfiq Mobarak, who has been very thoughtful about these issues on projects including the GiveWell-recommended “No Lean Season” incentives for seasonal migration program.
  • Also from RISE, David Evans describes the reaction when Karthik Muralitharan got up in front of the crowd and dropped the bas(eline). Muralitharan explains that under some conditions (particularly when working with governments and the project might never be implemented correctly anyway), it might makes more sense to put the money into good randomization and a bigger endline. He expands on it here.
  • Mayan kids have a much longer attention span than American kids which psychology researchers attribute to parenting styles that promote the child’s autonomy.

And a brief moment of appreciation for an international news headline writer (via Colin Campbell)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

 

We show that this East-West difference is due to girls’ attitudes, confidence and competitiveness in math, and not to other confounding factors, such as the difference in economic conditions or teaching styles across the former political border. (via Lisa Cook)

  •  Jobs:
  • Richard Thaler writes about the evolution of behavioral economics in AER. (Gated, but you can watch him explain it in his Nobel lecture version and slides).  h/t Imran Rasul.
  • Elizabeth Warren has been arguing with economists over her previous academic research on the number of medical bankruptcies in the U.S. – hint: methodology for counting matters a lot to the final number you come up with.
  • The DRC count of Ebola infections is at 60, and the WHO has been preparing the neighboring countries for it, including with vaccinations.
  • The graph above comes from an interesting paper that Sara Lowes and Eduardo Montero describe in VoxDev, looking at how forced vaccination campaigns by the French military in colonial Central Africa against sleeping sickness in the 1920s through 1950s still have effects today. The vaccinations were often at gunpoint and had serious side effects. The result may have been lasting mistrust of the medical establishment – in the areas where the campaigns occurred, people today were less likely recently to accept a free blood test for anemia or HIV, or vaccinations.
    • It recalls Alsan & Wanamaker ‘s finding that in the U.S. after the revelation of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments in 1972, African-American men (in particular the ones closer to Macon County, Alabama, where the experiments happened) became less likely to visit doctors. They estimate this caused an up to 1.4 year drop in life expectancy for older African-American men years later.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest Post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Alex Tabarrok summarizes the story from the new book on RCTs, Randomistas, about how TOMS shoes invited an external evaluation of their program giving away shoes and discovered it wasn’t helping recipients very much. This isn’t that unusual in development, but faced with the evidence, they agreed to be named in the paper and be public about it, and tried to figure out how to use the insights to do better. (See study author Bruce Wydick’s thoughts on it from 2015 as well)
  • The Gates Foundation announced a new $68 million effort to improve education in India and sub-Saharan Africa. At a recent event Bill Gates said “Amazingly, we thought education would be easy, and health would be hard.”
  • The World Bank’s IFC has a new report about how great Uber is for women, funded by Uber (see Justin Sandefur on this).
  • In Colombia, psychologists and neuroscientists are jumping into action around the FARC demobilization to understand how years of violence affect the brain and how to best reintegrate former fighters back into mainstream society.
  • On the 80,000 Hours podcast, Eva Vivalt discusses some hard truths she’s come to realize as the founder of AidGrade and in her own research aggregating development economics findings. Many interventions don’t work, and those that do often don’t replicate, but she doesn’t think that means we should give up. I have a friend in drug development, and it’s a running joke that every drug he’s worked on fails (only after years of work and millions of dollars spent), but he doesn’t give up on the enterprise of curing disease.
    • Vivalt suggests that the process could be helped along by a mechanism where researchers could tap the wisdom of the crowds, polling colleagues for their priors, and what programs they think would replicate. Other research has shown prediction markets among researchers can work well for predicting which studies would replicate.
  • A new working paper put out by the Philadelphia Fed finds the neighbors of lottery winners in Canada become likely to go bankrupt. The suggestion is that neighbors are trying to keep up with the Joneses, spending more on visible things like cars, and putting more money into riskier investments like stocks. (Summary in Bloomberg).
  • Researchers put out a call to talk to women academics who’d been harassed online. They assumed they’d hear from researchers working on controversial topics, but it turned out just being a woman and having an opinion was enough to get harassed.
    • I went to find one of my favorite young economists on twitter the other day to credit her, and found out she’d left twitter, which turned out to be in part b/c of these issues. Dina Pomeranz and Sue Dynarski (both awesome online role models) remind us that you don’t owe anybody uncivil your time or attention, but the rest of us also have an obligation to call out bad behavior when we see it, and the article above has some helpful tips.
  • Netflix is trying to develop more African content.

Good economists wear their dedication on their sleeves, Chris Udry wears his below his sleeve. Here’s the results of one of several experiments in Ghana to help farmers increase the amount of food they grow, in temporary tattoo form (the two bars represent inter- and intra- village variation).

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Chris found this above, (from a 2016 post) anthropologist Jennifer Esperanza got annoyed at how her field’s textbooks always had exotic cover images, when anthropology is really the study of all humanity. “‘Why can’t there be images of, for example, a group of white American women eating salads, on the cover?,’ she asked.” Dori Tunstall and Julie Hill took up the challenge of putting white people on the covers of anthro textbooks:
  • Rachel Strohm writes movingly and compellingly about her experience with depression in academia. If you’re around grad students, you probably know someone who’s quietly dealing with depression or anxiety, and Rachel explains why academia seems to bring those to the forefront. Also, you probably know someone outside academia dealing with depression. Actor Wil Wheaton explains what it was like to be an adolescent celebrity trying to hide his chronic depression and anxiety, and how once in his 20’s in the middle of the night he drove to his sister’s house to sleep on her floor, the only thing that had helped when they were kids.
    • The great irony of course is that people generally don’t talk about it, so many people go through it alone.
  • After years of work expanding access to bank accounts, and discussions of particular outreach to women, a poll of 150,000 people in 144 countries shows the gender gap in bank account ownership is the same seven percentage points as it was in 2011 when the poll first started. In high-income countries the gap is minimal or zero, while in low- and middle-income countries it can be 30 percentage points.
  • How does champion reader David Evans retain the information from all the economics, fiction, history, audiobooks, and graphic novels he reads? He takes notes along the way in Evernote, copying the best insights from Amazon’s “look inside” feature, and also writes reviews on his blog to remember the main takeaways.
  • Uganda’s education minister rejected a proposed sexual education curriculum as “recruitment grounds for homosexuality and other perversions.” Her proposed replacement will focus on abstinence and faithfulness in marriage. Duflo, Dupas, and Kremer’s 7-year study of neighboring Kenya’s abstinence-focused program found it did not reduce pregnancy or STIs, though the results were a little more complex when it was combined with free school uniforms for girls (effectively reducing their cost of education).
  • Greg Rosalsky interviews Harvard’s David Laibson for an article about Econ 101 textbooks. As the field of economics has evolved in recent decades, the most popular textbooks, Samuelson, Mankiw, etc., still essentially teach a largely theoretical classical model, tacking on behavioral and other paradigm shifts as updates at the end of chapters or in callout boxes. This means that the version of econ taught, one based on elegant imaginary lands of universal information, perfectly functioning markets, and selfishness enhancing everybody’s long-run welfare doesn’t reflect how most economists think or practice today. It’s the intellectual equivalent of putting an attractive, but outdated picture on economics’ online dating profile that doesn’t show the field as it really is, which means most policymakers’ understanding of economics is largely fictional.
    • Personally though, all of my work rests on Samuelson
  • Also read this thread from Beatrice Cherrier on how Samuelson’s attitudes towards women changed over the course of his career. And Cherrier’s note on his wife, Marion Crawford Samuelson, a gifted mathematical economist who published one paper and retired after having their first child. In her obituary, Paul Samuelson described her work as foundational to the Nobel Prize he received. Be sure to follow Beatrice for more amazing stories on the history of the field.

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

What a great week for the field (and sorry to the many I’ve probably missed).

  • Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan have a new book NOT on RCTs, but a practical how-to for other kinds of useful data-gathering. The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence For the Social Sector focuses on four basic principles for how organizations (particularly social sector ones), can collect good M&E or other kinds of data to improve their work. And a whole lot of free case studies and toolkits are online.
  • Job: IPA is starting a research methods initiative, doing research on research – using the hundreds of studies in progress across 21 countries to improve and explore new methods for the field. We’re looking for a director for the new initiative (Ph.D.-level)
  • In some states where teacher pay is particularly low, districts are bringing in teachers from the Philippines who will work for very little (and often pay middlemen high fees for the opportunity). One Arizona official explains:

“In these times, you have to be innovative and creative in recruiting,” said Patricia Davis-Tussey, Pendergast’s head of human resources. “We embrace diversity and really gain a lot from the cultural exchange experience. Our students do as well.” (Via Alex Eble)

 

  • GiveWell offered their take on recent discussions of the longer-term impacts of unconditional cash transfers today.
  • One of the recent trends we’ve seen from some studies is the long-term effects of cash transfers on the children of the families for their development later in life. And there’s a new unconditional cash transfer RCT in the U.S. of $333 monthly to poor mothers of babies for 40 months, to see if it affects the brain and other development of those babies. (h/t Jonathan Morduch)
  • And after a few years of study, the Gates Foundation is announcing a new $138 Million initiative focusing on the causes and solutions of poverty in the U.S.
  • I noted a few weeks ago the noticeable absence of African academic and policy organizations from many conversations about policy in Africa. Now the Hewlett Foundation has a call out for East and West African policy organizations promoting evidence-based policymaking.
  • And you know how awesome your conference presentation is going to be, but how do you lure people to your talk? Present in a room close to where the coffee is being served, according to David Evans’ summary of a new analysis of German Economics Association conference sessions.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Penny Goldberg of Yale will be the new World Bank Chief Economist, she and Nina Pavcnik wrote about their work on why opening up trade helped developing countries grow at VoxDev.
  • An update on last week’s discussion of GiveDirectly’s 3-year effects findings (if you need a catch-up, see Justin Sandefur’s post which is also valuable for the review of other recent research at the end). The questions focused on what we can say on whether the effects fade, and if handing a lot of money to some people in a village hurts those who didn’t get the money. Paper authors Johannes Haushofer and Jeremy Shapiro have a nice back-and-forth with Berk Ozler about it here, and Berk disagrees with some of Sandefur’s inferences. GiveDirectly also updated their take on it. In the end it seemed like a productive discussion, and it’s worth noting that GiveDirectly had already moved to giving cash to everybody in the village some time ago to avoid the possibility of these negative side-effects.
  • One more reason Dina Pomeranz is Development Econ’s Most Valuable Tweeter is that she’s always finding new ways to make the wonky lessons from the field more accessible to the public. Most recently she’s been tweetstorming her class lectures on development in very thoughtful ways (summaries of the lessons in the body of the tweet, threaded with pictures of key slides and graphs, and links to the original papers). Here’s one example.
  • A repeated theme here is that a reason to test policies is that good-sounding ideas can sometimes backfire:
    • In Florida, a lifetime ban on convicted drug traffickers receiving food stamps seems to have increased recidivism, and specifically for financial crimes. (Paper by Cody Tuttle, Forthcoming in AEJ – Economic Policy, h/t John Holbein)
    • A really good episode of the podcast Reply All looks at recent well-intentioned efforts by Congress to combat child sex trafficking by shutting down websites known for classified ads by sex workers. They talk to several people in the industry and economist Scott Cunningham, who all predict that shutting down an above-ground marketplace where sex workers can vet clients and share lists of known good and bad ones would hurt the sex workers in the end. In a follow-up, one interviewee reported among her sex worker colleagues two confirmed murders and thirteen more missing in the month following the passage of the law.
  • In a move that must be giving IRB chairs ulcers, California police apparently made an arrest in the infamous decades-old Golden State serial killer case by comparing crime scene DNA to DNA posted on genealogy sites and finding the suspect through relatives’ family trees. They then surreptitiously collected some of the suspect’s DNA for confirmation.
  • Though Anne Sofie Tegner Anker, Jennifer L. Doleac, and Rasmus Landersø found Denmark’s expanded use of DNA collection and surveillance appears to have reduced crime there (h/t Dylan Matthews).
    • It doesn’t always work out though. In Germany, law enforcement thought they’d caught a break tracking a non-serial killer across Europe. But after a 15-year chase, the DNA which kept turning up at crime scenes turned out to be from a worker at the cotton swab supplier.

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • The effective altruism careers blog 80,000 Hours argues that support roles within an organization, like in operations or assisting, can have big overall impact by multiplying others’ effectiveness.
    • In that vein, IPA’s hiring a global operations director.
    • We’re also hiring what (IMHO) might be one of the most important and complex jobs in the org, Kenya Country Office Director. It involves managing a staff of 500 across several offices, and by my count over 50 active RCTs at the moment (including the monumental Universal Basic Income trial).  Both have potential for high impact; please pass along to anybody you think might be interested.
  • Justin Sandefur explains the debate over the GiveDirectly three-year results – cash works, but the effects may fade over time, and might hurt people who don’t get it. Berk Ozler, who first pointed out some of the discrepancies, adds his thoughts.
    • Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, wartime cash grants may have backfired. When the money ran out, people turned to the Taliban for more. A vocational training program didn’t help much either, but the two together boosted support for the government.
  • Researchers, particularly early career (grad student/post-doc/assistant profs), looking to explore new ideas in Peace and Recovery (broadly defined) can submit funding proposals by April 30th. Other proposals due May 25th.
  • The story of how the release of some of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram was negotiated was crazy (involving the world’s foremost Boko Haram expert, a security guard at a Dubai supermarket), but what happened next to a few is even crazier:
    • A Nigerian lawyer in America convinced a few families to send some of the girls to the U.S. with him, where he put them up in remote boarding schools, then paraded them around against their will to fundraise for his organization (often in Churches, sometimes in DC) arguing there’s a Christian genocide in Nigeria (there isn’t). Some of the girls secretly called Homeland Security to help them escape from one of the schools.
  • On the 24th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, NPR discusses the role radio played in fomenting hatred, and talks with the people who created a popular radio drama to try to bridge ethnic divisions. The radio program is still running today, and Princeton’s Betsy Levy Paluck talks about the randomized controlled trial she ran, finding it didn’t change people’s personal beliefs, but changed their perception of public norms around marrying members of the opposing ethnic group.
  • Statapush will send a push notification to your phone when your code is done running. (The same author, William Schpero, also wrote a module for merging U.S. state FIPS codes.) h/t Kasey Buckles

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Detecting soldiers registering as new voters in Cambodia from the gender distribution.

  • Take a few minutes to read the latest newsletter from the CSWEP, the AEA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. In particular, the opening harrowing account from economist and law professor Jennifer Bennett Shinall on being sexually assaulted by a more senior colleague on an airplane, and on page 5, the anonymous descriptions from CSWEP members that document the range of everyday harassment that women in the field experience.
    • Lest you think it’s only a problem of junior faculty, read this encounter Sue Dynarski had with a faculty member when she was giving a named lecture.
    • On a much more inspiring note is this series of three short but great podcasts from the St. Louis Fed on women in economics. They’re with Mary Daly, who went from high school dropout to research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Ellen Zentner, chief economist at Morgan Stanley; and Claudia Sahm, of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
      • Some takeaways: Each had a figure who got them really excited about economics, usually a teacher at a small school (if you’re ever down on teaching, think about the potentially great future contributors in the class).
      • Claudia Sahm (I believe), pointed out that she didn’t want the recent public talk of sexual harassment in the field to have the paradoxical effect of discouraging women from choosing the field.
      • Another takeaway was that to address the numbers of women in the field, you have to address the pipeline of women choosing the field and then not attriting along the way. For them, mentorship played an important role.
        • A similar point about the corporate world came up in the very good Freakonomics episode about the Glass Cliff, the phenomenon of women being chosen as CEOs once a company is already in trouble, making it more likely they’ll be blamed for the company’s failure. Ellen Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo, and Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO point out at the end, that you can lament about lack of women CEOs, but that you won’t get women CEOs without women as Senior Vice Presidents to choose from, and so on, back down the line.
  • Another great conversation was Ezra Klein talking with Melinda Gates (Apple, RSS) about lots of great stuff (including the pipeline of women going into tech and STEM fields). She goes into a lot of great things she sees from her vantage point coming for global poverty and development, but Klein thankfully starts off with the hard-hitting question we all wanted to know: Where did Comic Sans come from?
  • Above, in advance of elections Cambodia sends soldiers out to different regions to register as voters there and boost the ruling party’s votes. It’s detectable statistically by the timing of new voter registrations and gender skew among registered voters. (via Hannes Hemker)
  • The Millennium Villages retrospective (non-randomized) endline evaluation is out.
  • Texas maternal mortality statistics were improperly skewed by a bad drop-down menu design.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Cash transfers have been all the rage but now that longer-term data is coming in, Berk Ozler suggests that one-time grants may not be a panacea.
  • A new AER article looking at longitudinal effects on children of a Native American tribe giving out cash from casino dividends, finds long-term effects in personality and psychological well-being for kids whose families got the cash.
  • But Jean Drèze explains why he’s cautious about the government of India moving from in-kind support for the poor to cash transfers based on what could go wrong in practice (setting an amount but not indexing to inflation, for example)
  • An amazing visualization by Mona Chalibi trying to get across the scope of the prison population, when numbers become too big to comprehend,
  • Stephanie Wykstra, a committed effective altruist (and full disclosure, a former co-worker of mine), has a nice essay about how she changed her thinking from the standard EA orthodoxy that charity is most effective when given in a poorer country after volunteering at Rikers Island. She saw how many people suffered long-term consequences because they were held for as little as one dollar of bail, and concluded there are also policy wins to be had for low cost at home as well.
    • [Update: There’s a network of volunteers in New York anybody can join who go in person and file the paperwork to bail out people being held for one dollar.]
  • The warden of North Dakota’s prisons decided to experiment after seeing Norway’s different approach.
  • Despite the attention, school shootings are apparently not more common in the U.S. than they were in the 1990s. It’s also worth remembering though schools have been at the center of recent debates around gun violence, far more people die from other kinds of shootings. To debias myself, I’ve been following this twitter account which reports local news stories of shootings, and have been surprised at how many start as everyday arguments that escalate until someone grabs a gun from their car and kills the other person.
  • The University of Manchester has Masters scholarships for professionals from Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, or Zambia, who have not previously studied outside Africa.

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Above: Some lessons from Rachel Glennerster on policy vs. academic research paths

  • Nick Kristof talks with Amanda Glassman at the Center for Global Development about trying to get the world’s attention to alleviation of poverty and suffering. (FYI there are a number of tools that will let you covert youtube videos to audio MP3 to listen to like podcasts).
  • A nice pair of short podcasts with Alice Evans and David Evans (who are unrelated but apparently share the massive enthusiasm gene). The first is on the World Development Report and what we know about education, and the second on how one uses RCTs to test an idea. David brings up an important nuance in the difference between an efficacy (does the program work at all under ideal conditions?), vs effectiveness (does it work as implemented in the practical world?) trial, and how one’s inferences from each might differ. (Apple podcasts).
  • The slides above are from  a very good talk Rachel Glennerster gave at the Oxford Centre for the Study of African Economies conference about how to do policy work from an economics perspective, and the difference between academic and policy uses of the economist’s toolkit.
    • She gave a several nice examples of how to think about abstracting the mechanisms behind particular findings to general principles, using vaccines as an example. Unvaccinated kids: If families never start vaccines, the problem might be access (look at price or other barriers). If they start their series of scheduled vaccines but don’t complete them, a social/behavioral solution like incentives or other nudge might be appropriate.
  • Agenda here (scroll down for the descriptions), videos here, and a roundup on Dev Impact Blog, by Goldstein and Evans, summarizing a ton of papers in single bullet points with links (114 by my count), sorted by sector.
  • It’s hard to escape the irony of a bunch of Americans (and others) flying to England to talk about African economies, but the Centre does have a two-month fellowship for scholars from any African country.
  • The majority of $4 billion of U.S. philanthropic grants made to African universities between 2003 and 2013 went to institutions in English-speaking countries (h/t John Branch). But even politically minded academics aren’t immune to this bias – over 20 years the majority of published papers in two journals specifically about African politics focus on politics of English-speaking countries.
  • Two really interesting articles via Rachel Strohm:

Going back to Rachel’s and David’s point on types of RCTs, it’s important to remember that even though we use the same language to talk about outcomes (“vaccination rates”) or inputs (“vocational training”), that doesn’t mean they’re actually identical.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Preregistration stops medications from working

 

  • Tyler Cowen interviewed Chris Blattman and in typical Cowen fashion came prepared – I had to slow down my usual podcast playback speed to keep up. Topics Included what Chris learned from his first job at a higher class Canadian KFC, interviewing child soldiers, causes of the Peloponnesian Wars, why he’d rather transfer accountants to poor countries than cash, and how he tries to get inside a problem that other people haven’t really thought about yet.
  • One of my favorite economists and voices for econ in public policy, Jennifer Doleac, with Anita Mukherjee published a working paper suggesting there may be unintended consequences of states passing laws allowing access to Naloxone (the anti-opioid overdose drug). They suggested the laws were associated with more ER visits, and if anything more opioid deaths, and that perhaps there was a moral hazard of making treatment available. Then, as Olga Khazan describes in The Atlantic, the world jumped down their throats, particularly those in public health and others involved in the opioid treatment world. Things got uncivil at times, accusations of not knowing anything about the field and confusing correlation with causation, what’s this whole “working paper” thing – is it just somebody’s Word doc?, etc. But a lot of the disagreement seems to stem from misunderstandings across disciplines in what counts for evidence.
    • Political scientist Corrine McConnaughy does a service here explaining why people often see economists as tone deaf, parachuting into a field full of people who’ve spent careers studying one topic and making broad generalizations of how the world works. She cites an interesting JEP paper “The Superiority of Economics” about the implicit pecking order within social sciences.
  • A veteran NPR investigative journalist was dismissed from NPR after sexual harassment allegations, but three organizations representing former Peace Corps volunteers and others want NPR to release the story he was working on, about the potentially very dangerous side effects of commonly-prescribed anti-malarial drugs.
  • A really nice interview with Global Innovation Fund CEO Alix Zwane by David McKenzie about non-professor jobs with an econ Ph.D. Read to the end for a couple of nice tips at the end about practicing self-care in graduate school and developing the skills to manage others.
  • Above – amazingly drug effectiveness went down (proportion of positive results published dropped from 57% to 8%) after clinical trials were required to preregister (h/t Josh Kalla & Rachael Meager). To combat publication bias, the Journal of Development Economics will now try accepting studies for publication before they’re run. Though David points out a political science journal regretted it.

And  Bloomberg’s Iain Marlow points out, Indian and Pakistani diplomatic spats have devolved to high school level:

This comment came, even as it came to light that tension has been brewing between the two sides for a couple of months — one of the incidents involved the doorbell of the Indian deputy High Commissioner J P Singh being rung at 3 am. Since the Indian side felt that this was done by Pakistan’s security agencies, the Pakistan deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah’s door bell was also rung at 3 am in next few days.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • First, the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy has a new Obama Scholarship, which will pay (full tuition plus, travel costs and living stipend) for professional policy folks from anywhere in the world to get a 1-year mid-career masters there. It’s open to people from all sectors working for the public good with 3-5 years of work experience and a strong track record. Please forward to colleagues and friends who might be interested.
  • David McKenzie has a nice summary from a recent conference on the latest on artificial intelligence and machine learning as useful analytic tools in development research.
  • Also David’s Development Impact blog links are really interesting this week, including a massive farm experiment in China that helped a lot of people.
  • In 2017 36 states had pending laws encouraging or requiring financial literacy training, usually among the young, such as in schools, or the poor. States like Wisconsin and Florida are putting them into school curricula. In Colorado, prisoners exonerated of crimes and owed payments by the state must complete a personal financial management class first. Kentucky is now considering financial literacy training as a requirement for Medicaid. This all despite a mountain of research showing financial literacy programs generally don’t work.
  • Jobs:
    • The Hewlett Foundation is looking for several program officers, including in their Global Development and Population Program.
    • Evidence Action is looking for an implementation director for their successful “No Lean Season” program in Bangladesh, which helps subsidize farmers who want to find temporary work in the city during the off season. The program’s been successfully RCTed by IPA, and named as a GiveWell top charity, but Evidence Action wants to really put it through its paces and test for things like unintended consequences before scaling it up.
  • In The Atlantic Derek Thompson cites a new NBER paper by Kugler and Rojas about the Mexican conditional cash transfer program Prospera to argue that the debate over whether cash benefits make people lazy is irrelevant. (Important background, Prospera had a randomized component to it, allowing it to be studied with much greater confidence). They tracked children who are now adults, and found that those whose families received benefits had an average of 3 years more schooling, and went on to work more hours and earn higher wages as adults. Regardless of what you think about the morals of parents receiving benefits, the positive long-term effects on children should be part of the equation. (h/t Rebecca Rouse).
  • Seema Jayachandran uses great writing, national data, and clever methodology to explain the problem of 21 million unwanted girls in India.
  • And, I’m pretty sure the first two months of that UChicago policy scholarship above are going to be spent trying to undo the damage from the Utah State House of Representatives attempting to rap how a bill becomes a law to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Markus Goldstein reports on a study from India which finds that paying respondents for their time participating might change their responses.
  • There’s a bipartisan bill to create a new U.S. overseas development finance agency. It would combine several private sector-focused functions that currently exist across different agencies, offer higher spending caps, and would be allowed to make equity investments.
  • There’s a long and disturbing story about longstanding sexual harassment in Harvard’s government department. It will sadly come as no surprise that the university didn’t do enough to stop it, even when alerted to it. But what’s been interesting is to see the reactions to it, summarized by Kate Cronin-Furman:

  • It seems like whisper networks and rumors are the only meager source of information within departments, leaving the victims to deal with it alone, and male faculty remain oblivious to colleagues’ bad behavior. It’s sad to think how many great minds have been discouraged from going into a field or had their careers actively derailed by this kind of self-reinforcing obliviousness. But it seems like one simple way to combat this would be a pledge like Owen Barder’s against participating in all-male panels. Male (and all, but absolutely male) faculty can take a public pledge to not tolerate abusive behavior in their department, and to support those who come to them wth reports of private behavior, and also take it these reports into account in promotion decisions. Then print it out and stick it on their doors (and obviously stand by it). Men (and all faculty) making clear that they’ll be supportive seems like a free no-brainer starting point to fight a norm of collective ignorance that allows this kind of behavior to continue.
  • For students: a weird implicit thing to be aware of – if you’re passing open faculty doors and interrupting someone’s work to ask for a stapler (à la Stanford’s Pascaline Dupas), or directions to the bathroom (à la LSE’s Oriana Bandiera), don’t make it disproportionately female faculty.
  • Tanzania is slowly becoming more authoritarian, with killings and other shootings by police, and opposition MPs being jailed for insulting the President. (via Justin Sandefur)
  • The classic example of a financial bubble is the Dutch tulip craze of the 1630’s. Historian Anne Goldgar writes that our current understanding is probably wrong. While they did become a luxury commodity, when she went back to examine records of actual prices, she found extremely high prices were rare, and most of what is reported today comes from satirical writing of the time.

When Bill Gates did a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” this week on the occasion of the new Gates Foundation Letter, it may have set a record for tech support escalation.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • IPA is offering funding for research on ideas about “Peace and Recovery” very broadly defined – looking to test new ideas for counteracting violence (including state and electoral), helping refugees, recovery from humanitarian crises, or countering extremism, and is accepting proposals from Ph.D. students. (The photo above is from research in a Colombian FARC demobilization camp). Expressions of Interest are due NEXT FRIDAY March 2. Please share with anybody who might be interested.
  • Bryan, Choi, and Karlan (also with IPA) in an RCT find a business training program for the poor run by a Christian group in the Philippines works better with the Christian component than without it, with some caveats:

We find significant increases in religiosity and income, no significant changes in total labor supply, assets, consumption, food security, or life satisfaction, and a significant decrease in perceived relative economic status.

Summary, full NBER paper.

  • Singapore’s government is happy to try to change its people’s behavior with a range of tactics from mandatory savings (less nudgy), to cash bonuses for having kids, to subsidizing food carts for offering healthier options.
  • An interesting article on 20 randomized experiments to get people in Kenya to use health insurance for hospitalization (with a nice little gem of a line about the sample). Even when the insurance was free only 45% of people wanted it, but marketing through social networks helped. IPA found something similar with rainfall insurance for farmers – barriers often are around trust in a new financial product, or that the seller will be good for it, or understanding the value of insurance (I’ve heard about people selling fake insurance). Which is a good reminder that not all agents think like omniscient rational economist article authors. (via David Evans)
  • J-PAL finds more trials are being registered on the AEA registry at the start of the process. But people are not great at following up when the study is completed, by linking to the paper. But their picture might be overly rosy:

Despite 3ie’s best efforts, adversarial relationships developed between original and replication researchers. Original authors of five of the seven non-replicated studies wrote in public comments that the replications actively sought to refute their results and were nitpicking.

And things went downhill from there. When they tried to re-run the code from 203 studies, they successfully got the required files and got the code to run fewer than 1 in 7 times. 

  • The situation isn’t much different in AI, as Science reports, where only 6% of studies provided their algorithm for replication. (via Josh Kalla)
  • A nice article by Jina Moore in the New York Times summarizes the history of the current Kenyan political conflict between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, which isn’t quite history repeating itself, but certainly rhyming as the saying goes. Their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, both fought for independence from the British and were initially President and vice-President together, but then differences emerged in how to deal with returning British land to Kenyans. Kenyatta favored selling it (which effectively favored elites), while Odinga wanted it distributed more equitably among Kenya’s different ethnic communities. Similarly Kenyatta favored centralized government power while while Odinga favored more distributed power. Over time they drifted farther apart in their orientations, then Odinga started a new party and was jailed. Now their sons are political rivals as well.
  • The Onion on Oxfam.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • I wasn’t going to even address the SNAP/Box of canned foods proposal in the news, but thankfully Paul Niehaus and Michael Faye of cash transfer fame did it well.
    • As always, when it comes to international development, even cash advocates say that some conditions need to be right. See this conversation with Berk Ozler, Seema Jayachandran, and Andrew Zeitlin for some reminders – markets need to function well so people can get when they want, they have to know/want what’s good for them, and watch out for unintended consequences (like rising prices or resentment in people who don’t get aid).
  • Good news for the Graduation model for the poorest of the poor, which gives several different kinds of aid at once to help get them earning income. IPA and Village Enterprise released the results of a 6-arm study testing several variations, including just cash of the same value as the program (about $300 PPP). We found the Graduation approach was very effective and cost-effective. In that setting it worked better than the cash. The program will be at the center of a $5.26 Million development impact bond.
  • Good news for cash also: Haushofer and Shapiro report on the 3-year results from GiveDirectly’s cash transfers in Kenya. The benefits at 9 months are sustained at 3 years, and education factors even improved. Blog, paper.
  • There’s an interesting new podcast from NPR national security correspondent Dina Temple-Raston, “What were you thinking,” through Audible (I think free with the Audible app) which looks at why teenagers do destructive things, and specifically the latest neuroscience on the topic. She got interested in the question after talking to a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis who seemed well-adjusted but then tried to join ISIS after a number of his friends did. She updates our understanding on the development of the adolescent brain beyond developing impulse control, to a very complex rewiring process required to switch design from attachment to parents to social groups.
  • Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2017 Mo Ibrahim prize, for an elected African leader who advances democracy, strengthens their country, and steps down, handing power to another elected leader. The prize had not been awarded since 2014.

And, in one of those coincidences that only happen in development, a colleague from our New Haven, CT headquarters (who happens to have grown up in New Haven), is in Kampala this week. He went for a walk and ended up behind this gentleman:

 

IPA’s weekly links

Guest Post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Above, Tim Harfords postcard rules for reading statistics (gated), inspired by Harold Pollack’s personal finance rules index card.
  • ER docs seem to use mental heuristics – patients are more likely to get tested for and diagnosed with a heart attack if they go right after their 40th birthday than right before (job market paper from Stephen Coussens).
  • Dick Thaler’s Nobel Prize-winning Mental Accounting paper was originally rejected by the referees who said it didn’t have enough math. After some careful consultation, the editor overrode them.
  • Oxfam emphatically states that there’s no definitive evidence that the prostitutes hired by their staff in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake were underage. Which is an actual statement someone in Oxfam’s communication department had to issue after reporters discovered the behavior.
  • The National Science Foundation is requiring that universities receiving funding from them report sexual harassment. One potential unintended consequence (as I read the article) is that reporting just upheld findings could just incentivize universities to make reporting harder or quietly dismiss cases even more than they already do.
    • Police departments have done similar things – lowered crime statistics by making it harder to report crimes or weakening the description of a crime to a misdemeanor. The LAPD was found to have done this (h/t Elizabeth Pancotti), and NYPD in 2011, 2012, and last month.
    • One example: A UK paleontologist explains how she was retaliated against when she filed a sexual harassment claim with her university.
  • The census isn’t glamorous to the general public, but it’s really really important, among other things for apportioning Congressional representation. In an opinion piece David Leonhardt summarizes urgent concerns about how new leadership (not subject to Senate approval) and changes in questions and counting methods could rig the results for political benefit.
  • You may recall from last week that the U.S. is cutting back on emerging disease surveillance abroad by 80 percent. A investigation finds that a last-line antibiotic (one used when all other fails) is being used by the ton in chicken feed in India and exported to other countries. This allows poultry producers to grow more chicken in crowded and unsanitary conditions, but is begging for a drug-resistant superbug.
  • A public service announcement for economists, wherein Dina Pomeranz reminds Josh Angrist that seminar questions can be engaging without being contentious. Michael Kremer always comes up as a role model for asking questions in a supportive way.
  • How the great science reporter Ed Yong spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in experts he quotes in his stories.
  • And everybody’s getting psyched for the new movie coming out to learn how Wakanda aced governance, avoided the resource curse, and developed a healthy tech sector. But the Black Panther will premiere in Kisumu, Kenya, actress Lupita Nyong’o’s hometown before it’s shown in the U.S.

IPA’s weekly links

  • One of the things Chris is up to these days is being the academic lead for the new Peace and Recovery Initiative at IPA, which is looking to fund research about fragile states, repression, reducing crime and violence, and recovery from humanitarian disasters. Deadline for proposals is March 2 (that’s one short month), and please share with colleagues. But even for general interest reading, I recommend this “guiding principles” document, which is also a very readable summary of what Chris and our colleagues think is and isn’t yet known for the field.
  • In undercovered “are you joking?” policies, the CDC is cutting back on emerging outbreak funding by 80%. As previously allocated funding runs out, the list of countries with epidemic prevention activities will be cut from 39 to 10.
    • Recall that in 2015, the Gates Foundation ran a simulation of how a 1918 Spanish Flu-type epidemic would spread today in light of modern travel patterns. They found it would be in every major global city within 60 days, and by 250 days would kill more than 33 million people. Or, as Ezra Klein called it in his interview with Bill Gates, “The most predictable disaster in the history of the human race.”  Ebola and Bird Flu showed how unprepared we were at the time, and continue to be.
  • In addition to Kenny and Sandefur’s response to Deaton’s NYTimes piece arguing that extreme poverty is as bad in the U.S. as in the developing world, Ryan Briggs explains the confusion. Like everything else in poverty policy it comes down to whether you’re measuring income or consumption. Income is very difficult to measure accurately in people with low and irregular earnings, and doesn’t include the many other ways the poor have to scrape to get by.

  • That said, comparative suffering is a rough game to play though, and as the Brookings folks point out we don’t have to sacrifice domestic anti-poverty spending for global. Here’s a short but pretty moving portrait from the Wall Street Journal on one way people in poor Mississippi scrape by, using high-interest lenders for short-term loans. They of course can end up deeper in debt or losing the car they need to get to work. But if you listen to what people say they weren’t being irresponsible – they knew what they were getting into, but the choice was better than the alternative (such as being evicted, having the heat turned off, or not being able to feed their children).
  • One contribution I’ve mentioned before to bad domestic poverty policy are stereotypes about the poor as being undeserving, lazy, or preferring government benefits to working. This would be a good time to recall the U.S. had not just one, but multiple TV shows about people’s cars being repossessed because they couldn’t keep up with loans.
    • So with the announcement this week that Grameen USA will be raising money for impact investing funds, it might be worth thinking about why there’s been so much attention to socially-minded microcredit abroad, but not domestically.
  • Handy tools:
  • China built the African Union a brand new headquarters building full of shiny technology and then spied on them for five years. China says it has no idea why the African Union servers were connecting to Beijing at midnight.

(Source for image above)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Balding and bespectacled, with an unmistakable New York accent, Thomas has spent more than 30 years in the foreign service, serving in U.S. missions from Nigeria to India to the Philippines — but nowhere was he treated quite like this. “My staff and I are called names that the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t even use anymore,” he said.

(* disclaimer: I don’t know anything about him or the Cape Town water & behavior project, but it looks well-meaning)