Saturday, May 8, 2021

Akhil Vohra and Mike Shi defend their dissertations

 We're still locked out of the Economics building, but science progresses and dissertations are defended.  I've been remiss in celebrating them: here are two recent ones.

Akhil Vohra, whose job market paper I blogged about  here.

Akhil Vohra (top center) with Al Roth, Itai Ashlagi, Matt Jackson, Gabe Carroll and Fuhito Kojima

And Mike Shi, one of whose papers is this one:

The Burden of Household Debt  By ALEJANDRO MART´INEZ-MARQUINA and MIKE SHI *

Mike Shi (upper right) with Al Roth, Jeremy Bulow, Muriel Niederle, Luigi Pistaferri, and Nick Bloom

Welcome to the club, Akhil and Mike.

Friday, May 7, 2021

How can medical residency candidates be evaluated more reliably?

 Standardized tests as measures of physician aptitude are falling into disrepute and disuse.  Consequently the medical profession needs to develop better ways for evaluators (e.g. med school professors) to communicate information about applicants to residency programs.

Here are two reflections on the current state of afairs in Orthopaedic surgery.

Are Narrative Letters of Recommendation for Medical Students Interpreted as Intended by Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Programs?  by Egan, Cameron R. MD; Dashe, Jesse MD; Hussein, Amira I. PhD; Tornetta, Paul III MD

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: February 25, 2021 - doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000001691

"Background: Narrative letters of recommendation are an important component of the residency application process. However, because narrative letters of recommendation are almost always positive, it is unclear whether those reviewing the letters understand the writer’s intended strength of support for a given applicant.

"Questions/purposes: (1) Is the perception of letter readers for narrative letters of recommendation consistent with the intention of the letter’s author? (2) Is there inter-reviewer consistency in selection committee members’ perceptions of the narrative letters of recommendation?

"Methods: Letter writers who wrote two or more narrative letters of recommendation for applicants to one university-based orthopaedic residency program for the 2014 to 2015 application cycle were sent a survey linked to a specific letter of recommendation they authored to assess the intended meaning regarding the strength of an applicant. A total of 247 unstructured letters of recommendation and accompanying surveys were sent to their authors, and 157 surveys were returned and form the basis of this study (response percentage 64%). The seven core members of the admissions committee (of 22 total reviewers) at a university-based residency program were sent a similar survey regarding their perception of the letter.


"Conclusion :Our results demonstrate that the reader’s perception of narrative letters of recommendation did not correlate well with the letter writer’s intended meaning and was not consistent between letter readers at a single university-based urban orthopaedic surgery residency program.

"Clinical Relevance: Given the low correlation between the intended strength of the letter writers and the perceived strength of those letters, we believe that other options such as a slider bar or agreed-upon wording as is used in many dean’s letters may be helpful."


CORR Insights®: Are Narrative Letters of Recommendation for Medical Students Interpreted as Intended by Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Programs? by Zywiel, Michael G. MD, MSc, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: April 29, 2021 - doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000001780

"With the upcoming transition of the USMLE Step 1 to a pass/fail score, and as we continue to gather more evidence calling into question the current selection criteria used for surgical training, programs are increasingly left to wonder how they can select learners that are most likely to succeed. Similarly, learners are increasingly left wondering how they can appropriately determine whether they are likely to succeed in a chosen specialty.


"Going forward, we need more research within the domain of selection criteria for training. This includes identifying more reliable predictors of technical skill, nontechnical skill, as well as performance in independent practice. The failure of most current selection criteria to adequately predict performance suggests that novel, specialty-specific instruments may need to be developed, evaluated, and ultimately incorporated at the medical student level to better predict future performance."

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Vaccine shortages are more about congested supply chains than about patent protection: Alex Tabarrok at MR

 Alex Tabarrok has a nice post at Marginal Revolution about the actual problems in worldwide vaccine supply, involving congested supply chains much more than protected intellectual property.

Patents are Not the Problem! by  Alex Tabarrok May 6, 2021 

Milgrom on Auctions, Theorems, and the practice of Market Design, in the AER

 The latest issue of the AER publishes a version of Paul Milgrom's Nobel lecture:

Auction Research Evolving: Theorems and Market Designs  By Paul Milgrom

American Economic Review 2021, 111(5): 1383–1405

Here are a few of the introductory paragraphs:

"Game-theoretic modeling of auctions began in the 1960s with a pair of seminal papers by William Vickrey (1961, 1962) and the brilliant but unpublished doctoral dissertation of Armando Ortega-Reichert (1968). Robert Wilson (1977, 1979) became the next important contributor to auction theory research and, as Wilson’s student, I was inspired to make auctions and bidding the subject of my doctoral dissertation.


"Most of my work published in academic journals is theoretical, proving theorems about the properties of abstract models, but developing and participating in real-world mechanisms requires more than that. Two important lessons that I learned from working on high-stakes auctions are that they operate in an almost infinite variety of contexts, and that this variety is the reason for the paradoxical importance of including unrealistic assumptions in models built to understand and illuminate reality. No single set of assumptions is adequate to describe all the various settings in which auctions are used, and too much specificity in models can blind the analyst to important general insights.


"Why do economists rely on such unrealistic assumptions? It is because a well-chosen simplification can remove the dust and smoke that obscures our view of the workings of economic forces. Although we celebrate the resulting theorems for the insights they deliver, we can apply them successfully only by being vigilant, working hard to understand not just the insights that simplified analyses provide but also how the designs and rule choices they inspire must be adapted to withstand the dust and smoke and also the much larger disturbances of the particular worlds in which the mechanisms will operate."

And here are the concluding paragraphs:

"Auction theory has changed substantially since I made my first studies in what were still its early days. Although the “unrealistic” models of those times have proved their worth in guiding practical auction designs, some of that guidance was off point. In my own work, this showed up in the traditional analysis of the exposure problem. Despite the theoretical worst-case conclusion that exposure problems are intractable, we found that they could sometimes be quite manageable in practice.

"For the future, simulations and computational methods are likely to be increasingly important. Yet, it still takes theory to understand problems and the scope of proposed solutions. The time has come for old methods and new to work hand in hand."

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

VEM FÅR VAD – OCH VARFÖR? Who Gets What--and Why in Swedish

My 2015 book, Who Gets What and Why? has been translated into Swedish, and published by the Ohlin Institute, "Founded In The Spirit Of Bertil Ohlin."


"The Swedish translation also contains a preface written by Tommy Andersson, professor of economics and world-leading researcher in market design who recently published the book  Algorithmmaker .

The book will be presented in a conversation on May 6 at 12–13 between Professor Tommy Andersson and Andreas Bergström, board member of the Liberal Economics Club and vice president of the think tank Fores. Of course, there will be room for questions and posts from the audience.

The seminar is a collaboration between the Ohlin Institute, which has published the book, and the Liberal Economics Club (LEK). 
Connect via the link below! No pre-registration required. 

The book can be purchased at Bokus or Adlibris .

About the Webinar:
Zoom meeting on 6 May at 12–13 (click on the link to join the meeting).

Meeting ID: 842 8902 0304 Passcode: 620368"

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Daron Acemoglu receives the CME Group-MSRI Prize for Innovative Quantitative Applications

 Congratulations to Daron Acemoglu, who joins a distinguished group of winners of the CME-MSRI prize. The ceremony is tomorrow.

CME Group - MSRI Prize Virtual Seminar and 2020 Award CeremonyMay 05, 2021 (08:00 AM PDT - 10:30 AM PDT)


2020 CME Group-MSRI Prize Announced

The 14th annual CME Group-MSRI Prize in Innovative Quantitative Applications will be awarded to  Daron Acemoglu. The ceremony will be held virtually on May 5, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Central Time (8:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time). To register for this seminar, click here.

The CME Group-MSRI Prize is awarded to an individual or a group to recognize originality and innovation in the use of mathematical, statistical or computational methods for the study of the behavior of markets, and more broadly of economics.

About Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu is an Institute Professor at MIT and an elected fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Econometric Society, and the Society of Labor Economists. His academic work covers a wide range of areas, including political economy, economic development, economic growth, inequality, labor economics, and economics of networks. He is the author of five books, including Why Nations Fail: Power, Prosperity, and Poverty and The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty (both with James A. Robinson).

Acemoglu has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Carnegie Fellowship in 2017, the Jean-Jacques Laffont Prize in 2018, and the Global Economy Prize in 2019. He was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal in 2005, the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in 2012, and the 2016 BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award.

About the event

The event will feature a panel discussion on Perils & Promise of Big Data with the following panelists:

  • Dr. E. Glen Weyl, Political Economist and Social Technologist, Microsoft Research
  • Prof. Pascual Restrepo, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University   
  • Prof. Maryam Farboodi, Jon D. Gruber Career Development Professor; and, Assistant Professor, Sloan School of Management, MIT  
  • Prof. Joshua Gans, Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and, Professor of Strategic Management, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Special guest Prof. Erik Brynjolfsson will present on the prizewinner's work.

  • Prof. Erik Brynjolfsson is the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Professor and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI (HAI); Director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab; Ralph Landau Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR); and, holds appointments at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford Department of Economics and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


CME Group-MSRI Prize 2020  Selection Committee:

  • Susan Athey, The Economics of Technology Professor; Professor of Economics (by courtesy), School of Humanities and Sciences; and Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Stanford Business School; 2019 CME Group-MSRI Prize
  • David Eisenbud, prize committee chair; Director, MSRI; and, Professor of Mathematics, University of California, Berkeley
  • Jack Gould, Steven G. Rothmeier Professor and Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
  • Albert S. (Pete) Kyle, Charles E. Smith Chair in Finance and Distinguished University Professor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland; 2018 CME Group-MSRI Prize
  • R. Preston McAfee, Distinguished Scientist, Google
  • Leo Melamed, Chairman Emeritus, CME Group; and, Chairman and CEO of Melamed & Associates, Inc.
  • Al Roth, Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics at Stanford University; Gund Professor of Economics and Business Administration Emeritus at Harvard University; 2012 Nobel Prize
  • Myron Scholes, Frank E. Buck Professor of Finance, Emeritus, Stanford Graduate School of Business. 1997 Nobel Prize Winner 
  • Robert Wilson, The Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, Emeritus at Stanford Graduate School of Business; 2016 CME Group-MSRI Prize; 2020 Nobel Prize



Medal awarded to the winner of the CME Group-MSRI Prize


The CME Center for Innovation’s mission is to identify, foster and showcase examples of significant innovation and creative thinking pertaining to markets, commerce or trade in the public and private sectors.

A list of past winners can be found on the CME Group-MSRI Prize site.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Can heroin be used responsibly? Is the war on drugs worse than the crime?

 The psychologist Carl Hart, who studies drug addiction, has a book in which he describes his own careful use of heroin, and suggests that pharmacology isn't fate:

Drug Use for Grown-Ups. Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear.

The New Yorker has an article about him and the book in its latest issue.

Is There a Case for Legalizing Heroin? The addiction researcher Carl Hart argues against the distinction between hard and soft drugs.   By Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Here's a description of a drug injection clinic in Switzerland that caught my eye:

"In Geneva, he met a physician who invited him to visit a heroin-maintenance clinic with which she was affiliated. Hart spent several months there in 2015, watching heroin users behave as efficiently and functionally as the weighted gears in a watch. Patients checked in twice a day for injections, during one period that began at seven in the morning and another at five in the afternoon. In between, many of them went to work. The patients were each assigned a cubby to stash their respective belongings, and often one would leave a beer there, to drink after injection. Hart noticed that though American doctors worried endlessly over the harms of mixing booze and opioids, it didn’t seem a very big deal to the Swiss users, maybe because they knew the exact dose of heroin they were getting and could trust its purity. When one patient had to attend a wedding in less enlightened England, utterly lacking in injection clinics, she carefully planned out her doses and travel arrangements so she could make the trip. When Hart told me about the Geneva injection clinic, he spoke about it in the way that liberal parents speak about Montessori schools—as a fanatically engineered expression of trust. Of the users, Hart said, “They were always on time.”

"Shortly after visiting the clinic, Hart began regularly snorting heroin, as he recounts in a new book, “Drug Use for Grown-Ups.” 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Repugnance as paternalism: bans on flavored tobacco products

 The NY Times has the story on the recent FDA policy:

Biden Administration Plans to Propose Banning Menthol Cigarettes. The move has been long sought by public health and civil rights groups, after decades of marketing aimed at Black smokers.  By Sheila Kaplan

"The Biden administration is planning to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes, a long-sought public health goal of civil rights and anti-tobacco groups that has been beaten back by the tobacco industry for years, according to a federal health official.

"For decades, menthol cigarettes have been marketed aggressively to Black people in the United States. About 85 percent of Black smokers use menthol brands, including Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research shows menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than plain tobacco products.

"The F.D.A. is being forced to act by a court deadline — a federal district judge in Northern California had ordered the agency to respond by April 29 to a citizens’ petition to ban menthol. But the odds are unlikely that a ban would take effect anytime soon, because any proposal is likely to wind up in a protracted court battle. The proposal would also include a ban on all mass-produced flavored cigars, including cigarillos, which have become popular with teenagers.


"Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the Center for Black Health and Equity, one of the organizations behind the petition, called the decision a victory for African Americans and all people of color.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Mr. Jefferson. “We’ve been fighting this fight, since back in the 1980s. We told the industry then, we didn’t want those cigarettes in our communities.”


"Menthol is a substance found in mint plants, and it can also be synthesized in a lab. It creates a cooling sensation in tobacco products and masks the harshness of the smoke, making it more tolerable." 


Here's the announcement from the Food and Drug Administration:

FDA Commits to Evidence-Based Actions Aimed at Saving Lives and Preventing Future Generations of Smokers  Efforts to ban menthol cigarettes, ban flavored cigars build on previous flavor ban and mark significant steps to reduce addiction and youth experimentation, improve quitting, and address health disparities

"April 29, 2021: Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it is committing to advancing two tobacco product standards to significantly reduce disease and death from using combusted tobacco products, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The FDA is working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars; the authority to adopt product standards is one of the most powerful tobacco regulatory tools Congress gave the agency. This decision is based on clear science and evidence establishing the addictiveness and harm of these products and builds on important, previous actions that banned other flavored cigarettes in 2009.

“Banning menthol—the last allowable flavor—in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “Together, these actions represent powerful, science-based approaches that will have an extraordinary public health impact. Armed with strong scientific evidence, and with full support from the Administration, we believe these actions will launch us on a trajectory toward ending tobacco-related disease and death in the U.S.


"If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any ban on menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars will only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product. The FDA will work to make sure that any unlawful tobacco products do not make their way onto the market.

"These actions are an important opportunity to achieve significant, meaningful public health gains and advance health equity. The FDA is working expeditiously on the two issues, and the next step will be for the agency to publish proposed rules in the Federal Register allowing an opportunity for public comment. "