Published on Development Impact

A second Industrial Revolution, replication worries, yawns, and more…

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I made a temporary move recently, which left me without a dog walker for our two beloved (and very active) dogs, without a delivery option for good takeout food, and a need to build a fire in a wood stove every day. I had never spent this much time during weekdays walking the dogs, cooking, and carrying wood from the garage to build and maintain a fire throughout the day. Without the takeout food and all the hiking, I am healthier and somewhat less stressed, but the shift in time use takes some adjusting to…

While I was thinking about all of this, I read the Stevenson and Wolfers piece on the Economic Case for Same-Sex Marriage, which argues that new heterosexual marriages are different than the traditional ones, which in turn make accepting same-sex marriages much easier. Their discussion of the introduction of washing machines, dishwashers, and microwave ovens into the common household as a “second industrial revolution” struck a cord with my new “household chores” self. So much so that we had a heat pump installed today, meaning that I will be doing something else with the additional 30-60 minutes I had been spending on fire-related activities for the past month and the fireplace will be relegated to its role as the accessory to a romantic evening with a nice bottle of wine…

Here is a sample of things I have been reading recently:

·         Apparently, there is also “Mendelian” randomization, biomedical folks’ answer to natural experiments. I remain skeptical: the random allocation of gene variations would have to affect risk of heart disease only through HDL and nothing else.

·         Psychologists are reeling from a slew of failures to replicate. This Nature piece has a discussion, with the following quote: “To show that 'A' is true, you don't do 'B'. You do 'A' again.” Ugh, perhaps in psychology or, more precisely, perhaps in the lab… I find that, in economics, we have become too obsessed with the replication failures in the biomedical sciences. That statement is just not true for a field experiment in economics. The evidence from follow-up studies, either longer-term results (indoor air pollution in Kenya), or different implementation regimes (contract teachers, also in Kenya), or similar programs in different countries are being hyped way too much: why, all because they did not produce similar findings to earlier studies. I’d personally be really suspicious if they did! I plan to write more on this in the upcoming weeks, as the hype surrounding this topic is starting to irritate…

·         Incentives make us work harder, but if they’re too high they can substantially reduce our performance – i.e. cause the proverbial “choke.” Here’s Science 2.0 discussing the study by researchers at Caltech.

·         This week, our two dogs will be part of an experiment, in which they are exposed to a baby crying (or babbling) before and after they provide saliva samples to the experimenter. This is to understand their stress responses, measured by cortisol levels. As a researcher who does experiments and is fascinated with animal behavior (especially the questions of how much they can learn, what they think, etc.), I have already offered my ideas for additional treatment arms, so far to no avail. One of my ideas is to have the two dogs listen to the sounds together rather than separately under the current design, to see if the presence of another well-known dog is soothing or whether the stress builds up even more. The Washington Post reported this week that dogs yawn even when they are exposed to the recorded sound of their human companions’ yawns – perhaps a sign of empathy. But I am with Adam Miklosi, one of my favoriteresearchers in this field from Budapest: “using behaviors as indicators will only show some similarity in behavior.” So, this is a simple measurement problem: if only we could see what they think when they do something… Wait, they just need to pair up with these researchers who started the Dog Project at Emory University, who are using brain imaging to figure out what dogs are thinking.

Next week, probably back to nerdier and less personal content…



Berk Özler

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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