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Berk Ozler's blog

Review of Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World

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This is a guest post by Bruce Wydick.

It isn’t hard to understand why Andrew Leigh would write a book on randomized controlled trials. A kind of modern renaissance man, Leigh currently serves as a member of the Australian House of Representatives. But in his prior life as an economist (Ph.D. from Harvard’s Kennedy School), Leigh published widely in the fields of public finance, labor, health, and political economy, even winning the Economic Society of Australia's Young Economist Award--a kind of John Bates Clark medal for Australians. His evolution from economist to politician must constantly evoke the following question: What is the best research approach for informing practical policy?  In his new book, Leigh leaves little doubt about his answer. Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Changed Our World (forthcoming, Yale University Press) heralds the widespread incorporation of the randomized controlled trial (RCT) into the mainstream of social science.

Incorporating participant welfare and ethics into RCTs

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One of the standard defenses of an RCT proposal to a skeptic is to invoke budget and implementation capacity constraints and argue that since not everyone will get the desired treatment (at least initially), the fairest way would be to randomly allocate treatment among the target population. While this is true, it is also possible to take into consideration the maximization of participants’ welfare and incorporate their preferences and expected responses to treatment into account while designing an RCT that still satisfies the aims of the researcher (identify unbiased treatment effects with sufficient precision). A recent paper by Yusuke Narita seems to make significant headway in this direction for development economists to take notice.

Evidence-based or interpretation-based?

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When people say “evidence-based policymaking” or they talk about the “credibility revolution, they are surely trying to talk about the fact that (a) we have (or trying hard to have) better evidence on impacts of various approaches to solve problems, and (b) we should use that evidence to make better decisions regarding policy and program design. However, the debate about the Haushofer and Shapiro (2018) paper on the three-year effects of GiveDirectly cash transfers in Kenya taught me that how people interpret the evidence is as important as the underlying evidence. The GiveDirectly blog (that I discussed here, and GiveDirectly posted an update here) and Justin Sandefur’s recent post on the CGD blog are two good examples.

GiveDirectly Three-Year Impacts, Explained

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My post earlier this week on dissipating effects of cash transfers on adults in beneficiary households has caused not only a fair amount of disturbance in the development community, but also a decent amount of confusion about the three-year impacts of GiveDirectly’s cash transfers, from a working paper by Haushofer and Shapiro (2018) – HS (18) from hereon. At least some, including GiveDirectly itself and some academics, seem to think that one can reasonably interpret the findings in HS (18) to imply that the short-term effects of GD, also by Haushofer and Shapiro (2016) – HS (16) from hereon – were sustained three years post treatment. Below, I try to clear up the confusion regarding the evidence and explain why I vigorously disagree with that interpretation.

Facility-based data collection: a data methods bleg

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Today, I come to our readers with a request. I have a ton of experience with household and individual survey data collection. Ditto with biomarkers, assessments/tests at home, etc. However, I have less experience with facility-based data collection, especially when it is high frequency. For example, we do have a lot of data from the childcare centers in our study in Malawi, but we had to visit each facility once at each round of data collection and spend a day to collect all the facility-level data, including classroom observations, etc. What would you do if you needed high frequency data (daily, weekly, or monthly) that is a bit richer that what the facility collects themselves for their own administrative purposes that would not break the bank?

Your go-to regression specification is biased: here’s the simple way to fix it

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Today, I am writing about something many of you already know. You’ve probably been hearing about it for 5-10 years. But, you still ignore it. Well, now that the evidence against it has mounted enough and the fix is simple enough, I am here to urge you to tweak your regression specifications in your program evaluations.

I just signed my first referee report

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I once received a referee report for a journal submission that said, “In fact, in my view its contribution to science is negative…” The report continued with comments about how the paper lacked “proper and sound scientific inquiry” and was “…unsuitable for publication pretty much anywhere, I think.” Just in case the four-page assault was not sufficient, the report ended with encouraging the authors to “…move onto the next project.” It was hard to avoid the feeling that the referee was suggesting a career change for us rather than simply giving up on this paper… The paper was subsequently published in the Journal of Health Economics, but the bad taste of receiving that report lingered long afterwards…

12 of our favorite development papers of the year

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Development Impact will now be on break over the next couple of weeks for the holidays, resuming in early January after the AEA annual meetings. Inspired by some of the interesting lists of favorite papers of the year (e.g. Noah Smith, Matt Notowidigdo) we thought we’d each offer three of our favorite development economics papers for the year...

The Economics and Law of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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This week, I leave you with this short 2003 paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Kaushik Basu. It both follows somewhat from my last post, is related to the day's news, and relevant for thinking about principles for intervention in labor markets for a host of issues that our colleagues deal with in developing and developed economies...Here is the abstract - but you can read the paper in 30 minutes...

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