Big Ag and Big Data

I am always skeptical of people who bandy big data about. As I have discussed earlier on this blog, big data is great if you’re in the business of forecasting, but it is not so great if your goal is to do social science. I raised two points. First:

[W]ithout the identification of causal relationships, there can be no science, social or otherwise. This means that no matter how large a dataset, if it does not allow answering questions of the form “Does X cause Y?,” that dataset is worthless to scientists.

Second: Continue reading

GMO Labeling: Bad for Organic Farmers?

On April 29, Vermont became the first state to pass a bill that would make it mandatory for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such. On May 9, that bill became law. As you might have expected, the law is being challenged by the food industry, but if that challenge is unsuccessful, the law is expected to take effect in 2016.

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you know that, as a development agricultural economist concerned with food security, I am in favor of GMOs as a means to ensure that people the world over have access to plentiful, nutritious, and safe food. I emphasized the word “safe” in the previous sentence given that the bulk of the opposition to GMOs stems from a mistaken understanding among some and misguided — if not misleading — efforts by others to convince those same people that GMOs are unsafe and have ill effects on human health. For a discussion of that debate that tried to lay out both sides of the debate, see this previous post of mine.

What I wanted to discuss today was the presumed effects of GMO labeling laws on farmers. Specifically, their effects on organic farmers. This post stems from a conversation I had with Per Pinstrup-Andersen when I was at Cornell to give a talk earlier this year. He was the one who convinced me that GMO labeling laws would likely end up hurting organic farmers. Thus, I cannot claim intellectual paternity of the argument I’m laying out below. Continue reading

What I’m Listening To

It’s summer in Minnesota, which means that I don’t have to teach or attend (too many) meetings, and I can spend entire days working on research. This in turn means that I listen to a whole lot of music while working.

And since it’s summer, I have also decided to post on lighter topics every once in a while. If I can make one person discover one new album with each one of these posts, I’ll be happy. Music has played a huge role in my life (I am where I am today because I failed the audition for the jazz guitar program at Collège Saint-Laurent in Montreal), and I think my tastes are eclectic enough so that someone, somewhere might discover a new thing or two from my sharing them. So for the start of this new series of posts, here is what I have been listening to these past few weeks, with video highlights. Continue reading

Does Walmart Make the World Smaller? (And How to Write Introductions)

In an article that has one of the coolest titles I have seen so far this year –”From Beijing to Bentonville: Do Multinational Retailers Link Markets?” — Keith Head and his coauthors explore whether the presence of stores like Walmart and Carrefour in Chinese cities have led to more export activities in those cities, and they find that indeed it did. Here is their abstract: Continue reading