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Is optimization just re-randomization redux? Thoughts on the recent ‘don’t randomize, optimize’ papers.

David McKenzie's picture
A couple of weeks ago, Berk blogged about a new paper by Bertsimas, Johnson and Kallus which argues that instead of randomization, it can be superior for power to choose the best of all possible allocations of subjects to treatment and control, where best is defined in terms of minimizing discrepancies in the mean and variance of the two groups.

Virtual Classrooms Foster Medical Education and Research in Bangladesh

Shiro Nakata's picture
Prof. Laila Banu (center) and Next Generation Sequencer (left) in her laboratory
Prof. Laila Banu (center) and Next Generation Sequencer (left) in her laboratory

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
 
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh

Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.

To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh.
Network of the virtual classrooms connected to medical colleges in different regions of Bangladesh
Network of the virtual classrooms connected
to medical colleges in different regions of Bangladesh
​The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
 
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.


Establishing a world-class genetic research environment

​ The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.

With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.

AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
 

Reframing and other “small miracles” for development

Allison Demeritt's picture
In a famous psychological experiment, subjects are shown a basketball video, about a minute long, and are asked to count the number of passes made by the team wearing white. Thirty seconds into the video, a woman in a black gorilla suit enters stage right, walks to the middle of the screen, pounds her chest, and then exits stage left. How many of the viewers noticed the gorilla? It’s tempting to predict that all of them did. But in fact less than 50% of video-watchers report seeing the gorilla (Simons and Chabris 1999). How do such oversights happen? And can the experiment tell us something about development?  
 
Selective attention test

Research at Work 2015: Turning Insight into Impact

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

As the World Bank takes stock following its annual Spring Meetings, it’s clear that rigorous and policy-relevant research remains a critical element in achieving the goals of the institution. From informing the Bank’s Twin Goals in our latest Policy Research Report to creating the Findex database that underlies the institution’s commitment to achieving universal financial inclusion, research continues to shape the Bank’s agenda and provide the foundation of evidence-based policy advice sought by its clients. Without the independent scrutiny of research, the conceptual and empirical foundations for policymaking would be weak, “best practices” would be emulated without sufficient evidence, and new fads and fashions would get more attention and traction than they deserve.
 

Weekly links May 8: rainfall revisited, rethinking key results with long-term data, son preference, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

India, China and our growth forecasts

Kaushik Basu's picture

Last month, the World Bank and IMF both put out predictions that, this year, India would overtake China in terms of GDP growth rate. This caused a flutter and was widely reported around the world. How robust is this prediction and what does it really mean?

First, this is not as monumental a milestone as some commentators made it out to be. China has had one of the most remarkable growth runs witnessed in human history, having exceeded an annual growth of 9% from 1980 to now. Four decades ago its per capita income was close to India’s, but now it is four times as large as India’s. None of all this is going to change in a hurry.

With this caveat in mind, it is a year in which India deserves to feel good. It is expected to top the World Bank’s chart of growth rates in major nations of the world. This has never happened before. Before 1990, India did occasionally grow faster than China, mainly because China’s growth gyrated wildly during the pre-Deng Xiaoping period. It was, for instance, minus 27% in 1961, when Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward resulted in the world’s biggest famine, and it was 17% and 19% in 1969 and 1970, respectively--a relief in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. Fluctuations of this magnitude would be intolerable to India’s polity.

Could the UN’s new Progress of the World’s Women provide the foundations for feminist economic policy?

Duncan Green's picture

London launch of UN Women’s new flagship report,Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16Yesterday I went to the London launch of UN Women’s new flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16, in the slightly incongruous setting of the Institution of Civil Engineers – walls adorned with portraits of bewigged old patriarchs from a (happily) bygone era (right).

The report is excellent. These big multilateral publications are usually a work of synthesis, bringing together existing research rather than breaking new ground. And that’s fine; it’s really important that a UN body has pulled such an excellent range of research together and made it accessible to policy makers. Gender and development debates suffer from a fair number of unsubstantiated claims and pretty dodgy stats (don’t get me started), and this report feels like something you can trust – I hope someone will go through it and pull out every major stat and graphic.

But the overall approach is both new and exciting, in that it applies an explicitly human rights approach to economic policy. Laura Turquet, UN Women researcher and report manager, summarized this as ‘bringing together human rights and economic policy-making to ask ‘what is the economy for?’’

This is a big deal, because the normal approach to gender and economic policy is incredibly reductive and instrumental – educate girls and get women into the workforce because it boosts growth! It ignores whether that will improve the lives of the said women or just pile more burdens onto their pre-existing roles as carers (of children, old people, neighbours), home maintainers etc etc.
 

​Stories from the field: World Bank-IFC collaboration on new PPP legislation in Albania

Christina Paul's picture
There is a wide range of issues to address when initiating and implementing a country’s national program for public-private partnerships (PPPs). One of the first priorities is providing an adequate legal and institutional framework to help create and/or develop a market for PPPs. In the recent case of Albania, this involved an assessment of the country’s current PPP legislation, especially in terms of its ability to attract private sector investment and generally move its PPP agenda forward.
 
IFC advised on Albania's Ashta
hydropower plant. Photo: © Energji Ashta

Particularly over the last decade, Albania has seen a number of PPP projects being implemented, most of them in the energy sector; for example, the Ashta hydropower plant on whose development the International Finance Corporation (IFC) advised. Given, however, that the country’s overall capacity and readiness to carry out PPPs has been assessed as only slightly above average (Source: Infrascope for Central and Eastern Europe 2012, The Economist Intelligence Unit), there is an apparent need to further build up and strengthen its institutional and implementation ability vis-à-vis PPPs. To this end, the Government of Albania is now focused on the further streamlining of its legal and regulatory PPP framework as one area of reform.

In February, a joint team from the World Bank and the IFC therefore participated in a review of the country’s current PPP legislation as well as the changes proposed to it, and organized a workshop for the Government of Albania. The latter focused on the institutional and legal/regulatory context essential for carrying out PPPs. Two colleagues and I represented the World Bank’s PPP group during our visit.

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