- “Why program evaluation is a bad idea” is how Chris Blattman tagged this useful essay/speech on why we should evaluate ideas rather than programs. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are the two big ideas: “That is the first big idea I want you to take away: that we should not set out to evaluate a program and understand “does it work?” but rather “how can we use this program to test a fundamental assumption about the world—one that might change the way we do all programs in future.” And “multiple trials, in multiple places, testing some of the same key ideas and assumptions…strikes me as the only possible path from randomized trials to general knowledge.” I’ve seen simple program evaluation be useful in individual countries, but I believe – in the spirit of Blattman’s comments – that almost any given impact evaluation can be much, much more that that.
- Peer effects – even from high performing peers – aren’t always good for you: Shankar Vedantam leads a conversation with Harvard researcher Todd Rogers which shows that students in MOOCs who are paired with far better students were more likely to drop out. In the actual study, the authors characterize it as “discouragement by peer excellence,” which I feel could be the most depressing graduate school slogan ever.
- Parents, not country? Not so fast! Last week, David McKenzie posted on Schoellman’s paper arguing that “parents, not country, are what matters for early childhood development,” using data from migrants to the U.S. In response, Abhijeet Singh counters with Young Lives data from Vietnam and Peru that the effect of country really kicks in after school entry. (That could still be through parents if divergent parent investments kick in after school entry, as Singh points out.) Steve Barnett highlights that the U.S. doesn’t offer much in terms of support for early childhood, and the results might be different if we looked at migrants to countries with stronger early childhood programs. Still, Schoellman comes back graciously, it’s striking how little moving to the U.S. affects outcomes even in early childhood.
- Angus Deaton reflects that “perhaps it is not so clear that the greatest needs are on the other side of the world” in an essay for the World Economic Forum. He highlights that the “globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries, as factories and jobs migrated to where labor is cheaper.” He cites the statistic that “several million Americans – black, white, and Hispanic – now live in households with per capita income of less than $2 a day, essentially the same standard that the World Bank uses to define destitution-level poverty in India or Africa,” pointing to Edin and Shaefer’s work on families living on $2 a day in the U.S. I’m an admirer of (and have written about) that work, but Chandy and Smith counter that “If we used the exact same criteria to measure poverty in the U.S. as is used by the World Bank to obtain official poverty estimates for the developing world, we would conclude that no-one in the U.S. falls under the $2 threshold.” That doesn’t negate the fact that there is real poverty in rich countries, but let’s be clear on our metrics.
- What does probability mean in your profession? Ben Orlin of the brilliant Math with Bad Drawings illustrates what how everyone from philosophers to investment bankers to Han Solo thinks about probability.
Hat tip to David McKenzie for some of these!