Tuesday, September 29, 2015

research advice

This advice by David Weil on doing research, directed at economic PhDs, is very good. I ignored/ignore number 7 and 8 too much because I'm too introverted to make appointments and too stubborn to take advice, but I admit I should follow them.

But number 4... I'm somewhere in between disagreeing with it and wanting to augment/rephrase it substantially. I definitely understand where he's coming from. The research question necessarily evolves with the project, and some of it doesn't get developed at all until the very end when you figure out how to "frame" your paper (i.e. how to sell it, to what journal/audience/subfield, etc.) Sometimes your data doesn't provide a clean answer to the question you thought it would, but you can reformulate the question. Sometimes your experiment completely fails to demonstrate what you expected, but something entirely unexpected happens that you can report on. Sometimes you start building a theory with the intention of understanding one scenario, but you prove something you didn't anticipate at all, or you're forced to change your assumptions to make things tractable and you end up understanding something else. (In fact, this should happen with some regularity, because your model isn't adding much value if you can foresee all of the consequences of your assumptions from the get-go!)

So yes, I agree that formulating a question and then setting about answering it isn't an approach you can count on. And since you can't count on it, you shouldn't spend an enormous amount of time an effort formulating your question before getting started. But, it's still valuable to think of research as starting with a question and striving for that ideal to whatever extent is practical. For a few reasons:
  1. Most importantly, for students especially, an easy route to take in research is to tweak existing research or to "try something and see what happens." That's great for learning, but see number 3: Learn as you go, don't worry about mastering techniques and knowledge ahead of time. Try things that you have a reason to think are valuable from a scientific perspective, and learn from that. And a reason to think something is scientifically valuable is to have a question in mind and design your project to answer it. It'll probably change as you go, and it's certainly helpful to think about those contingency plans ahead of time, but that's going even a step further than starting with a question, not a step backwards.
  2. Same principle as in number 1, but from a perspective later in time. The most important question you ultimately have to answer, to audiences or editors, is "why should I care about your results?". "It answers this question" is a good response. This sounds really trivial but it's not: the question shouldn't be something borderline tautological like "the data analysis answers the question of what the data says."
  3. Starting with a question ensures that your approach is appropriate for the question. There are lots of ways to answer questions and some are clearly better than others. If you take a suboptimal path, and then discover that you're answering a question that should have been answered in a better way, now you have to go back and do it right.
  4. Having a question in mind is very motivating on a big picture level. I tell people I'm interested in how social norms form and change, although the actual research I do is so remote from answering that question that it's comical, and that's such a huge question I can't even think of a single paper-sized project that can be claimed to primarily address it. But having it in the back of my mind is highly motivating and lends order to the mess of topics I actually spend time thinking about.
[Link stolen from Chris Blattman, iirc.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oz makes it to the NFL

I guess I have a new prime minister? Some day maybe I'll understand how that works. I sure like the lack of two years of ridiculous campaign nonsense though.

In other news, if this Australian live-commentary of American football were decorated with kitten gifs it would be my favorite thing on the whole internet. Can we please have this for every game?

Highlights include:

  • Well - roll on here, the 49ers. Easily over the ten yards they have to get with each hut-hut action.
  • First and 20, a lot. Quarterback fakes to throw, fakes again, runs over the line of scrimmage and falls onto his tummy lest anyone hurt him. You’d be teased in rugby league and penalised. 
  • So old mate gets another kick ... and Ellington goes all the way for 85 yards but there are flags on the play again... we’ll have a look, the refs are talking to each other, there are a lot of them, it’s a committee meeting, and ... first down? Who knows. Illegal block? We’re going to have another break. But I’d say: no touchdown. Exciting stuff, however. 
  • Bridgewater scoots over the gain line and hits the deck so no-one hurts him. Oh ... has he made it? The refs bring out a giant stick thing with a circle on top, and they’re measuring the play .. and he’s got it. First down, Teddy B. Top stuff. 
  • Bruce Ellington takes a fair catch, which is a rule, and everyone swaps, a whole other team comes on, and we have a break. And here we are. 
  • Oh, no break between quarters? There is that. 
  • Teddy Bridgewater has been solid without being the reincarnation of ... oh here we go, who? Joe Namath. I’m going with Joe Namath. But he’s been good Teddy. 
  • (Generally lots of righto's, top stuffs, thanks mates, etc.) 

The reason for it is Australian Rugby League star Jarryd Hayne's debut in the NFL for the 49er's. I'll have to watch out for more of him this season.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

hot pink revenue management

I do not like hot pink. So judging by the proliferation of hot pink electronics in my apartment (my kindle case, Matt's headphones, and now my phone and phone case) I can only infer that hot pink offerings are profitable not so much via higher prices due to demand for customization but for the same reason that IBM adds chips to its fast printers to slow them down and sell them at a lower price: cheapskates like me will only buy these things at low prices, and people who are willing to pay more will be put off by the color/speed.

I haven't been collating examples but anyone who carefully looks through the color options on relevant amazon* items will also have noticed that baseline colors that are certainly manufactured in greater numbers are frequently more expensive than the neon-yellow-trimmed batman-themed varieties.

Anyway, I just had to point out the reasoning behind this embarrassing device you might see me carrying around. Now back to traveling too much to blog...

*I specifically refer to amazon because they most clearly adjust their prices in response to demand without regard for silly notions like "the same good should be the same price in either color because it does the same thing and costs the same amount to make." Hmm, maybe amazon will slowly give people better intuition for the law of supply and demand...