Links round-up

Hi all,

Sports can be so bittersweet. I’ve been watching Sri Lanka’s stately progress through the World Cup, one raindrop at a time, as we surf a wave of washouts towards the knockout stages and wondering shame-facedly if it might be preferable to take points from games by actually playing some cricket. Then I remember what happened the last few times we tried to play real cricket and quietly return to my rain dance. On the other side of the pond, I’ve been waiting for some malfunction in the Warriors infinity gauntlet of NBA superstars, but it’s still kind of sad to see it happening in flurry of snapped tendons and potentially ruined careers (I should stress though, I think the Raptors might have won even against the full-Thanos Warriors). There’s a high-profile horse race going on in England at the moment, too, though in this case I suspect a few readers would be very happy if much of the field was somehow hobbled before the finish line.

  1. Every once in a while, I used to convince myself that I could buy a tube of Pringles (original flavour, obviously), and eat a few crisps before putting them away for the next time I needed a snack. Obviously I was wrong: the hint is in the slogan, and once I opened the packet, I would not stop until every last salt-caked board of reconstituted potato was gone. There is a word for someone like this in behavioural economics: a naïf; standing in contrast to a sophisticate. What makes a sophisticate sophisticated is that they know they suffer from a bias and therefore take measures to avoid the problem in the first place: using commitment mechanisms or automatic savings, or just never buying Pringles in the first place. A new VoxEU piece has some hope for us, though, finding that in lab experiments people can learn about their own behavioural shortcomings and become sophisticated with enough experience. A particularly interesting finding is that people don’t foresee that they’ll learn from putting themselves through these decisions, and so may be suboptimally trying new things. In the interests of becoming more sophisticated, I have bought a gross of Pringles and will report back on how long they last.
  2. Just in case you don’t think overcoming my addiction to Pringles is an important enough research topic for the links, however, here’s something rather more informative: our Chief Economist, Rachel, on the 80,000 hours podcast. Highly recommended. She talks about how she thinks aid and development work has evolved to date, and says part of the reason she came to DFID was our role in that. They also give Rachel a grilling over the external validity of RCTs (citing Eva Vivalt’s work), and one of the nicer things about the podcast is how she’s willing to point out some of the massive successes economics has had including – by and large – the eradication of serious hyperinflation.
  3. I’m generally quite sceptical of the potential of supply-side interventions in the labour market in developing countries. There are a number of nice papers which find positive results – VoxDev have Stefano Caria summarising some of his work in which job seekers are paid to apply for jobs, and write-ups of the effects of providing reference letters to job seekers in South Africa and information on soft skills in Uganda –  but in countries where firms find it so hard to either expand or die, how much is this likely to shift the overall problem? This isn’t a criticism of the papers, of course – they’re not pitched as ways of eradicating unemployment, but simply to improve matching of workers to jobs. There is a bigger question looming, however, and I’m not sure how it will be answered.
  4. “Aging… is more complicated — an ongoing process in which our very cells stab us in the back with the second law of thermodynamics. (Et tu, physics?)”. Where else will you read a sentence like that than 538, this time fielding a question from a toddler about whether a raisin can be turned back into a grape and using it to consider the whole damn process of senescence and maybe, one day, desenescence. As someone who now makes audible groans when I have to bend over to pick up my backpack, I say it bring it on and call me Dorian.
  5. Vox have a fantastic write-up on the tyranny of the academic journal paywall. It seems astonishing to me that science and research is so expensive that virtually no civil service department I have worked in any country (i.e. UK or East Africa) has ever had institutional access to peer reviewed published research. Think about that – billions of pounds of public spending, a huge proportion of science funding, and no institutional access to, say, AER. It’s so obviously unjust that I know hundreds of people who get around the system, either by asking individuals to send them PDFs or by using illegal sites to avoid the charges. I hope this will change soon, but I’m not holding my breath.
  6. Sometimes telling people things really is enough to change their behaviour – and David Evans has the evidence. (He won’t mind my pointing out that very often, it’s not, because he knows that. It’s just that it’s not always pointless).
  7. So, have you seen Always be my Maybe yet? Between that and John Wick 3, there seems to have been an entire cottage industry of stories about how awesome Keanu Reeves is – from stories of random acts of niceness to literary pieces about his cultural importance to mixed race kids. I don’t need any convincing of the man’s coolness (his name means ‘cool breeze over the mountains’, for goodness’ sake), so here, for your viewing pleasure are some of his career highlights: “Morpheus is fighting Neo!”, every “Johnny Utah” in Point Break, John Wick and his puppy, “pop quiz a**hole…”, and last but not least, Battleships.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


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