Chris Blattman

IPA’s weekly links

Webinar on Race and the American Criminal Justice System

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action

  • Stanford Political Scientist Hakeem Jefferson hosted a great conversation with a number of scholars on race and the criminal justice system
  • The readings mentioned are assembled in this Dropbox folder and thread, and the Stanford Daily summarized the conversation.
  • A couple of points that jumped out at me were what counts as research/evidence in academic research circles (it seems common for scholars of the black experience to face skepticism, or the view that its a specific niche topic).
    At the same time, a lot of sloppy (or fundamentally flawed) research on policing or other areas of policy makes it through peer review and gets a lot of public attention. And just like COVID, we might be about to be deluged with a huge wave of hasty research papers on race and everything under the sun from well-intentioned researchers new to the area.
  • Or to put it more succinctly:

  • Here’s a Jennifer Doloeac thread on evaluations of specific policy interventions around policing.
    • I think I caught part of a discussion wondering if these RCT-able micro policy interventions miss the point (the policies that lead to police abuses, and massive racial disparities in so many social outcomes are much larger, and approaches looking at one tiny tweak divert our attention from them. It seemed reminiscent of the RCT debate around research priorities in dev econ a bit – global poverty is so massive a problem – in other words, it’s great that your youth empowerment program is RCT-able (at one place at one particular point in time) and makes for a fine study, but is it really going to make a dent in the bigger problems, even if it works?
      I’ll cop-out by saying both sides have a point. We should absolutely be solving the big problems, but if we have a choice of small programs that are going to be implemented anyway – be they youth empowerment or police body cams – it seems at least helpful to weed out the ones that don’t work. But not at that cost of solving the big picture problems.
  • The Campaign Zero site has a lot of good research findings turned into practical advice, along with this thread
  • IPA’s thread on Black Lives Matter, includes advice for researchers from Ph.D. student Angeline Dukes for what Black students, RAs, and junior colleagues might be experiencing and how to help; and also helpful thoughts and links from economist Lisa Cook on race and the field of economics. Also, here’s advice for leadership of any organization (h/t my colleague Bethany Park).
  • Public health prof Gregg Gonsalves addresses the uncomfortable question of won’t the protests spread COVID? He asks, compared to what, with up to 100,000 premature African-American deaths every year under current conditions. This reminds me of sort of a status-quo type bias, where people only consider the costs of changing, the costs of the current situation seem invisible.
  • This was good, African observers commenting on the U.S. situation.
  • Yale School of Management’s Rodrigo Canales has some helpful and optimistic views of how to think about police reform based on his work in Mexico (RCT-based).
  • The new Ezra Klein Show (Apple) episode “Why Ta-Nehisi Coates is hopeful” was great and lives up to its title. Coates was surprised to hear that his father, who lived through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, say the scope of the current protests would have been as unimaginable to activists of the 60s, as the marches of the 60s to people from the 1800’s. Both Klein and Coates have a lot of good ideas, and Coates offers some book recommendations (h/t Dina Pomeranz)
  • An onboarding into dev econ, especially for students from abroad or different backgrounds, might be MIT’s MicroMasters Program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy. This term just started, but you can join and register through July 1.