Meanwhile, on Twitter (week 16)

A letter from Dave

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.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 14.38.27

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 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.

Kahneman quote of the day

Really enjoyed seeing Daniel Kahneman speak at the Methodist Hall in London last night. Also very pleased to see a big turn-out:

Daniel Kahneman speaking at the Methodist Hall, London

 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.

Meanwhile, on Twitter (week 02)

Some wise words on academic blogging

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.

Meanwhile, on Twitter (week 01)