Sendhil Mullainathan – Psychology of Scarcity

Prof. Sendhil Mullainathan (Chicago Booth) tries to answer the following questions: why poverty persist? Why do successful people get things done at the last minute?

His research summarized in his book “Scarcity” shows how scarcity creates its own mindset. Understanding this mindset sheds light on our personal problems as well as the broader social problem of poverty and what we can do about it.

Click on the picture to start the video.

Sendhil Mullainathan

Data visualization

Here a list of useful resources on data visualization mainly for economists.

Please note this list is preliminary. I plan to update this list when I will find something useful. Please, let me know if you have additional material and links I should publish here.

1) Data visualization for economists. An interview with Jonathan Schwabish. And here his guide.

Reference: Schwabish, Jonathan A. 2014. “An Economist’s Guide to Visualizing Data.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 28 (1): 209-34.

2) And here a collection of data visualizations selected by the American Economic Association.

3) Almost everything you wanted to know about making tables and figures.

4) Dos and don’ts on data visualization

Dan Meyer – Be less helpful

In 2010, Dan Meyer, an high school math teacher, presented a TED talk titled “Math class needs a makeover.” In this funny and critical examination of a typical high school math lesson, Dan outlines his atypical teaching technique. Moreover, he claims that we need different textbook where math problems contain far less helpful information to foster a strong grounding in math reasoning. I definitely agree with him. Schools seems to prepare kids to find “the solution” without being able to describe a problem, formulate an hypothesis and develop a plan of actions.

More generally, I think his motto “be less helpful” should guide our profession of teachers, in high school but also in higher education. We tend to provide our students with all the information to pass the exam. In our mind we think we are doing that for our students, but actually we are doing it for ourselves. We want to minimize the time we spend discussing with students and answering their (boring) questions. We want to pass them our knowledge and avoid any confrontation and misunderstanding. Just read my slides! You can find all the answers you need there! But, maybe, like that we are harming our students.

In my own teaching I try to provide a clear map of what they have to achieve during the course but at the same time I let students free to find out their path to knowledge. They are alone, they can get help only from their classmates. I am sue they complain about my teaching style and they may think I am just a lazy and disorganized teacher that does not prepare well his lectures. Of course, this is not true: I invest a lot of time to prepare every single lecture and I reflect constantly how to improve “my show”. During the learning process, lecture by lecture, students develop skills and use them in practice to solve those problems I pose. They work in teams, they re-define the problem, they discuss what they are supposed to do using the material I asked them to read, they draft a possible answer, get some feedbacks and, often, start the process again. Only after experimenting, failing, and struggling, students will acquire those competencies listed in the syllabus.

English Communication for Scientists

CommunicationI would like to share this useful link for those of you that are always wondering: What information should you include in the abstract? How can I structure my introduction? What should I include in my oral presentation? What am I supposed to say in a panel discussion?

We all know, that communication is an integral part of our job and a crucial competence for a successful career. However, some of us do not feel prepared for it.

English Communication for Scientists is a brief guide on how to communicate more effectively in English. This guide is organized in six units:

  1. basic communication strategies;
  2. design and draft scientific papers;
  3. e-mail, résumés, and short reports;
  4. structure, support, and deliver oral presentations;
  5. create and present posters, chair sessions, and participate in panels;
  6. prepare, run, and evaluate classroom sessions.

Moreover, this guide provides examples, exercises and activities to improve immediately your communication skills. Very useful for students too!

Jean Tirole – Narratives, Imperatives and Moral Reasoning

In the video below, Prof. Jean Tirole (Toulouse), presents his new working paper Narratives, Imperatives and Moral Reasoning“, a joint work with Roland Bénabou and Armin Falk. This talk was given at the annual SIOE conference in Montreal in June 2018.

Abstract: By downplaying externalities, magnifying the cost of moral behavior, or suggesting not being pivotal, exculpatory narratives can allow individuals to maintain a positive image when in fact acting in a morally questionable way. Conversely, responsibilizing narratives can help sustain better social norms. We investigate when narratives emerge from a principal or the actor himself, how they are interpreted and transmitted by others, and when they spread virally. We then turn to how narratives compete with imperatives (general moral rules or precepts) as alternative modes of communication to persuade agents to behave in desirable ways.

A copy of their paper is available here.

Jean Tirole

Shachar Kariv – Equality vs. Efficiency

Prof. Shachar Kariv (Berkeley) gave a interesting talk at the Science of Sharing Forum on June 6, 2015. In his talk he answers one of the most fundamental question we can ask to ourselves: what is more important, equality or efficiency?

If you want to know more you can read his paper Distributional Preferences and Political Behavior, a joint work with Ray Fisman and Pam Jakiela. The paper has been published in the Journal of Public Economics (2017, Vol. 155, pp. 1-10).

Abstract: We document the relationship between distributional preferences and voting decisions in a large and diverse sample of Americans. Using a generalized dictator game, we generate individual-level measures of fair-mindedness (weight on oneself versus others) and equality-efficiency tradeoffs. Subjects’ equality-efficiency tradeoffs predict their political decisions: equality-focused subjects are more likely to have voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and to be affiliated with the Democratic Party. Our findings shed light on how American voters are motivated by their distributional preferences.

Shankar Kariv and Dan Ariely discuss (ir)rationality

Are we rational? Prof. Dan Ariely (Duke) and Prof. Shachar Kariv (Berkeley), met at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (Israel) to discuss the nature of human rationality. They presented opposite views on human rationality and its consequences for Economics. The result is an intellectually inspiring debate with much food for thought. You can decide who is the winner of this debate.