Links round-up

Hi all,

We are about to enter a period of intense productivity decline for me. We are witnesses of a rare confluence of events that conspires to take up virtually all of my attention and mental energy: the co-incidence of the Cricket World Cup and the NBA Finals. Either one of these events would normally be enough to turn my head, but both at once, on different time zones, is costing me both sleep and sanity. The NBA Finals are a novelty this year: there are people for whom this is the first time in their adult lives in which LeBron James has not been competing for the trophy. Not only has he been in the last 8 consecutive finals (as 538 point out, a lot has changed since the last time he wasn’t here), but the Finals MVP every single one of those times has either been him or the person tasked with guarding him. If that isn’t discombobulating enough for sports fans, we also have to somehow process the idea that England (yes, England) are favourites for the Cricket World Cup, and playing like it. They also have the most exciting fast bowler in the world to boot. And unlike the standard England quick, Jofra Archer isn’t a petulant child but sounds like a character from Game of Thrones and has one-liners to rival The Man With No Name. I feel like I’ve woken up in bizarro world.

  1. Pour one out for Binyavanga Wainaina, the Kenyan writer who died just 48 last week. He’s best known for his essay in Granta, How to Write about Africa, but everyone should read his autobiography, One Day I Will Write About This Place. He came out as gay after writing it, in a difficult time and place to do so, and it’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to write what would have been an important second memoir.
  2. Since actually starting to do research myself, I’ve come to realise how hard it is to predict ahead of time exactly what the most sensible way to approach a question is, especially if you haven’t even seen how the data behaves first. Very often you notice things that are wrong with a data source (maybe you realise the question isn’t measuring what you thought it measured) or the potential of a data series only when you’ve had some time to work with it. All of this makes pre-registration of research difficult – and important, since all of these judgement calls can be made, even unconsciously in such a way as to maximise the likelihood of finding something of interest, rather than true. So it’s not surprising to me that the pre-registration movement in psychology has had teething problems. I would expect that many deviations from the registered plan – that can as much be the sign of good research as bad. But I would not expect to have found so many to go unreported, which is much more worrying.
  3. Dan Honig, whose work on bureaucracies and how organisations functions is among the most interesting stuff I’ve read in the last few years (and whom I owe an e-mail – it’s coming, sorry, I’ve been snowed under!) has written a blog over at CGD summarising his new paper with Lant Pritchett about how to think about functional accountability beyond what can be counted. This is a concern most of us have faced in some form or another: how does measuring things distort the things they measure?
  4. Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a really interesting descriptive series on the costs of services in the US, based on his new book. He investigates and debunks a number of theories as to why prices for some services increase, and settles on the cost disease theory of William Baumol as the explanation that does best in explaining observed phenomena. It’s interesting because Tabarrok has very clear and well-defined priors, which he has never hidden. But his work doesn’t pander to them: the standard Libertarian tropes don’t do much of the explanation he finds. He’d point out that this is obvious: it just means he’s a good researcher. And, of course, anything giving love to Baumol (and it’s close cousin the Balassa-Samuelson effect) needs a shout-out.
  5. Dave Evans is still doing weekly updates on education research at CGD – the team they’ve got there looking at this stuff is great. Last week I commented on the diversity of research they cite, which Alexis le Nestour defended on twitter. He’s quite right: when we don’t have much research we need to consider everything, just carefully.
  6. Through a metaphor so tortured I feel certain it contravenes the Geneva Convention, the ex-Finance Minister of Colombia writes about into the political economy of health taxation. All taxation is political – we were talking in the office recently about fuel subsidies in this vein, too; you need to be both clever and secure to tackle them.
  7. I’m writing this with one eye on the cricket, as the West Indies obliterate the Pakistani batting lineup. Pressure is a funny thing: some teams, like England through most of their history, have folded under it like origami. Others, are more like Bruce Lee, using it to their advantage (as an aside, do you notice how he talks with his whole face? It’s slightly menacing). ESPN ran a really good piece about pressure and fear this week – reminding us that Magic, Jordan and LeBron all had high profile failures as well as successes.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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