Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Economics category.

When doing causal inference, define your treatment decision and then consider the consequences that flow from it

Danielle Fumia writes: I am a research at the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, and I work on research estimating the effect of college attendance on earnings. Many studies that examine the effect of attending college on earnings control for college degree receipt and work experience. These models seem to violate the practice you […]

Annals of really pitiful spammers

Here it is: On May 18, 2016, at 8:38 AM, ** wrote: Dr. Gelman, I hope all is well. I looked at your paper on [COMPANY] and would be very interested in talking about having a short followup or a review article about this published in the next issue of the Medical Research Archives. It […]

What’s the motivation to do experiments on motivation?

Bill Harris writes: Do you or your readers have any insights into the research that underlays Dan Pink’s work on motivation and Tom Wujec’s (or Peter Skillman’s) work on iterative development?  They make intuitive sense to me (but may be counterintuitive to others), but I don’t know much more about them. Pink’s work is summarized […]

Math on a plane!

Paul Alper pointed me to this news article about an economist who got BUSTED for doing algebra on the plane. This dude was profiled by the lady sitting next to him who got suspicious of his incomprehensible formulas. I feel that way about a lot of econ research too, so I can see where she […]

I owe it all to my Neanderthal genes

Yesterday I posted a methods-focused item at the Monkey Cage, a follow-up of a post from a couple years ago arguing against some dramatic claims by economists Ashraf and Galor regarding the wealth of nations. No big deal, just some standard-issue skepticism. But for some reason this one caught fire—maybe somebody important linked to it, […]

Risk aversion is a two-way street

“Risk aversion” comes up a lot in microeconomics, but I think that it’s too broad a concept to do much for us. In many many cases, it seems to me that, when there is a decision option, either behavior X or behavior not-X can be thought as risk averse, depending on the framing. Thus, when […]

“Cancer Research Is Broken”

Michael Oakes pointed me to this excellent news article by Daniel Engber, subtitled, “There’s a replication crisis in biomedicine—and no one even knows how deep it runs.” Engber suggests that the replication problem in biomedical research is worse than the much-publicized replication problem in psychology. One reason, which I didn’t see Engber discussing, is financial […]


Lee Wilkinson writes: In the latest issue of Harvard Magazine (, a letter writer (David W. Pittelli) comments under the section “Social Progress Index”: We are informed by Harvard Magazine (November-December 2015, page 15) that the country with the best “Health and Wellness” (“Do people live long and healthy lives?”) is Peru, while the United […]

Black Box Challenge

Georgy Cheremovskiy writes: I’m one of the organizers of an unusual reinforcement learning competition named Black Box Challenge. The conception is simple — one need to program an agent that can play a game with unknown rules. At each time step agent is given an environment state vector and has a few possible actions. The […]

John Yoo blogging

Jonathan Falk sends along this gem: Judicial Torture as a Screening Device Kong-Pin Chen / Tsung-Sheng Tsai Judicial torture to extract information or to elicit a confession was a common practice in pre-modern societies, both in the east and the west. This paper proposes a positive theory for judicial torture. It is shown that torture […]

These celebrity photos are incredible: Type S errors in use!

Kaveh sends along this, from a recent talk at Berkeley by Katherine Casey: It’s so gratifying to see this sort of thing in common use, only 15 years after Francis and I introduced the idea (and see also this more recent paper with Carlin).

Gresham’s Law of experimental methods

A cognitive scientist writes: You’ll be interested to see a comment from one of my students, who’s trying to follow all your advice: It’s hard to see all this bullshit in top journals, while I see that if I do things right, it takes a long time, and I don’t have the beautiful results these […]

Data-dependent prior as an approximation to hierarchical model

Andy Solow writes: I have a question about Bayesian statistics. Why is it wrong to use the same data to formulate the prior and to update it to the posterior? I am having a hard time coming up with – or finding in the literature – a formal reason. I asked him to elaborate and […]

Actually, I’d just do full Bayes

Dave Clark writes: I was hoping for your opinion on a topic related to hierarchical models. I am an actuary and have generally worked with the concept of hierarchical models in the context of credibility theory. The text by Bühlmann and Gisler (A Course in Credibility Theory; Springer) sets up the mixed models under the […]

How should statisticians and economists think about recreational gambling?

Recreational gambling is a lot like recreational drinking, in that it is pleasant, and it can be abused, and the very aspects that make it pleasant are related to what makes it so destructive when abused. Also, both industries make a lot of money, so there’s a continuing tug of war between those who sell […]

Stan – The Bayesian Data Scientist’s Best Friend

My friend Juuso Parkkinen has interesting Stan related blog, which is worth following. The above cool animation is from today’s post discussing the updated results of using Stan to model apartment prices in Finland. Few weeks ago Juuso also blogged about a probabilistic programming seminar in Finland with a title Stan – The Bayesian Data […]

I was wrong

A few years ago I noted a report of a new journal with a title that, to my amusement, seemed to reflect a Rat-Pack-era sensibility. I wrote: Coase and Wang’s new journal might be great, but I bet it won’t be called “Man and the Economy.” But, as the image above shows, I was wrong.

Fundamental difficulty of inference for a ratio when the denominator could be positive or negative

I happened to come across this post from 2011, which in turn is based on thoughts of mine from about 1993. It’s important and most of you probably haven’t seen it, so here it is again: Ratio estimates are common in statistics. In survey sampling, the ratio estimate is when you use y/x to estimate […]

Postdoc opportunity with Sophia Rabe-Hesketh and me in Berkeley!

Sophia writes: Mark Wilson, Zach Pardos and I are looking for a postdoc to work with us on a range of projects related to educational assessment and statistical modeling, such as Bayesian modeling in Stan (joint with Andrew Gelman). See here for more details. We will accept applications until February 26. The position is for […]

Empirical violation of Arrow’s theorem!

Regular blog readers know about Arrow’s theorem, which is that any result can be published no more than five times. Well . . . I happened to be checking out Retraction Watch the other day and came across this: “Exactly the same clinical study” published six times Here’s the retraction notice in the journal Inflammation: […]