Sometimes, finding nothing at all can unlock the secrets of the universe. Consider this story from astronomy, recounted by Lily Zhao: “In 1823, Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers gazed up and wondered not about the stars, but about the darkness between them, asking why the sky is dark at night. If we assume a universe that is infinite, uniform and unchanging, then our line of sight should land on a star no matter where we look. For instance, imagine you are in a forest that stretches around you with no end. Then, in every direction you turn, you will eventually see a tree. Like trees in a never-ending forest, we should similarly be able to see stars in every direction, lighting up the night sky as bright as if were day. The fact that we don’t indicates that the universe either is not infinite, is not uniform, or is somehow changing.”
You may have heard about Tyler Cowen’s interview with Chris Blattman earlier this month. You would be forgiven, however, to have missed important news about cash transfers because, as far as I can tell, no one tweeted about this:
- The bias in recall data revisited: On the Ifpri blog, Susan Godlonton and co-authors discuss their work on “mental anchoring” - the tendency to rely too heavily on only one piece of information (the "anchor") when making a decision – they use panel data where they ask people about both current outcomes, and to recall outcomes from a year ago. They find that people use their current outcomes as an anchor in trying to recall what happened a year ago “a $10 increase reported in the 2013 concurrent report for monthly income was associated with a $7.50 increase in the recalled monthly income for 2012”
- Scott Cunningham posts his “mixtape” on teaching causal inference - a textbook that may be of particular interest to many of our readers because of its applied focus, use of Stata examples and Stata datasets, and also coverage of some topics not found in many of the alternatives (e.g. directed acyclical graphs, synthetic controls).
This post was coauthored with Niklas Buehren, Joao Montalvao, Sreelakshmi Papineni, and Fei Yuan. This team couldn’t attend all 106 sessions so coverage is limited. If there is a paper you saw that you think people should know about please submit a comment.
You can skim the full summary, or you can skip to one of the topics: Agriculture, conflict, credit, savings, risk and insurance, education, electricity access, firms, health and nutrition, households and networks, institutions, labor, political economy, poverty and inequality, and using evidence to inform policy.
The full program and links to most of the papers is available here.
One of the arguments in favor of more gender diversity in the economics profession is that men and women bring distinct perspectives to research and are interested in answering different research questions. We focus in on development economics in this post and examine how the research topics studied by men and women differ.
- Is this a good quality, high visibility journal to publish my work?
Since these were collected last year as well, I provide the impact factor of the journals. The standard impact factor is the mean number of citations in the last year of papers published in the journal in the past 2 years, while the 5-year is the mean number of cites in the last year of papers published in the last 5. This is complemented with RePec’s journal rankings which take into account article downloads and abstract views in addition to citations. The impact factors and RePec ranks are reasonably stable over the two years – with the World Bank Research Observer seeing the biggest jump in impact factor. It publishes the smallest number of articles, so the mean is more likely to be influenced by one or two papers.
- On the LSE impact of social sciences blog, six academic writing habits to boost productivity.
- On the Berkeley Energy Institute blog, Catherine Wolfram and co-authors summarize their RCT on rural electrification in Kenya under the heading “does solving energy poverty help solve poverty? Not quite” – “The rural electrification agency had spent more than $1,000 to connect each household. Yet eighteen months later, the households we connected seemed to be no better off”
- Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham summarizes a recent twitter thread on great figures that summarize the story of entire papers – excellent motivation to thinking hard about how to best display your data.
This is a guest post by Andy Foster, Dean Karlan, and Ted Miguel.
The world is a messy place. What happens when the results of an empirical study are mushy or inconsistent with prevailing theories? Unfortunately, papers with unclear or null results often go unpublished, even if they have rigorous research designs and good data. In such cases, the research community is typically only left to consider the papers that tell a “neat” and clean story. When economic and social policy relies on academic knowledge, this publication bias can be costly to society.
- Among the many posts on international women’s day, I thought our readers might find most useful this one on measurement of poverty and gender by Carolina Sanchez and Ana-Maria Munoz-Boudet “No, 70% of the world’s poor aren’t women, but this doesn’t mean poverty isn’t sexist”
- Emergency loans that are automatically given out when disaster hits as a substitute for microinsurance – summarized by Feed the Future – “Results ... show that the availability of emergency loans has had a big effect on how these farmers manage risk. Households who knew they were pre-qualified planted about 25 percent more rice than households who were not offered the emergency loan” (h/t Mushfiq Mobarak).
- Video and slides from Ana Fernandes’ policy research talk on exporter dynamics, superstar firms, and trade policy – it is stunning how large a share of exports from many developing countries comes from the top 1% or even top 5 exporters.
- Have you questioned your life choices enough lately? If not, Video of Lant Pritchett’s talk last month at NYU’s DRI on “The Debate about RCTs in Development is over. We won. They lost”