My traditional intro usually consists of some mild gloating about the weather wherever I happen to be sitting on that particular Friday (today, windy and miserable as I look out on a half-destroyed garden after overnight storms), chat about the cricket (today, the crushing realisation that Sri Lanka have consecutively lost to Afghanistan and Bangladesh by around 100 runs in the Asia Cup); and some comment about either birds or books (today, I’ve just watched a blackbird rip a slug into several pieces and leave half on my garden table). So with all my usual topics variously distressing, straight into the links.
1. I really wish I’d seen this last week when I was covering the latest outbreak of cash transfer navel-gazing: an excellent, measured and carefully judged piece by Andrew Zeitlin and Craig McIntosh which explains what you can and cannot conclude from the ‘cash benchmarking’ exercise USAID undertook recently. It’s worth reading in full and might change your mind about what intervention makes more sense – and the merits of comparing them directly. They point out that while neither intervention moved the needle on nutrition much, both had other positive effects, and different ones. The nutrition programme improved knowledge about health practices and savings; the cash led to lower debt and greater asset ownership. More interestingly, they point out that the kind of gains that the nutrition programme made were likely scale up (everyone having better health knowledge is a good thing); but there were signs that some of the cash gains might be reversed if the programme went to scale. It’s a great piece that highlights exactly how much nuance is lost in the headlines.
2. This week in ‘1980s Popular Culture Lied to Me’: apparently, Pretty in Pink is lies, lies, lies. You know how Andie and Ducky have a horrible time in their rich-kid dominated school, and James Spader’s character (the least convincing teenager in film history, surely)? Well, in a post apparently calculated to destroy a crucial part of my adolescence, Susannah Hares says that this just isn’t want happens. Apparently, forcing rich schools to accept poor kids increases social cohesion and pro-social behaviour at no cost to learning outcomes. This may be the case, but does all this positivity produce a soundtrack like this? I think not (yeah, I know, the video. It was the ‘80s).
3. I know I link to Planet Money every week, but this one is ridiculously good: they go to a convention of US Central Bankers to ask them why traditional central bank levers like interest rate manipulations seem to have lost their bite. They get some extremely high quality evasion from the kind of people who know that their facial expressions are enough to trigger currency runs. But just when you think you’re getting nowhere, they strike gold, with John Van Reenan and Raghu Rajan spinning theories, much of which has to do with market concentration and the changing nature of the economy (transcript).
5. This one would have kicked off a blogosphere explosion ten years ago, but will now be treated as confirmation of a widely-held view: a proper evaluation of the Millennium Village Project in Ghana has had very mixed results, with its technocratic approach to progress and its cost effectiveness particularly in question. It still really bothers me that proper evaluation was made so difficult from the get-go.
6. This week in ‘that Guardian headline saying that the colour of your shoes can make you eat up to four portions more per meal is bad science’: a researcher at Cornell had thirteen papers retracted over academic malpractice. It’s actually a really sad story that has cost someone (probably several people) a job; but there’s a reason I don’t believe anything in the papers about the benefits of certain foods or diets.
7. And finally, the first trailer for Captain Marvel has just dropped, and it is causing me enormous mixed feelings. Not about the movie: the movie is going to be awesome and Brie Larson is so likeable I literally cheered her punching a pensioner. Nope, the problem is that it comes out in March 2019, so I am now simultaneously anxious for and dreading that month.
Have a great weekend, everyone!