I will be chatting with him for the next Conversation with Tyler, January 26.  Here is an excerpt from his bio:

Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post…In addition to serving as the Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in LA, Rabbi Wolpe has written eight books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. Rabbi Wolpe also writes a weekly column for His writing has been included in The LA Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and the New York Jewish Week. He has previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the American Jewish University, Hunter College, and UCLA.

Here is his Wikipedia page, and his most recent book is David: The Divided Heart.

This event will be held at the Sixth and I St. Synagogue in Washington, D.C., 7 p.m.; please note they charge admission but that is for them not for me!  This will not be a regular feature of the series moving forward, but they do need to cover their costs and we really wanted to use that venue.

So what should I ask David Wolpe?

Exploration and exploitation of Victorian science in Darwin’s reading notebooks.

Murdock J, Allen C, and DeDeo S


Search in an environment with an uncertain distribution of resources involves a trade-off between exploitation of past discoveries and further exploration. This extends to information foraging, where a knowledge-seeker shifts between reading in depth and studying new domains. To study this decision-making process, we examine the reading choices made by one of the most celebrated scientists of the modern era: Charles Darwin. From the full-text of books listed in his chronologically-organized reading journals, we generate topic models to quantify his local (text-to-text) and global (text-to-past) reading decisions using Kullback-Liebler Divergence, a cognitively-validated, information-theoretic measure of relative surprise. Rather than a pattern of surprise-minimization, corresponding to a pure exploitation strategy, Darwin’s behavior shifts from early exploitation to later exploration, seeking unusually high levels of cognitive surprise relative to previous eras. These shifts, detected by an unsupervised Bayesian model, correlate with major intellectual epochs of his career as identified both by qualitative scholarship and Darwin’s own self-commentary. Our methods allow us to compare his consumption of texts with their publication order. We find Darwin’s consumption more exploratory than the culture’s production, suggesting that underneath gradual societal changes are the explorations of individual synthesis and discovery. Our quantitative methods advance the study of cognitive search through a framework for testing interactions between individual and collective behavior and between short- and long-term consumption choices. This novel application of topic modeling to characterize individual reading complements widespread studies of collective scientific behavior.

Here is a very good Amanda Ripley NYT piece, more than just the usual.  Here is just one of numerous interesting bits:

In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world. No other country showed as much progress on this metric. (By contrast, socioeconomic background explained 20 percent of score differences in France — and only 8 percent in Estonia.)

And this:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

For the United States, math is still clearly the weakest subject, in fact at all income levels.

I liked this recent Tim Duy post, the one that is everyone is talking about.  Do read the whole thing, but here is the closing bit:

We don’t have answers for these communities. Rural and semi-rural economic development is hard. Those regions have received only negative shocks for decades; the positive shocks have accrued to the urban regions. Of course, Trump doesn’t have any answers either. But he at least pretends to care.

Just pretending to care is important. At a minimum, the electoral map makes it important.

These issues apply to more than rural and semi-rural areas. Trump’s message – that firms need to consider something more than bottom line – resonates in middle and upper-middle class households as well. They know that their grip on their economic life is tenuous, that they are the future “low-skilled” workers. And they know they will be thrown under the bus for the greater good just like “low-skilled” workers before them.

The dry statistics on trade aren’t working to counter Trump. They make for good policy at one level and terrible policy (and politics) at another. The aggregate gains are irrelevant to someone suffering a personal loss. Critics need to find an effective response to Trump. I don’t think we have it yet. And here is the hardest part: My sense is that Democrats will respond by offering a bigger safety net. But people don’t want a welfare check. They want a job. And this is what Trump, wrongly or rightly, offers.

In part this is a question about helping these communities but if you read the whole post it is also about checking or preventing Trump and Trumpism.  My main disagreement is simply with the view that a solution is difficult.  It is not, rather most people are unwilling to accept the solutions on the table.  In fact I have a more or less bulletproof two-part remedy.  I’ll phrase it in backward-looking terms, but it is not hard to divine the forward-looking implications, noting that in the short term we have the president-elect we have no matter what.  Here goes:

1. In 2012, have five percent of Democratic voters switch their support to Mitt Romney, so that Romney is elected.  You don’t have to think Romney would be a better president than Obama has been, but a Romney election almost certainly would have forestalled the rise of Trump.  The worse you think Trump is, the more you should support this kind of “change we can believe in.”

If you don’t favor this retrospective change, you’re not very pragmatic (or you might really like Trump), perhaps preferring to consume your own expressive views than to improve the world.  That’s a common enough preference, and maybe it is even morally OK, but let’s recognize it for what it is: a deliberate lack of interest in solving the major problem before us, instead preferring to focus on your own feelings.  It’s not that different than the wealthy wishing to keep their tax cuts.  And if your response is something like “But the Republicans started this whole mess, why should I reward them?”, well, that is yet another sign you are far from the pragmatic, reality-oriented perspective.  At the very least, you should be regretting that you did not vote for Romney.  Unless of course you did.

A complement to this strategy, looking forward, is to have the Democrats run more conservative candidates, including those with a more conservative cultural garb.  They still can support a social safety net.  And, my friend, if you are tempted to suggest that Hillary Clinton was such a candidate, you need to attend Ross Douthat University for remedial lessons.

Another way to put this point is that Democrats (and some others) need to become more like the more sophisticated libertarians, namely to realize you won’t win but need to settle for what you can get.  At least increase your “p” that is the case, as the European left is finally starting to do.  I know that comes hard, but again our country is at stake.  And there is a lesson for libertarians too, more or less in the same direction, namely that potential backlash to libertarian ideas is stronger than we had thought, even for those with a fairly weak libertarian bent, and thus there is less absolute scope for their realization.  Sad!

Many progressives and libertarians have one thing in common, namely assuming that human affairs can be more governed by reason than ever will be the case.

2. Support a voluntary temperance movement for zero alcohol, zero drugs.  No exceptions.  Make these commodities less socially available, less widely advertised, less diverse in supply, and less glamorized on television and in the movies.  Take away the demand, and along the way praise Islam and Mormonism for their stances on this.

That’s so simple, isn’t it?  No one argues that the Rust Belt communities and the like are unacceptably “income poor” by global standards, rather they have wrenching social problems.  A temperance movement, insofar as it succeeds, would eliminate a significant share of those tragedies.  It would mean less alcoholism, fewer opioid addictions, less crime and spouse beating, and so on.  Consider the impact of this on America’s inner cities as well.  It’s hard to estimate how many of the problem users would stop if say 70 percent of America went “cold turkey,” but surely we should give this a try.  For instance, even less educated Americans smoke at much lower rates than they used to.

Do you really care about suffering Americans?  The answer is staring you right in the face, but are you brave enough, altruistic enough, and contrary enough to embrace it?  Again, you might like your evening glass of wine, or joint, but that is also like the wealthy seeking to keep their tax cuts.  It really is the same logic, like it or not.

From another direction, here are comments from Paul Krugman.  I agree with most of what he says, though I would stress the points above.

In an important paper in the latest AER, Das, Holla, Mohpal and the excellent Karthik Muralidharan compare private and public health care in India. (I once asked, “Is any economist doing more important work with greater potential for real improvement in the lives of millions than Karthik Muralidharan?” See previous posts on Karthik’s work for the answer.)

The AER paper examines health care in villages in Madhya Pradesh, one of the poorer states in India (GDP per capita of $1,500 PPP). In India, primary health care is ostensibly available for free from public health clinics and hospitals manned by professionally trained nurses and physicians. As with teachers at public schools, however, it’s very common for doctors at public clinics to be absent on any given day (40% were absent on a given day in 2010) and public clinics are not highly regarded. As a result, some 70% percent of primary care visits nationally–and an even higher percentage in Madhya Pradesh–are to private, fee-charging health-care providers. Most of the private providers do not have a license or medical degree although they may have some health-care training.

ruralhealthcareindiaThe authors sent trained actors, “standardized patients” to public and private clinics to evaluate provider effort and accuracy in response to the presentation of textbook symptoms of common illnesses (angina, asthma, and dysentery in a child at home). Standardized patients are used to train medical students in the United States and in India and the Indian SPs were trained by professionals including medical doctors, and a medical anthropologist familiar with local forms of presenting illnesses and symptoms.

The first result is that the provision of health care is uniformly and distressingly poor. Overall, only 2.6% of patients received a correct treatment (and nothing unnecessary or harmful). The private providers, however, exert much more effort than do the public providers. The private providers, for example, perform more items on a standard checklist and they spend more time with patients. But the private providers are no better than the public providers at giving a correct treatment. Why not?

Private providers exert more effort but are less knowledgeable. Loosely we might say that Quality=Effort*Knowledge. Private providers put in more effort but have less knowledge and public providers have more knowledge but put in less effort leading to similar quality levels overall.

There is one big difference, however, between the public and private regimes, the private regime is much less socially costly. Since costs are lower and the quality level is the same, the private system is much more productive. The authors note:

…our estimates suggest that the public health care system in India spends at least four times more per patient interaction but does not deliver better outcomes than the private sector

(FYI, this also holds true for public and private schooling in India and around the world. Private schooling is usually somewhat better or about as good as public schooling but much less costly so the productivity of private schooling is much higher.)

To focus on the issue of market incentives rather than knowledge the authors do a second set of remarkable tests. Indian doctors often work in a public and a private practice. Thus, the authors send standardized patients to the same doctors but in one case the patient is treated under the public regime and in other under the private, market regime. Once knowledge is controlled for the results are very clear, private, markets dominate the public regime.

…treatments provided in the private practice strictly dominate those provided in the public practice of the same doctor. The rate of correct treatment is 42 percent higher (16 percentage points on a base of 37 percent), the rate of providing a clinically non-indicated palliative treatment is 20 percent lower (12.7 percentage points on a base of 64 percent), and the rate of antibiotic provision is 28 percent lower (13.9 percentage points on a base of 49 percent) in the private practice relative to the public practice of the same doctor.

The bottom line is that the private market for health care is much bigger and less expensive than the public health regime in rural India and once we control for knowledge it’s of higher quality. These results have important implications for reform. In particular, much more effort should go into improving the knowledge of the private sector.

….the marginal returns to better training and credentialing may be higher for private health care providers who have stronger incentives for exerting effort. Current policy thinking often points in the opposite direction, with a focus on hiring, training, and capacity building in the public sector on one hand (without much attention to their incentives for effort), and considerable resistance to training and providing legitimacy to unqualified private providers on the other.

Since Donald Trump has picked Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, many commentators have been pulling out their anti-school choice arguments from the closet, and for the most part it isn’t a pretty sight.  To insist on a single government-run school and trash school choice, while out of the other side of one’s mouth criticizing Trump for “authoritarianism,” and other times proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” is from my point of view a pretty poor mix.

To be sure, we’re still not sure how well vouchers work, and I would suggest continuing experimentation rather than full-on commitment.  Frankly, I find a lot of the voucher advocates unconvincing, but let’s not forget the single most overwhelming (yet neglected) empirical fact about vouchers: they improve parent satisfaction.

That result is not much contested.  For instance:

Universally, school choice parents are highly satisfied with choice schools, reporting greater discipline, more responsive staff and better educational environments than the public schools they left. That parents are satisfied with their choice schools is a valuable indicator that school choice delivers real benefits. As University of Wisconsin professor John Witte, the official evaluator of the Milwaukee choice program, recently commented on school choice research: “There’s one very consistent finding: Parental involvement is very positive, and parental satisfaction is very positive…parents are happier. The people using vouchers are mostly black and Hispanic and very poor…they deserve the same kind of options that middle-class white people have.”

Patrick J. Wolf’s survey of twelve voucher programs (pdf) supports this interpretation.  And here are strongly positive results on parental satisfaction Indiana.  I could go on, but I don’t think there is much need.

Of course parents may like school choice for reasons other than test scores.  To draw from the first link above, parents may like the academic programs, teacher skills, school discipline, safety, student respect for teachers, moral values, class size, teacher-parent relations, parental involvement, and freedom to observe religious traditions, among other facets of school choice.

Perhaps now is the time to remind you that how the buyers like the product is the fundamental standard used by economists for judging public policy?  That is not to say it is the final standard all things considered, but surely economists should at least start here and report positive parental satisfaction as a major feature of school choice programs.  In fact, I’ll say this: if you’re reading a critique of vouchers and the critic isn’t willing to tell you up front that parents typically like this form of school choice, I suspect the critic isn’t really trying to inform you.

To be sure, you still might not favor school vouchers.  You might think they cost too much, you might think they will politicize private schools too much, or you might think they weaken national unity too much, to cite a few possibilities.  (Although please, on that latter matter you can’t just say something silly like “public schools and the army made America what it is today.”  You need some actual evidence.  Won’t parents who are happy with the schooling of their children also contribute to national unity and push us away from polarization?  That effect might outweigh whatever more negative mechanism you have in mind.  Evidence please, not just sentiment.)

And as for test scores, the evidence there is still unclear.  Here are a few earlier MR posts, no cherry- or lemon-picking, please.

Scott Alexander has some excellent comments on vouchers and school choice.

I can’t say I followed this debate very closely, still this paper may settle some of the outstanding questions about public sector unions and wages and bargaining power.

The Effects of Public Unions on Compensation: Evidence from Wisconsin (Job Market Paper)

This paper seeks identify the effect that public sector unions have on compensation. Specifically, I look at the compensation premium associated with teachers’ unions in Wisconsin. In 2011, Wisconsin passed a landmark law (Act 10) which significantly lowered the bargaining power of all public sector unions in the state. Using an event study framework, I exploit plausibly exogenous timing differences based on contract renewal dates, which caused districts to be first exposed to the new regulations in different years. I find that the reduction in union power associated with Act 10 reduced total teacher compensation by 8%, or $6,500. Roughly two-thirds of this decline is driven through reduced fringe benefits. The analysis shows that the most experienced and highest paid teachers benefit most from unionization. I supplement the event study approach with synthetic control and regression discontinuity methods to find that regulatory limits on contract terms, rather than other mechanisms such as state financial aid cuts or union decertification, are driving the results.

That is from Andrew Littten, job market candidate at the University of Michigan (p.s.: Michigan, your job market candidate web site is the very hardest to use and browse, please improve it!)

1. Due to massive inflation, shops in Venezuela are now weighing money rather than counting it–a true paper standard.

2. As the economy collapses, Venezuelan’s are turning to bitcoin–using free electricity to mine the coins–but the secret police are hunting the miners.

3. Larry White and Shruti Rajagopolan note that India’s demonetization is really an expropriation that will transfer wealth to the government. Whether the wealth transfer is of black market holdings or not remains to be seen.

4. George Borjas remember’s Castro’s demonetization:

Castro quickly found a simple way of confiscating “excess” cash. The currency was changed overnight. And everyone had to turn in their old paper currency for the new paper currency, with some limits being imposed on the amount of the transactions. There was a miles-long line on what I think was a Saturday morning, as the entire Cuban population was turned into beggars for the new currency.

5. Alex Bellos looks at Newcomb’s Problem. The answer is obvious.

6. Steven Pearlstein on Four tough things universities should do to rein in costs. I liked this bit of history:

In 2002, George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg noticed that the school owned roughly $1 billion worth of facilities that sat idle for at least a third of the year. If he could reconfigure the academic calendar for year-round operation, he reasoned, he could enroll thousands more students without having to build new classrooms, labs, dorms or athletic facilities.

Doing so, however, would have required some professors to periodically teach during the summer, which didn’t sit well with the Faculty Senate. Its report on the matter reads like a parody of self-interested whining by coddled academics dressed up as concern for the pedagogical and psychological well-being of their students.

Prices aren’t rising because costs are rising, however, costs are rising because prices are rising.

7. Evolution is amazing. By acting as selective breeders, poachers are changing the genetics of African elephants.

In some areas 98 per cent of female elephants now have no tusks, researchers have said, compared to between two and six percent born tuskless on average in the past.

I find that a free trade zone in a province delays the age of first marriage by 1.6 years.  Moreover, the probability of early marriage is reduced by 30 percentage points.  The results are primarily driven by women that were in school at the time of the opening.  The free trade zones increase women’s years of education, especially during secondary school.

That is from a paper by Maria Micaela Sviatschi (pdf), who is on the job market from Columbia University.  Hers is one of the most interesting portfolios I have seen this year.

Another paper of hers shows that indoor prostitution lowers sex crime (pdf).  Her job market paper (pdf) is on how childhood exposure to illegal activities can breed criminal behavior later in life, here is the abstract:

This paper shows that exposing children to illegal labor markets makes them more likely to be criminals as adults. I exploit the timing of a large anti-drug policy in Colombia that shifted cocaine production to locations in Peru that were well-suited to growing coca. In these areas, children harvest coca leaves and transport processed cocaine. Using variation across locations, years, and cohorts, combined with administrative data on the universe of individuals in prison in Peru, affected children are 30% more likely to be incarcerated for violent and drug-related crimes as adults. The biggest impacts on adult criminality are seen among children who experienced high coca prices in their early teens, the age when child labor responds the most. No effect is found for individuals that grow up working in places where the coca produced goes primarily to the legal sector, implying that it is the accumulation of human capital specific to the illegal industry that fosters criminal careers. As children involved in the illegal industry learn how to navigate outside the rule of law, they also lose trust in government institutions. However, consistent with a model of parental incentives for human capital investments in children, the rollout of a conditional cash transfer program that encourages schooling mitigates the effects of exposure to illegal industries. Finally, I show how the program can be targeted by taking into account the geographic distribution of coca suitability and spatial spillovers. This paper takes a first step towards understanding how criminals are formed by unpacking the way in which crime-specific human capital is developed at the expense of formal human capital in bad locations.

She has numerous papers and virtually all of them look quite interesting.  Other topics include whether domestic violence lowers human capital investment and the economic effects of the (former) gang truce in El Salvador.  Here is her basic research portfolio.

Here is an overview of what is up, here is the plan itself.  Since it was produced by a bureaucracy rather than a blogger, it is hard to wade through the verbiage.  Nonetheless one of the bottom lines is a call for greater unity of methods and especially terms, so as to make discrete studies by different researchers more easily comparable, searchable, and aggregated into broader meta-studies, for instance:

In response to these types of measurement concerns, the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) developed a common scale or metric on which all measures of a given construct can be expressed. To achieve this, PROMIS developed and tested item banks using modern psychometric theory that, in addition to producing more precise and efficient measures, allow different measures of the same construct to be cocalibrated. As a result, different instruments measuring the same construct can be expressed on a single metric, aiding data harmonization and integration.

Another approach to addressing this data harmonization and integration challenge is to develop consensus measures for specific constructs. PhenX, for example, has developed a curated set of measurement protocols for specific phenotypic constructs. The NCI Grid-Enabled Measures website utilizes a crowdsourcing wiki approach to cataloging the various measures of a given social or behavioral construct. The National Library of Medicine has generated a directory of common data elements that serves as a repository for commonly accepted measures and data structures that, if adopted by researchers, would facilitate data integration across studies.

The original pointer is from Mitchell Eckert.  Keep in mind economists that, depending on your definition of economics, the NIH arguably supports at least as much economics research as does the NSF.

You might also be interested in University of Wisconsin job market candidate Nathan Yoder, whose main paper, a theory paper, is on improving incentives for academic research.  Here is the latter part of the abstract:

In keeping with current practice, the institution contracts based on the experiment’s result instead of its methodology. This removes a degree of freedom from the optimal design problem, but I show that there need not be loss from doing so. The optimal contract has two general characteristics. First, to discourage the production of false positive results, negative results supporting conventional wisdom must be rewarded. Second, the most informative results must be disproportionately rewarded. To arrive at these conclusions, I contribute to the literature by characterizing solutions and comparative statics of Bayesian persuasion problems using differentiability.

These topics remain very much understudied.

DeVos, an advocate for school vouchers, has chaired the Michigan Republican party and played a key role in some major education policy decisions there in recent years. But unlike former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee and charter-school leader Eva Moskowitz, two others Trump considered for the education secretary position, DeVos has kept a relatively low national profile. She has neither worked in public education nor chosen public schools for her own children, who attended private Christian schools.

Earlier this week, Chalkbeat compiled a few things we could reasonably surmise from a DeVos pick:

1. Trump intends to go through with his sweeping voucher plan.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to use federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools.

That’s exactly what DeVos has zealously worked to make happen on a state-by-state basis for decades. In 2000, she helped get a ballot measure before Michigan voters that would have enshrined a right to vouchers in the state’s Constitution. After the measure failed, she and her husband formed a political action committee to support pro-voucher candidates nationally. Less than a decade later, the group counted a 121-60 win-loss record.

One recipient of its support: former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who created the voucher program that Trump’s vice president-elect, Mike Pence, later expanded. Indeed, DeVos’s vision puts her more in line with Pence, who has supported private school vouchers for both low- and middle-income families, than with Trump, whose plan extends only to poor families.

Here is much more information.

Summary: Across 33 rich countries, only 5% of the population has high computer-related abilities, and only a third of people can complete medium-complexity tasks.

That is from Jacob Nielsen, via Roman Hardgrave.

Teach math in the morning

by on November 21, 2016 at 10:17 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Having a morning instead of afternoon math or English class increases a student’s GPA by 0.072 (0.006) and 0.032 (0.006), respectively. A morning math class increases state test scores by an amount equivalent to increasing teacher quality by one-fourth standard deviation or half of the gender gap. Rearranging school schedules can lead to increased academic performance.

That is from a new paper by Nolan G. Pope, who is on the job market this year from the University of Chicago.   Here is his overall profile.  His job market paper (pdf), with Nathan Petek, suggests that evaluating teachers by multi-dimensional metrics, and not just test scores, can bring big gains to educational quality.

*Nudge Theory in Action*

by on November 20, 2016 at 12:47 am in Books, Economics, Education, Philosophy | Permalink

That is a new and excellent volume edited by Sherzod Abdukadirov, with contributions by Mario Rizzo, Adam Thierer, Jodi Beggs, and others.  I wrote a short introduction, here is an excerpt from that:

Private sector nudge is highly problematic, and I would say it is often worst in those areas we tend to feel best about: health care, education, and charity.  In those cases, our guard is most likely to be let down, even if we are highly educated.  Or should I say because we are educated?

What about public sector nudge?  Well, the good news is that a lot of what government does is simply send money around through transfer programs.  In this regard, its potential for manipulating us is fairly limited.  Furthermore, government is extremely bureaucratic and usually it does not have top tier marketing talent.  Most of the time I just don’t find my government very persuasive.  Is there really anything the DMV can talk me into that I wouldn’t otherwise want to do?

But can I then relax?  Can I stop worrying about public sector nudge?

I am not so sure.

The biggest costs in human history come from wars, and very often the public sector — especially the executive branches in various countries — nudges us into wars.  I don’t hear enough discussion of this topic in the nudge literature.

Government also has nudged us into believing that more government regulation is the answer to many of our problems…

Finally, I worry about how private sector and public sector nudge interact.  Nudges from the television news, and its coverage of crime stories, convince many Americans that rates of crime are rising when in fact they are falling.  That’s a private sector nudge to be sure, and the private sector is doing the marketing, with great skill I might add.  But how does it interact with the public sector?  Well, prosecutors send more people to jail and for longer periods of time.

You can order the book here.

Eva Ihnenfeldt was in her bathrobe when German police showed up at 8 a.m. one morning to search her home.

“I racked my brain for any unexplained murders,” said the owner of a digital marketing business, which was simultaneously searched. The search warrant cited paragraph 132a of the German criminal code. Her crime was blogging about a gag gift from her children, an honorary Ph.D. certificate purchased for €39 on Groupon.

…{The German] obsession [with academic titles] has spawned not only a host of weird rules and traditions—misuse can draw a year in prison or stiff fines—but a posse of mostly anonymous vigilantes who scout out unearned titles, academic plagiarists and other ivory tower scofflaws.

Sleuthing under pseudonyms including Dr. Simplicius and Plagin Hood, dozens of German scholars spend hours of their own time scouring obscure theses for questionable citations. Targets have included academics, minor celebrities and leading politicians. Most are exposed on the website VroniPlag Wiki, named for an early target.

…One academic downloaded 50,000 medical theses and exposed more than 60 cases of significant plagiarism. Another spent three months, full-time, investigating a single thesis.

And this:

German law in the past prohibited foreign Ph.D.s from using the title “Dr.”

American Ian T. Baldwin, a Cornell-educated professor of ecology in eastern Germany, received a summons from his local police chief in early 2008.

“He wanted to know how I planned to plead to the charge of Titelmissbrauch,” or misuse of titles, recalled Prof. Baldwin, who directs the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology. “I couldn’t even pronounce it.”

This website (in German) spells out the proper protocols.  Here is the full article, by Tom Fairless, with the pointer from the excellent Samir Varma.