Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jeff Sachs never gives up

Sachs has taken it on the chin recently with his Lancet piece being widely attacked and partially retracted. But he's not been humbled. Check out segments of this recent interview:


Q: Well, do you have evidence the approach is working? 


 JS: It depends what you mean by evidence. Some of my critics say we need to do these ‘randomized controlled trials’ (aka RCTs) as if what we’re doing is testing a red pill against a blue pill. What we’re doing has nothing to do with anything like that. It cannot be reduced down to such a simple and narrow test. We have been working with these communities for years to figure out how best to improve food production, get more kids in school, deliver clean drinking water, build infrastructure and encourage business development. This is not a randomized controlled trial; it’s a learning process.

Nice Bill Clinton (it depends on what you mean by "is") there Jeffrey!

Also an impressive summary of how RCTs work. They are science fiction, right out of the Matrix.

People, you know there's more:



 Q: Given that you say many aspects of the MVP are hard to measure, are you concerned that metrics is trumping common sense? 


 JS: That can happen. The whole basis of this project is that we believe what it takes to escape from extreme poverty is not that big a mystery. If you have have clinics and schools, get kids to sleep under anti-malarial bed nets, bring in electricity and safe drinking water on a nice new functional road, you see progress. To the extent those things get done, I expect a lot of progress.

Oy. If you get health care, education, electricity, clean water and a new road, that IS progress! What is he saying? All the West needs to do is sanitize, pave, electrify and provide universal health care for Africa and then we'll see progress?

Further in his answer, he says this:

When we launched the first Millennium Villages project in Kenya, one of the first interventions we did was distribute free bed nets. Malaria declined sharply. The Kenyan minister of health asked me to help get funding to distribute nationwide, which they did. Malaria fell nationwide. Then, when I claimed we had reduced malaria in the Millennium Village, I was criticized because the decline was the same nationwide. Our project helped changed government policy but critics said I had no evidence because our rate of malaria was the same. That’s the way the measurement game gets played at times.

This is awesome. He's saying that when the national averages match the Villages, it's because the nation has copied the village and he deserves the credit for both!

The critics' point in the Lancet kerfuffle is that bed nets are cheap and basic and really get the job done. It is true that countries are distributing them for free now and perhaps Sachs does deserve some credit for that, but it's not an endorsement of the comprehensive, expensive, paternalistic Millennium Village approach. Bed nets are cheap and easy and don't require a lot of overhead. If just distributing bed nets gets you all the gains the full MV is getting you, then the MV is actually a failure, even if Sachs himself is a hero for pushing free bed nets for all.

4 comments:

Dave said...

"If just distributing bed nets gets you all the gains the full MV is getting you, then the MV is actually a failure, even if Sachs himself is a hero for pushing free bed nets for all."

+1

Pelsmin said...

He agrees with the concern that "Metrics" can trump common sense?!?! Isn't that the reason for metrics, statistical analysis, logical rigor? I'm reaching way back, and don't have the currency you professor types have on this, but isn't the point of Bayesian logic that you can determine whether your assumptions and beliefs are likely true?

Anonymous said...

Well, if the goal is to "improve food production, get more kids in school, deliver clean drinking water, build infrastructure, and encourage business development," then evidence might include more: food produced, kids in school, clean water delivered, infrastructure built, and businesses developed. Just a thought.

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