Links round-up

Hi all,

There are times when humiliation brings with it a gentle chuckle, like when I asked a colleague why his door was closed, and he asked me to read the sign on it (it said ‘Fire door. Keep shut.’, as I discovered as I read it out loud). And then there are time when it feels like someone has reached down your throat, torn out your soul and turned it into an scarf, like when Zimbabwe canter to the highest chase ever against you (in Galle, no less) winning with a hammered six in the 48th over. Meanwhile, our most accomplished cricketer is scoring centuries for fun at Surrey, sailing into retirement after a summer of six centuries in 11 innings. Please excuse me for a moment while I smack my head against the wall.

  1. “When the goat survived, this served as proof that the protection worked.” Last year, Raul Sanchez de la Sierra spoke to DFID about data collection. It was wildly entertaining – everything he had data on (witchcraft!) and every method he used (spies!) was totally unexpected, but as strange as the topics felt, there was something practical and important to learn from every example. I was reminded of this when reading this summary of his new paper with Nathan Nunn. The quote above comes from it, as does this: “The liberation of the village began one evening in 2012, when an elder of the village had a dream [which] … taught him how to use supernatural forces to bulletproof the young men in the village.” As crazy as it sounds, Raul and Nathan collected data on these spells and their effects on the rate at which young men defended their villages from militias. And it’s not nearly as esoteric as it sounds – their findings have potentially profound implications for how we understand individual and group decision making and what constitutes ‘optimal’. Brilliant.
  2. Censuses are hugely political, something we don’t really think about until  someone points it out. The Economist does so for Nigeria here, explaining why many parts of the country have made sport of overestimating how many people lived there. But that doesn’t mean that Nigeria’s population is overestimated: some recent aerial surveys suggested it might be underestimated. In short: no-one has a clue, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
  3. Recently, a friend unearthed an e-mail from about 10 years ago in which I asserted strongly that Jose Antonio Reyes was far better equipped to succeed in football than Cristiano Fancypants Ronaldo as I called him. Changing your mind is very often a sign that your thinking is improving, but it also comes attached with a social stigma that is hard to shake; and it’s hard to do given the biases we’re so prone to. So I loved this Planet Money episode dedicated to examples of people who have changed their minds about important things (transcript). We need to destigmatise this. Wrong and stubborn is the worst of all worlds.
  4. FiveThirtyEight continues to be the only media outlet that is able to combine data, proper analysis and human interest. This time it looks at healthcare in the ‘black belt’ of rural, poverty-stricken America.
  5. I’m from Hong Kong, and constantly annoyed when libertarians cite it as proof that ‘the smaller the state, the better’. This VoxEU analysis of Hong Kong’s actual economic model is brilliant – and makes the point that around 70 years of policy consistency is probably as important as any of the individual policies themselves.
  6. Get the popcorn: Lant Pritchett looks at the latest research on migration and the policy implications of it in this magisterial two-parter for CGD. The material is largely familiar, but I really urge you to read it. In the first part, he absolutely eviscerates Borjas’ paper finding severe negative effects on the wages of a small group of native workers (“the [sample size]… was two— … literally two people in the way that you and me, dear reader, make up two people”). In  the second part he considers how policy makers should respond. There is so much clear thinking and communication here. Just read it.
  7. I think everyone knows that popcorn reference above is to Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, right? For the uninitiated, Vox ranks the best reaction gifs ever – MJ wins (of course). Though a new contender has now emerged: noted egomaniac LaVar Ball, intent on stealing the limelight from his incredibly gifted son.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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