IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • How We Undercounted Evictions By Asking The Wrong Questions is a good story about good data gathering in FiveThirtyEight, and how persistent enumerators learning to count evictions in Milwaukee changed the way government measures evictions.
    • The follow-up today (both around Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond’s work), looks at why there’s far less government assistance for paying rent than you’d expect, given that the poor spend an outsized portion of their income on rent.
    • The answer is in Planet Money’s episode from a few months back, explaining that in part, government housing assistance was originally designed as a subsidy for the construction industry, not to meet the needs of the poor.
  • Sri Lanka is being declared malaria-free. They’d been down to 17 cases in 1963, and had slowed down, but by 1969 were back up to 500,000 cases. The aggressive strategy that worked despite a prolonged war and evolving parasite resistance, involved testing anybody coming into clinics or getting blood drawn for any reason, and going door to door in high-risk areas. (Short version in the NYTimes, more detailed in Indian Express).
  • Incoming World Bank chief economist Paul Romer has a paper calling out the entire field of macroeconomics:

    For more than three decades, macroeconomics has gone backwards. The treatment of identification now is no more credible than in the early 1970s but escapes challenge because it is so much more opaque. Macroeconomic theorists dismiss mere facts by feigning an obtuse ignorance about such simple assertions as “tight monetary policy can cause a recession.” Their models attribute fluctuations in aggregate variables to imaginary causal forces that are not influenced by the action that any person takes. A parallel with string theory from physics hints at a general failure mode of science that is triggered when respect for highly regarded leaders evolves into a deference to authority that displaces objective fact from its position as the ultimate determinant of scientific truth.

Exegesis on the paper from Dan Drezner.

  • Oxfam is launching a blog series, Real Geek (it’s an acronym) on the technical side of evaluation, giving people a window into their internal conversations. Even the logo has unnecessary math.

And if you saw the XKCD visualization on global temps, there’s a tiny methodological footnote (we don’t have good data on pre-industrial era temp so that dotted line uses computer modeled data and looks smoother than it probably is). However, it’s still quite effective, below if you haven’t seen it:

From XKCD: "[After setting your car on fire] The car's temperature has changed before"

Photo above via Flickr/urbanbohemian