Last month, we organised a workshop in z-Tree (the go-to platform for running economics experiments) at the London School of Economics. This was done in the context of the “London Behavioural and Experimental Group” (LBEG), an initiative started by my colleague Matteo Galizzi that connects researchers in behavioural and experimental economics across the London universities. LBEG regularly organises seminars and lectures for those interested, mostly in central London. Another exciting initiative is the London Experimental Workshop, which starts today at Royal Holloway University of London.
All this to say that London is quickly becoming a very interesting place for behavioural and experimental economists! Keep an eye on the LBEG website and also check the links on the ‘Related initiatives’ page.
Although it has recently moved the ‘Nudge unit’ (Behavioural Insights Team) from public to part-private ownership, the UK government is by no means ditching behavioural science. Just have a look at the letter below – sent to businesses across the UK last week by the prime minister himself.
There are a few things quite smart – or behavioural – about this way of promoting a new policy:
- The 10 Downing Street letter head is attention grabbing and makes the reader feel special – note that this is the first thing you’ll see when you open the letter
- The benefits of the policy (up to £2000 savings) are presented up front
- The policy has been designed around simplicity – a tick box on a form will do the job
- The letter refers to a social good (“help to grow our economy”) as well as a private good
- The letter makes a social reference to the “1.25 million businesses” that will benefit
- The letter is ‘signed’ by David Cameron, adding a personal touch
Although we can’t compute the exact effect of this letter (its publication on gov.uk suggests there is no Randomised Controlled Trial to measure how this letter compares to other ways of promoting the policy), it is clearly based on the lessons from recent experiments on policy letter writing (by the BIT and the FCA, for example).
One thing that would have made this letter even better is deleting the
second third paragraph: it’s too party-political, and the Conservatives have rightly been criticised for it. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see wider use of these communication techniques in government, especially when they are used so transparently.
Really enjoyed seeing Daniel Kahneman speak at the Methodist Hall in London last night. Also very pleased to see a big turn-out:
After a half-an-hour talk that was pretty much a summary of Thinking, Fast and Slow (in which Kahneman repeatedly rejected that the book was about irrationality), he was interviewed on stage. When asked about the difference between the experiencing and remembering selves, he made a really nice comment about self-perception:
When I ask you what it is like to be you, you are forced to consult your memories. You are not thinking about what it is like to be you at this very moment.
The Impact for Sciences blog just posted a great list of posts about academic blogging. Well worth a read for those who are thinking about starting a blog, but haven’t. Or for those who have started a blog, but feel like they don’t update it often enough (I’d put myself in that category).
Out of the 5 posts linked to, my favourites are the ones by Alex Marsh and James Hartley. Marsh makes the point that, just because you are a blogging academic, not everything you blog about has to be directly related to your own area of research. Very relevant advice, as people’s areas of research tend to be very narrow these days! Hartley suggests that blogs are good outlets for academic work – albeit slightly rewritten – that is proving hard to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. I like the idea, but I think blog posts like that should be backed up by freely accessible stats – a working paper or data appendix would be a good place to put this.