Monday Miscellany

  • I thought this essay (PDF) by Chris Blattman was excellent. It's a summary of three recent books (two by scholars, one by a former general) on issues surrounding children and warfare, mixed in with some of Blattman's observations about working in such a charged field.
  • GiveWell on needs in meta-research.  But meta-research isn't everything: see this recent post by Jed Friedman on the "tyranny of the known" and the Copenhagen Consensus.
  • Adam Ozimek and Noah Smith argue that we should have more immigration of high-education workers to the US.
  • What was the environmental impact of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

In 1990, some 250,000 turtles were imported into Britain to feed the demand of young Turtles fans who wanted them as pets. For only a few pounds, kids could easily buy a small turtle, not knowing that it would grow to be the size of a dinner plate. When the kids no longer wanted to take care of the animals, they were often dumped in rivers and ponds, where they devastated native ecosystems. The problem became so severe that the European Union banned the sale of the most popular breed, red-eared terrapins, in 1997.

Monday Miscellany

Just one final exam to go. For now, some links:

  • The fascinating emergence of a scholarly citation cartel.
  • The TV show House is coming to a close. If you're a fan, you might check out The Medical Detectives -- many of the plot lines from the first season of House were drawn from it. The main difference is that in The Medical Detectives (and the real world) most good things are accomplished by hard-working teams of doctors and epidemiologists, rather than (mostly) solitary diagnostic genius.
  • More from Ed Yong on replication failures in psychological research. Berk Ozler disagrees.
  • "Straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting there is" -- a way of explaining adversity and discrimination to those innumerate enough to not understand that anecdotes do not disprove averages. For the record,  I was always bad at video games and chose the easiest level.
  • Chemistry blogger Derek Lowe discusses a preventative trial for Alzheimer's.
  • Finally, the authors of Disastrous Passion, the hilarious online novel about aid workers in love, announced they're going to finish it up and release it as an ebook. But they also note "At this point the manuscript is being edited and revised, some chapters overhauled, sub-plot lines cleaned up." I'm a bit worried that my favorite minor character may get cut: he resembles someone I've criticized and is (coincidence?) named Brett...

Monday Miscellany

  • Today is the 2012 "Day Without Dignity." What's that? Saundra S of the blog Good Intentions Are Not Enough explains: "A Day Without Dignity was started last year as a counter-campaign to TOMs Shoes One Day Without Shoes event. With so many Whites in Shining Armor projects making the news we decided this year to focus on local champions instead." There are 24 posts and counting for Local Champions linked here, or you can follow #localchampions on Twitter.
  • Lee Crawfurd shares this post by Gabriel Demombynes at the World Bank's Development Impact blog, a fascinating comparison of an intervention implemented simultaneously by an NGO and a government, resulting in quite different results.
  • Alex Evans explores what comes after the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Do child sponsorship programs actually work? Maybe so.
  • "Interactive Islands of Mankind" is a simple but sweet interactive tool by Derek Watkins that lets you see variations in population density around the world.
  • Finally, a hilarious Public Service Announcement regarding safe sex for senior citizens is going viral (pun intended). No comment on whether this will be effective, but it is certainly getting some attention.

Monday Miscellany

  • Erin Fletcher reviews Matt Yglesias' new book, The Rent is Too Damn High, and summarizes it nicely along the way.
  • What does transportation legislation have to do with public health? More than you might think: which systems our government chooses to subsidize have a huge though indirect impact on decisions we make on where to live and how to get around, which in turn impact exercise and obesity. The Pump Handle - a public health blog - talks about the current transportation bill here.
  • A fascinating controversy is unfolding in experimental psychology (specifically on priming effects) after researchers attempted to replicate a seminal finding and came up short. Discussion here.
  • Andrew Gelman's blog is read by social scientists of many stripes -- from statisticians to political scientists and economists -- so when he titles a post "Economics now = Freudian psychology in the 1950s..." you know the comments will be good.
  • "How sure are you that your models are correct?" asks Observational Epidemiology: "This is not to say that we should be reckless. But policies like austerity in a time of high unemployment have immediate and real costs." Read the rest here.

Monday Miscellany

Read Harold Pollack on the National Longitudinal Surveys and why they're at risk. In short, these surveys are the sort of public good information function that are extremely valuable but require consistent investments over many years for maximum benefit:

These surveys aren’t cheap. They cost several million dollars every year to do right. They are also a bargain. By spending $6 million per year for high-quality national surveys, we increase the chances that we will do a better job as we spend maybe 2,000 times that figure for preschool services to low-income children, not to mention even greater amounts for public assistance benefits, community colleges, and more.

Christina Paxson, our Dean at the Woodrow Wilson School, will be the next president of Brown University. Paxson is an economist whose research focuses on poverty and health over the lifespan, has really built up the health offerings at the Woo -- she started the Center for Health and Wellbeing, for one. A sampling of her research:

  • "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient" (link)
  • "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance" (link)
  • "Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes" (link)

Based on a great review by Daniel Altman (see ET's Guide to the Global Economy) I bought -- for just $3 -- a new ebook by Alan Beattie: Who's in Charge Here? How Governments Are Failing the World Economy? It's a quick read and is a great little political economy narrative of what's been going on for the last few years.

This great headline comes from my classmate Jesse Singal: "Drug-Testing Welfare Recipients: Expensive and Pointless, But Otherwise A Great Idea"

Finally, Alan Jacobs describes how academic search user interfaces clash with Google-trained minds.

Monday Miscellany

It's been a while. Some recent goodies:

Monday Miscellany

Monday Miscellany

  • If you're considering grad school in international development / public policy / public health you should read these recent posts by Rachel Strohm and Karen Attiah. They write specifically about development studies, but in my limited experience the criticism can be extended to schools of public health and more broadly to policy schools as well.
  • I updated my post from October on Andrew Grove's proposal to restyle FDA trials with a link to Derek Lowe's round-up of critical responses, which help explain why our drug approval system - flawed though it may be - could be made much worse by such reforms.
  • Potentially useful: a list of software for monitoring and evaluation.
  • Ever wanted an infographic of the deadliest outbreaks in history? Now you have one. Of course, Steven Pinker would want to resize all of these to be relative to the world population at the time of the pandemic...
  • Brazil pharma pressure and Wikileaks at Foreign Policy.
  • Here's a critical essay by David Rieff from a while back - "Altruists in Wonderland: UN Millennium Development Goals."
  • Completely unrelated to anything else I've read lately, but still fascinating: Justinian and the Nike riots.
  • From Flowing Data: US road fatalities mapped over 9 years:

Monday Miscellany

  • Tara Parker-Pope writes "The Fat Trap," a long essay in the New York Times on obesity. (And here's a thoughtful response from Rod Dreher.) Update: also see this by Aaron Carroll on the same subject.
  • Dave Algoso reminds us that -- whether with Google Reader or in international development -- "if you're not paying for it then you're not the customer. You're the product."
  • The Economist explores cases where militaries own sizable chunks of the non-military economy, including Egypt and Iran.
  • Wronging Rights sighs: "human rights for gays somehow still a point of controversy."
  • How does Prozac work? In short, we don't know.
  • Have you seen this incredible chart from Mother Jones on the recent history of bank mergers?
  • A fascinating and terrifying story about a cargo container emitting massive radiation and how no one could decide what to do with it.

Monday Miscellany

  • Jon Krakauer is still following the Three Cups of Tea / Central Asia Institute scandal. (Link via @saundra_s)
  • "The accidental universe" is a great essay in Harpers by Alan Lightman on the current state of physics and theories of the multiverse. (Link via @cblatts)
  • My fellow classmates and I will be writing many letters like this in the next few months.
  • Seth Berkley, the new head of the GAVI Alliance, has started blogging. Before GAVI he started the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).
  • The Walton family opened Crystal Bridges, an art museum in northwestern Arkansas with quite the collection -- here's the NYT review. Bentonville is nearly a four hour drive from Searcy, where I'm spending the holidays, so I'm not sure I'll make it on this visit. Still it should be a boon for Arkansas tourism, which I believe is Arkansas' second largest industry after agriculture.
  • Finally, here's Owen Barder's take on what happened at the high-level summit on aid effectiveness in Busan, South Korea: "Busan was an expression of new geopolitical realities, but despite high level representation, it has done little to shape the future of development cooperation."

Monday Miscellany

  • Japan started a huge cohort study to look at health problems in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster -- they'll follow children in the area for decades, watching for thyroid problems in particular.
  • Community health centers lose funding and no one notices. One of my friends works for this program and I didn't even know this.
  • Just how messed up are our political and lobbying processes? Morgenson and Rosner's Reckless Endangerment is a great read on Fannie Mae's role in the housing bubble, but this NY Review of Books critique is a necessary corrective to the somewhat myopic point of view taken by Morgenson and Rosner, who portray Fannie as the primum movens of the crisis.
  • Planned Parenthood in Texas struggles after state budget cuts. Battles over health care (of which PP is a major -- or the only --provider to many women and low-income families) and abortion rights are increasingly being fought in the states.
  • Rush Limbaugh reacted to Obama's decision to send 100 US (armed) military advisers to Uganda to help hunt Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army by saying "Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians." Best Twitter reaction came from @jonathanshainin: "I remember when Rush Limbaugh was one of our top central Africa experts. Looks like he may be slipping a bit."
  • Did you know top MBA programs don't disclose grades? Bizarre. Grades definitely aren't the most important part of school, but still...

Monday Miscellany

Amanda Taub of Wronging Rights writes on private cities in Africa. Ben Goldacre explores a common statistical mistake in neuroscience journals, based on this article in Nature Neuroscience.

Over the last decade the CIA has increasingly focused on killing people.

"Pakistan views India as the perpetual enemy and the US as an unfaithful ally." (source)

The always interesting (at least for evaluation nerds) World Bank Development Impact blog has this post on "partner selection bias," which is evidently about organizations -- not STI transmission dynamics or gender roles.

Princeton professors reflect on 9/11:

When [Woodrow] Wilson School professor Stanley Katz remembers 9/11, his first thoughts are not of Sept. 11, 2001, but rather of the walk to his office in Robertson Hall the very next day. That his workplace and the now-demolished World Trade Center at the base of Manhattan Island had been designed by the same architect — Minoru Yamasaki — had never, before the morning of Sept. 12, stood out in such high relief to Katz, who began to notice eerie similarities between the buildings.

Monday Miscellany

On coining new words:

The book coins dozens of new terms for the male member, like “thundertube,” “seedstick” and the “Malcolm Gladwell..."

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

On a related topic, Tim Harford highlights a paper called "Male Organ and Economic Growth: Does Size Matter?" That's right, a cross-country regression on how penis size correlates with economic outcomes over time. Westling, the author, notes that 13.5 cm (5.3 in) is "the GDP maximising size." It's a joke yes, but it's also a serious commentary on interpreting such cross-country regressions. Harford continues:

Well, well. What are we to make of this? I asked Westling how he would characterise his research paper, and he suggested the term "sardonic economics" – and, he added, "Scientifically, this paper is probably as worthless as much of contemporary economics."

(As an aside, in my last year as an undergrad I wrote my political science thesis doing this sort of cross-country comparison, except I didn't even do a regression... but the program I was in did not have strong quantitative training.)

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

This week Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column features a great, simple explanation of adjustment by stratification. I've actually used this same hypothetical example (lung cancer with drinking alcohol, or with drinking coffee) to explain the concept to friends before. If you've ever struggled to explain this sort of thing to someone who isn't an epidemiologist (or similarly trained researcher) it's a great read: "Any set of figures needs adjusting before it can be usefully reported."

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

There's an entire genre of New York Times articles that should all be subtitled "What you need to know if you make $500k or more each year." The latest is "Planning Summer Breaks with an Eye on College Essays." Reminds me of the one about taking private jets to summer camp...

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

The always insightful and often disheartening "Sociological Images" blog notes how advertising can reinforce stereotypes about Africa by doing things like erasing Nairobi. I think of this too every time I see a picture of the Pyramids at Giza. If you've been, you know that they're actually surrounded on three sides by city -- which isn't exactly picturesque. But in postcards they're always shown from one angle, and in movies the 'ugly stuff' (ie, where real people live) is often photoshopped out.

Monday Miscellany

Oxfam on the worsening situation in the Horn of Africa. Related: Edward Carr on "Drought Does Not Equal Famine" from 4 days ago,and a follow-up from yesterday on remedies for the famine. Texas in Africa has a round-up on what's going on in Malawi.

NPR: Vaccine Mistrust Spreads To The Developing World - this was a subject of some discussion in Orin Levine's Vaccine Policy Issues class at Hopkins this spring.

The Economist summarizes a likely rough patch ahead in South African politics.

On two lighter, linguistic notes: 15 wonderful words with no English equivalent and the Economist demolishes BBC's "anti-Americanisms."

Also, Campus Crusade for Christ has rebranded itself -- now it's just called "Cru" (from Hemant Mehta, not The Onion.)

Monday Miscellany: NYC edition

Two weeks ago I moved to New York City for the summer, so today's links from around the interwebs are focused on the Big Apple:

Monday Miscellany

Bad news: 3rd term final exams and projects are this week at JHSPH. Good news: next week is Spring Break! Some links for the week:

Japan: Hard to think of good things in the wake of tragedy, but it could have been much worse: Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes.

On GAVI: Some coverage by Tom Paulson of Seth Berkley's appointment as the new CEO of the GAVI Alliance, which funds vaccinations in many developing countries. Paulson also links to a thought-provoking read, "Six Ideas and Questions for GAVI's New CEO," by Amanda Glassman of the Center for Global Development, and an article Paulson wrote on the early days of GAVI. (And I spent a good chunk of my weekend working on a paper comparing policy alternatives for GAVI's co-financing policy for a class taught by @orinlevine.)

Cote d'Ivoire: Close to half a million people have been displaced by the Cote d'Ivoire crisis so far.

Microcredit: Is microfinance a neoliberal fairtytale?

Baltimore: David Simon (creator of The Wire) on the drug war in Baltimore and beyond.

Refugees: Jina Moore with this disturbing story: "Why an American lawyer is pulling the plug - literally - on a Rwandan refugee."

Rwanda: The Trouble with Rwanda by Lindsay Morgan.

Religion (or lack thereof): Sociological Images presents demographics of the non-religious.

Random: The blog Best of Wikipedia has been on a roll lately: see Errors in the US Constitution, dihydrogen monoxide hoax, and Mozart and scatology (ie, toilet humor).

Monday Miscellany

Things and links I liked:

  • I just renewed my membership in the National Association of Rocketry (I maintain a separate rocketry blog but haven't updated in a while because it's not flying season), which includes a $2 million liability insurance policy for rocket launches. Oddly, the notice I got with my renewal says this: "NAR insurance does not cover any activities which involve use of alcoholic beverages, criminal assaults and batteries, nuclear accidents or sexual abuse." I can understand the others, but seriously, "nuclear accidents?" Was that necessary?
  • My favorite blog discovery of last week is "Covering Health" on health care journalism. Here's a post on balancing daily reporting and narratives.
  • Dave Algoso (who I met at the AidWatch conference this weekend) writes "Would you hire me if I disagreed with you? What if I did it publicly?"
  • My friend Kate Otto on planning and pregnancy in Indonesia.
  • On DFID's aid review.
  • Something that brings left and right together (sort of): cancer research.
  • The typical human is a 28 year old Chinese man.
  • For those currently applying to grad school, here's a useful video on the Harvard Kennedy School application.

Monday Miscellany

I do most of my blog writing on weekends, scheduling posts ahead of time. Last week was midterms, and last weekend I was in DC visiting friends and studying, thus I got little writing done. I'm glad to be back this week, and will kick things off with a roundup of recent fascinatingness:

  • There's a measles outbreak in the US. Interesting fact: we know that measles transmission has been stopped within the US because every time there's an outbreak, investigators are able to sequence the virus and eventually match it to the region from which it was imported. See the CDC's MMWR on the subject for more.
  • Amanda Glassman of the Center for Global Development comments on proposed new rules for kidney transplant prioritization in the US -- a percentage of donated kidneys would be reserved for the youngest, healthiest transplant recipients. Glassman recently hosted an event at CGD on rationing that I was able to attend. Speakers included Andrew Dillon of the UK's NICE and Sheri Fink, who recently reported this excellent series at PRI on various approaches to health care rationing around the world. Fink's one book, War Hospital, is a compelling look at the struggles of doctors in the embattled Srebrenica enclave (pre-massacre) during the Bosnian War.
  • Risks of rare events are hard to conceptualize. Enter the micromort, a one-in-a-million probability of death.
  • The website for Poor Economics, a forthcoming book by Banerjee and Duflo, is pretty awesome. The overview section makes it sound like they overemphasize interesting findings about behavioral priorities and downplay structural reasons (lousy governments, poor trade policies, etc) but maybe that's now born out in the text. I'm looking forward to reading this as well as Karlan and Appel's forthcoming More Than Good Intentions.
  • Edward Carr recently finished live-blogging Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid--it's a scathing review worth reading if you haven't read the book but run into fans. I'll admit that I didn't get through it -- I got frustrated early on with the imprecise definitions of terms and poor logic. I hope to finish at some point, but for now it's pretty low on my list of priorities. This review of Moyo's new book, How the West Was Lost is pretty damning: "[Dead Aid]’s runaway success baffled many with prior knowledge of the issues, even those broadly sympathetic to its sceptical tone, consisting as it did of a tendentious one-sided account of tired and inconclusive old academic literature about aid effectiveness. How the West was Lost contrives to lower these standards yet further."
  • "Marauding Gay Hordes Drag Thousands Of Helpless Citizens From Marriages After Obama Drops Defense Of Marriage Act" (story)
  • John Shea argues in American Scientist, more or less, that the caveman from GEICO commercials is more accurate than the current anthropological view (sort of).

Microfinance Miscellany

I had a conversation yesterday with a PhD student friend (also in international health) about the evaluation of microcredit programs. I was trying to summarize -- off the top of my head, never a good idea! -- recent findings, and wasn't able to communicate much. But I did note that like many aid and development programs, you get a pretty rosy picture when you're using case studies or cherry-picked before-and-after evaluations without comparison groups. So I was trying to describe what it looks like to do rigorous impact evaluations that account for the selection biases you get if you're just comparing people who self-select for taking out loans versus controls. After that discussion, I was quite happy to come across this new resource on David Roodman's blog: yesterday DFID released a literature review of microfinance impacts in Africa.

On a related note, Innovations for Poverty Action hosted a conference on microfinance evaluation last October, and many of the presentations and papers presented are available here. The "What Are We Learning About Impacts?" sections includes presentations given by Abhijit Banerjee (PDF) and Dean Karlan (PDF) of Yale. Worth reading.

Monday Miscellany

This week's links worth sharing:
  • NYU's Development Research Institute is hosting a free one-day conference on Friday, March 4th called "New Directions in Development," including talks by William Easterly and Chris Blattman. After realizing (almost immediately) that the title is not a pun on the main show choir featured on Glee, I decided to go. If you read my blog and plan to attend let me know so we can meet up!
  • What the strange persistence of rockets can tell us about innovation.
  • Cosma Shalizi, of the blog Three Toed Sloth, is posting lecture notes from his course on "Advanced Data Analysis from an Elementary Point of View".
  • Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development thinks USAID's new evaluation policy is really good, but isn't getting enough attention. Sounds like a good policy (if it gets implemented, of course) and I'm especially likely to agree, since it tracks pretty closely with the 'policy proposal' I included with a recent grad school joint degree application.
  • Mead Over, also at CGD, writes about PEPFAR's new scientific advisory board: "PEPFAR's overriding objective is  "[T]ransition from emergency response to sustainable country-led programs." Despite good intentions, AIDS programs cannot be "sustainable" in poor or even in middle-income countries unless they meet one or both of two criteria: new infections should be rare and high quality AIDS treatment should be much less costly than it is now. PEPFAR seems to realize that it does not currently know how to do this. They hope to gather evidence in order to have a better idea, and our job on the committee is to advise PEPFAR how best to proceed in gathering and analyzing this new information."
  • Obama thinks US intelligence agencies should have done more to predict recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. Maybe Obama should read some more Timur Kuran (PDF)?
  • What other dictators does the US support?
  • Stephen Colbert calls vaccines a waste of money because his kids didn't get sick.
  • Andrew Sullivan shares this video of a college student in Iowa talking about how he's not that different from anyone else, even though he has two moms. Powerful: