Category: Education

Twice the speed, half the time, no loss of learning

News you can use:

We presented participants with lecture videos at different speeds and tested immediate and delayed (1 week) comprehension. Results revealed minimal costs incurred by increasing video speed from 1x to 1.5x, or 2x speed, but performance declined beyond 2x speed. We also compared learning outcomes after watching videos once at 1x or twice at 2x speed. There was not an advantage to watching twice at 2x speed but if participants watched the video again at 2x speed immediately before the test, compared with watching once at 1x a week before the test, comprehension improved. Thus, increasing the speed of videos (up to 2x) may be an efficient strategy, especially if students use the time saved for additional studying or rewatching the videos, but learners should do this additional studying shortly before an exam. However, these trends may differ for videos with different speech rates, complexity or difficulty, and audiovisual overlap.

See my piece, Why Online Education Works, for more on time and cost savings. Try MRU for great economics videos.

Emergent Ventures winners, seventeenth cohort

Caleb Watney and Alec Stapp, to found a think tank related to progress studies.

Joe Francis, a farmer in Wales, to write a book on the economic and historical import of slavery in the American republic.

Ananya Chadha, freshman at Stanford, general career development, her interests include neurology and electrical engineering.

Eric Xia, Brown University to develop word association software and for general career development.  He is “making a metaphysical sport” and working on

Isaak Freeman, from southeast Austria, in a gap year after high school, general career development.

Davis Kedrosky, undergraduate at UC Berkeley, for economic history and general career development.  Home page here, Substack here.

Katherine Dee and Emmet Penney, for general career development including collaboration.  Among other topics, Katherine has worked on reimagining tech and Emmett has worked on promoting nuclear fusion.

Grant Gordon, to remedy hunger and nutrition problems in East Africa and also more broadly.

Sofia Sigal-Passeck, Yale University, “Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Uniphage, a biotechnology start-up which aims to eradicate bacterial diseases using the combined power of bacteriophages and artificial intelligence.”

Brian Potter, to improve productivity in construction, through both writing and practice.  Here is his Substack.

Daniel Liu, attending UCLA, to study computational biology and for general career development.

Molly Mielke, founder and CEO of Moth Minds, a new company to find talent and revolutionize philanthropy: “Moth Minds is building the foundation that enables anyone to start their own grants program based on finding work that gets them excited about the future.”

Here are previous Emergent Ventures winners.

Let Students Stay in Their Dorms!

Georgetown University, like many universities, closes its dorms for the holidays. Why? Closing the dorms is an especially costly policy this year for international students, many of whom will have to quarantine if they fly home. As a result, lots of students have to find temporary housing over the holidays. Kenan Dogan, Kelly He, and Shurui Liu, students of Jason Brennan at Georgetown, offer a compelling analysis.

The average international student must pay $2,400 to fly home. this number is $3,600 to Asia, $1,200 to Europe, and $1,000 to South America, compared to just $400 within North America. parallel to flight costs, the average international student faces a 24-hour trip back home. This number is 28 hours to Asia, 14 hours to Europe, and 11 hours to South America. 

the average student from Asia faces 21 days of quarantine and must pay $1,200 for quarantine, specific to 2021. With winter break being only 25 days, the average student from Asia would spend virtually all their break in quarantine if they decided to travel home. By contrast, the average student in all other continents faces no quarantine, and thus no quarantine costs.

the average international student remaining in the US – but that wants to stay in their dorm – will spend $2,225 to remain in the us, combining housing and travel costs. this number might seem high, but it pales in comparison to the $6,100 median cost of returning home for this group, not to mention the 21-day median quarantine time and nearly 30-hour traveling process.

We find that 76% OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS LIVING ON CAMPUS WOULD CONTINUE LIVING IN THEIR DORMS OVER WINTER BREAK this year if given the opportunity. Further, the average international student that would like to remain on campus over break would be willing to pay $1,000 to do so. Given these topline considerations, WE RECOMMEND THE UNIVERSITY ALLOW INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS TO REMAIN IN THEIR DORMS DURING WINTER BREAK.

Georgetown and other universities with holiday shutdowns could even make money on the deal.

“What is wrong with physicians?” (from the comments)

My top candidates:

1. Loss of locus of control. People go into medicine to save lives. They believe that they will use their demonstrated intelligence and skills to make a difference. Unfortunately, modern medicine is ever more about turning physicians into box checkers. CPT codes, checklists, facility mandates, perpetual boards … a physician quickly loses control of their working day unless they are weird freaks who do extensively more work to retain control. And beyond that the average physician becomes enculturated to this much earlier. Which medical school you get into is largely a function of where you grew up, went to undergrad, and exactly how well you did on a test that everyone aces with a side of barely legal implicit racial quotas. Your residency is determined by where you went to medical school, where you went to medical school, where/what the top candidates want, and how well you did on a test that everyone aces with a side of barely legal implicit racial quotas. You spend a decade where your locus of control in life is minimal. Then you hit the real world and rather than being set free, you get hit by unending paperwork and yet a thousandth petty demand on your time. If you do research it is not uncommon to spend multiplicatively more time on compliance paperwork. If you head out to make money, you will find that your charge capture is more relevant than the quality of care you provide by an order of magnitude. All of this is a textbook case of loss of locus of control that we know is highly correlated with drug use and depression.

2. There is a wild disconnect between “being a physician” as understood by the public and what you actually live. The public thinks this is still the 1980s when you could pay for medical school working a summer job, residency was three years, and salaries were higher in real terms than they are today. Instead, physicians spend much closer to fifteen years going through training as the needed resume padding has grown at every step along the way. This means that they live longer at resident salaries which are close to US median, but typically are located in high population areas with expensive housing costs. And being a resident physician is not cheap. You have high commuting costs because the regs allow your boss to work you 24 out of 28 days. You can, and will, have weeks with over 100 hours of actual patient care. And again, remember that something like half of residencies are in violation of these rules. And all of this is while nursing a second mortage in undischargable medical school debt. Everyone will think you are rich and that you take fine vacations to Europe and the you will drive a flashy care. And maybe you will, but it will not be until after you are 40 and often 45 that the full physician lifestyle of the movies really comes into play.

3. And then we have the stakes. At every step in a physicians formative adult years you face massive ultra-high stakes events that we know are bad for mental health. College admissions (where you will hit a ceiling for medical schools if you get in too low), MCAT and medical school admissions (which will drastically lower your access to certain specialties if you end up having to go DO), Step and the Match (where you will spend five figures to beg for interviews, the folks on the other side will be unable to differentiate you from the thousands of other applicants, and when you get the interview the only thing of meaning that will come forth is if they like you and if you grew up nearby). Then you have boards and your first job. All of these are massively high stakes and they all require performing quite well relative to your peers. This sort of setup is known in experimental animals and people to lead to depression, anxiety disorders, and drug use.

3. Then we have the punctuated nature of the physician’s life. Going back to medical school, you routinely have long weeks with minimal time to enjoy because studying is rampant. Your entire career can theoretically hang on if you memorized which ultra-rare cancer is caused by which mutation in which gene – even if you want to be a psychiatrist. When you have time “off” this may be the only time you get and there is a very strong tendency toward binges and bacchanals. This will continue to residency where you might have one free weekend in a month (the others being taken up with working and studying), which again lends itself toward binging. And it may continue from there with horrid call schedules and long weeks punctuated by long vacations.

4. The stakes never get lower. You go through with your career riding on high stakes tests and your studying time never being accounted for in your official duties. Boards are now never ending and you face ever more theoretically threatening liability for your decisions.

5. And then there is the obvious stuff. Day in, day out you meet people at their worst. And all your coworkers are doing the same. People cry, threaten, swear, and otherwise abuse you. And nobody wants to get mad at somebody who was just paralyzed from the waist down. Likewise, you can only become so inured to death and dying, we are a social species with extremely large portions of our brains dedicated to feeling empathy for others, physicians see the 5% of humanity who is most obviously suffering as their modal patient.

6. Lastly, whatever you think about physician renumeration, it becomes painfully evident that the golden days were decades ago and there is a small army looking for ways to reduce your renumeration. It will fall disproportionately on you even when the major growth in medical expenses has been nursing, administration, and other warm bodies. Whatever you got paid for a highly taxing job last year, there will be a thousand signs that people think you should do it again for less. People who believe wholeheartedly in the stickiness of wages for reasons of morale and who hold that pay cuts are sufficiently difficult that we need to order international finance around inflation and obviating the need for explicit wage reductions will turn around and concoct wild schemes that explicitly reduce your income in real and nominal terms and question your character should your professional organization (to which you don’t belong) object. All, of course, while the administrators who are generally incompetent at understanding medical practice rake in an ever larger share of the money.

Some of this is US specific, but we have set up medicine to be highly backloaded with its rewards for physicians. We have risen the profession to a vocation and made it a truly arduous task to get through. And at every step along the way physicians have not had access to healthy coping mechanisms and repeated psychic injuries of the sort known to cause or exacerbate these conditions. Major life protective events (e.g. marriage, children, home ownership) are routinely delayed and disrupted by the demands of the training. Why again are we surprised that physicians come out bruised, batter, and willing to take the short term fix for some relief?

That is all from Sure.

What is the profile of leading development economists on the PhD job market?

From David McKenzie at the World Bank, here is one excerpt:

Data from big middle-income countries, and English-speaking Africa were most common, with no papers on the Middle East and North Africa, and very little study of the poorest places: In both samples, India, Brazil, and Colombia (and the U.S.!) were the most common countries studied, with a smattering of papers from East Asia, other South Asian countries, and Latin America, and one from Russia with nothing else on Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Of the World’s 25 poorest countries, only one (Mozambique) was the subject of study; of the five countries that contain half the World’s poor, there were papers on India and Bangladesh, but none on Nigeria, DRC or Ethiopia.

Here is another:

RCTs have far from overtaken development, difference-in-differences is the most popular identification method, yes, people still do IV, and no, no one does PSM on the job market: The pandemic may have reduced the ability of people to do some field experiments, but this year at least, only 20% of the top school sample, and only 6% of the World Bank sample were doing RCTs. More than one quarter in both cases were using difference-in-differences. RDD and IVs were used in about 10% of the papers each, and structural models were common in the World Bank sample (which has more trade and macro papers). None of the papers used propensity score matching.

The blog post is interesting throughout.  Via the excellent Samir Varma.

How to read canonical Western literature

From a reader:

You should do a post on tips for reading canonical Western literature.  Especially on whether, and to what extent, one ought to read secondary stuff like criticism, biographies, histories alongside.  Also, to reread, or to read another canonical work for the first time instead.  Tips for the average interested reader…

For your consideration, feel free to ask me anything you’ve ever wanted to know about Kosrae (one of the four states that make up the great Federated States of Micronesia!)

I am hardly the expert here, and I don’t pretend these techniques will work for you, but here are my pointers:

1. Assume from the beginning that you will need to read the work more than once, or at least read significant portions of the work more than once.  Furthermore, these multiple readings should be done back-to-back (and also over many years, btw, after all this is the canonical).  So your first reading should not in every way be super-careful, as you don’t yet know what to look for.  Treat the first reading as a warm-up for the second reading to follow.

2. The first fifty pages very often should be read twice, in a single sitting if possible, even on your “first reading.”

3. Assemble three to five guides to the main book you are reading, or significant fairly general contributions to the secondary literature.  Consult those works throughout, and imbibe an especially large dose of them between your first and second readings of the classic itself.  But you shouldn’t necessarily read those books straight through, or finish them.  They are to be pillaged for both conceptual structure and particular insights, not to be reified as books in their own right.

4. Always be asking yourself how the classic work you are reading is engaging with other classic works you might know or know of.  Starting with the Bible, but not ending there.

5. Find people to talk to about the book.

6. Read Western canonical literature.  This is actually the most important item on the list.

p.s. Don’t forget the small groups and mentors!

Addendum: Nathan Meyvis comments.

Two all-purpose pieces of advice: small groups and mentors

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The first piece of advice stems from what has been dubbed in Silicon Valley “the small group theory.” It goes like this:

  • When working on any kind of problem, task or question, embed yourself in a small group of peers with broadly similar concerns.


The second near-universal piece of advice is this:

  • Get mentors.

Those two pieces of advice, unlike most advice, hold for a very broad variety of contexts.  Do read the column, but here is some further detail:

Mentorship can be general or specialized. I have had classical-music mentors, art-market mentors, country-specific mentors when I lived in Germany and New Zealand, foreign-language mentors, chess mentors, economics mentors, philosophy mentors, writing mentors and friendly mentors to help with the basic emotional issues of life. I’ve tried to find mentors for just about everything. Sometimes the relationship lasts only a week or a month, other times for years.

Aside from providing teaching and advice, the mentor, like the small group, helps make an issue or idea more vivid: A living, breathing exemplar of success stands before you. The mentor makes a discipline feel more real and the prospect of success more realistic.

As a corollary, in addition to trying to find mentors, you should be willing to become a mentor yourself. Even if you do not have advanced understanding in some particular area, almost certainly there is someone who knows less than you do and who could use assistance. Being a mentor also helps you understand how to learn and appreciate your own mentors.

A mentor doesn’t have to be older than you, and in fact some of your mentors probably should be younger, especially since technologies are starting to change more rapidly. If you are 50 years old, the idea of an 18-year-old crypto mentor isn’t crazy. If the metaverse turns into a reality, don’t look to the graybeards for tutelage.


Context is that which is scarce

Sebastian Garren emails me the following:

“I have been meditating a lot recently on “Context is what is scarce.” The amazing and ironic thing about this statement is that it is extremely low context and yet offers a gateway into a whole view of reality. Consider this passage from Bernard Lonergan’s Insight:

A single book may be written from a moving viewpoint, and then it will contain, not a single set of coherent statements, but a sequence of related sets of coherent statements. Moreover, as is clear, a book designed to aid a development must be written from a moving viewpoint. It cannot begin by presupposing that a reader can assimilate at a stroke what can be attained only at the term of a prolonged and arduous effort. On the contrary, it must begin from a minimal viewpoint and a minimal context; it will exploit that minimum to raise a further question that enlarges the viewpoint and the context; it will proceed with the enlarged viewpoint and context only as long as is necessary to raise still deeper issues that again transform the basis and the terms of reference of the inquiry; and clearly, this device can be repeated not merely once or twice but as often as may be required to reach the universal viewpoint and the completely concrete context that embraces every aspect of reality.

He gets the context issue. Of course, this doesn’t only apply to books, but to networks of people. Networks create context. Movement along the network to subcategories or adjacent networks creates new insights out of new context, and importantly the person retains an ability to engage with the old context, while inculturating himself to a broader view.

Build the context adjacent to many other high energy networks and they will come.”

TC again: “Context is that which is scarce” is one of my recent favorite sayings.

Demographic Transitions Across Time and Space

The demographic transition –the move from a high fertility/high mortality regime into a low fertility/low mortality regime– is one of the most fundamental transformations that countries undertake. To study demographic transitions across time and space, we compile a data set of birth and death rates for 186 countries spanning more than 250 years. We document that (i) a demographic transition has been completed or is ongoing in nearly every country; (ii) the speed of transition has increased over time; and (iii) having more neighbors that have started the transition is associated with a higher probability of a country beginning its own transition. To account for these observations, we build a quantitative model in which parents choose child quantity and educational quality. Countries differ in geographic location, and improved production and medical technologies diffuse outward from Great Britain. Our framework replicates well the timing and increasing speed of transitions. It also produces a correlation between the speeds of fertility transition and increases in schooling similar to the one in the data.

That is from Matthew J. Delventhal, Jes´us Fernandez-Villaverde, and Nezih Guner.

My Conversation with the excellent Ruth Scurr

A fine discourse all around, here is the transcript and audio.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Ruth joined Tyler to discuss why she considers Danton the hero of the French Revolution, why the Jacobins were so male-obsessed, the wit behind Condorcet’s idea of a mechanical king, the influence of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments during and after the Reign of Terror, why 18th-century French thinkers were obsessed with finding forms of government that would fit with emerging market forces, whether Hayek’s critique of French Enlightenment theorists is correct, the relationship between the French Revolution and today’s woke culture, the truth about Napoleon’s diplomatic skills, the poor prospects for pitching biographies to publishers, why Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws would be her desert island read, why Cambridge is a better city than Oxford, why the Times Literary Supplement remains important today, what she loves about Elena Ferrante’s writing, how she stays open as a biographer, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Is there a counterfactual path where the French Revolution simply works out well as a liberal revolution? If so, what would have needed to have been different?

SCURR: In terms of counterfactuals, the one I thought most about was, What would have happened if Robespierre hadn’t fallen at Thermidor and the relationship between him and [Louis Antoine Léon de] Saint-Just had continued? But that’s not the triumph of the liberal revolution. That would have merely been a continuation of the point they had gotten to. For a triumph of the liberal revolution, that would have needed to be much, much earlier.

I think that it was almost impossible for them to get a liberal constitution in place in time to make that a possibility. What you have is 1789, the liberal aspirations, the hopes, the Declaration of Rights; and then there is almost a hiatus period in which they are struggling to design the institutions. And that is the period which, if it could have been compressed, if there could have been more quickly a stability introduced . . .

Some of the people I’m most interested in in that period were very interested in what has to be true about the society in order for it to have a stable constitution. Obviously when you’re in the middle of a revolution and you’re struggling to come up with those solutions, then there is the opening to chaos.

Definitely recommended.  And I am again happy to recommend Ruth’s new book Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows.

What should I ask Russ Roberts?

I will be doing a podcast with him, specifically focusing on his decision to emigrate to Israel.  Here are the suggestions that Russ solicited from Twitter.  We will release the episode both on EconTalk and on CWT.

So what should I ask him?  Keep in mind this is the Conversation with Russ I want to have…

Greg Caskey, GMU job candidate

Greg Caskey is my student and a Ph.D. Candidate in his 4th year. He focuses on applied microeconomics, economic development, and political economy, particularly regarding the role of China in the developing world. His job market paper, “Chinese Development Lending & the Amplification Effect”, examines the effects of Chinese official lending and foreign aid upon the political institutions of 100+ developing nations. Using a variety of estimators on panel data over the period of 2002-2017, he finds an “amplification effect” with respect to Chinese development flows. While Chinese aid amplifies the existing institutional orientation of both autocratic and democratic recipient nations, this effect exhibits a greater magnitude in autocracies, as sampled autocratic recipients become more autocratic in their institutional orientation, relative to sampled democratic recipients becoming more democratic.

His dissertation is Three Essays on the Role of China in the Developing World, and one chapter considers Chinese policy toward the Uighurs. Greg has several publications and also revise-and-resubmits at good journals, please let me know if you would like my letter of recommendation for him! He is a great teacher too with lots of experience.

Why did southern Italy lag behind?

I’ve long been suspicious of the “deep deep” roots theory of southern Italian stagnation, given the Neapolitan Enlightenment in the 18th century.  This explanation, however, at least in principle makes more sense to me:

The provincial gap in human capital at the time of Italy’s unification is a plausible explanation for the North–South divide of the following decades. We show that the roots of the literacy gap that existed in 1861 can be traced back to Napoleonic educational reforms enacted between 1801 and 1814. We use exogenous variation in provincial distance to Paris to quantify effects, linking the duration of Napoleonic control to human capital. If the south had experienced the same Napoleonic impact as the north, southern literacy rates would have been up to 70 percent higher than they were in 1861.

That is from M. Postigliola and M. Rota in European Review of Economic History.  Might Napoleon be underrated?

Congratulations to Joshua Broggi of Woolf University

An EV winner I might add, here is the news:

“Our software platform helps organizations meet and maintain regulatory and university standards by handling everything from course creation to degree issuance, so they get full accreditation and all the benefits of being a part of a major university while staying independent.”