Links round-up

Hi all,

This week’s post is pretty much getting the last bit of me before I sleep for 48 hours to recover from the end of term. I’m just studying and I find it exhausting: I have no idea how the various lecturers manage to teach multiple classes, help their various charges negotiate incipient academic life and actually do their own research. But I can only sleep for a while: next Sunday is the start of the CSAE Conference. It’s going to be awesome, not only because of the Aid Thoughts reunion happening in the margins (and associated hangovers), but also for the incredible line-up. So much is happening in parallel, after the failure of my attempts to clone myself, I’m going to be glued to the internet to wait for David Evans’ inevitable (and inevitably brilliant) summary of all I missed. A side note: I’ll be blogging during the conference, hopefully both for CSAE and Aid Thoughts, so please do feel free to send me comments, rants or insights that you don’t have time to write up yourself: I promise to pass only the very best off as my own.

  1. It was International Women’s Day yesterday so a few gender links to get us started, some incredibly depressing and some … well only slightly less so. Let’s start with ‘incredibly depressing’: Seema Jayachandran on India’s 21 million unwanted girls. It’s superb, looking at the sex ratio of last-born children in India and noting the behavioural implication – that parents keep having children until they have a boy. The trouble with this is that it means that even if there isn’t any discrimination in investment in children by sex, girls are born into larger families and on average receive fewer resources per head than boys. Also troubling: CGD ran pieces looking at the gender gap in US non-profits, and how it can be resolved. And more hopefully, Markus Goldstein on a very cool intervention in Norway that seems to improve gender norms among men, a key constraint to women’s economic empowerment. Lastly, and most trivially – the gender gap in IMDB movie ratings.
  2. I’m quite pessimistic about our ability to resolve the man-made crises of the environment through behaviour change: bad behaviours are too entrenched, there are too many free-rider problems and too many of the really big culprits are organisations who face very strong incentives not to behave better in a world where aggressive regulation is pretty frowned-upon. A technological solution that is incentive-compatible, though? There must be huge optimism bias here, but MIT reckon they can get nuclear fusion to work within 15 years.
  3. This link both reinforces and subverts some of what I said above: Bloomberg on how US Steel was the biggest culprit in its own descent into irrelevance. Apparently, powerful individuals in the industry resisted change, and the organisational incentives to get things right just weren’t strong enough to overcome that, leading us to where we are today: the industry begging to be protected so it can continue comfortably without moving with the times.
  4. A really fascinating piece of work by Paola Giuliano and Nathan Nunn using climatic variation to test the proposition than societies in places with greater environmental instability are more likely to adopt new cultural practices – getting empirical estimates for an effect that evolutionary anthropologists have argued for a while.
  5. All of Tim Harford’s five guidelines for thinking about statistics are unsurprisingly brilliant, but the first one is really important. He advises that you really think about your gut response to seeing a number  – really owning the way your priors and associated beliefs about the world are pushing you is necessary before you can be dispassionate about evidence.
  6. Want to improve productivity? Make it less miserable to work. Sounds obvious, but apparently not everyone has clocked it. Also, ignore your phone. Which is easier said than done. My solution used to be to go out and celebrate a birthday. It would be days before I had a working phone again. Apparently, it works less well as the number of birthdays celebrated increases.
  7. As someone who occasionally struggles with anxiety, I absolutely loved this piece by Kevin Love (yes, Kevin Love, the basketball player with the three stroke and outlet passes). He talks openly about his recent panic attack during a game and the emotional turmoil that led to it, and more generally about attitudes to mental health in competitive settings (academics, take note). Amazing.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

R

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