In an overview of studies on India in the United States, Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania has some less than complimentary things to say about RCTs. They mirror some of my comments about systematic reviews here, the next layer of RCTs, though I do not say anything about the benefits to reseachers like Devesh does. By contrast, there has been a considerable increase in India-related work in the social sciences. The field has become much more empirical and India offers several advantages for a researcher: large sample sizes, heterogeneity in multiple dimensions, relatively low cost of gathering data, and weak official oversight (which, in any case, is unlikely to be enforced). It would be hard to do many of these trials in the US or China.
Few days back, I was on a panel discussing the past two years record of the government and what we’d like to see in the coming three years. I talked about the President’s interest in focusing everyone’s attention on the Sustainable Development Goals and the expert committee that has been appointed to advise the government on SDGs. This is a topic connected to what we’re doing at LIRNEasia. A non-evidence based statement from the floor caused me to write a column, published today in both Sinhala and English. Why would such egregious errors be made?
As can be seen, the language used by Sujata Gamage in her op ed on the education proposal in the 2017 Budget Speech was very nuanced and academic. But the problem was that politicians tend not to read to the end, choosing to form their opinion from the headline. In this instance, the headline was “Can tabs do what PCs or bricks could not do for education?” But looking at that headline, I do not see anything near the kind of attack common in many of mine. It after all ends with a question mark.
Helani Galpaya was the lead for LIRNEasia on the major policy/regulatory issue recently decided against Facebook’s Free Basics by TRAI. In her reaction piece in the Council on Foreign Relations blog, she has some interesting comments on the role played by evidence in the debate: But for many, this “Free Basics as an on-ramp to the Internet” argument wasn’t enough to mitigate the perceived danger that users (particularly the poor, who have never used the Internet) might think Facebook is the Internet and never venture outside Facebook’s walled garden. It seemed that no amount of evidence could convince them. It turns out that the poor are using the text-only version of Facebook on Free Basics to save money by using it as a substitute for voice and SMS communication, like many African countries, and therefore saving money. Detractors also didn’t seem convinced that merely using Facebook could increase democratic participation as in Myanmar, where whole campaigns were conducted on Facebook, or allow people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
Cass Sunstein wrote Republic.com in 2001. I have the book. He updated it. The basic thesis was that people would enclose themselves in ideological bubbles and not hear the other side.
It was President Truman who wished for a one-armed economist. One who would not qualify every statement, with “on the other hand . . . .
Mobile termination prices have always been low in South Asia. S Asia also has among the lowest retail prices for mobile in the world. Therefore, the substance of the policy brief that had formed the basis of a successful intervention by our sister organization RIA to the Parliamentary Committee on Communication has little relevance to this region. However, the exemplary use of comparative data and analyses of company annual reports in relation to media pronouncements in this policy brief is worth a look. Congratulations to RIA on a job well done.
LIRNEasia’s signature has been a focus, you could even say a single-minded fixation, on taking the results of its research to the policy process. There is a line between evidence-based advocacy and just plain advocacy that we have tried not to cross. The NYT article below, explores that line in the context of Amicus briefs by law professors in the United States. It is important to think about the line, to worry about it, and to try to stay on the right side. Of course, the safest course is that of eschewing advocacy altogether.