Category: Data Source

Institutional Review Boards Should be Curtailed

A good piece on IRBs from CSPI by Willy Chertman:

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are ethics committees, ideally composed of scientific peers and lay community members, that review research before it can be conducted. Their ostensible purpose is to protect research subjects from research harms. But oftentimes, IRBs are costly, slow, and do more harm than good. They censor controversial research, invent harms where none exist, and by designating certain categories of subjects as “vulnerable,” cause a corresponding diminishment in research on those subjects. There is even a plausible legal argument that they violate researchers’ First Amendment rights. Because previous attempts to spur the responsible federal executive agencies into streamlining IRBs have been unsuccessful or only had limited success, a targeted legislative solution that does not depend on bureaucratic implementation is needed.

Chertman has a number of suggestions for reform. At the very least social science should not be under the purview of IRBs at all.

…a more sweeping approach would be removing social science from IRB jurisdiction altogether. Historian Zachary Schrag, who worked intensely to lobby federal agencies on the Common Rule revisions from 2009-2017, proposes this in his book, Ethical Imperialism. As he documents, the Belmont Report, and subsequent regulatory developments, were not designed with social science in mind. Congress could fix this historical oversight by changing the wording of HHS regulations. This would free IRBs to focus on truly high-risk research instead of wasting time on low-risk social science research. Since social science more often touches on political questions, this would also extricate government-mandated oversight boards (IRBs) from the delicate position of regulating politically charged research.

Removing IRBs from social science research is particulary important now because politically sensitive research can be crushed under the pretense that it could “harm” participants.

Read the whole thing.

The marginal value of informal access to health care

To assess the importance of unequal access to medical expertise and services, we estimate the causal effects of having a child who is a doctor on parents’ mortality and health care use. We use data from parents of almost 22,000 participants in admission lotteries to medical school in the Netherlands. Our findings indicate that informal access to medical expertise and services is not an important cause of differences in health care use and mortality.

That is from “Do Doctors Improve the Health Care of Their Parents? Evidence from Admission Lotteries,” by Elisabeth Artmann, Hessel Oosterbeek, and Bas van der Klaauw, in the new American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.  Here are earlier, ungated versions.

Why have college completion rates increased?

Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Richard W. Patterson and Merrill Warnick tell us why: grade inflation:

We document that college completion rates have increased since the 1990s, after declining in the 1970s and 1980s. We find that most of the increase in graduation rates can be explained by grade inflation and that other factors, such as changing student characteristics and institutional resources, play little or no role. This is because GPA strongly predicts graduation, and GPAs have been rising since the 1990s. This finding holds in national survey data and in records from nine large public universities. We also find that at a public liberal arts college grades increased, holding performance on identical exams fixed.

That is from the new American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.  And here are earlier ungated versions.

More guns, more crime?

The full title of the paper is “More Guns, More Unintended Consequences: The Effects of Right-to-Carry on Criminal Behavior and Policing in US Cities” and the authors are John J. Donohue, Samuel V. Cai, Matthew V. Bondy, and Philip J. Cook (does Cook get enough credit for his trajectory of ongoing productivity?) and here is the abstract:

We analyze a sample of 47 major US cities to illuminate the mechanisms that lead Right-to-Carry concealed handgun laws to increase crime. The altered behavior of permit holders, career criminals, and the police combine to generate 29 and 32 percent increases in firearm violent crime and firearm robbery respectively. The increasing firearm violence is facilitated by a massive 35 percent increase in gun theft (p=0.06), with further crime stimulus flowing from diminished police effectiveness, as reflected in a 13 percent decline in violent crime clearance rates (p=0.03). Any crime-inhibiting benefits from increased gun carrying are swamped by the crime-stimulating impacts.

Here is the link to the NBER working paper.

The predictability of Chicago shooting victims

Out-of-sample accuracy is strikingly high: of the 500 people with the highest predicted risk [ of being shot], 13 percent are shot within 18 months, a rate 130 times higher than the average Chicagoan.

Yikes!  That is from a new NBER working paper by Sara B. Heller, Benjamin Jakobowski, Zubin Jelveh, and Max Kapustin.  The Spielberg movie was indeed a good one…

Rich people pay higher mark-ups

One implication is that income inequality isn’t quite as extreme as measured.  Another implication is that rising income inequality will itself cause higher mark-ups, but without the economy becoming “more monopolistic” per se.  Here is the paper:

The Law of Diminishing Elasticity of Demand (Harrod 1936) conjectures that price elasticity declines with income. I provide empirical evidence in support of Harrod’s conjecture using data on household transactions and wholesale costs. Over the observed set of purchases, high-income households pay 9pp higher retail markups than low-income households. Half of the differences in markups paid across households is due to differences in markups paid at the same store. Conversely, products with a high-income customer base charge higher markups: a 10pp higher share of customers with over $100K in income is associated with a 2.5–5.2pp higher retail markup. A search model in which households’ search intensity depends on their opportunity cost of time can replicate these facts. Through the lens of the model, changes in the income distribution since 1950 account for a 9pp rise in retail markups, with one-third of the increase due to growing income dispersion. This rise in markups consists of within-firm markup increases as well as a reallocation of sales to high-markup firms, which occurs without any changes to the nature of firm production or competition.

Here is the full paper by Kunal Sangani.  Via tekl.

Does economic literacy encourage polarization?

Hume’s revenge!

Previous research highlights the role that political knowledge plays in forming political positions and how financial literacy influences personal economic decisions. But even among economists, how economic knowledge affects policy views remains little studied. We measure economic literacy among a representative sample of U.S. residents, explore the demographic and socioeconomic correlates of this measure, and examine how respondents’ policy positions correlate with their economic knowledge. We also estimate counterfactual policy positions as if respondents were fully economically literate. We find significant differences in economic literacy by sex, race/ethnicity, and education, but little evidence that respondents’ policy views are related to their level of economic literacy on average. Examining heterogeneity by political party, we uncover an interesting if polarizing pattern: estimated fully economically literate policy views for Democrats and Republicans are farther apart than respondents’ unadjusted views.


We find that men, older Americans, Americans without children, Republicans, and the more educated have higher economic literacy. Family income is unrelated to economic literacy, though Black and Hispanic Americans have lower economic literacy (including conditional on education and income).

Here is the full paper by Jared Barton and Cortney Stephen Rodet.

Work From Home and commercial real estate values

We study the impact of remote work on the commercial office sector. We document large shifts in lease revenues, office occupancy, lease renewal rates, lease durations, and market rents as firms shifted to remote work in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. We show that the pandemic has had large effects on both current and expected future cash flows for office buildings. Remote work also changes the risk premium on office real estate. We revalue the stock of New York City commercial office buildings taking into account pandemic-induced cash flow and discount rate effects. We find a 32% decline in office values in 2020 and 28% in the longer-run, the latter representing a $500 billion value destruction. Higher quality office buildings were somewhat buffered against these trends due to a flight to quality, while lower quality office buildings see much more dramatic swings. These valuation changes have repercussions for local public finances and financial sector stability.

That is from a new paper by Arpit Gupta, Vrinda Mittal, and Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Claims about artillery

In short, US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.

The US is not the only country facing this challenge. In a recent war game involving US, UK and French forces, UK forces exhausted national stockpiles of critical ammunition after eight days.

Such projections are not always accurate, but the broader discussion is interesting throughout.

Cognitive Endurance as Human Capital

A favorite topic of mine:

Schooling may build human capital not only by teaching academic skills, but by expanding the capacity for cognition itself. We focus specifically on cognitive endurance: the ability to sustain effortful mental activity over a continuous stretch of time. As motivation, we document that globally and in the US, the poor exhibit cognitive fatigue more quickly than the rich across field settings; they also attend schools that offer fewer opportunities to practice thinking for continuous stretches. Using a field experiment with 1,600 Indian primary school students, we randomly increase the amount of time students spend in sustained cognitive activity during the school day—using either math problems (mimicking good schooling) or non-academic games (providing a pure test of our mechanism). Each approach markedly improves cognitive endurance: students show 22% less decline in performance over time when engaged in intellectual activities—listening comprehension, academic problems, or IQ tests. They also exhibit increased attentiveness in the classroom and score higher on psychological measures of sustained attention. Moreover, each treatment improves students’ school performance by 0.09 standard deviations. This indicates that the experience of effortful thinking itself—even when devoid of any subject content—increases the ability to accumulate traditional human capital. Finally, we complement these results with quasi-experimental variation indicating that an additional year of schooling improves cognitive endurance, but only in higher-quality schools. Our findings suggest that schooling disparities may further disadvantage poor children by hampering the development of a core mental capacity.

Here is the full paper by Christina L. Brown, Supreet Kaur, Geeta Kingdon & Heather Schofield. What are you doing to improve your cognitive durability?

And don’t forget that the Candidates’ Match starts today!

New Service Sector Jobs for Economists

At Wizards of the Coast, we connect people around the world through play and imagination. From our genre defining games like Magic: The Gathering® and Dungeons & Dragons® to our growing multiverse, we continue to innovate and build new ways to foster friendship and connection. That’s where you come in!

Magic: The Gathering is a card game played and collected across the globe, with a wide-ranging assortment of products designed to engage a wide range of ways people enjoy playing Magic. As a Sr. Design Economist, you will help us better understand how Magic is played and purchased to help us make better, faster strategic decisions.

What You’ll Do:

  • Learn from the Past: Study the data and trends to discover insights, new perspectives, and opportunities to improve how we serve different types of customers and markets.
  • Live in the Moment: Track and report on sales, identify market channels that are over/underperforming, and refine our projections and strategies in real time.
  • Predict the Future: Project product sales to inform print runs and market allocation for products we have made for decades, and to inform design of products we’ve never made before.
  • Boost our Agility: Help us adapt faster to changes in market conditions or behavior.
  • Make our Party Smarter: Work with our design and sales teams to identify key holes in our understanding, conduct impactful studies, and communicate actionable insights.

More here.

Stop school shooting drills

…this article applies machine learning and interrupted time series analysis to 54 million social media posts, both pre- and post-drills in 114 schools spanning 33 states. Drill dates and locations were identified via a survey, then posts were captured by geo-location, school social media following, and/or school social media group membership. Results indicate that anxiety, stress, and depression increased by 39–42% following the drills, but this was accompanied by increases in civic engagement (10–106%). This research, paired with the lack of strong evidence that drills save lives, suggests that proactive school safety strategies may be both more effective, and less detrimental to mental health, than drills.

That is from Mai ElSherief,, published in 2021.  Via Gabriel Demombynes.

Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya

From Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Anthony Keats, Michael Kremer, Isaac Mbiti, and Owen Ozier:

We examine the impact of enrolling in schools that employ a highly-standardized approach to education, using random variation from a large nationwide scholarship program. Bridge International Academies not only delivers highly detailed lesson guides to teachers using tablet computers, it also standardizes systems for daily teacher monitoring and feedback, school construction, and financial management. At the time of the study, Bridge operated over 400 private schools serving more than 100,000 pupils. It hired teachers with less formal education and experience than public school teachers, paid them less, and had more working hours per week. Enrolling at Bridge for two years increased test scores by 0.89 additional equivalent years of schooling (EYS) for primary school pupils and by 1.48 EYS for pre-primary pupils. These effects are in the 99th percentile of effects found for at-scale programs studied in a recent survey. Enrolling at Bridge reduced both dispersion in test scores and grade repetition. Test score results do not seem to be driven by rote memorization or by income effects of the scholarship.

Promising results, to be sure…