Published on Development Impact

Weekly links May 31: Why inequality matters, tribalism between econ and epi, tracking people through phone-call data, and more...

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  • On Let’s Talk Development, Penny Goldberg makes the case that inclusive growth need not be an oxymoron and the reasons why we should care about inequality. The three main reasons she discusses are fairness, possibility of social unrest, and inequality of opportunity…

  • After a piece in the New Yorker on Emily Oster’s new book about parenting quoted the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ breastfeeding section likening Oster’s review of the evidence on breastfeeding to the anti-vaxxers, the CEO of AAP had to apologize. The quote was unfortunate to say the least, but the episode caused a predictable Twitter storm (mostly in a teacup), where economists lined up in support of Oster. Many epidemiologists seemed embarrassed by the terrible analogy (with many finding no fault with Oster's interpretation of the evidence on the topic), but also, understandably, did not seem to enjoy the suggestion that economists think their methods are crap. The author of the piece, Lizzie Widdicombe, did not do anyone any favors by penning the following bit: “Unsurprisingly, Oster stood by her analysis. “There are many ways to collate this literature,” she told me. And economists are extremely skeptical of the methods that epidemiologists use.” It is indeed possible to interpret the evidence in different ways – it happens every year between me and my doctor during my annual check-up. Science reporting (and public debating) still has a ways to go…

  • Amy Maxmen in Nature asks “Can tracking people through phone-call data improve lives?” She provides lots of examples of how anonymized phone records are being used, but notes that they have been slow to actually improve policy, and that some people raise concerns about privacy and possible mis-use – but that these concerns also seem largely theoretical to date.

  • Paper that caught my eye on estimating spillover effects when networks that matter are measured imprecisely – by Hardy et al.

  • The World Bank 2019 Little Data Book on Gender is now available. The book illustrates the progress towards gender equality for 217 economies around the world. It provides comparable statistics for women and men for the years 2000 and 2017 across a range of indicators covering education, health and related services, economic structure, participation and access to resources, public life and decision making, and agency, enabling readers to readily compare economies. Download it here . Access all related links here.


Berk Özler

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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