Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Organ donation in Germany

Organ donation in Germany is declining, from an already low rate.
 Die WirtschaftsWoche has the story in their February 19 issue:

Die Zahl der Organspenden in Deutschland geht immer stärker zurück. Ökonomen machen dafür auch falsche Anreize verantwortlich. Sie schlagen Modelle vor, um mehr Menschen fürs Spenden zu gewinnen.

Google translate: "This could lead to incentives for organ donation
The number of organ donations in Germany is decreasing more and more. Economists blame it for wrong incentives. They suggest models to get more people to donate."

The article refers in part to this lab experiment investigating giving registered organ donors priority should they need an organ:

Organ donation in the lab: Preferences and votes on the priority rule
by Annika Herr and Hans-Theo Normann
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization
Volume 131, Part B, November 2016, Pages 139-149

"Abstract: An allocation rule that prioritizes registered donors increases the willingness to register for organ donation, as laboratory experiments show. In public opinion, however, this priority rule faces repugnance. We explore the discrepancy by implementing a vote on the rule in a donation experiment, and we also elicit opinion poll-like views. We find that two-thirds of the participants voted for the priority rule in the experiment. When asked about real-world implementation, participants of the donation experiment were more likely to support the rule than non-participants. We further confirm previous research in that the priority rule increases donation rates. Beyond that, we find medical school students donate more often than participants from other fields."

The newspaper article also quotes German transplant officials as saying that this would be an unethical organ market, and that it would open the door to illegal black markets...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tim Bresnahan, Ariel Pakes and Rob Porter win BBVA Award, for their pioneering work in industrial organization, and Bill Nordhaus wins for his work in climate change

Breaking news:
The BBVA Foundation recognizes Bresnahan, Pakes and Porter for opening up the field of empirical industrial organization

"The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Economics, Finance and Management category goes, in this tenth edition, to Timothy Bresnahan, Ariel Pakes and Robert Porter for founding and shaping the field of empirical industrial organization, a branch of economics that has developed fundamental techniques to measure market power (understood as the ability of a firm to control prices in a given industry). “Motivated by important and policy-relevant questions in applied economics,” remarks the jury in its citation, “they developed methodologies that had a significant and long-lasting impact on subsequent work in industrial organization as well as other applied fields.”
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William Nordhaus, the father of climate change economics, wins the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award

"The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Climate Change category goes, in this tenth edition, to economist William Nordhaus, of Yale University (USA) for founding the field of climate change economics, by “pioneering a framework that integrates climate science, technology and economics to address the critical question: What should the world do to limit climate change?”:

Israel celebrates Sergiu Hart

The Israel Prize goes to Sergiu Hart! Here's a picture of him I once took in Jerusalem:
Sergiu Hart


Here's the story from the Jerusalem Post:
PROF. SERGIU HART TO RECEIVE ISRAEL PRIZE IN ECONOMIC RESEARCH, STATISTICS

"Prof. Sergiu Hart of the Hebrew University will be awarded the Israel Prize for economic research and statistics, the Education Ministry announced on Thursday.
...
"In its decision, the prize committee called Prof. Hart – a former president of the World Association of Game Theory and member of the Academy of Sciences of Israel, Europe and the United States – one of the world’s leading economists.

“Prof. Hart specializes in the field of game theory and its comprehensive implications in various economic fields. Among other things, it has an important contribution to the understanding of the convergence to market equilibrium, the value of a player in the game, how cartels are created in the markets and the development of objective risk indices,” the committee wrote.

"In recent years, it added, Hart’s research has focused on “designing mechanisms such as tenders, which are important in online trade.”

"Hart was born in Bucharest, Romania, and immigrated to Israel at the age of 14 along with his family. After serving in the IDF, he received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Tel Aviv University in mathematics with honors before completing his post-Doctoral studies at Stanford University in California.

"In 1991, Hart founded the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University, whose academic committee he now chairs.
“Under his leadership the center became a unique leader in the world in the study of game theory with its implications in a wide range of fields such as economics, statistics, psychology, law, biology, philosophy and more,” the prize committee wrote in its decision.

"The Israel Prize is largely regarded as the state’s highest honor. It is presented annually on Independence Day in a state ceremony in Jerusalem attended by the president, the prime minister, the Knesset speaker and the Supreme Court president."

Monday, February 19, 2018

Making algorithms fair

Fairness is elusive, even in algorithms. "Color blindness" doesn't do the trick, since minority populations may differ in other ways from majority populations.
My attention was drawn to this news story  about ongoing work by U. Penn computer scientists: Combatting ‘Fairness Gerrymandering’ with Socially Conscious Algorithms

And here's the article on which the story is based:

Preventing Fairness Gerrymandering: Auditing and Learning for Subgroup Fairness

The most prevalent notions of fairness in machine learning are statistical definitions: they fix a small collection of pre-defined groups, and then ask for parity of some statistic of the classifier across these groups. Constraints of this form are susceptible to intentional or inadvertent "fairness gerrymandering", in which a classifier appears to be fair on each individual group, but badly violates the fairness constraint on one or more structured subgroups defined over the protected attributes. We propose instead to demand statistical notions of fairness across exponentially (or infinitely) many subgroups, defined by a structured class of functions over the protected attributes. This interpolates between statistical definitions of fairness and recently proposed individual notions of fairness, but raises several computational challenges. It is no longer clear how to audit a fixed classifier to see if it satisfies such a strong definition of fairness. We prove that the computational problem of auditing subgroup fairness for both equality of false positive rates and statistical parity is equivalent to the problem of weak agnostic learning, which means it is computationally hard in the worst case, even for simple structured subclasses.
We then derive two algorithms that provably converge to the best fair classifier, given access to oracles which can solve the agnostic learning problem. The algorithms are based on a formulation of subgroup fairness as a two-player zero-sum game between a Learner and an Auditor. Our first algorithm provably converges in a polynomial number of steps. Our second algorithm enjoys only provably asymptotic convergence, but has the merit of simplicity and faster per-step computation. We implement the simpler algorithm using linear regression as a heuristic oracle, and show that we can effectively both audit and learn fair classifiers on real datasets.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Harm reduction (for opioids) in Canada

Here's a story from the Washington Post:
At the heart of Canada’s fentanyl crisis, extreme efforts that U.S. cities may follow

"the Overdose Prevention Society, took over a vacant building next door, giving users a clean indoor place to inject drugs. There are 29 similar sites in British Columbia, the epicenter of Canada’s drug crisis, and more across the country.

“To save lives, you need a table, chairs and some volunteers,” said Sarah Blyth, the manager here.
...
"As fentanyl rampages across North America, several U.S. cities have announced that they will open the first supervised drug-consumption sites like those in Canada. Their plans illustrate the gulf between the two nations: While Justin Trudeau’s government is doubling down on its “harm reduction” approach, any U.S. organization that tries to follow suit would be violating federal law and risking a confrontation with the Justice Department.
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See also this academic paper
Addressing the Nation’s Opioid Epidemic: Lessons from an Unsanctioned Supervised Injection Site in the U.S.
Kral, Alex H. et al.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine , Volume 53 , Issue 6 , 919 - 922

and this January 2017 news story
Awash in overdoses, Seattle creates safe sites for addicts to inject illegal drugs

Saturday, February 17, 2018

School choice and privilege in Washington D.C. [updated]


A benefit (or a cost) of having clearly defined rules is that you can see when exceptions are made. (What could look like flexibility in a private sector environment can look like corruption in a public school system.) The Washington Post has the story:


"A D.C. deputy mayor resigned Friday after helping the public schools chancellor bypass the city’s notoriously competitive lottery system and secure a coveted slot for his teenage daughter at a top high school.


"The resignation of Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer C. Niles is immediate, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said Friday. The mayor said in an interview that she has ordered Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson to issue a public apology and has referred the matter to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and to the inspector general to examine whether the head of the city’s traditional public school system violated the code of conduct.

“My decision was wrong and I take full responsibility for my mistake,” Wilson said in a statement. “While I understand that many of you will be angered and disappointed by my actions, I’m here today to apologize and ask for your forgiveness.”
********

From the Mayor's twitter stream:
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Update: the Chancellor has resigned as well.
Here's the Washington Post story, which includes a video distributed by the school system describing the school choice process:
D.C. Public Schools leader to resign after skirting school assignment rules

"Parents and council members quickly rallied behind the mayor’s decision, saying the chancellor cheated a system that D.C. families struggle to navigate."

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sex work, Craigslist, and the law; podcast with Scott Cunningham

Here's a link to an interview with Scott Cunningham, whose work on sex work I've blogged about before. There's a surprising amount of discussion about causal inference and differences in differences. (I always suspected that econometrics was sexy, but this is the first time I’ve heard a podcast about that.)







Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bermuda steps backward on same sex marriage

The NY Times has the story:
Bermuda Outlaws Gay Marriage, Less Than a Year After It Became Legal

"Bermuda has forbidden same-sex marriage, only nine months after legalizing it, in what advocates for gay and lesbian rights called a disappointing setback.

"Same-sex marriage became legal in Bermuda, a British overseas territory, in May as a result of a ruling by the island’s Supreme Court.

"But the unions are unpopular with some voters.

"In 2016, Bermudians voted against same-sex marriage in a referendum, and after the court ruling in May, the territory’s legislature drafted a bill banning same-sex marriage but giving all couples legal recognition as domestic partners. Parliament adopted the Domestic Partnership Act in December, and on Wednesday the territory’s governor, John Rankin, signed it into law.

"The British prime minister, Theresa May, said Britain was “seriously disappointed,” but the Foreign Office said on Thursday it would be inappropriate to block the measure.

"Same-sex marriage became legal in England, Wales and Scotland in 2014, but it is not permitted in Northern Ireland. The issue has been divisive in Britain’s overseas territories, which control their own internal affairs but rely on Britain for defense and for representation in the international community."