Category: Social Sciences

A Rant on Estimation with Binary Dependent Variables (Technical)

Suppose you are trying to explain some outcome , where  is equal to 0 or 1 (e.g., whether someone is a nonsmoker or a smoker). You also have data on a vector of explanatory variables  (e.g., someone’s age, their gender, their level of education, etc.) and on a treatment variable , which we will also assume is binary, so that  is equal to 0 or 1 (e.g., whether someone has attended an information session on the negative effects of smoking).

If you were interested in knowing what the effect of attending the information session on the likelihood that someone is a smoker, i.e., the impact of on  The equation of interest in this case is Continue reading

Big Dumb Data?

This month’s issue of Foreign Affairs has a great article (you’ll need to log in to read the whole thing, ufortunately) on the rise of big data, which Wikipedia defines as

a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.

So far, so good. As a development economist, I have to make do with 500 observations more often than not (the largest dataset I have ever worked with had about 8,000 observations), so I obviously welcome ever larger datasets. Continue reading

Job Market Advice I: The Summer and Fall Before Going on the Job Market

[Note: I started writing this post in early April 2013, soon after going on the job market for the second time in my career and receiving four offers. Since then, I have added to this post whenever I thought of a helpful piece of job market-related advice. – MFB.]

It’s that time of the year again, when graduate students who are about to enter their final year in economics and related disciplines are getting ready to go on the job market.

Going on the job market is a harrowing experience for most people, however, so I thought I should help job-market candidates by sharing my advice.

This post is the first in a series of three. Today, I’d like to discuss what you should be doing the summer and fall before you go on the job market. The next installment will be posted in the fall and will cover ASSA interviews.

Before Interviewing at ASSA

  1. Your number one priority at this time should be finishing and polishing your job-market paper (JMP). This isn’t so much because search committees will read your JMP closely when trying to select candidates to interview but because once the academic year starts, you will realize that being on the job market is a job in and of itself. The more complete your JMP by the time the academic year starts, the less you’ll have to worry about it during the year, and the more time you’ll have to devote to other things. Perhaps more importantly, the more complete your JMP by the time the academic year starts, the more time you have to fix the potential mistakes it contains and to incorporate the comments you receive on it. Continue reading

Is Culture Useless as an Explanation for Behavior?

Economists are generally suspicious of explanations for behavior relying on culture. This likely stems from the fact that individual rationality, whose twin assumptions of completeness and transitivity constitute the cornerstone of economics and of much of modern social science, are not context-dependent.

The typical economist’s skepticism regarding culture as an explanation for behavior also stems from the fact that most economists fundamentally believe a human being is a human being the world over, and only economic circumstances change to provide a different set of incentives, which themselves explain variations in behavior. It is in that sense that no matter what its critics might say, economics remains very much a humanistic discipline.

Not only is invoking culture as an explanation for behavior the hallmark of lazy thinking, it is also unscientific. A few weeks ago, Frances Woolley wrote: Continue reading

How to Become a Good Academic Writer

One piece of advice—one that I haven’t seen mentioned—immediately follows from this: The way to improve your writing is to practice writing. Serious prose writers write every day. Academic social scientists who want to write well should do the same, and this especially holds when carrying heavy teaching, administering, and research loads. Because no one generates enough primary research to fill a solid hour of writing every day, it means writing for other audiences. Book reviews, referee reports, recommendation letters, blog posts, it probably doesn’t really matter, so long as the focus is on the act of writing.

That’s Cornell’s Tom Pepinsky, adding his grain of salt to a discussion of academic writing that was sparked by Stephen Walt in a post for Foreign Policy. Continue reading