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)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


A quick housekeeping item, if you haven’t seen. Chris migrated his site to new servers so had some downtime this week, but all the content should be back up by now. They’re still getting SSL set up so your browser may warn you that you’re not reading in https yet (so don’t enter your credit card information into the comments till that’s squared away).

“It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero,” the city’s media office said in a statement. Many of the city’s four million residents are “callously” using too much water, it said.

  • Egypt and Ethiopia are also fighting over the Nile, which Ethiopia dams for electricity, but supplies almost all of Egypt’s water.
    • These kinds of disputes happen in the U.S. as well, with Florida and Georgia going to the Supreme Court a few weeks ago, and a Wisconsin city getting in trouble with five Great Lakes states over taking water from Lake Michigan. And of course everybody in the West and the Colorado River.
      • Today on Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen points to Israel, a mostly desert country, which managed to solve its water crisis a number of years ago with a combination of technology and policies. Cowen asks whether California is listening, which it is, learning from Israeli water officials. But one warned about something we see a lot in development: people want to flock to flashy technology solutions like desalinating ocean water, but the biggest solutions are usually very boring and old-fashioned:

Desalination is seen by some as a magic bullet, the shield that saved Israel from the whims of nature. But Avrahm Tenne, head of desalination at Israel’s water authority, says surpluses don’t start with huge desalination plants.

“Desalinization is not the first step that you are doing. It’s probably the last step,” Tenne says.

Israel has invested in repairing leaking pipes, run ad campaigns promoting conservation and built a separate water industry around recycling sewage water. Eighty-six percent is now recycled, he said, providing farmers half of their annual need.


  • A friend who works in water policy is also a bit down on how hard it is to get people to pay attention to smart water policy here – much like Cape Town officials complain, it seems people don’t care until there’s a crisis.
      • Side note: when I was shopping for toilets, I was dumbfounded by how annoying it is to get a dual-flush toilet in the U.S. They’re available, usually at the same cost, but typically not displayed in stores. An incredibly easy win in the millions of gallons would be just having stores display them so people know they’re an option.

And Namibia is trying to cash in on Trump’s Africa remarks (language warning for the first video below):



IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Pardon our remodeling!

Chris is migrating his site to new servers, our apologies for any recent downtime. FYI that we’re still getting SSL worked out so your browser might warn you the website is insecure (just offering http not https). I don’t really know what that means for a blog, but just in case, don’t put your bank account number in the comments section until it’s worked out?


In the meantime I’m reposting last week’s links that got lost in the transition.


“Economists have now settled down into RCTs as just one tool,” Glennerster told Devex. Among academics, the kind J-PAL works to connect with the world’s policymakers, she said, “the trend toward using RCTs is simply part of this bigger movement in economics to care more about where we can really pin down what is causing what we see.”

  • Any critique I’ve seen of RCTs as a method apply in one way or another to any empirical study – the results and conclusions are limited, or as Pam Jakiela put it:

  • Chris Blattman presented some RCT results to Deaton among others at Princeton soon after the paper first circulated, and said they didn’t disagree on much. Deaton seemed more concerned with people just putting too much stock in RCTs because of the method.
    • I’d add that I’ve never met an economist or policy professional in the development RCT world these days who’d copy and paste a program based on one RCT. I think the way the world is going is more like Mushfiq Mobarak’s No Lean Season – slow-scale up, with multiple years of testing as a program expands, looking for externalities or changes in effects at larger scale, and very careful expansion into other locales where the same intervention may work differently.
    • Or multiple simultaneous evaluations across countries like the Ultra Poor Graduation model or Metaketa Initiative.
    • Most RCTs I see these days are part of a body of research all trying to get at the mechanism behind a larger question and test solutions, and any important insight is usually based on a body of research.
  • Tim Ogden has some nice papers from AEA in his newsletter, the faiV
  • After SpaceX (South African Elon Musk’s company) appeared to have lost a reported billion-dollar U.S. spy satellite code-named “Zuma,” the value of the South African Rand on currency markets briefly spiked:

News-reading algorithmic traders may have been further confused by reports on the wires of a US congressional aide saying that Zuma was lost.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • Two Ebola survivors are suing the government of Sierra Leone in international court to discover what happened to missing millions of dollars meant to compensate and support survivors like them. Many had their clothes burned in the effort to fight the spread of the disease, and survivors were promised a support package that often failed to materialize. More than 30 percent of the resources donated to the government were unaccounted for, according to an audit during the outbreak. (h/t Anne Karing)
  • After some confusion, it sounds like Ethiopia’s Prime Minister will pardon some political prisoners (one academic thinks the Trump administration deserves credit).
  • A profile of Rachel Glennerster, who has left J-PAL to become the chief economist at DFID.
  • A University of North Carolina political scientist who uses indexes of electoral integrity to rank democracy around the world was surprised to find that his state no longer ranks as a true democracy. Thanks to gerrymandering and poor electoral integrity, North Carolina ranks alongside Cuba and Venezuela. In integrity of electoral boundaries, the state ranks below any other country studied.
  • The Economist recently had a very good summary of research on factors contributing to headwinds for women advancing in economics as a field, but there have been several other discussions recently worth looking at:
    • Macartan Humphreys talks about his experience with how tricky it can be to be a good male ally in political science. Some kinds of behaviors are noticeable — like how to address being on an all-male panel — but many, such as noticing what kinds of departmental service men or women are asked to do, can be more subtle.
    • In general U.S. society doesn’t talk much about the long-term damage to women’s bodies from childbirth. It’s awkward to talk about, so many people don’t realize the physical toll their co-workers are still living with even after maternity leave. This is a good place to start:


    • Another factor in scientific research, men being more willing to offer expert opinions in the press on areas outside their areas of sub-specialty (click through on this and the above tweet to read the original threads):

“With AmplifiHer, men hear women’s ideas louder and internalize them faster than ever before,” the founder, Mike Jonas, a former McKinsey consultant, said. Each device is equipped with sophisticated artificial intelligence that records women’s best suggestions and repeats them back to the wearer in his own voice.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

A big thanks to all the folks who’ve donated to IPA’s anti-poverty work before the year end (you can also donate through Dean Karlan’s Facebook fundraiser through tomorrow, credit to his brave daughter on that one.)

  • Thirteen prominent economists offer their favorite econ papers of the year, but the paper making a splash this week is from Melissa Dell and Pablo Querubin, comparing two approaches to combatting insurgency during the Vietnam War. They exploit the fact that the U.S. Army and Marines had authority over strategy in different parts of the country and took different approaches. While the Army used an overwhelming bombing campaign, the Marines took a “hearts and minds” approach, embedding troops in villages for security and conducting development projects. They conclude the bombing increased the insurgency and worsened attitudes towards the U.S., compared to the hearts and minds approach. Or as someone commented, it turns out you can’t bomb somebody into liking you.
    • Their method for finding similar villages (that were either targeted for bombing or not) to compare got a standing ovation at an NBER talk:

[Newly] Declassified Air Force histories document that one of the factors used in allocating weekly preplanned bombing missions was hamlet security (Project CHECO 1969). A Bayesian algorithm combined data from 169 questions on security, political, and economic characteristics into a single hamlet security rating. The output ranged continuously from 1 to 5 but was rounded to the nearest whole number before being printed from the mainframe computer.

The study estimates the causal impacts of overwhelming firepower by comparing places just below and above the rounding thresholds, with being below the threshold used as an instrument for bombing.

  • While many people have advocated for framing predictions about the future in terms of probabilities, David Leonhardt uses a Kahneman story to explain that most people have difficulty thinking probabilistically, and usually just round up or down to a yes or no. Instead he suggests that stories explaining why things might plausibly turn out one way or the other could work better. Similarly, earlier this year Robert Shiller wrote that economists, lost in numbers, have failed to appreciate the human instinct for storytelling. He went through newspapers before and after the great depression to gauge sentiment at the time, and concludes that economists rarely account for the power of people’s mental narratives to drive economic cycles. But he suggests this is an area where economists might learn something from the humanities.
  • I mentioned a few weeks ago that the U.N. was sending a special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on a tour examining extreme poverty in the U.S. His observations on terrible conditions for the poor in the U.S. were pretty stunning. But he also concludes that one reason for America’s lack of action in the face of such suffering, or even for implementing policies that make poverty worse, is the stories other Americans tell themselves about the poor:

He found that stereotypes serve to undermine the poor — and are used to justify not coming to their aid. “So the rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success. The poor, on the other hand, are wasters, losers and scammers,” Alston told NPR. As a result, he says, many people believe that “money spent on welfare is money down the drain. Money devoted to the rich is a sound investment.”
He spoke to politicians and political appointees who were “completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching color TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare.”
But Alston says he met people working full time at chain stores who needed food stamps because they couldn’t survive on their wages.

  • In his job market paper NYU’s Kevin Munger describes a randomized trial where he used twitter bots/fake accounts to remind uncivil people to be nicer in political discourse, and it worked. So maybe there’s hope for humanity?
  • Scientists, you’ve been caught. Adding new information to Wikipedia entries led to that new information being cited more in the scientific literature.
    • It also makes me look with more interest at the trial Chris Blattman did at the request of Wikipedia, using his course to have students write or improve Wikipedia articles.
  • One of the better cryptocurrency efforts I’ve seen: you can donate your extra CPU cycles to mine cryptocurrency for the Bronx Bail Fund. (Caveat: I haven’t tried or vetted it yet, and yes I know about the electricity), h/t Colin Rust.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

MotorcyclesCanoeSurveyor Bench

(Research team in Sierra Leone, photo credit: Jeff Steinberg)

Please support the poverty researchers who really work amazingly hard (I can promise you HQ is not spending it on reliable copiers). Poverty-action.org/donate.

  • Some nice news this week, the MacArthur Foundation awarded its big “100&Change” 100 million dollar big idea award to the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop. They’ll use it to implement an evidence-based “toxic stress” reduction and education program for Syrian refugee children in four countries.
  • A Nobel Prize winning biologist created a fund to help women scientists hire assistance for domestic work that disproportionately falls on women, like childcare and cleaning.
  • The Development Impact bloggers pick their favorite papers of the year and offer short summaries.
  • Tavneet Suri’s reflections on a great first six months for Vox Dev (wow, has it been only 6 mo?!) and some of her favorite reading.
  • For anybody who wants a quick Dev Econ 101, Jess Hoel had her students tweetstorm some classic papers. Follow the links in this thread:

  • Her reflections on how it went here. She thinks the skills it takes to put a paper into tweets – thinking about the audience and presenting the core of an idea briefly and visually – are very generalizable.
  • Job: IPA’s hiring a qualified senior research associate in Mexico to study good policing practices (Dec 31 deadline!)
  • Students of color, particularly African-Americans, make up a lower share of Econ Ph.D. students and faculty than other disciplines. Peter Blair Henry, dean of NYU school of business offers a fellowship for promising minority undergraduates to spend two years in New York doing research and being mentored in preparation for applying to Ph.D. programs. (Deadline Feb 16th.)
  • Interview advice for econ job candidates:
  • And if you’re going on a trip, remember our IPA 2017 Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist (and leave your additions there in the comments)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 12.34.41 PM

  • First a word from my sponsor – IPA’s kind enough to let me use some time writing these links up almost every week for the last 2.5 years, but there’s no such thing as a free link. If you’d go to www.poverty-action.org/donate and help us make our end-of-year budget I’d appreciate it.
    • And, I’ll draw up a few winners (at random of course) for your choice of a) a tote bag from Ghana (long story), b) a very cheap lunch with some of our staff in New York or c) My 84-page doc of links I didn’t have room to post. Let us know your preference in the donation form comments box.
  • Via Claudia Sahm, a great interview from the Minneapolis Fed with Princeton economist Anne Case (also scroll back to April & May in the Financial Times Alphachat podcast to hear a great interview (iTunes) and interesting bonus chat (iTunes) about her career and reacting to blogs critiquing of her work).
  • We don’t often hear the stories behind the data that goes into papers, but the enumerators in the field work really hard. Here’s one story about an enumerator tracking down a participant from one of Chris’ studies in Uganda, 9 years later.
  • I recently mentioned profs might want to check their letters of recommendation for  gender biased phrasing (here). A tech company is doing something similar for job posting language:

    Textio found certain phrases such as “disciplined” and “tackle,” used more often by Netflix and Google, respectively, statistically correlated to a more male-dominated applicant pool. Netflix didn’t respond to a request for comment and Google declined to comment.

    Atlassian Corp. , a maker of workplace collaboration tools and a Textio client, said that after it overhauled the language in its job postings, women accounted for 57% of the class of new-graduate hires working in engineering, product management and design in 2017, compared with 10% two years ago before the language changes.*

  • In the wake of the increasing revelations of #MeToo in academia, the Women In  Economics at Berkeley blog interviewed four men figuring out how to be better allies to their classmates and colleagues.
  • Most development aid doesn’t go to the neediest parts of countries, Ryan Briggs writes. Aid projects tend to cluster in the better-off and urban areas, which may be simply because it’s harder to get to the more rural impoverished places that need it more.
  • Psychologists are trying to solve the replicability problem with a collaboration of 183 labs on six continents, who’ll volunteer to run the same study simultaneously (not all labs will run all studies).
  • People’s nominations for worst or weirdest cryptocurrency promotions. (h/t David Batcheck)

PS – related to the ask above, you can also use our Amazon Smile link for shopping, to donate a small portion to us (the Smile Always chrome extension will remember to redirect you there).


And, from Reddit/DataIsBeautiful, lighting strikes follow the path of shipping lanes (exhaust from ships increases likelihood and intensity of thunder storms). (h/t Max Galka)

Lighting Strike over shipping lanes

* Yes I realize it’s a before-and-after story.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • An interesting new Center for Global Development working paper looks at the effects of family planning services becoming available across Malaysia. They find that it helped girls earn more later in life, even those too young to benefit directly from the program. Girls just born grew up to earn more (and were more likely to have their elderly parents move in with them), presumably through a generalized improvement in women’s empowerment in the area (h/t David Batcheck).
  • Lucia Diaz-Martin, Rachel Glennerster, and Ariella Park warn that using whether women work or not as a proxy for empowerment in research can be problematic, because it matters why they’re working
  • It’s never a good omen for a body of literature when David Roodman takes his microscope to the code. In this case, just in time for the holidays, he releases a Worm Wars prequel. GiveWell rates deworming as one of the most effective charitable causes, but the case is based on a just few data sets. One is Hoyt Bleakley’s historical finding from the 1800s that hookworm eradication in the American South resulted in improved education. Roodman went back to re-examine the case with the benefit of a 100x larger sample, thanks to more recently added census data. He now thinks the improvements in education observed might have been a continuation of a trend that had already been in progress.
    • Despite his findings, GiveWell still thinks the case for current deworming efforts in developing countries is strong and continues its recommendations in support.
  • But in a remarkable development, hookworm is back in the American South.
  • Some in government are pushing for policy to be made based on “sound science.” FiveThirtyEight explains this is being used as a Trojan horse, turning the scientific process against itself. Historically this tactic has been used by tobacco and energy industries to delay policy until scientists have conclusively proven something or under the guise of needing more rigorous studies to establish certainty. Conveniently, it turns out that topics like smoking and climate science can’t be subjected to randomized controlled trials.
  • Nature asked several statisticians how to improve science. Opinions varied on if “to p or not to p” is the problem or it’s more deeply embedded in norms of how statistics are used in different fields.


And, in 1988 The Lancet asked clinical trial authors to do a subgroup analysis to find out for which patients (out of their 17,000) had benefitted most from using aspirin to prevent heart attacks:

Peto, a statistical rigorist, refused — such analyses would inevitably lead to artifactual conclusions — but the editors persisted, declining to advance the paper otherwise. Peto sent the paper back, but with a prank buried inside. The clinical subgroups were there, as requested — but he had inserted an additional one: “The patients were subdivided into 12 … groups according to their medieval astrological birth signs.” When the tongue-in-cheek zodiac subgroups were analyzed, Geminis and Libras were found to have no benefit from aspirin, but the drug “produced halving of risk if you were born under Capricorn.” Peto now insisted that the “astrological subgroups” also be included in the paper — in part to serve as a moral lesson for posterity.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • GiveWell’s latest charity recommendations add a new one, “No Lean Season,” which helps hungry rural farmers (so far in Bangladesh) get to cities to find their own employment while they wait for their crops to come in. You can hear the audio of Yale’s Mushfiq Mobarak describing how it went from an idea to one of the most cost-effective charities here.
  • It’s “best of” time of the year:
  • Jobs!: IPA, J-PAL and a bunch of affiliated orgs post jobs here. Evidence Action has a bunch of jobs posted here (including directing the aforementioned No Lean Season).
  • It’s also letter of recommendation season, check yours for gender-biased phrasing here or with the newer version here.
  • A bizarre story and warning for academics going to Denmark. An American professor working at a University there is being charged criminally for giving an invited talk to Parliament and tax authorities about her research studying offshore tax havens. Immigration officers have charged Sociologist Brooke Harrington and 14 other academics sharing research with working outside their permits, but it gets better:

    Ironically, on the day Harrington learned of her criminal charges, she was notified that she’d received an award for research dissemination from the Danish Society for Education and Business.

  • How two CNN journalists went undercover in Libya to expose that migrants being turned back by the EU were being sold as slaves there. (The EU has known of the human rights abuses there for a long time).
  • Last year the New Yorker reported that mentally ill prison inmates in Florida are regularly tortured, sometimes to death.
  • Compare that to Chicago – America’s largest mental health facility turns out to be Cook County Jail (which has 9000 inmates! That’s 30 percent bigger than the average college). So the Cook County Sheriff appointed clinical psychologist Nneka Jones Tapia as warden. She then began offering treatments to inmates who needed it and the jail is now working with researchers to test a series of programs designed to ease transitions after release.
  • Mugabe reportedly offered to trade his wife to stay in power. More on the details of his final days in office. But the best Mugabe story is that in the year 2000 he won the national lottery.
  • How the fight for a soda tax in Colombia got ugly (and John Oliver on how cigarette companies are trying to intimidate developing countries who are considering warning labels on cigarettes, h/t Colin Rust).

And if you get frustrated by how long it takes your experimental machine learning code to run, the original creators of the Oregon Trail first person adventure game did it without access to a computer.  Using teletype access to a mainframe they did stuff like adjust probability of snow:

The snow probability in the game was defaulted to zero during miles 0 to 950 of the trip. Bill and Paul developed a parabolic formula that, when graphed, produced an upright U-shaped curve covering miles 950 to 2000, with mileage along the X-axis. During each turn through that segment of the trip, the computer generated a random number that was compared to the curve. If the random number fell under the curve, as it often did at the curve’s beginning and end, snow occurred, representing the two mountain ranges. If the number fell above the curve, as it often did during the mileage between the ranges, snow was less likely. Using different curve formulas, this technique was used for several of the game’s variables to produce different event probabilities as a function of trail location.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


We’re putting up the links early this week for your travel enjoyment.

  • If you’re traveling, end your trip smarter than you started! We’ve posted the IPA 2017 Great Holiday Travel Podcast Playlist with podcast feeds and specific episodes we liked.
    • It’s got stories from around the world, research podcasts, and, in preparation for the holidays, three different episodes on how to disagree constructively. So feel free to just play those over the Bluetooth speaker while you’re cooking with the family.
  • And this Thanksgiving, economists might be watching you at dinner (and in your sleep). A paper seems to have been taken down (cached version here), showing that families from politically different voting districts have shorter Thanksgiving dinners together. Here’s how they figured it out:

Location tracking data comes from Safegraph, a company that aggregates location information from numerous smartphone apps. The data consist of “pings”, each of which identify the location (latitude and longitude) of a particular smartphone at a moment in time. Safegraph tracks the location of more than 10 million Americans’ smartphones, and our core analysis focusses on the more than 17 trillion pings Safegraph collected in the continental United States in November of 2016…

Home locations are determined by looking at where each person in our sample is most frequently between 1 and 4am. … This procedure identifies the home location of over 5 million people in the November Safegraph sample, and we link these locations with their corresponding voting precinct, two-party vote share, and census demographics using GIS software.

With Mugabe finally leaving (maybe?), this ad might have to be retired.


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.


  • On Wednesday the Nigerian women’s bobsled team became the country’s first team to qualify for the winter Olympics, and will be the first African team to compete in the Olympic bobsled event.
  • Experts are arguing about what to call what’s going on in Zimbabwe – whether there’s a waiting period before declaring a coup (the African Union frowns on coups apparently), a bloodless coup, or maybe “protective coup” (where the leader is kept safe). Given the importance of the first lady to understanding the political situation, I would have gone with “coup de Grace.” (But follow Kim Yi Dionne & Naunihal Singh for actual information.)
  • It’s job season: J-PAL, IPA and our friends post on a single portal here.
    • J-PAL’s Claire Walsh talks to the 80,000 Hours podcast (focusing on meaningful careers) about her job working to help governments use evidence in making policy.
    • One of the lowest-profile but highest-impact jobs in all of development is working with Caitlin Tulloch and colleagues at the IRC calculating cost effectiveness of different programs around the world. (Here’s a podcast of her explaining what her group does and why it’s crucial).
  • I swear I’m not making this up. Need a way to confidentially track and re-identify people in your data? One group of sexual health researchers used participants’ “porn star names” (name of first pet and street they grew up on):

    Porn star names were unique to 99% of their 1281 respondents to the baseline survey, and adding month/year of birth was enough to provide 100% uniqueness. When re-contacted later, they were able to match 76% of respondents between the two surveys using only the porn star name, and using month/year of birth they could further match 96% of those who provided a partially-consistent porn star name. (h/t Lee Crawfurd, who else)

  • 3-month visiting program in Germany for post-doc researchers from sub-Saharan Africa. (via Macartan Humphreys)
  • Harvard Ph.D. candidate Heather Sarsons previously found female academics suffered a “co-authorship penalty,” with co-authored papers helping their careers less, compared to their male counterparts. Now Sarsons is making a big splash with her job market paper on surgeons. Practices of medical specialists are dependent on other doctors, often primary care physicians, referring their patients to them. Sarsons finds that when female surgeons have a negative outcome (a patient dying), they’re punished, in the form of fewer referrals, more than men. The referring physicians are also less likely to refer their patients to other women in the same specialty.

    I find that men would have to receive patients who are 70 percentage points riskier on unobservables for risk to explain the gender difference in a PCP’s reaction.

  • The much-loved Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt died this week. He was acclaimed for his ability to cut through complexity when it came to understanding and explaining the healthcare system with humor and for his general menchiness. Those qualities come out in his other writing as well. For meaningfulness, read his thoughts from 2003 on what it was like as a child growing up in WWII Germany, and for humor, his lecture on understanding Korean TV dramas.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

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South Africans, trying to come to grips with the astonishing scale of the crisis, have adopted a once-obscure political science term, “state capture,” as a staple of even casual conversation … Yet previous examples of state capture have almost always involved a broad cast of protagonists: an entire industry, for example, or wealthy businessmen as a group. In South Africa, it may have been pulled off by a single family.


  • Data Colada offers some advice on how to preregister a study effectively.
  • Larry Summers offered some thoughts on the future of development at the Center for Global Development video here.
  • J-PAL is offering scholarships to students from sub-Saharan Africa for their new MIT masters in Data, Economics, and Development Policy. A prerequisite is completing their online 5-class MicroMasters degree.
    • Also in the world of online resources, Daniel Björkegren’s course materials for his Brown University “Big Data” approaches to human behavior are here.
  • Jess Hoel asked for and got a lot of responses of examples of papers for teaching how one program does or doesn’t generalize to another context.
  • Rachel Glennerster offers four different models of how evidence-based interventions have been expanded and saved lives, and 3 tips for funders on how to support it (my paraphrasing here:)
    1. Stay flexible, you never know where innovation will come from.
    2. Evidence is a global public good, support cracking the theory behind why something works, so the same underlying principle can be put to use elsewhere.
    3. There’s a lot of evidence out there, some of it subtle. Support having the people who know it work closely with government to help them take advantage of it.
      1. I’d add a sub-bullet, which IPA & J-PAL are trying to do more and more: Not everything works off the shelf (see generalizability thread above). Support those experts working with government to incorporate testing and adjusting into their policy-making process.
  • For organizations who want to try randomization, Berkeley’s Josh Kalla created a simple randomizer tool for spreadsheets. Just upload your spreadsheet and adjust the proportions you want in each of up to 4 groups. (GitHub here.)


And if you were wondering if behavioral or traditional economists differ when it comes to free-riding, according to the latest Freakonomics ep both seem cool with it as long as you call it something else:

LEVITT: Yeah, my friend and colleague Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in economics, which has been another joyous occasion on the University of Chicago campus and especially nice for me because Thaler and I have been close friends for a long time. We play golf together quite a bit, and even had some little spillover for me. Golf Digest — which I’ve always dreamed of, somehow being written up in Golf Digest — they decided they’d write up Thaler because he won the Nobel Prize and because he’s an avid golfer. I was able to tag along and be the third wheel. Maybe I’ll get a brief mention or some kind of a scrap in Golf Digest so I can cross that off my bucket list.

DUBNER: So the moral of the story is you’ve wasted thousands of hours on instructional golf? You just need to get your Nobel and then you’ll get your spread in Golf Digest?

LEVITT: Exactly.

IPA’s weekly links


  • IPA has an opening for a Country Director for our Sierra Leone and Liberia offices (above photo comes from the former). A lot of interesting projects are happening there and our offices there have historically worked very well with the governments. I’ll let Rachel Glennerster describe it:

Rachel Gennerster on twitter

But the best reason is the amazing staff, here’s Jishnu Das talking about the Liberia office’s recent high profile RCT of public-private partnership schools there:

Finding children who have left a school is like finding a needle in a haystack. In a country where only 42 percent have access to a cell phone, it’s heroism.

  • On Vox Dev, Thomas Fujiwara talks about how Brazil’s move to digital voting machines ended up changing the face of local governments and policy. Millions of non-literate people hadn’t been able to vote effectively on write-in ballots, but the interface of the new machines was friendlier to them (using pictures and numbers in addition to words). The influx of poor voters resulted in electing local politicians more responsive to them, a 34% increase in public health spending over four years, and more prenatal health visits for less educated mothers.
    • Contrast that with this review (PDF, p.15) of how the U.S.’s hasty move to electronic voting after the Bush-Gore “butterfly ballot” backfired. In 2002, Congress passed the “Help America Vote Act” allocating billions to help local districts by electronic voting machines. The market responded quickly with machines that ended up having poorer interfaces than traditional voting systems. Lab studies comparing the two showed the new machines produced about twice the rate of voting errors (1-2% on paper vs. 3-4% electronically), and probably made voting problems worse than before.
  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives has a section of 3 (open-access) articles on turning experiments into policy.
  • Three Dartmouth psychology professors have been suspended during an investigation into serious sexual misconduct. State police and the district attorney are also investigating, but it appears that they got involved not because the school reported it, but because the DA happened to read about the school’s internal investigation in the student newspaper.
  • Norway punches above its weight in international development, in part because of its commitment to spending more than 1% of its gross national income on aid (though in recent years some of that has been redirected inward towards refugee resettlement). Dan Banik & Nikolai Hegertun compared Norway’s vs. China’s approach to development spending in Malawi and Zambia. While Norway spends more on civil society and accountability, China tends to avoid direct politics and focus on infrastructure and agriculture.
    • Meanwhile, AidData has had 100 people spending five years trying to figure out exactly what China spends on international development (now more annually than the U.S.). The team finds in a new working paper that every additional Chinese project is associated with 0.7% economic growth. They’ve made the data public.
    • The same group put out a report last year using satellite measures of nighttime light to estimate that Chinese (but not World Bank) projects increase regional GDP, but that the Chinese-funded projects concentrate three times as much in African leaders’ home districts while they’re in power.

And, Japan’s Phillips Curve Looks Like Japan:

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 4.01.41 PMScreen Shot 2017-11-02 at 4.01.57 PM

(h/t C. Trombley)

Why you or your students should apply to the PhD program at UChicago Harris


Professors who advise students on PhDs, and students thinking about a PhD: if you read this blog, there’s a good chance you should consider the PhD in public policy at UChicago Harris Public Policy.

The Harris PhD has a cohort of about 10 students per year. It has traditionally been strong in several areas: applied microeconomics, political economy of democracies, energy/environment, health, and education. The core PhD curriculum combines traditional economics training (microeconomics, applied econometrics) with political economy methods (i.e. formal theory).

Recently we’ve grown the political economy of development and conflict group. This is partly thanks to The Pearson Institute here at Harris. Between the new concentration of faculty, and the emphasis on the most rigorous training in economics, political science, and field methods, we think Harris has become one of the best places for a PhD student to come if they are interested in the political economy of development, conflict, or crime.

For instance, my fellow political economy of development faculty at Harris include Maria Bautista, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Oeindrila Dube, James Robinson, Luis Martínez, Austin Wright, and Jeannie Annan. We’re currently hiring more faculty in this area.

Other scholars focused on international political economy or development at Harris include Fiona Burlig, Anjali Adukia, Amir Jina, and Konstantin Sonin. Also, my colleague Jens Ludwig founded and runs the UChicago Crime Lab. Plus we have a huge number of applied microeconomists and formal political theorists.

Meanwhile, there is lots of advising and courses across campus. Most Harris PhD students have committee members from economics, Booth, law or political science, and take courses in these departments.. For instance, in political science there are Ben Lessing, Paul Staniland and Paul Poast. In development economics more broadly there is Marianne Bertrand, Leonardo Bursztyn, Adam Chilton, Michael Greenstone, Chang Tai Hsieh, Anup Malani, Rebecca Dizon-Ross, and Alessandra Voena.

Besides the famed Chicago interdepartmental seminars, like the Becker Friedman workshop, we have weekly external speaker series in public policy and economics, political economy, and development economics. Our new development PhD course sequence will be taught by me, Jim Robinson, Leonardo Bursztyn, and Alessandra Voena, plus others.

There are lots of opportunities for funding field work for your dissertation. The Pearson Institute provides generous funding for graduate research into conflict. Jens Ludwig, Oeindrila Dube and I lead JPAL’s Crime, Violence and Conflict sector, and I coordinate IPA’s Peace & Recovery program. Students of the many JPAL and IPA faculty on campus are eligible for funds from a range of JPAL and IPA initiatives. Finally, the new Tata Center for Development is a also great source of funding for graduate student research in India.

An important note on preparation and entry requirements: Because of the economics and formal theory core, applicants need to have a minimum of multivariate calculus and statistics training to enter the program. Traditionally, linear algebra is strongly recommended and real analysis is an advantage.

We understand, however, that not all political economy of development and conflict applicants will have this training, especially those with more of a political science background. We strongly encourage you to apply, even if you are uncertain whether they have all the requirements. If we accept you, it will be because we expect you will be able to handle the rigorous first year core, or because we believe we can help you get the additional math preparation you need before or during the program.

As one of the co-Directors of the PhD program, I hope to see some of you applications come in this fall. If you feel that the application fee is a barrier to you applying, please contact the office of admissions to request a waiver. We do not want this to be a barrier to you.

But given the overwhelming number of applicants to these programs, it’s uncommon to speak with faculty in advance. Like most economics and political science PhDs, we do not expect you to have developed a relationship with a faculty member in advance. Merely explaining in your application letter which faculty you would like to work with and why is sufficient. The office of admissions can explain other questions.

Like a lot of faculty, I cannot keep up with all the individual emails and inquiries I receive. I’m sorry if you do not get a reply. My approach is to focus my energies on admitted students and my advisees. Because I can’t answer individual emails, I’ve written a huge number of PhD advice posts (see right). The most relevant for admissions include these:


IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 12.55.39 PM

The links are back from vacation. We may have a few back links to catch up on over the next weeks, so here we go:

  • Rachel Meager has public speaking tips for economists.
  • If you want to catch up on a Twitter conversation including me, Chris, and a bunch of other people responding to the Cuddy article on what replication fights in psych mean for econ there’s a 168-slide storify here.
    • I wondered if econ is happily driving along at 65 mph waving at psych as it heads towards its own cliff, because I think every field is unaware of its own blind spots. For econ, I thought it wouldn’t be small samples, but lack of attention to the survey questions and what their measurement tools are getting at (in my experience other social science fields sweat these details far more than economists).
  • But a few days later I was proven wrong. Stanford statistician John Ioannidis (known for the paper showing most medical studies are probably wrong), and colleagues came out with a paper showing most empirical econ studies are underpowered (using 159 meta-analysis data sets of 6,900 studies). In plain language that means they in fact didn’t have big enough samples to support the effects they claim:

nearly 80% of the reported effects in these empirical economics literatures are exaggerated; typically, by a factor of two and with one-third inflated by a factor of four or more.

The paper‘s part of a section on reproducibility in econ (all papers ungated), but there are some slides here in more accessible language. (h/t Lee Crawfurd)

  • If misery loves company, a Nature survey of 1,500+ physical scientists found that more than 70% had tried and failed to reproduce another researcher’s experiments, and more than 50% had failed to reproduce their own experiments. Of the group that had tried to publish replications, successful replications were more frequently published than unsuccessful ones.
  • But some good news, there’s a new journal devoted to just publishing replications in empirical economics.
  • Some non-academic jobs:
  • For the academic-types, graduate students can once again blog their job market paper on the Development Impact Blog.
  • But a good thread for current and future graduate students – a reminder not to pin your sense of self-worth on your academic career. Too much is out of your hands. (h/t Raul Pacheco-Vega)

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

Queen of Katwe Movie Still

Madina Nalwanga as chess champion Phiona Mutesi in the film Queen of Katwe.
Photo: Edward Echwalu/Disney

  • Recognizing that an increasing amount of development policy is being done in developing countries, the prominent British NGO Oxfam is moving its headquarters from the UK to Nairobi.
  • There’s some evidence that being exposed to relatable role models can improve performance in school or at work. A newly-published RCT compared the exam scores of secondary school students in Uganda who viewed Queen of Katwe, a movie about a girl from a low-income community in Uganda who becomes a chess champion, to those who viewed a placebo movie. The students who watched Queen of Katwe were more likely to pass their national exams than those who did not, and the effects were especially large for girls and students who had performed poorly on the exams in the past. The working paper is available here.
  • The Kenyan Supreme Court delivered its full ruling nullifying last month’s election, citing concerns over the accuracy of the results.
  • There’s a free online course starting next week on the science of early childhood development from an international development perspective, including what programs are effective for early childhood.
  • A report from a U.S. government agency found that over the past decade, the government made $63 billion more in tax revenue from refugees than the refugees cost the government. The report was mandated by the president in March, but the administration chose not to release it when the findings were revealed in July (The New York Times obtained a draft copy).
    • Over at the Center for Global Development, economist Michael Clemens reviews the research on the economic impacts of wealthy countries accepting refugees.

Links will be on a break for the next couple of weeks—we’ll see you back here in October.