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Views from the Center

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Kenyan Economist Offers First Independent Evaluation of Millennium Villages Project

A remarkable study reached the public last week. It is the first independent, rigorous, firsthand evaluation of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an effort by the United Nations and Columbia University whose admirable goal was to show that “the poorest regions of rural Africa can lift themselves out of extreme poverty in five year’s time.” The new study shows that the MVP is far from reaching that goal at its flagship site.

The Millennium Villages Evaluation Debate Heats Up, Boils Over

The Millennium Villages Project, now underway in villages across Africa, is a keystone of United Nations efforts against global poverty. For years there has been a largely behind-the-scenes debate about how that project is evaluating its impacts. In the past week that debate suddenly heated up. A lot.

If Randomized Evaluations Are So Great, Why Don’t Businesses Use Them?

This is a joint post with Michael Clemens.

Michael Clemens recently wrote me, saying that he gets asked this question a lot. I do, too. So I was interested when he brought my attention to a 2007 article in Forbes that discusses a number of companies that do use randomized studies. I wasn’t surprised to see Google in the list, but I never imagined that all the junk mail that I receive from Capital One might be guided by sophisticated research (though it hasn’t convinced me to sign up yet!). Progressive Insurance apparently discovered profitable lines of business (middle-aged motorcycle drivers) by randomly accepting a portion of applicants who would normally be rejected and studying their claims behavior. According to Hunt Alcott, other companies that have used randomized studies include H&R Block, PNC Bank, Amazon, Subway and Harrah’s Casino.

Making Development Economics More Scientific: A Young Journal Leads

Researchers who call their work scientific must make their work reproducible. That is, other scientists must be able to reproduce the same result in an essentially similar setting. If they can’t, the result gets dumped. When I was a boy, two scientists at the University of Utah claimed to discover a way to cheaply generate energy with “cold fusion”. But because other scientists could not reproduce that result, no one today builds energy policy around cold fusion.