The Twelve Days of Christmas (Aid Edition)™

A repost from a few years back, but always worth it. Maybe next year I’ll hire a choir to sing it:

On the twelfth day of Christmas my donors gave to me

twelve delayed disbursements!

eleven sketchy studies

ten consultants calling

nine economists arguing

eight mission meetings

seven worthless workshops

six gender trainings

five RCTs!

four 4x4s

three acronyms

two empty schools

and a lecture on M&E!

Still on sale.

Random thoughts left lying around

There has been much talk of economists starting up a trial registry for randomised interventions, or at least promoting the use of pre-analysis plans. One of the chief reasons for doing this is to curb data mining – if researchers make it clear up front which hypotheses they plan to test, this will reduce the incentive to report new results, discovered only after the researchers have had time to dig around.

While I think trial registries are worth a try, I have already discussed my worries their effects on the quantity of viable research (even if quality increases). These concerns aside, my question here is: why are trial registries primarily associated with randomised trials? Shouldn’t we also be moving to an equilibrium where all empirical research begins with a published pre-analysis plan?

I suppose the main hurdle is honesty here – for any dataset which already exists, it’s easy for me to download it, mine the data, then base my pre-analysis plan on empirical results I already know to exist. Furthermore, for any given dataset, the number of potential  hypotheses (and thus the number of pre-analysis plans which can be written by different researchers) is very large. This suggests that there is something special about writing a pre-analysis plan before the data is even collected, rather than before someone opens up Stata.

It’s good to be the president

history

Since the unexpected death of Bingu wa Mutharika, I’ve been rather hopeful for Malawi. While Mutharika had an incredibly promising start, his second term was marred with paranoia, aggression and growing signs of dynasty-building and patronage politics. Thanks to a heart attack, we were graced with Joyce Banda, the country’s first female president, who appears to be both modest and incredibly pragmatic, while naturally eschewing the big bwana syndrome while has characterized so much of Malawian politics.

Banda’s sudden appearance on the global scene has excited a lot of people. Perhaps unfairly, many consider her to be Malawi’s best chance of rising above the seemingly-endless cycle of dashed expectations. The Guardian recently ran a behind-the-scenes piece on her which, while captivating and well done, only serves to further entrench these hopes.

To a large extent I share these expectations, and was happy to hear that Banda had decided to sell off the presidential jet and cut the presidential salary to less than what an Oxford post-doc makes in a year. Then I chatted to my mother the other day, who pointed out to me that while watching a BBC show on the posh London hotel Claridge’s, she had spotted Ms. Banda’s husband, having booked for 11 nights with his entourage of fifteen people (it happens at about the 11 minute mark here). Indeed, it appears that Ms. Banda also stayed at Claridge’s during her first state visit to the UK, during which she made the announcement about selling off her jet. While rates for a basic room at Claridges are roughly £400, its suites (which the programme suggests the Bandas stayed in) can be as expensive as £3,000 a night. The doorman proudly quips “it is Mr. President,” referring to Joyce Banda’s husband, noting he had been to Claridges before.

Perhaps the Banda’s get a special a discount, or the donors ponied up the cash for their London stay, or perhaps Richard Banda has a good pension from serving as Malawi’s Chief Justice. Maybe it’s reasonable to expect heads of state to enjoy a little luxury. Still, it’s awfully good to be the president (or at least the president’s husband).