Category: Commentary

“If You Can’t Control What’s Important, You Make Important What You Can Control”

More surprisingly, Posner spends significant firepower assailing
“The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.” This compendium (The Chicago Manual of Style for lawyers) might seem an unworthy target. Yet he is excoriating not just the Bluebook, but also the substitution of style over substance it represents. When created in 1926, supposedly by the great appellate judge Henry Friendly, the manual was 26 pages. A recent edition spans 511 pages. Posner appears to believe that following the Bluebook is about as bad as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic — and by reverse order of manufacture, no less. He casts the Bluebook as a neurotic reaction to external complexity; if you cannot control what is important, you make important what you can control.

From a New York Times review of Richard Posner’s new book, Reflections on Judging. I emphasized the last part because it was oddly reminiscent of a disturbing trend in my own discipline.

Bette Midler, the Jenny McCarthy of Food Policy?

BetteMidlerActress Jenny McCarthy is well-known for opposing vaccines, because they “cause autism.” Never mind the fact that there is an overwhelming body of research that shows that vaccines do not cause autism, Jenny McCarthy just knows. Because Jenny McCarthy is a celebrity, she commands much more attention than her knowledge of medicine would normally command.

Likewise with Bette Midler, who has taken to pontificating about genetically modified organisms in the tweet above (and probably elsewhere; I didn’t want to look…)

Really, is it be too much to ask from celebrities that they stick to what they know?

(ht: David Rieff, via Twitter.)

More on What You Won’t Get Out of a MOOC

My post on massive open online courses (MOOCs) generated a bit of commentary. Since I am busy with travel, a grant proposal, and a commissioned article on top of the usual research and committee work these days (I don’t teach in the fall), I thought I would summarize that commentary in lieu of a proper Monday post.

First came a post by Aine Seitz McCarthy, one of our PhD students whose blog also focuses on development. Aine (“pronounced like An-ya”) sees MOOCs as a threat to her future employment: Continue reading

Standing Up for GMOs


Rice is the major dietary staple for almost half of humanity, but white rice grains lack vitamin A. Research scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer and their teams developed a rice variety whose grains accumulate β-carotene. It took them, in collaboration with IRRI, 25 years to develop and test varieties that express sufficient quantities of the precursor that a few ounces of cooked rice can provide enough β-carotene to eliminate the morbidity and mortality of vitamin A deficiency. It took time, as well, to obtain the right to distribute Golden Rice seeds, which contain patented molecular constructs, free of charge to resource-poor farmers. Continue reading

What You Won’t Get Out of a MOOC (Updated)

(Credit: catspyjamasnz.)
(Credit: catspyjamasnz.)

I have been toying for a while with the idea of writing something about massive open online courses (MOOCs). But the more I thought about MOOCs, the more I struggled to come up with an original angle, and with something that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning, which is when I usually sit down to write blog posts for the week, that I thought of something interesting enough to be shared here when I thought of one of my favorite essays in development economics.

The essay in question is by Lant Pritchett and is titled “The Policy Irrelevance of the Economics of Education.” It was published in 2009 in a Brookings collection of essays edited by Jessica Cohen and Bill Easterly titled What Works in Development? Continue reading