Results for “emily oster”
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The new Emily Oster book

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What You Really Need to Know.

It’s out, and if I hadn’t been giving talks in Singapore and eating pepper crab, I would have read and reviewed it by now.  I will read it as soon as I can and of course I pre-ordered it once I heard about it, despite my lack of direct connection to the topic…

Hail Emily Oster!

The paper is titled "Hepatitis B Does Not Explain Male-Biased Sex Ratios in China"; here is the abstract:

Earlier work (Oster, 2005) has argued, based on existing medical
literature and analysis of cross country data and vaccination programs,
that parents who are carriers of hepatitis B have a higher offspring
sex ratio (more boys) than non-carrier parents. Further, since a number
of Asian countries, China in particular, have high hepatitis B carrier
rates, Oster (2005) suggested that hepatitis B could explain a large
share (approximately 50%) of Asia’s missing women". Subsequent work
has questioned this conclusion. Most notably, Lin and Luoh (2008) use
data from a large cohort of births in Taiwan and find only a very tiny
effect of maternal hepatitis carrier status on offspring sex ratio.
Although this work is quite conclusive for the case of mothers, it
leaves open the possibility that paternal carrier status is driving
higher sex offspring sex ratios. To test this, we collected data on the
offspring gender for a cohort of 67,000 people in China who are being
observed in a prospective cohort study of liver cancer; approximately
15% of these individuals are hepatitis B carriers. In this sample, we
find no effect of either maternal or paternal hepatitis B carrier
status on offspring sex. Carrier parents are no more likely to have
male children than non-carrier parents. This finding leads us to
conclude that hepatitis B cannot explain skewed sex ratios in China.

We should hold up Emily Oster as a role model of a truth-seeker.  If the abstract does not make it clear, Emily Oster first won her fame by reporting the opposite result about sex ratios.  Here are our previous posts on Emily Oster.

A more general lesson, of course, is simply how difficult it is to get at truth.  This is a well-defined data set with a (more or less) well-defined answer.  Most policy questions aren’t so tractable.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard Zenith, Pessoa: A Biography.  942 pp. of text, yet interesting throughout.  Brings you into Pessoa’s mind and learning to a remarkable degree.  (Have I mentioned that the world is slowly realizing that Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is one of the great works of the century?)  His favorite book was Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, and he very much liked Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus.  This biography is also interesting about non-Pessoa topics, such as Durban, South Africa in 1900 (Pessoa did live there for a while).  I am pleased to see Pessoa finally receiving the attention he deserves — definitely one of the books of this year.  Here is a good review of the book.  For a man who never had sex, this book covers his sex life a great deal!  And what a short and lovely title, no long subtitle thank goodness.

2. Nicholas Wapshott, Samuelson Friedman: The Battle over the Free Market.  Quite a good book, though it is interior to my current knowledge set and thus better for others reader than myself.  Contrary to what I have read elsewhere, Wapshott points out that Samuelson did not support Nixon’s wage and price controls, but this LA Times link seems to suggest Samuelson thought they were a good idea?

3. Jamie Mackay, The Invention of Sicily: A Mediterranean History.  While it was less conceptual than I might have preferred, this is perhaps the single best general history of Sicily I know of.  Short and to the point in a good way.

4. N.J. Higham, The Death of Anglo-Saxon England.  In 1066, five different individuals were recognized as de facto King of England — how did that come to pass?  Why was Aethelred the Unready not ready?  (He was only 12 when he assumed the throne, though much of the actual criticism concerned the later part of his reign.)  I find this one of the most intelligible and conceptual treatments of Anglo-Saxon England out there.  I don’t care what the Heritage Foundation says, beware Danish involvement in your politics!

Peter Kinzler, Highway Robbery: The Two-Decade Battle to Reform America’s Automobile Insurance System is a useful look at where that debate stands and how it ended up there.  Here is a good summary of the book.

It does not make sense for me to read Emily Oster’s The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision-Making in the Early School Years, but it is very likely more reliable information than you are likely to get from other sources.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Updated data on unicorns, including Chinese numbers.

2. Those new Indian service sector jobs: A CCTV Company Is Paying Remote Workers in India to Yell at Armed Robbers.  And Stalin’s Economic Council.

3. NYT profile of Emily Oster.

4. What is ranked-choice voting, and why is NYC using it?

5. More arguments about Tether and crypto stability.

6. Why are so many people writing about social epistemology?

7. Happiness researcher Edward Diener has passed away (NYT).

Emergent Ventures winners, 15th cohort

Emily Oster, Brown University, in support of her COVID-19 School Response Dashboard and the related “Data Hub” proposal, to ease and improve school reopenings, project here.

Kathleen Harward, to write and market a series of children’s books based on classical liberal values.

William Zhang, a high school junior on Long Island, NY, for general career development and to popularize machine learning and computation.

Kyle Schiller, to study possibilities for nuclear fusion.

Aaryan Harshith, 15 year old in Ontario, for general career development and “LightIR is the world’s first device that can instantly detect cancer cells during cancer surgery, preventing the disease from coming back and keeping patients healthier for longer.”

Anna Harvey, New York University and Social Science Research Council, to bring evidence-based law and economics research to practitioners in police departments and legal systems.

EconomistsWritingEveryDay blog, here is one recent good Michael Makowsky post.

Richard Hanania, Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, to pursue their new mission.

Jeremy Horpedahl, for his work on social media to combat misinformation, including (but not only) Covid misinformation.

Congratulations!  Here are previous Emergent Ventures winners.

Paul Milgrom, Nobel Laureate

Most of all this is a game theory prize and an economics of information prize, including game theory and asymmetric information.  Much of the work has had applications to auctions and finance.  Basically Milgrom was the most important theorist of the 1980s, during the high point of economic theory and its influence.

Here is Milgrom’s (very useful and detailed) Wikipedia page.  Most of his career he has been associated with Stanford University, with one stint at Yale for a few years.  Here is Milgrom on scholar.google.com.  A very good choice and widely anticipated, in the best sense of that term.  Here is his YouTube presence.  Here is his home page.

Milgrom, working with Nancy Stokey, developed what is called the “no trade” theorem, namely the conditions under which market participants will not wish to trade with each other.  Obviously if someone wants to trade with you, you have to wonder — what does he/she know that I do not?  Under most reasonable assumptions, it is hard to generate a high level of trading volume, and that has remained a puzzle in theories of finance and asset pricing.  People are still working on this problem, and of course it relates to work by Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann on when people should rationally disagree with each other.

Building on this no-trade result, Milgrom wrote a seminal piece with Lawrence Glosten on bid-ask spread.  What determines bid-ask spread in securities markets?  It is the risk that the person you are trading with might know more than you do.  You will trade with them only when the price is somewhat more advantageous to you, so markets with higher degrees of asymmetric information will have higher bid-ask spreads.  This is Milgrom’s most widely cited paper and it is personally my favorite piece of his, it had a real impact on me when I read it.  You can see that the themes of common knowledge and asymmetric information, so important for the auctions work, already are rampant.

Alex will tell you more about auctions, but Milgrom working with Wilson has designed some auctions in a significant way, see Wikipedia:

Milgrom and his thesis advisor Robert B. Wilson designed the auction protocol the FCC uses to determine which phone company gets what cellular frequencies. Milgrom also led the team that designed the 2016-17 incentive auction, which was a two-sided auction to reallocate radio frequencies from TV broadcast to wireless broadband uses.

Here is Milgrom’s 277-page book on putting auction theory to practical use.  Here is his highly readable JEP survey article on auctions and bidding, for an introduction to Milgrom’s prize maybe start there?

Here is Milgrom’s main theoretical piece on auctions, dating from Econometrica 1982 and co-authored with Robert J. Weber.  it compared the revenue properties of different auctions and showed that under risk-neutrality a second-price auction would yield the highest price.  Also returning to the theme of imperfect information and bid-ask spread, it showed that an expert appraisal would make bidders more eager to bid and thus raise the expected price.  I think of Milgrom’s work as having very consistent strands.

With Bengt Holmstrom, also a Nobel winner, Milgrom wrote on principal-agent theory with multiple tasks, basically trying to explain why explicit workplace incentives and bonuses are not used more widely.  Simple linear incentives can be optimal because they do not distort the allocation of effort across tasks so much, and it turned out that the multi-task principal agent problem was quite different from the single-task problem.

People used to think that John Roberts would be a co-winner, based on the famous Milgrom and Roberts paper on entry deterrence.  Basically incumbent monopolists can signal their cost advantage by making costly choices and thereby scare away potential entrants.  And the incumbent wishes to be tough with early entrants to signal to later entrants that they better had stay away. In essence, this paper was viewed as a major rebuttal to the Chicago School economists, who had argued that predatory behavior from incumbents typically was costly, irratoinal, and would not persist.

The absence of Roberts’s name on this award indicates a nudge in the direction of auction design and away from game theory a bit — the Nobel Committee just loves mechanism design!

That said, it is worth noting that the work of Milgrom and co-authors intellectually dominated the 1980s and can be identified with the peak of influence of game theory at that period of time.  (Since then empirical economics has become more prominent in relative terms.)

Milgrom and Roberts also published a once-famous paper on supermodular games in 1990.  I’ve never read it, but I think it has something to do with the possible bounding of strategies in complex settings, but based on general principles.  This was in turn an attempt to make game theory more general.  I am not sure it succeeded.

Milgrom and Roberts also produced a well-known paper finding the possible equilibria in a signaling model of advertising.

Milgrom and Roberts also wrote a series of papers on rent-seeking and “influence activities” within firms.  It always seemed to me this was his underrated work and it deserved more attention.  Among other things, this work shows how hard it is to limit internal rent-seeking by financial incentives (which in fact can make the problem worse), and you will see this relates to Milgrom’s broader work on multi-task principal-agent problems.

Milgrom also has a famous paper with Kreps, Wilson, and Roberts, so maybe Kreps isn’t going to win either.  They show how a multi-period prisoner’s dilemma might sustain cooperating rather than “Finking” if there is asymmetric information about types and behavior.  This paper increased estimates of the stability of tit-for-tat strategies, if only because with uncertainty you might end up in a highly rewarding loop of ongoing cooperation.  This combination of authors is referred to as the “Gang of Four,” given their common interests at the time and some common ties to Stanford.  You will note it is really Milgrom (and co-authors) who put Stanford economics on the map, following on the Kenneth Arrow era (when Stanford was not quite yet a truly top department).

Not what he is famous for, but here is Milgrom’s paper with Roberts trying to rationalize some of the key features of modern manufacturing.  If nothing else, this shows the breadth of his interests and how he tries to apply game theory generally.  One question they consider is why modern manufacturing has moved so strongly in the direction of greater flexibility.

Milgrom also has a 1990 piece with North and Weingast on the medieval merchant guilds and the economics of reputation, showing his more applied side.  In essence the Law Merchant served as a multilateral reputation mechanism and enforced cooperation.  Here is a 1994 follow-up.  This work paved the way for later work by Avner Greif on related themes.

Another undervalued Milgrom piece is with Sharon Oster (mother of Emily Oster), or try this link for it.  Here is the abstract:

The Invisibility Hypothesis holds that the job skills of disadvantaged workers are not easily discovered by potential new employers, but that promotion enhances visibility and alleviates this problem. Then, at a competitive labor market equilibrium, firms profit by hiding talented disadvantaged workers in low-level jobs.Consequently, those workers are paid less on average and promoted less often than others with the same education and ability. As a result of the inefficient and discriminatory wage and promotion policies, disadvantaged workers experience lower returns to investments in human capital than other workers.

With multiple, prestigious co-authors he has written in favor of prediction markets.

He was the doctoral advisor of Susan Athey, and in Alex’s post you can read about his auction advising and the companies he has started.

His wife, Eva Meyersson Milgrom, is herself a renowned social scientist and sociologist, and he met her in 1996 while seated next to her at a Nobel Prize dinner in Stockholm.  Here is one of his papers with her (and Ravi Singh), on whether firms should share control with outsiders.  Here is the story of their courtship.

Friday assorted links

1. Video of good GeoWizard guessing, a little slow to start.

2. Does fluoride make you smarter?  And “Lionel Penrose was a Professor of eugenics at University College London’s Galton Laboratory.

3. Patrick McKenzie on Stripe.

4. The whole Cambridge Analytica thing seems to have been a load of b.s.

5. NYT profile of Matt Levine.  And Bloomberg profile of Emily Oster.

6. The Monty Hall problem with many doors (goats).

7. When and how did Americans lose their British accents?

8. The Nobel Peace Prize ahem.

Thursday assorted links

1. Tips for slowing livestock growth due to plant closures.

2. “The Arizona Department of Health Services told a team of university experts working on COVID-19 modeling to “pause” its work, an email from a department leader shows.

3. Florian Schneider has passed away.

4. Source code for the Imperial College model.  And Sue Denim is very upset about the quality of that source code.  Another reader with a strong technical background wrote me equally critical remarks.  Are there further opinions on this?

5. Sujatha Gidla on her experience with Covid-19 (NYT), and here is my earlier CWT with her, one of my favorite episodes.

6. A new real-time journal COVID Economics.

7. Tankersley interviews Hassett and covers the brouhaha (NYT).

8. Effective Altruist forum ranks Fast Grants as one of their top two projects.

10. Jerry Seinfeld on success.

11. “A county in Washington State dealing with a coronavirus outbreak has identified a confounding new source of spread: “Covid-19 parties” organized so that people can deliberately mingle with an infected person in the hope of getting their own illness out of the way.”  (NYT link)  I wonder what they play for the music.

12. How are the social sciences evolving?  Less rational choice, for one thing.

13. Why are meatpacking plants hit so hard?  Holds true for numerous countries — is it the deliberate circulation of cool air?

14. Emily Oster and Galit Alter have a new Covid public health information site.

What I’ve been reading

1. Patrick Bergemann, Judge Thy Neighbor: Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany.  A very specific, useful, and interesting account of actual denunciation practices during the above-mentioned episodes.  During the Inquisition, there was general immunity given to most denouncers, you can imagine the resulting incentives.  This book is becoming more relevant than it ought to be.

2. John L. Rudolph, How We Teach Science: What’s Changed, and Why It Matters.  I found this book boring, but it is the kind of book people should be writing and I suspect some readers and researchers will find it very useful.  A fact-rich, reference-laden history of American science education, still by the end I still was looking for more organizational principles.

3. Samme Chittum, Last Days of the Concorde: The Crash of Flight 4590 and the End of Supersonic Passenger Travel.  An excellent book on why the Concorde was in fact abandoned.  I hadn’t realized it was never so safe in the first place:  “They soon learned that Concordes operated by British Airways and Air France had been involved in a range of tire failures over the years.  No fewer than 57 such incidents had taken place since Concordes began flying in 1976, 47 were either burst or inflated tires, and 10 were instances in which tires lost tread.”

4. Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, translated and edited by Ken Liu.  I found the “hit rate” in this collection to be slightly over fifty percent, which is rare for a science fiction anthology, plus even the lesser stories give one some insight into China, so definitely recommended, at least if you think you might like it.  But don’t read this before The Three-Body Problem.

Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, delivers what it promises.  The coup against Gorbachev was plotted in a banya, I learned.

Joshua Specht, Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America.  A good economic history of the “cattle-beef complex”: “Abilene, Kansas was the first major cattle town.”

Emily Oster, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth to Preschool is in my pile, it may someday be revised to cover older children.

Also in my pile is Julius Caesar, The War for Gaul, a new translation by James J. O’Donnell.  I can’t speak to this translation, but the book is a winner.

Friday assorted links

1. “The evening’s entertainment harshly criticizes capitalism, and at $2,000 a seat…” (NYT)

2. “Pledges to Notre Dame by rich stir resentment…” (NYT)  More information here.

3. Has TikTok learned how to censor the internet?

4. Me on The Gist, Slate podcast with Mike Pesca.  And Ryan Bourne reviews *BIg Business* in the Daily Telegraph.

5. Have we finally figured out how general anesthesia works?

6. Emily Oster on evidence-based parenting and breast-feeding (NYT).