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Weekly links September 28: the peril of meetings, endogenous responses mess up big data uses, what 600+ development papers tells you about our field, and more...

David McKenzie's picture
  • Josh Blumenstock has a nice summary comment in Nature on using big data for development. Good discussion of some of the findings/use cases so far, but also of the importance of realizing that predicting levels is not the same as capturing changes, and that model fit may change quite quickly, especially if people learn the algorithms. E.g. “With colleagues, I have been working on interactive tools to provide real-time visualizations of population poverty and vulnerability. By benchmarking predictions with multiple rounds of survey data (including responses to questions about income, health and employment status), we’ve seen that the accuracy of our maps degrades quickly, sometimes within just a few months”...” when people become aware of the fact that their personal data are being monitored to make decisions — for instance, about who gets humanitarian aid or who is eligible for a loan — they are inevitably incentivized to game the system. GiveDirectly, a non-profit organization in Africa and the United States that enables direct cash transfers to people living in poverty around the world, initially used satellite imagery to target aid to households with thatched roofs. But people soon caught on, to the point at which some would pretend to live in a thatched structure adjacent to their main iron-roofed house to become eligible for the aid.”
  • Free pdf download of an introduction to statistical learning with applications in R – with R code and datasets for all the examples in the book – good intro to machine learning.
  • I’ve been enjoying catching up on the short episodes in Planet Money’s new podcast The Indicator. In particular, I liked this the episode why people can’t get work done at work: “the shared calendar is one of the worst inventions in modern software history... When everyone can see everyone else's time and you can see which blocks people have available, it becomes really tempting to take blocks from people... usually the kinds of things that you put on a work calendar, whether it's shared or not, are not the things that have to do with actually getting your job done... So like, it's a meeting, or it's an HR thing. It's usually not, hey, from, like, you know, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. I'm going to be quietly working on the thing I'm working on. That space you just leave open. [The calendar is] sort of like a chronicle of distractions”
  • Following up on my post on descriptive papers in development, this new NBER paper by Bento and Restuccia has some of the more interesting descriptive facts I have seen for a while – they detail average manufacturing and service establishment sizes for over 90 countries, and show a strong positive relationship.
  • The Development Research Group is recruiting on the junior market: JOE listing