Friday, September 30, 2016

Working Papers of the Week: September 30, 2016

By Jessica McCann

Welcome to Working Papers of the Week! Our goal is to highlight the valuable and interesting research Kennedy School faculty members are doing here and abroad by featuring new working papers recently uploaded to the site.

This week in working papers:

Does Online Delivery Increase Access to Education? 
Goodman, Joshua, Julia Melkers, and Amanda Pallais

Though online technology has generated excitement about its potential to increase access to education, most research has focused on comparing student performance across online and in-person formats. We provide the first evidence that online education affects the number of people pursuing formal education. We study Georgia Tech’s Online M.S. in Computer Science, the earliest model to combine the inexpensive nature of online education with a highly regarded degree program. Regression discontinuity estimates exploiting an admissions threshold unknown to applicants show that access to this online option substantially increases overall enrollment in formal education, expanding the pool of students rather than substituting for existing educational options. Demand for the online option is driven by mid-career Americans. By satisfying large, previously unmet demand for mid-career training, this single program will boost annual production of American computer science master’s degrees by about eight percent. More generally, these results suggest that low cost, high quality online options may open opportunities for populations who would not otherwise pursue education.

To read the full working paper, click here.

Microfinance: Points of Promise
Field, Erica, Abraham Holland, and Rohini Pande

We present a new measure of judicial ideology based on judicial hiring behavior. Specifically, we utilize the ideology of the law clerks hired by federal judges to estimate the ideology of the judges themselves. These Clerk-Based Ideology (CBI) scores complement existing measures of judicial ideology in several ways. First, CBI scores can be estimated for judges across the federal judicial hierarchy. Second, CBI scores can capture temporal changes in ideology. Third, CBI scores avoid case selection and strategic behavior concerns that plague existing vote-based measures. We illustrate the promise of CBI scores through a number of applications.

To read the full working paper, click here.

Research and Impacts of Digital Financial Services 
Pande, Rohini, Dean Karlan, Jake Kendall, Rebecca Mann, Tavneet Suri, and Jonathan Zinman

A growing body of rigorous research shows that financial services innovations can have important positive impacts on wellbeing, but also that many do not. We first describe the latest evidence on what works in financial inclusion. Second, we summarize research on key financial market failures and on products and innovations that address specific mechanisms underlying them. We conclude by highlighting open areas for future work.

To read the full working paper, click here.

Why American Elections Are Flawed (and How to Fix Them) 
Norris, Pippa

Concern about how American elections work has risen since 2000 and has been exacerbated by events during the 2016 campaign. To understand these issues, the first section examines several major challenges facing U.S. elections, including deepening party polarization over electoral procedures, the vulnerability of electronic records to hacking, and the impact of deregulating campaign spending, compounding the lack of professional standards of electoral management. For a broader perspective, section 2 clarifies the core concept and measure of ‘electoral integrity’, the key yardstick used in this report to evaluate the performance of American contests. Section 3 compares cross-national evidence from expert surveys, finding that recent US elections have the worst performance among two-dozen Western democracies. Section 4 considers pragmatic reforms designed to strengthen U.S. electoral laws and procedures, recommending expanding secure and convenient registration and balloting facilities, improving the independence and professional standards of electoral management, monitoring performance, and strengthening impartial dispute resolution mechanisms. The conclusion summarizes the core argument and the reforms.

To read the full working paper, click here.

Don’t miss out on our faculty members' other recent working papers! Browse our latest faculty working papers by number or follow RAO on Twitter at @HKS_Research to stay in the loop.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Big Money Comes to Inequality Research

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Scott Carlson
September 29, 2016

Economists like Paul Krugman see it as a drag on the nation’s economy and a barrier to innovation. Barack Obama has gone further, declaring it the "defining issue of our time." Pope Francis frames it in moral terms, calling it "the root of social evil."

They are all talking about inequality, a word that now peppers news stories and new books, and has come to describe a post-recession anxiety for policy makers, activists, philanthropists, and grant makers. The latter two, which in the past few months have awarded tens of millions of dollars for inequality research, have also made it hot in the academic world.

Read More…

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is Political Science Too Pessimistic?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Marc Parry
September 20, 2016

Things are better than ever. When President Obama talks to young people, that’s the message he uses to gird them against cynicism. "If you had to choose a moment in human history to live — even if you didn’t know what gender or race, what nationality or sexual orientation you’d be — you’d choose now," he tells interns. The world is "wealthier, healthier, better educated, less violent, more tolerant, more socially conscious and more attentive to the vulnerable than it has ever been."

If those same young people study contemporary social science, they’re likely to hear a much different story, at least on the subject of race. They might read about psychological research that shows how hard it is for people to spot and overcome their own biases. They might hear how white supremacy has changed form rather than disappeared. They might encounter scholarship describing how conditions arguably got worse for black people under the administration of our first black president.

Read More…

Monday, September 19, 2016

U.S. Sees Sizable Increase in R&D Spending

NSF News
September 15, 2016

U.S. research and development (R&D) performance rose to $477.7 billion in 2014 -- an increase of $21.1 billion over the previous year -- and is estimated to hit $499.3 billion in 2015, according to a new report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

The NCSES report looks at two different aspects of the U.S. system: the performance of R&D by businesses, government agencies, higher education institutions and other organizations, and the funding sources used by these sectors to perform that R&D.
Read More…

Friday, September 16, 2016

Working Papers of the Week: September 16, 2016

By Jessica McCann

Welcome to Working Papers of the Week, in which we highlight the valuable and interesting research Kennedy School faculty members are doing around the world by featuring new working papers recently uploaded to the site.

Efficient Warnings, Not “Wolf or Rabbit” Warnings

Robinson, Lisa A., W. Kip Viscusi, and Richard Zeckhauser

Abstract: Governments often require that products carry warnings to inform people about risks. The warnings approach, as opposed to the command and control approach to risk regulation, functions as a decentralized regulatory mechanism that empowers individuals to make decisions that take into account their own circumstances and preferences. Thus, individuals will be aware of the risks and the value of taking precautions, and they may avoid a product that others consume if they find the risk unacceptable. Ideally, warnings would allow individuals to assess both their personal level of risk and the benefits they will receive from another unit of consumption. Then those receiving positive expected benefits will consume more; those receiving negative net benefits will curtail their consumption. Only Pangloss would be happy with the current warning system. It fails miserably at distinguishing between large and small risks; that is to say between wolves and rabbits. Such a system is of little value, since people quickly learn to ignore a warning, given that rabbits, which pose little danger, are many times more plentiful than wolves. When a wolf is truly present, people all too often ignore the warning, having been conditioned to believe that such warnings rarely connote a serious threat. We illustrate the clumsy-discrimination issue with examples related to cigarette labeling, mercury in seafood, trans fat in food, and California’s Proposition 65. We argue that the decision to require a warning and the wording of the warning should be designed in a manner that will lead consumers to roughly assess their accurate risk level, or to at least distinguish between serious and mild risks. Empowering individuals to make appropriate risk decisions is a worthwhile goal. The present system fails to provide them with the requisite information.

Read the full working paper here.

Don’t miss out on our other faculty members' recent working papers! Browse our latest faculty working papers by number or follow RAO on Twitter at @HKS_Research to stay in the loop.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Use of Social Media in Recruitment to Research: Harvard Catalyst's Guide for Investigators and IRBs

Jessica McCann
September 9, 2016

Social media has shown great promise as a research recruitment tool, allowing researchers to effectively connect with hard-to-reach populations and spread the word about open research projects quickly. However, federal regulations do not explicitly address the legal and ethical concerns associated with the use of social media in research recruitment, leaving a gray area that can prove difficult to navigate.

The Harvard Catalyst Regulatory Foundations, Ethics, & Law Program has released a guidance on the use of social media in recruitment to research. Its aim is to "provide institutions, IRBs, and investigators with the tools to evaluate the ethical and regulatory acceptability of research protocols that propose to recruit study participants through the use of social media." The guide lays out the background of the social media question, considers applicable laws and regulations, and provides checklists and other resources for researchers considering the use of social media in recruitment.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Better Than Impact Factor? NIH Team Claims Key Advance in Ranking Journal Articles

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Paul Basken
September 7, 2016

Universities and funding agencies typically measure the value of published research by the number of citations an article attracts or by how often the journal in which it appears is cited. Both methods have long been accepted as imperfect but necessary shorthands.

Going beyond pure citation numbers to assign value to an individual article can be both complicated and uncertain. But one leading attempt to do just that took a major leap forward on Tuesday with the formal endorsement of a team of analysts at the National Institutes of Health.

Read More…

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Young European Researchers Set Groundwork for Policy Changes

Science Magazine
Elisabeth Pain
August 30, 2016

Funding to pursue fresh research ideas and gain early independence; sustainable and transparent career trajectories; a diverse, collaborative, and ethical research environment; and a healthy work-life balance—these are all part of a wish list that a group of young scientists discussed with European policymakers last month.

Invited by the Council of the European Union, of which Slovakia is the current president, and the European Commission to voice their concerns and aspirations about their ability to pursue research careers, 10 early-career scientists from across Europe developed the document, called the Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers. Overall, the declaration—which was discussed with the
Competitiveness Council of ministers overseeing research in the 28 EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland and then officially presented to the press—calls for better recognition of "the special role that young researchers play" in the research enterprise, and for implementation of new measures that will help them reach their full potential. The issues are complex, the authors acknowledge in the declaration, calling on European policymakers "to sustain a dialogue with young researchers" so that they may "become an active part of policy development." The declaration is expected to be adopted by the council of research ministers at the end of November.