Published on Development Impact

Weekly links April 15: gains from trade in distorted economies, story-telling dangers, R reproducibility, and more…

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·       In a VoxDev interview, David Atkin discusses his forthcoming handbook chapter with Dave Donaldson on how distortions and market failures in developing countries affect whether trade helps or hinders economic development. “The presence of domestic distortions can amplify (or undo) the traditional gains from trade in developing countries if heightened trade causes a reallocation of resources towards (or away from) relatively distorted sectors”. He notes the importance of looking at the whole economy, and not just e.g. the manufacturing sector when seeing how trade affects things in the aggregate.

·       Abhijit Banerjee’s early-life skills at kite-flying, cricket, and marbles, and a discussion on being seduced by stories in a Hidden Brain episode. “As a teenager, he came to be known among his friends as the guy who asked irritating questions…It was a very common trope of our conversations, me saying, "Why do you assume there is a reason for everything?" I remember saying that sentence a lot. The fact that things happened doesn't mean there's a good reason for it.”

Shankar Vedantam: “…when we see anecdotes in the world, when we come by information about somebody who's using their malaria-fighting bednet as a fishing net, or using a condom as a balloon, it does lend itself to your coming up with a story. I mean, this is what we do. When we look at events in the real world, we're constantly coming up with stories to explain why the events are the way they are. So it's not as if the people coming up with the stories are necessarily malicious or they're trying to draw the wrong conclusions about the world, many of them in fact are deeply well intentioned and want the best things for everyone else. It's just that the act of storytelling itself runs the risk that you are extrapolating from too little data, to sweeping a conclusion.”

Abhijit Banerjee: “Oh, it's even worse than that, I think. I think the act of storytelling really pivots on narratives like these. They're wonderful, when you say, there was this program and then kids were playing with these strange balloons, and when you looked at it, they were just condoms, little kids playing with condoms, filled with water. That just sounds like such a great story. So in fact, it's even better, even more seductive than just, we need to have a narrative. These are wonderful narratives and therefore they're particularly compelling. We keep passing them on because after all, if the story was that they didn't play with the condom, that's not an interesting story to tell. So, in a sense, these extreme examples are very, very seductive and they tend to over inform us all the time.”

·       Uri Simonsohn on the groundhog package as a way to help deal with the problems R has with reproducible code. “The core issue is the 'packages'. When using R, you can run library(some_package) and R can all of a sudden scrape a website, cluster standard errors, maybe even help you levitate. The problem is that packages get updated often, and on occasion in 'backwards incompatible' ways, making your existing code obsolete. The code that works today, may not work tomorrow…A paper published a few weeks ago in Nature: Scientific Data (.htm) attempted to automatically re-execute 2335 R scripts posted as supporting materials for published papers. After cleaning the scripts (installing necessary packages and fixing paths to local files) only  44% of scripts run without generating errors. So, most scripts did not run. Moreover, 21% of all failures were attributed to packages not loading.”. His package groundhog helps solve this problem, and now works with Github packages.

·       The Journal of Public Economics has put out a statement saying it now welcomes and encourages including referee reports and editor letters from another journal submission with your submission; they also note that 20% of their submissions are now through their short paper track, and have some clarifications on that process.

·       Interested in communicating global development research? CEGA is recruiting for a Director (or Associate Director) of Communications and Policy Engagement


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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