I had plans for a scintillatingly witty and complex intro paragraph (I know, first time for everything, right?) but a fire alarm in the building and an impending train departure requires that I go for speed over wit. So I’m just going to do a round of my usual intro subjects: the weather (sustained glorious weather in England, a sign of the impending apocalypse – some suggest July 13 for some reason); the cricket (Bangladesh trying very hard to be as bad as any team can manage); and LeBron James (now a Laker, and even more amazingly, playing with a man who once blew into his ear in an attempt to distract him – watch it, it’s even better than it sounds).
- The first shots have finally been fired in the Trade War on Everyone; it’s going to take months or even years to tell who loses (spoiler: everyone), but it’s a very good time to talk about what the global economy looks like right now. Planet Money do it beautifully by taking an iconic product: the American Flag (transcript). You can guess where this is going. All those flags you see being waved at the MAGA rallies? Made in China. The MAGA hats? Made in China. The guy who runs the factory making them? Bought a car manufactured in the US, designed in Germany. Trade wars in a global economy that looks like this are like getting your friends, families and acquaintances together for a barbecue, filling the sprinkler system with hydrochloric acid and then turning it on. At some point, everyone is going to get hurt.
- So, an apology in advance. This week’s links involve me bigging up two friends, but I should stress: they deserve it. First up is Dan Honig, who came and spoke at DFID recently. Duncan Green writes up a glowing review of his new book Navigation by Judgement. Dan’s research is important because he’s one of a relatively small group of people doing rigourous work that looks at how bureaucracies can perform difficult functions better. The answers are not necessarily the way we’re moving, either.
- Secondly, one I missed last week: Young 1ove, an NGO co-founded by another friend Noam Angrist, showing what it means to take evidence seriously (parts one and two). They agreed a plan with donors and partner Governments which set out what evidence would be considered robust and rigourous enough to scale up their HIV-reduction intervention nationally, and then ran a strong RCT to see how well it met those tests. It fell short, so all the parties involved agreed that it shouldn’t go to scale in that form; instead they’ve gone back to their theory of change to work out what went wrong and why. It’s hard to stress what a great example this is. The key was the early commitment by all parties as to what ‘success’ should look like.
- One of the clearest signs of FiveThirtyEight’s enormous superiority to most other media outlets is the fact that they have a ‘File Under: Meta-Science’ category on their website. This week, their brilliant lead science writer Christie Aschwanden looks at the liberal skew of psychology. It’s kind of incredible: only 6% (out of 500 surveyed) identify as conservative, and more than one-third expressed a willingness to discriminate against conservative colleagues in hiring decisions. That’s incredibly worrying.
- Tim Harford on a genuinely intriguing and radical idea: using auction markets and complete asset listings to both equate demand and supply more closely and tax wealth. Think about it for a few minutes and you’ll start seeing problems, but it’s a genuinely innovative idea.
- Is this the best paper title ever? I haven’t read it, but Alex Evans pointed this out to me and it has to be in contention: “’A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration”. It still doesn’t beat this one (Figure 2 is the best thing that the internet has ever produced, btw), but it’s up there.
- Lastly, three pieces of marginalia: natural justice in action (lions eat poachers edition); FiveThirtyEight dig into which teams waste the most time in the World Cup (for all the borderline xenophobia in the British press, England are fifth, and Brazil actually play faster once they’ve taken a lead rather than waste time); and using Pareto efficiency to choose the optimal Mario Kart character.
Have a great weekend, everyone!