Open Research Assistant Position

I am looking for a research assistant (RA) to work on a project that examine how determinants of urban fertility vary across countries. The RA will be help clean and merge data from many different countries, research education systems in these countries, code variables, and, if time permits, run analyses. The minimum requirements are a working knowledge of RStudio (for example, having take an upper-level undergraduate course like Econ 4770 or similar), great attention to detail, and the ability to commit to 5-10 hours a week of work for the Spring quarter. A knowledge of other programming languages, GitHub, and basic Unix commands would be a plus since all work will be done on a University of Washington server.

The pay will be $15 an hour and hours are flexible. To apply please email me a short statement of interest, a resume, an unoffical transcript, and an example of your R code by close of business 24 March. Shortlisted candidates may receive a short "test" assignment based on the project.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the project or the position.

PS To apply for this position, you have to be a student at Seattle University (graduate or undergraduate).

Well - it was bound to happen at one point!

I finally caved and got myself a twitter account. You can see my tweets on the right or you can follow me by using this link:

Does the flu vaccine prevent deaths?

The Atlantic has a very nice article summarising the discussion of whether the flu vaccine prevents death among older people. The basic problem in evaluating interventions like these is self-selection, which can make "cohort studies" unreliable. Not really news to most economists, but it seemed to have created quite a fire storm among public health and MD researchers. A very worthwhile read.

Whether this season’s swine flu turns out to be deadly or mild, most experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by a truly devastating flu pandemic—one that might kill more people worldwide than have died of the plague and aids combined. In the U.S., the main lines of defense are pharmaceutical—vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread of flu and prevent people from dying from it. Yet now some flu experts are challenging the medical orthodoxy and arguing that for those most in need of protection, flu shots and antiviral drugs may provide little to none. So where does that leave us if a bad pandemic strikes?

Economics is *really* hard...

Apparently the relationship between price and demand seems to be a slippery concept. Elizabeth Kolbert (in an otherwise interesting piece) on obesity in the New Yorker has this to say about the argument that part of the reason for the increase in obesity is that the cost per calorie has gone down:

The correlation between cost and consumption is pretty compelling; as Finkelstein notes, there’s no more basic tenet of economics than that price matters. But, like evolution, economics alone doesn’t seem adequate to the obesity problem. If it’s cheap to consume too many calories’ worth of ice cream or Coca-Cola, it’s even cheaper to consume fewer. [my emphasis]

Oh well!


Well, I know much of the attention these days are to the economy, but this crash hit a little closer to home. I was stopped on the highway because of traffic when I got rear-ended. I got transported to the ER with a c-collar and on a backboard, but luckily there were no broken bones involved. [gallery]

If nothing else it also shows why people should pay attention and not tailgate, especially on a highway!

Sex Ratios and Latitude

Last week's Science section of the New York Times had an article about variations in sex ratios by latitude, based on an article in Biological Letters. Essentially, the upshot is that people in Africa are less likely than people in Europe and Asia to have a boy (even after excluding data that might be affected by sex selective abortions). Garenne wrote about sex ratios in Africa in Human Biology in 2002 and found broadly similar results. You can read the NYT article here.

David Lam seminar Friday 20 February

David Lam (University of Michigan) will be giving a seminar Friday 20 February at 2.00 PM in Condon 309. The title of his talk is "Schooling as a Lottery: Racial Differences in School Advancement in Urban South Africa". The abstract is below:

This paper develops a stochastic model of grade repetition to analyze the large racial differences in progress through secondary school in South Africa. The model predicts that a larger stochastic component in the link between learning and measured performance will generate higher enrollment, higher failure rates, and a weaker link between ability and grade progression.Using recently collected longitudinal data we find that progress through secondary school is strongly associated with scores on a baseline literacy and numeracy test. In grades 8-11 the effect of these scores on grade progression is much stronger for white and coloured students than for African students, while there is no racial difference in the impact of the scores on passing the nationally standardized grade 12 matriculation exam. The results provide strong support for our model, suggesting that grade progression in African schools is poorly linked to actual ability and learning. The results point to the importance of considering the stochastic component of grade repetition in analyzing school systems with high failure rates.


Okay, so this is strictly speaking not about research, but it has interesting applications for developing countries. There is a nice article about Ubuntu and Shuttleworth (its sponsor or benefactor) in this Sunday's NY Times (see link below). Essentially, Ubuntu is a open-source operating system based on Linux. The difference from previous flavours of Linux is that it is very easy to deal with and has a very nice interface. I have it on both of my desktops (home and work), on my new eee 1000 pc, my old lap top and a version of it runs my mail, web, music and file server at home.

What really makes it interesting for developing countries, however, is the price: USD 0. You can download it for free and install it for free. In addition, there is a substantial amount of help available if you do run into trouble. Combine this with other open source programs like OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird and a user in a developing country can save a substantial amount of money and not fall foul of the anti-piracy laws. Of course, it will not get you an internet connection or even electricity if you do not have that, but then again neither will any of the other operating systems.

A Software Populist Who Doesn't Do Windows By ASHLEE VANCE A version of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu represents the fastest-growing threat to Microsoft in developed countries.

Panel on Iraq and development

Friday 14 November I was on a panel on Iraq, organised by the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, with Prof. Ellis Goldberg from political science, UW, and Judy Joseph from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My role was mainly to answer questions from the officers about development economics and how it might apply to Iraq. It was a very interesting experience, although giving much guidance is difficult since the brigade does not even know where in Iraq they are going.

Vaccine and Economic Nonsense

Todays' NYT has an article about malaria vaccine trails in Africa which is showing some promise. In there there is a quote:

No decision has been made about the price to be offered to poor countries and international health agencies. But “if a child will benefit, price will not stand in the way,” said Dr. Christian Loucq, director of the vaccine initiative.

Obviously, if that was the case the price would be set so that Glaxo would make zero profit from the vaccine and that is unlikely to happen. This is an variation of the argument that if just one life can be saved by during something it is worth essentially unlimited resources, which is clearly false. This is why the Copenhagen Consensus was introduced.

The Washington Monthly College Rankings

This might interest those of you who think that the "standard" rankings of universities leaves something to be desired. The Washington Monthly has just published their second ranking of universities and UW ranks 15 among the national universities (for comparison Harvard is 28!). The following is a quote from the article:

"What are reasonable indicators of how much a school is benefiting the country? We came up with three: how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country. We then devised a way to measure and quantify these criteria (See "A Note on Methodology"). Finally, we placed the schools into rankings. Rankings, we admit, are never perfect, but they're also indispensable."

You can find the rankings here and the complete guide with a link to the methodology here. For those of you who would like a digested version of the methodology the guide led to this article in the Washington Post.