Chris Blattman

IPA’s weekly links

(Didn’t think I’d get a chance to use this again)

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action

  • Congratulations to Emi Nakamura, winner of the Clark medal. Noah Smith explains her work and why it’s rare for macroeconomists to win it.
  • And congratulations to World Bank Chief Economist & Yale professor Penny Goldberg on her election to the National Academy of Sciences.
  • A few years ago, the “Worm Wars” broke out when a team reanalyzed data from a classic finding on the benefits of treating kids’ intestinal parasites and failed to reach the same conclusion. Owen Ozier reflects back on what it means for replication in a new paper and explanatory tweetstorm.
  • Great article on the history of the U.S. Census, and how the need to count the growing U.S. population faster spurred technological innovation. If you want to follow current developments on adding a citizenship question to the census, I’d encourage you to follow NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang.
  • The government has most of your tax information (that’s how they know if you’re lying), and in some countries doing your taxes takes a couple minutes b/c the government fills out the form for you and asks if it looks right or if you want to make adjustments. But in the U.S., tax prep companies like Intuit have lobbied hard to keep the process complicated, so people have to use software to navigate it, effectively creating a tax on doing your taxes. A bill recently passed the House preventing the IRS from making it easier to file. One argument the tax prep companies have used is that, through an agreement with the IRS, they already offer and advertise a free version that most Americans are eligible for (anybody making under $66k). But only 3% of those eligible actually use the free version. Why? ProPublica has been doing some bang-up reporting on how tax companies have effectively hidden the free versions of their software that they’d agreed to offer. Among other things, they prevented the websites for the free versions from being indexed by google, while using fake versions to make it look like customers had found the free version, but then were redirected to the paid version, and directed staffers not to tell customers about the free version. Thanks to their reporting, the bill seems to have been stalled in the Senate.
    • A good Planet Money episode on the Stanford law professor who nearly got California to offer a pre-filled state tax version (in the pilot it was very popular).
  • Two African mobile health startups have each won $1.5 million from the Skoll awards: Uganda’s mPedigree lets customers confirm the authenticity of the medicine and agricultural products they’re buying with their phones (counterfeits are rampant in both markets). In Ghana, mPharma helps pharmacies with the drug supply chain to make sure medicines are stocked and priced appropriately.
  • This was interesting: Investment company Vanguard developed a method to avoid paying taxes on ETFs. I’m not sure I understand it but it involves temporarily borrowing stocks from friendly banks for a day or two when they have to make a payout to investors. Their method of not paying taxes is so clever they patented it.
  • Two more former students have joined the lawsuit against Dartmouth, with really disturbing allegations of rape and sexual coercion by prominent professors using threats against the students’ future academic careers.
  • A great article on how the world came to slowly realize how pervasive mental health problems are in the developing world, and some efforts to do something about it.
    • I had the chance to hear Dr. Dixon Chibanda, whose work is profiled in the piece, talk a while back, one thing he mentioned was how difficult it is to get research grants, because local researchers like him are often not included in research, so they don’t get publications, and it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. (You can follow him on twitter)
  • The Research Meets Africa conference taking place in Ouagadougou in October has a call for papers. They particularly encourage financial inclusion researchers who want to collaborate with African researchers to submit. Deadline is May 15th.
  • Jobs postings: Busara (in Kenya, Nigeria, & India), EPoD at Harvard, & IOM doing impact evals in West Africa.