Archive for August, 2012

Friday photos

Rainy season:

The countryside near Lalibela:


08 2012

Another kind of "game" theory

Alan Greenspan wooed his first wife by inviting her to his apartment so that he could read her an article he had written on monopolies:

We had been discussing monopolies at dinner, and I was trying to keep her engaged. So I invited her back to my apartment to read an article I wrote in the mid-1960s. I was raising serious questions about the whole basis of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, and I actually went through considerable detail as to what I thought was wrong about it. Nothing I’ve seen in reality has changed it. I’m not denying that monopolies are terrible things, but I am denying that it is readily easy to resolve them through legislation of that nature. But we were in conversation of some form or another which related to this. So I was terribly curious to see how she’d respond.


I’ve frankly forgotten how she responded.


08 2012

Life among the Econ

“Life among the Econ” (ungated PDF) is a classic essay by Axel Leijonhufvud that’s worth revisiting — here’s the intro:

The Econ tribe occupies a vast territory in the far North. Their land appears bleak and dismal to the outsider, and travelling through it makes for rough sledding; but the Econ, through a long period of adaptation, have learned to wrest a living of sorts from it. They are not without some genuine and sometimes even fierce attachment to their ancestral grounds, and their young are brought up to feel contempt for the softer living in the warmer lands of their neighbours such as the Polscis and the Sociogs. Despite a common genetical heritage, relations with these tribes are strained-the distrust and contempt that the average Econ feels for these neighbours being heartily reciprocated by the latter-and social intercourse with them is inhibited by numerous taboos. The extreme clannishness, not to say xenophobia, of the Econ makes life among them difficult and perhaps even somewhat dangerous for the outsider. This probably accounts for the fact that the Econ have so far-not been systematically studied….


08 2012

Monday miscellany

  • Edward Carr writes on “monitoring, evaluation, and conflicts of interest,” examining the tension between the advantages of having evaluations done by the implementing organization, vs. the disadvantages of some perverse incentives along the way. Highly recommended, as is the follow-up post on making sure we can learn from M&E.
  • Tara Smith of the blog Aetiology reviews Spillover, a new book on zoonotic diseases, that just moved to the top tier of my reading list; I’ve long been fascinated by zoonotic diseases and even wrote my senior biology thesis on the (much-debated) origins of Ebola outbreaks.
  • Oops — we don’t really know whether sunscreen (or at least the types most people have been using) protect against skin cancer.
  • Aaron Carroll on the real (though often denied) American physician shortage.
  • 3iE, i.e., the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, which advocates for and funds randomized trials and other rigorous study designs, just published the results of a randomized trial on the effectiveness of policy briefs.
  • A Q&A on trying to raise bonobos in a human language environment for multiple generations.
  • Writing at The Economist, Matt Steinglass argues that the U.S. is unlikely to implement policies that would have any great impact on obesity.
  • Finally, here’s a report of a new, AIDS-like disease (though not thought to be contagious) in Thailand and Taiwan. via @EpiDoctor


08 2012

Weekend reading: race in America

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of my favorite writers — I highly recommend his memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, about growing up in Baltimore. His writing has a riveting flow even on the most innocuous subjects, so when he writes about something serious it really kills. He has a long and excellent cover story in The Atlantic this month on Barack Obama: “Fear of a Black President”. It’s the best thing I’ve read this month:

What black people are experiencing right now is a kind of privilege previously withheld—seeing our most sacred cultural practices and tropes validated in the world’s highest office. Throughout the whole of American history, this kind of cultural power was wielded solely by whites, and with such ubiquity that it was not even commented upon. The expansion of this cultural power beyond the private province of whites has been a tremendous advance for black America. Conversely, for those who’ve long treasured white exclusivity, the existence of a President Barack Obama is discombobulating, even terrifying. For as surely as the iconic picture of the young black boy reaching out to touch the president’s curly hair sends one message to black America, it sends another to those who have enjoyed the power of whiteness.

Read it.


08 2012

Friday photos

The fantastic St. George’s church at Lalibela, carved out of a hillside from solid rock:

St. George's church

St. George's


08 2012

mHealth resources

MHealth (ie, mobile health) is all the rage in some public health circles; using mobile technology like phones to collect data, to send reminders for antenatal appointments, etc. I’ll be honest that I didn’t invest a ton of energy in reading about various mhealth initiatives the last two years while taking classes because a) some of it seems overhyped and b) being a young, tech-savvy health professional I was mildly worried about getting pigeonholed into that work and chose to concentrate more on general methodology and tools. But now that my work involves mhealth (somewhat peripherally for now) I’m paying more attention. Here are two good resources that came across my radar recently:

  • William Philbrick of mHealth Alliance has put together a useful report called “mHealth and MNCH: State of the Evidence” (PDF). It summarizes what the research to date on mobile health technology says about maternal, newborn, and child health. Most helpfully, I think, it outlines a few areas where there’s not much need for further duplicative research, and other areas where there has been little or no research at all. This is good reading even if you’re not particularly interested in mHealth, as the study notes that the mHealth community is fairly close and doesn’t always do the best job of disseminating results to the broader global health industry.
  • I first saw the link above via my friend and Hopkins classmate Nadi, who sent it out to the mHealth Student Group on Google Groups. Lots of other good links and discussion on that group, so join up!


08 2012

The longevity transition

Now, the United States and many other countries are experiencing a new kind of demographic transition. Instead of additional years of life being realized early in the lifecycle, they are now being realized late in life. At the beginning of the twentieth century, in the United States and other countries at comparable stages of development, most of the additional years of life were realized in youth and working ages; and less than 20 percent was realized after age 65. Now, more than 75 percent of the gains in life expectancy are realized after 65—and that share is approaching 100 percent asymptotically….

The new demographic transition is a longevity transition: How will individuals and societies respond to mortality decline when almost all of the decline will occur late in life?…

That’s from “The New Demographic Transition: Most Gains in Life Expectancy Now Realized Late in Life,” (PDF) by Karen Eggleston and Victor Fuchs. Via @KarenGrepin.


08 2012

Monday miscellany

In general, we think the strongest cases use multiple forms of evidence, some addressing the weaknesses of others. For example, immunization campaigns are associated with both strong “micro” evidence (which shows that intensive, well-executed immunization programs can save lives) and “macro” evidence (which shows, less rigorously, that real-world immunization programs have led to drops in infant mortality and the elimination of various diseases).

  • Here’s an interview with the author of a book arguing that the Obama administration’s stimulus was a huge success. Includes this quote:

Unemployment actually topped 8 percent the month the stimulus passed, which obviously wasn’t the fault of the stimulus. Recoveries after financial cataclysms are always ugly. But when you spend $800 billion on an economic recovery package, and the recovery stinks, people don’t tend to look past that…. That said, the national media should have tried to look past that, but it didn’t, because the national media sucks at covering public policy.

Think of a good experimental design: randomised control variables, holding everything else constant, etc. Now think of the worst possible experimental design. Imagine something that engineers or psychologists might dream up over beers for a laugh, or to illustrate what not to do. That’s what economists face. It’s as if our lab assistants (the fiscal and monetary authorities) were deliberately trying to make our (economists’) lives as hard as possible. They do this, of course, not to spite us, but to try to make everyone else’s lives as easy as possible. To get a good experimental design for economists, both the fiscal and monetary authorities would need to be malevolent.


08 2012

Friday photos

The Saturday market at Lalibela:

the Lalibela market

I loved the impressionist texture of the moss growing on the side of one of the churches at Lalibela:



08 2012