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old friend, new blog

25 June 2012

An old friend has a new blog that I recommend you check out. Jason Kerwin is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at the University of Michigan. He is currently in Malawi collecting data for his dissertation. He does interesting work on individual decision-making and how it relates to development and public health. To give you a glimpse, one of his working papers is titled, “Prevalence and Correlates of Oral Sex in Malawi.” Yeah, I don’t bring you the boring. He named his blog Ceteris Non Paribus, because, let’s be honest, “tons of other stuff is going on“:

“Ceteris Paribus” is Latin for “other things equal”, and is the implicit assumption in all causal analyses. Suppose I observe groups A and B, seeing that group A does X while B does not, and therefore deduce that the different outcomes in A are attributable to X. This is true so long as ceteris paribus holds – if X is the only difference between the groups. Scientists can use randomized experiments to ensure that all else is in fact equal, but in the absence of an experiment it is almost always the case that ceteris non paribus: tons of other stuff is going on. I’ve named my blog after my obsession with this basic inferential error, because, while people make it everywhere, my research areas (public health and development economics) are especially plagued by failures to hold all else equal. Articles on Yahoo! News treat people who don’t drink red wine as a valid comparison group for people who do, and find all kinds of spurious health benefits. NGOs and advocates select the best schools located closest to roads for a pilot intervention, then tout the big advantage in test scores between the intervention schools and the rest of the country. 90% of my academic work boils down to saying “not so fast – what’s your comparison group?”, and one major purpose of this blog is for me to vent my frustrations about people constantly getting it wrong.

He’s already written his first post from Malawi, where we see a photo of the restored independence flag at the national airport.

Follow his blog here.

Yendani bwino, Jason!

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