The Millennium Ethical Fallacy: Why Ignore Future Children?

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, the force behind the Millennium Villages Project, is in the news as a book chronicling his efforts is released - Nina Munk’s The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty.  You can read about it in the Wall Street Journal, or read excerpts in the Huffington Post.  Sachs’s project is a major effort at a new way to fight poverty in Africa, as Joe Nocera, writing in The New York Times, explains:

The quest began in 2005, when Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, started an ambitious program called the Millennium Villages Project. He and his team chose a handful of sub-Saharan African villages, where they imposed a series of “interventions” in such areas as agriculture, health and education. The idea was that these villages would show Africa — and the world — how the continent could loosen the grip that extreme poverty had on so many of its people.

Sachs admirably raised millions, drew attention to efforts to alleviate poverty around the world, and launched Millennium Villages in several countries. However, the reviewers hone in on the book’s discussion of many of the difficulties, such as drought, disease, locals who resisted the idea of selling their prized camels at the new markets set up for them, or locals who used the anti-malarial bednets on their goats rather than their children.

How Rolling Dice Helps Save Leopards

Researchers working in South Africa are using a rolled-dice trick to solicit honest answers from farmers suspected of illegally killing leopards and hyenas. The trick uses randomized response, a method developed in the 1960s to eliminate people's bias toward giving evasive answers. The basic idea is to prompt honest answers to sensitive questions (on topics such as sexual and even criminal behavior) by asking people to give an answer based on a random event. Researchers believe the resulting sense of confidentiality teases out truthful answers.

The study is called "Identifying Indicators of Illegal Behavior: Carnivore Killing in Human-Managed Landscapes," and has been published by Britain's Royal Society; here's the abstract:

Iatrogenic Legal Assistance?

Harvard Professors Jim Greiner and Cassandra Pattanayak have posted a remarkable randomized experiment ("What Difference Representation?") with evidence showing that offers for free legal representation from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) ended up hurting unemployment claimants.

Evaluating Microfinance: A Guest Post

In recent years, the randomized program evaluation has become the gold standard for evaluating development programs - and the bread and butter of many development economists. The evaluations often uncover valuable new information, but are controversial, and can also be prohibitively expensive to implement for small NGO's.

St. John’s Wort Does Not Seem to Improve A.D.H.D.

From the Journal of the American Medical Association, the results of a randomized controlled trial using St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) to treat children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: To our knowledge, this is the first placebo-controlled trial of H perforatum in children and adolescents. The results of this study suggest that administration of H perforatum has […]

Why Don’t Sports Teams Use Randomization? A Guest Post

Here’s the latest guest post from Yale economist and law professor Ian Ayres. His past posts can be found here and here. In a recent post, I mentioned that when playing poker, I use my watch as a crude random number generator to tell me when to bluff. While there are lots of sports in […]