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David McKenzie's blog

Towards policy irrelevance? Thoughts on the experimental arms race and Chris Blattman’s predictions

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Chris Blattman posted an excellent (and surprisingly viral) post yesterday with the title “why I worry experimental social science is headed in the wrong direction”. I wanted to share my thoughts on his predictions.
He writes:
Take experiments. Every year the technical bar gets raised. Some days my field feels like an arms race to make each experiment more thorough and technically impressive, with more and more attention to formal theories, structural models, pre-analysis plans, and (most recently) multiple hypothesis testing. The list goes on. In part we push because want to do better work. Plus, how else to get published in the best places and earn the respect of your peers?
It seems to me that all of this is pushing social scientists to produce better quality experiments and more accurate answers. But it’s also raising the size and cost and time of any one experiment.

Weekly links November 20: sensitive topics, nightlights, should you co-author? And more…

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Weekly links November 6: 5 years of nudging, peer effects, not enough news in New Zealand again, and more…

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  • The Behavioral Insights Team (aka Nudge unit) turns 5 – Psych report interview discusses the achievements and where they plan to go “two things I would point to that, personally, I am most proud of. The first is that I think we can say we have changed the way in which policy is made in Whitehall. People think about drawing on ideas from the behavioral sciences in a way that five years ago almost nobody did. Secondly, people now think about using randomized controlled trials as one of the policy tools that can be used to find out whether or not something works. Again, that was just not considered to be part of a policymaker’s toolbox five years ago. So rather than pointing to the successes of the interventions, I think I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve started to change the mindsets of policymakers in the UK government.”

Finally a matching grant evaluation that worked…at least until a war intervened

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Several years ago I was among a group of researchers at the World Bank who all tried to conduct randomized experiments of matching grant projects (where the government funds part of the cost of firms innovating or upgrading technology and the firm the other part). Strikingly we tried on seven projects to implement an RCT and each time failed, mostly because of an insufficient number of applicants.

Weekly links October 30: how to decide on whether you have a zero effect, the impact of becoming a (swiss) citizen, and more…

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Weekly links October 23: popularizing research, partial identification, celebrating ideas-led growth, and more…

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Exporting on eBay: The Impact of Lowering the Hassle Costs of Exporting

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Getting more firms to export is a policy goal in many countries around the world. However, the trade literature has not had very many well-identified evaluations of policy interventions that facilitate exports (a notable exception being work by Atkin et al in Egypt). So I thought it would be useful to share the results of a recent experiment by Xiang Hui making it easier for sellers to export on eBay.

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