The Lancet just published a letter I wrote questioning an influential study in its pages that concluded that most or all foreign aid for health goes into non-health uses. The letter follows up on concerns I expressed in this space in April 2010. Why the 2.5-year lag? Only this past January did the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) share the data set and computer code that it used to generate the published findings. And only with those in hand could I check my concerns and describe them to others with credibility. (I'm grateful to the kind people at IHME who gave me the data and code, but don't want to let the institution per se off the hook.)
Confusingly, in May the Public Library of Science published another critique of the same article. I questioned that reanalysis, and it was eventually retracted.
Here, I sketch my argument, comment on the reply from Chunling Lu and Christopher Murray, then call out the Lancet for a certain lack of transparency, as well as for sometimes bringing more reputation than rigor to policy-relevant social science research.