Bill Easterly was kind enough to send us some detailed comments on Part III of our series on "The Impact of Economics Blogs," asking us that we post them on our blog. We are more than happy to oblige:
Berk, thanks for offering to post this response to your post on your blog. I respect you and many others in the World Bank's Research Department who produce very high quality research that meets rigorous academic standards.
I would suggest to you as a colleague that you omit the issue of World Bank censorship from your paper. It raises unwelcome issues that distract from the valuable contribution of the rest of the paper. There seems to be a potential conflict of interest in reporting research about the quality (via censorship constraints) of your own home institution.
The reader also wonders about how the World Bank's public relations department (abbreviation EXT) might use your academic research for its own non-academic agenda. So EXT might be happy to allow your blog to operate unhindered but would not allow other blogs or public fora that might show the Bank in an unfavorable light. We cannot observe the set of blogs that don't exist because of EXT, so the evidence from your blog's existence provides a very partial view of censorship.
It seems obvious that EXT would not allow blogs or other public fora to report findings that could go either way on politically sensitive topics like foreign aid, autocracy in major member states of the World Bank, or indeed the effect of the World Bank's own operations on development outcomes.
Here is our response:
Thanks for these comments.
1. On the issue of whether there is a conflict of interest in reporting about censorship and quality of our home institution, this is an issue we have thought about. All we are doing is reporting what the data from our surveys and experiment shows- namely, that there is a perception that there is some censorship at the World Bank, and that reading our blog lowers this perception. Similarly on the quality of research. We will be posting the data and code along with the paper itself, so others are welcome to check this inference.
2. On how others might use and misuse our results - we look forward to you and other readers keeping both us and our external affairs people honest.
3. As to whether we can report findings that could go either way on politically sensitive topics like the effect of the World Bank's own operations on development outcomes...I guess words are cheap, but we plan on blogging on interesting research, whatever it says - and indeed have a number of impact evaluations underway which are precisely trying to measure the effect of some of the World Bank's own operations - and we will certainly blog about those, regardless of what those results show. We also invite readers to alert us to impact assessments we might have missed which deserve discussion on these issues.
Thanks again. Sincerely,
Berk & David.
Postscript: This link, which is relevant to the discussion here, came to our attention after posting this (one of the benefits of blogging -- instant feedback) courtesy of Chris Blattman tweeting: http://www.ictworks.org/news/2011/08/17/great-success-world-bank-has-70-failure-rate-ict4d-projects-increase-universal-acces#comment-1049.