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Is this a (thinly-veiled) criticism of CIFAR?

Out of curiosity, I clicked the link you provided to their website, and then went to their inequality page. Lo and behold, I found there a big picture of Daron Acemoglu, who is apparently one of their Senior Fellows! Undoubtedly a great economist, but probably someone with zero knowledge about anything "Canadian-specific" (please correct me if I'm wrong about this - perhaps he has a distant cousin in Moose Jaw or something). Looks like he was in Canada to "feed the locals knowledge pills in the form of workshops and consultant reports."

Anonymous - not at all.

CIFAR funds pioneering thinkers to create groundbreaking insights - Acemoglu would be getting summer money from CIFAR and going to small CIFAR-sponsored workshops (ones for CIFAR fellows and a very limited number of other researchers). The point is that this interdisciplinary team of world-class researchers will be able to come up brilliant insights - ideas they wouldn't have had without CIFAR funding. CIFAR doesn't do much by way of funding workshops for policy makers or wider audiences, and doesn't (directly) fund consultant reports at all.


To clarify, I am very supportive of CIFAR.

That said, I think the spirit of your original post was about how "brilliant insights" coming out of places like CIFAR can be transmitted to Canadian policymakers. You seem content with CIFAR not taking any role in that process (and perhaps that is not any part of their mission), so who should be playing that role? SSHRC? University PR departments? Others?

More to the point, what mechanisms and incentives exist for researchers like yourself to engage in meaningful discussions with policymakers (or at least their underlings)? All the glamour goes to people like Acemoglu with their "brilliant insights" (i.e., we give tenure, promotions, grants, etc. to people who publish in Econometrica, not CPP).

Anonymous, if you were in the position of evaluating a cifar funded research program, what criteria would you use?

Quite honestly, I have no idea what the true objective of a player such as CIFAR looks like. My guess is that it is solely status-oriented, e.g., maximizing its rank among other similar research institutions. In this sense, it is no different from any university (or economics department).

In any case, CIFAR's largest single source of funding is the federal government. Thus, the question to ask is what the Canadian government hopes to get from this investment. If, as you suggest, they want to somehow benefit "the average Canadian", then perhaps, as you again suggest, the economic research they fund "has to build knowledge of Canada-specific constraints, it has to train Canadian experts, and it has to build Canadian policy capacity." On the other hand, it could be argued that funding basic economic research (with no foreseeable policy applications) could also benefit "the average Canadian" (eventually, at least!).

Anonymous - I would say revenue seeking rather than status seeking, though if status leads to revenue, there may be little practical difference between the two.

Say CIFAR spends $50,000 a year funding Acemoglu (summer money + travel costs). What would you figure the marginal contribution of that money would be to Acemoglu's (and other people's) research output - i.e. what is *the increase in economic knowledge produced as a result of this money*? Think in opportunity cost terms - i.e. what would people have been doing with their time if CIFAR funding didn't exist? What's the benefit relative to that other use of people's time?

Then once you've thought about what that increment in economic knowledge is likely to be (e.g. two Econometrica publications) think about how much benefit that might deliver to the average Canadian.

Actually it's best not to think too much about these things. My house is made of glass; I shouldn't be throwing stones.

This is also mostly what's wrong with technical assistance a la world bank.

99% of funded research – in all fields – is ridiculous (and in some fields it's probably closer to 100%). Any serious economist looking at how economic research is funded would reach the conclusion that it's a system designed to produce a ton of mediocre and unimaginative papers. But the 1% that is not silly is often vital, producing major breakthroughs and a deeper understanding of reality. In economics, I would argue the most essential public good part is the government's role in the production of good datasets. We can't study what we can't measure, so let's at least not starved data collection of resources.

I think TEDx videos are basically the High Church of the pill crowd. The cult of big ideas and the pain of implementation are very different things.

Just look at the amazing results Krugman has achieved in Japan.

Shangwen - I agree, but my students love TED videos. Once I showed them a TED video on behavioural economics in intermediate micro, and they were just so sad that we weren't doing that for the entire term (though this may tell you more about intermediate micro than about TED talks).

In Real Sciences(TM) you send people to where the data are. If you want groundbreaking insights into the nature of species, you send Charles Darwin to South America, Alfred Russell Wallace to New Guinea, or Stephen Jay Gould to the Caribbean. If you want to know the effects of increased seasonal temperatures on boreal forests, you send them to the Northwest Territories or Alaska or Siberia.

If you want to know about the foundations of particle physics, you send people to Geneva (CERN). If you don't care about data, you can send them anywhere, e.g. physicists to the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo.

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