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David McKenzie's blog

Weekly links May 25: tips for saying no, three stories on the media and development, cricket as a development policy? And more...

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  • NBER Summer institute development economics program and labor studies program.
  • The map of “Manuscript-Earth” featuring  “The pit of you saved those files, right? Right?”, “confused about the big picture woods”, “The island of misfit results” and other glorious landmarks (h/t Dave Evans).
  • Do you say “no” enough to new projects? Anton Pottegard has a nice poster of 8 practical tools to assist in saying no – including JOMO (joy of missing out) – “once a project is turned down, set time aside to actively ponder about how happy you are not to be doing it” (h/t Scott Cunningham).

Weekly links May 18: P&P highlights galore, basic management vs grand strategy, can you SMS your way to social linkages, and more...

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Weekly links May 11: more on shift-share instruments, updated balance tables, measuring height with photos, and more...

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Having an impact as a development economist outside of a research university: interview with Evan Borkum of Mathematica

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Today’s installment in this occasional series on how to use your development economics PhD outside of a research university is with Evan Borkum, a senior researcher in the International Research Division of Mathematica Policy Research Inc.


DI: Please provide a short paragraph describing what you do in this job, and give us a sense of what a typical day or week might look like for you. My job is to conduct independent rigorous impact and performance evaluations of social programs in developing countries. Most of this work is conducted under contract to US government agencies (mostly MCC and USAID) and various foundations, who issue requests for proposals to evaluate their programs. In my eight years at Mathematica I’ve worked on evaluations in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe, and in topic areas including agriculture, primary education, vocational training, maternal and child health, land, and others. As senior researcher on an evaluation team I’m typically responsible for technical leadership of all aspects of an evaluation, including study design, data collection, and final analysis and reporting. Last week was fairly typical and included work on designing a randomized controlled trial of an anti-child labor program, drafting a quantitative survey of vocational education students, and planning the analysis of survey data from farmers in Morocco.

Weekly links May 4: has your study been abducted? Noisy risk preferences, why we should be cautious extrapolating climate change and growth estimates, and more...

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  • Excellent tradetalks podcast with Dave Donaldson has a detailed discussion with him on his work looking at the impact of railroads on development in India and in U.S. economic history.
  • The latest Journal of Economic Perspectives includes:
    •  Acemoglu provides a summary of Donaldson’s work that led to him receiving the Bates Clark medal
    • Several papers on risk preferences, including discussion of whether risk preferences are stable and how to think about them if they are not (interesting sidenote in this is a comment on how much measurement error there is when using incentivized lotteries – the correlations between risk premia measured for the same individual using different experimental choices can be quite low, and correlations tend to be higher for survey measures – and speculation that the measurement error may be worse in developing countries “large share of the papers that document contradictory effects of violent conflict or natural disasters use experimental data from developing countries, but these tools were typically developed in the context of high-income countries. They may be more likely to produce noisy results in samples that are less educated, partly illiterate, or less used to abstract thinking)
    • a series of papers on how much the U.S. gains from trade

Rethinking identification under the Bartik Shift-Share Instrument

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While it has been said that “friends don’t let friends use IV”, one exception has been the Bartik or shift-share instrument. Development economists tend to see these instruments used most in the trade and migration literatures, with Jaeger et al. (2018) noting that “it is difficult to overstate the importance of this instrument for research on immigration.

Weekly Links April 27: improving water conservation, acceptance rates drop below 3%, using pre-analysis plans for observational data, and more...

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Weekly links April 13: militant randomistas, show them the germs, should your next paper not be a paper? and more...

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Weekly links April 7: registration becomes compulsory, lessons from reality tv and the Black Panther, positively deviant schools, and more...

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  • AEA journals now require registration in the RCT registry:  - the AEA journals' submission instructions now include: “The American Economic Association operates a Registry for Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs).  In January of 2018, the AEA Executive Committee passed motion requiring the registration of RCTs for all applicable submissions. If the research in your paper involves a RCT, please register (registration is free), prior to submitting. In the online submission form, you will be required to provide the registration number issued by the Registry. We also kindly ask you to acknowledge compliance by including your number in the introductory footnote of your manuscript.” – note this registration can still be post-trial registration at this stage, but this definitely should encourage you to register new trials as you start them.
  • Marginal revolution notes a newly published meta-analysis paper that compares RD estimates to RCT estimates on the same data, showing both internal and some external validity of the RD method.

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