Monday, October 27, 2014

I, We or no one: Who wrote that paper? (Economists edition)

Have you ever written a academic paper as a single author? Did you ever struggle how to find the correct wording to describe the paper? What do most authors do? Have that changed over time? What do experienced authors do?

Whether it was for a course assignment or a peer-reviewed article, at some point you were probably told that neutral and passive writing is preferred. You should write something like 'The physics of frog levitation is described', which should sound objective, stressing the subject discussed rather than the author doing the discussion. Another possibility would be to use first-person singular pronouns -- as in 'I describe the physics behind frog levitation'. Some feel that this choice overly stresses the actions taken by the author, overly glorifying herself. The third possibility is using first-person plural -- as in 'We describe the physics behind frog levitation'. This choice supposes to feel participative, as if the author and the audience are collaborating.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The case for optimism in a crazy world

Lately, it seems like the world is increasingly going bananas. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is bringing back dark echos from the past, ultra-extreme Muslim organizations rise in the middle-east, China is flexing its muscles in south-east Asia, and Europe's economy is sliding back. Nonetheless, if I were asked whether the world will be a better place in 30 years (or 20, or 50, etc.), my response would be a resounding YES. The reason is that the world has always been in a mess of some sorts somewhere in the last 50 years, and despite that it has almost continuously progressed in most measures of quality of life.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Statistics and wars -- on the number of civilian casualties in Gaza

A cautionary note: this may be a bit of a sensitive topic to have for a first blog post.

During the last couple of days I encountered a couple of analyses questioning the official figures given in the media about Palestinian civilian casualties during the period of operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Currently, the UN puts the death toll at a minimum of 72% and Gazan groups at 82% and 84%. As a suspicious believer in the power of data, I was interested to read the critical analyses of the Gazan casualty distribution presented by Jo√čoLTime and others. These analyses claim that the actual number of civilian deaths must be lower than the one provided by the Palestinians. They base their argument on data that shows that 20-30 year old males are much more likely to be casualties than any other gender-age group in Gaza,