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Weekly links June 24: Small island development gone bad, grit in developing countries, naturalization impacts, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

Weekly links June 17: evaluating industrial clusters, simulated patients, environmental research in development, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

Have RCTs taken over development economics?

David McKenzie's picture

Last week the “State of Economics, State of the World” conference was held at the World Bank. I had the pleasure of discussing (along with Martin Ravallion) Esther Duflo’s talk on “The Influence of Randomized Controlled Trials on Development Economics Research and on Development Policy”. The website should have links to the papers and video stream replay up (if not already, then soon).

The first part of Esther’s talk traced out the growth in RCTs in development economics. She pointed out that in 2000 the top-5 journals published 21 articles in development, of which 0 were RCTs, while in 2015 there were 32, of which 10 were RCTs – so pretty much all the growth in development papers in top journals comes from RCTs. She also showed that the more recently BREAD members had received their PhD, the more likely they were to have done at least one RCT.
In my discussion I expanded on these facts to put them in context, and argue against what I see as a couple of strawman arguments: 1) that top journals only publish RCTs, and that RCTs have taken over development research; and 2) that young researchers have a “randomize or bust” attitude and refuse to do anything but RCTs. I thought I’d summarize what I said on both here.

Weekly links June 10: hardworking poor people, the practicalities of RCTs, what is clever in marketing experiments, marshmallow tests revisited, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • From VoxEU – people in developing countries not only earn a lot less than those in developed countries, they also work longer hours and have less leisure – as a result “Adults in poor countries …are even less productive than we thought.”
  • All the Stata cheatsheets from Geocenter in one place
  • In Scientific American: does financial stress literally hurt?
  • In the Washington Post wonkblog, more evidence why the Marshmallow test is probably not measuring what you think it is – “this uncovers a broader problem with how we perceive the actions of people who live very different lives than we do. We brand certain actions and choices as mistakes, when they might simply be developmental adjustments necessary to cope with their environment. For those who don't worry about their next meal, because they never had to, choosing a marshmallow now instead of two marshmallows in a few minutes, all things equal, could only be the result of impulse-driven folly. For those who do have to worry about the next meal, passing up food now for the promise of food later is the misguided move.”

Definitions in RCTs with interference

Berk Ozler's picture

On May 25, I attended a workshop organized by the Harvard School of Public Health, titled “Causal Inference with Highly Dependent Data in Communicable Diseases Research.” I got to meet many of the “who’s who” of this literature from the fields of biostatistics, public health, and political science, among whom was Elizabeth Halloran, who co-authored this paper with Michael Hudgens – one of the more influential papers in the field.

Towards a survey methodology methodology: Guest post by Andrew Dillon

When I was a graduate student and setting off on my first data collection project, my advisors pointed me to the ‘Blue Books’ to provide advice on how to make survey design choices.  The Glewwe and Grosh volumes are still an incredibly useful resource on multi-topic household survey design.  Since the publication of this volume, the rise of panel data collection, increasingly in the form of randomized control trials, has prompted a discussion abo

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