Sunday Links

  • After various wars and failed colonial administrations, the West carved up the world into countries, often arbitrarily drawing lines that didn’t conform to local power structures, ethnic realities, etc. Is this to blame for the Middle East’s and Sub-Saharan Africa’s problems? Nick Danforth argues it’s not, and that everyone talking about it takes away mindshare from other issues (like supporting minority groups to reduce the likelihood that a majority group takes over, a tendency which has no doubt caused serious problems on par with the border-drawing). This is somewhat of a straw man argument – few would consider borders to be the only problem – and Danforth didn’t really convince me of his case (Update: Joshua Keating at Slate put up a rebuttal that’s quite similar to the argument I made – definitely worth reading, too)
  • Excellent, important read from Eva Vivalt on impact evaluations and what’s sometimes left out. Doing a gold-standard RCT is a waste of money if your paper doesn’t clearly show what you found (but, as Alex from GiveWell pointed out, she should have noted that she was the founder of the organization she discusses and implicitly extols in the post…)
  • Using poop to make the world a better place, part three (see parts one and two): panda poop for biofuel! The theory is that pandas have “super-bacteria” in their stomachs – potentially strong enough to make cellulosic ethanol out of the inedible pieces of corn and soybean plants
  • What’s the maximum adult lifespan? We don’t really know, though increases in life expectancy seem to be leveling off at the moment (whether they continue to stagnate is a heated question, apparently)

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