Monday, September 30, 2013

Unravelling in the Business School job market

The WSJ has a video report

Here's the caption: 

Top B-School Talent Plucked Before Class Starts

Schools try to restrict when companies can start coming to campus. But that doesn’t limit what companies try to do off-campus, and it’s not uncommon for students to show up at orientation with internship offers for next summer in hand.
HT: Jon Levin

Sunday, September 29, 2013

MOOCS: massive online certifiers

There's an increasing move among companies that offer MOOCs, Massive Online Courses, to also offer certification.  This may be where the money is.

e.g. this from the WSJ: Job Market Embraces Massive Online Courses--Seeking Better-Trained Workers, AT&T, Google and Other Firms Help Design and Even Fund Web-Based College Classes

""The common denominator [among the new MOOC certification programs] is that there really is an interest in finding credentials that don't require a student to buy the entire degree," said Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford University computer-science professor who co-founded Udacity, a MOOC with 1.6 million enrolled students in 200 countries. "This is really democratizing education at its best."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Organ donation registration on college applications, in India

Here's the story: Governor tells V-Cs to offer option for organ donation in college admission forms

"In a meeting held recently, the governor had urged the V-Cs to offer a separate column in the college admission forms for organ donation. T C Benjamin, Additional Chief Secretary (public health) said filling the column is not mandatory and students will have the choice. The state had made it a must for hospitals to inform the organ transplant centres about brain-dead patients. "

Friday, September 27, 2013

Further unraveling of (combined) college and medical school admissions

Shenendehowa to offer early medical school acceptance

"CLIFTON PARK — A new program that may be the first of its kind in the nation will allow one medicine-minded Shenendehowa High School student to get accepted to college and medical school early — a few months before the junior prom.

"More than a year before classmates know where they’re going after graduation, one student who undergoes a rigorous application process will be accepted into Siena College’s and Albany Medical College’s combined eight-year physician program. On Thursday, officials from the school district and both colleges announced the program — “ShenNext Medicine: Selecting Tomorrow’s Doctors Today.”

"They believe the program is the first in the country to admit a student as a junior, though many institutions have partnerships that accept high school seniors to undergraduate colleges and medical schools at the same time. Siena and Albany Medical College have had such a partnership for 27 years, and Albany Med has similar programs with Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"Juniors in the Shen program still have to complete their senior year and maintain good grades."

HT: Mary O'Keeffe

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Study mechanism design online with Jason Hartline

Jason Hartline writes:

Please share the following announcement:

   *** Online Self-study on Mechanism Design and Approximation  ***

   To enroll: go to course page on Piazza and enroll as a student.

Synopsis. This course is a self-study course based on the manuscript "Mechanism Design and Approximation" which is based on a graduate course that has been developed at Northwestern over the past five years. Over the fall quarter we will work through roughly one chapter per week. The week will start with students reading and discussing the material of the chapter and it will conclude with students working together to solve and write up solutions to the chapter exercises.  The textbook is in final draft and your comments and suggestions will help improve the book for future students.

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Our world is an interconnected collection of economic and computational systems. Within such a system, individuals optimize their actions to achieve their own, perhaps selfish, goals; and the system combines these actions with its basic laws to produce an outcome. Some of these systems perform well, e.g., the national residency matching program which assigns medical students to residency programs in hospitals, e.g., auctions for online advertising on Internet search engines; and some of these systems perform poorly, e.g., financial markets during the 2008 meltdown, e.g., gridlocked transportation networks. The success and failure of these systems depends on the basic laws governing the system. Financial regulation can prevent disastrous market meltdowns, congestion protocols can prevent gridlock in transportation networks, and market and auction design can lead to mechanisms for allocating and exchanging goods or services that yield higher profits or increased value to society.

This text focuses on a combined computational and economic theory for the study and design of mechanisms. A central theme will be the tradeoff between optimality and other desirable properties such as simplicity, robustness, computational tractability, and practicality. This tradeoff will be quantified by a theory of approximation which measures the loss of performance of a simple, robust, and practical approximation mechanism in comparison to the complicated and delicate optimal mechanism. The theory provided does not necessarily suggest mechanisms that should be deployed in practice, instead, it pinpoints salient features of good mechanisms that should be a starting point for the practitioner.

Market Design conference(s) in June at Stanford

Scott Page sends the following email announcement:

Dear All,
I have exciting news about the 2014 NSF/CEME Decentralization Conference.
- It will take place on June 8-9, 2014 in Palo Alto, California.
Fuhito Kojimo of Stanford University will be the local organizer.
- The conference will be collocated with two other major mechanism design conferences: the NBER Market Design Conference and the ACM Conference on Economics and Computation.  The conferences will run sequentially with overlapping plenary sessions, with the Decentralization Conference running for the first two days, followed by the Market Design Conference and then ACM.
- Participants are encouraged to attend all three conferences and to bring graduates students.
 We will be sending out an official call for papers in about a month.

I think this will be an incredible opportunity to bring together three communities that look at similar questions and use similar tools.  I recognize that the June date is later than our typical March or April meeting, and apologize for any inconvenience this might cause.  

Here is the “official” announcement from Susan Athey, David Parkes and myself.  Please feel free to forward this email to anyone who might be interested.

         ACM, Market Design and Decentralization Conference
                                    June 8 -12, 2014
  Palo Alto, CA

The ACM Conference on Economics and Computation (EC'14), the NBER Market Design Conference, and the NSF/CEME Decentralization Conference will collocate this June at Stanford University.  The jointly run conferences will include both joint and independent sessions to facilitate greater interactions across the three research communities.  The joint sessions will include invited keynote presentations by leaders in the fields of incentives, market design, computation, and decentralization. Proposals for presentations in the independent sessions should be submitted following the procedures of each individual conference.  Individuals who normally participate in one of the conferences are strongly encouraged to also attend the other conferences so as to build a more interdisciplinary community of scholars interested in common topics.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why it's hard to get hot restaurant reservations or concert tickets (and why concierges sometimes can)

It turns out you need professional gear to get some reservations: the New Statesman has a report from the front.

The Bot Wars: why you can never buy concert tickets online

Enterprising programmers are creating bots that can reserve, and in some cases buy, everything from restaurant tables to eBay goods before humans can even get a look in. Where will the bot wars end?

"Just as high frequency trading, via automated software, took over the financial markets in the early 2000s, the use of bots is a technique that is increasingly coming to dominate online sales of all stripes."
Some of my earlier posts on this subject here,  here and here  focused on concert tickets and professional re-sellers (scalpers) who sometimes skirt the law.

HT: Dean Jens

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Matching of cases to federal judges

From The Federal Judicial Center's page on How the Federal Courts Are Organized FAQ:

How are cases assigned to judges? 
Each court with more than one judge must determine a procedure for assigning cases to judges. Most district and bankruptcy courts use random assignment, which helps to ensure a fair distribution of cases and also prevents "judge shopping," or parties’ attempts to have their cases heard by the judge who they believe will act most favorably. Other courts assign cases by rotation, subject matter, or geographic division of the court. In courts of appeals, cases are usually assigned by random means to three-judge panels.

Some other interesting Qs and As:

What is an Article III judge?
The U.S. Supreme Court, the federal courts of appeals and district courts, and the U.S. Court of International Trade are established under Article III of the Constitution. Justices and judges of these courts, known as Article III judges, exercise what Article III calls "the judicial power of the United States."

Are there judges in the federal courts other than Article III judges?
Bankruptcy judges and magistrate judges conduct some of the proceedings held in federal courts. Bankruptcy judges handle almost all bankruptcy matters, in bankruptcy courts that are technically included in the district courts but function as separate entities. Magistrate judges carry out various responsibilities in the district courts and often help prepare the district judges’ cases for trial. They also may preside over criminal misdemeanor trials and may preside over civil trials when both parties agree to have the case heard by a magistrate judge instead of a district judge. Unlike district judges, bankruptcy and magistrate judges do not exercise "the judicial power of the United States" but perform duties delegated to them by district judges. The judges on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims are also not Article III judges. Their court is a special trial court that hears mostly claims for money damages in excess of $10,000 against the United States. With the approval of the Senate, the President appoints U.S. Court of Federal Claims judges for fifteen-year terms. 

How many federal judges are there?Congress authorizes a set number of judge positions, or judgeships, for each court level. Since 1869, Congress has authorized 9 positions for the Supreme Court. It currently authorizes 179 court of appeals judgeships and 678 district court judgeships.(In 1950, there were only 65 court of appeals judgeships and 212 district court judgeships.) There are currently 352 bankruptcy judgeships and 551 full-time and part-time magistrate judgeships. It is rare that all judgeships are filled at any one time; judges die or retire, for example, causing vacancies until judges are appointed to replace them. In addition to judges occupying these judgeships, retired judges often continue to perform some judicial work.

And elsewhere on the site, this:

Law Clerks

The practice of hiring a recently graduated law student to serve as an in-chambers judicial assistant was pioneered by Horace Gray. Both as the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (1864–1881) and as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1882–1902), Gray personally paid an assistant, whom he referred to as his “secretary.” Other justices of the Supreme Court followed the practice in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Although Congress in 1886 heeded the advice of the U.S. Attorney General that it pay for each of the justices to hire a stenographer “to assist in such clerical work as might be assigned to him,” it was not until 1919 that it provided funding for the hiring of legally trained assistants. To distinguish these assistants from the stenographers, Congress designated them as “law clerks.”

The early law clerks, most of whom were graduates of the Harvard Law School, conducted legal research, checked citations, and performed a wide range of personal and administrative tasks for their judges. Despite the concerns expressed by some members of the Judicial Conference that such assistance was unnecessary or that highly paid law school graduates were not needed to perform such tasks, Congress in 1930 provided funds for each circuit court of appeals judge to appoint a law clerk. Six years later, Congress authorized up to thirty-five district court judges to appoint law clerks, as long as the senior circuit judge of the circuit in which the district was located issued a certificate of need. A statute of 1945 lifted the restriction on the number of district court judges allowed to appoint a clerk. The certificate of need requirement continued until 1959, when Congress authorized judges to hire “necessary” law clerks subject to the limits of their chambers staff budgets and to the minimum law clerk salary provisions of the Judicial Salary Plan.

As federal judicial caseloads and budgets increased during the last four decades of the twentieth century, the number of law clerks retained by the judges of the federal courts rose steadily, though some judges have eschewed the practice of hiring short term law clerks in favor of “career” clerks, who are hired with the expectation that they will serve for a period of more than four years. Today’s law clerks typically perform quasi-judicial functions, such as preparing bench memoranda on legal issues and composing drafts of judicial opinions.

Further Reading:
Baier, Paul R. “The Law Clerks: Profile of an Institution,” 
Vanderbilt Law Review 26 (1973): 1125–77.
Newland, Chester A. “Personal Assistants to Supreme Court Justices: The Law Clerks,” 
Oregon Law Review 40 (1961): 299–317.
“Law Clerks: The Transformation of the Judiciary,” 
Long Term View: A Journal of Informed Opinion 3 (1995).

Monday, September 23, 2013

My freshman seminar and Ph.D. class on matching: Fall 2013

ECON 26N: Who gets what? The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design

Freshman Seminar. What are markets and marketplaces? How do they work? How do they fail? How can we fix them when they¿re broken? Recently economists have become market designers to try to answer these questions. What are matching markets and why are they important? This seminar will explore examples of matching markets such as; who goes to which schools and universities? Who gets which jobs? Who gets scarce organs for transplant? Who marries whom? We'll investigate examples of recent market designs in school choice, labor markets and kidney exchange. How internet dating sites and social networking might make courtship very different for your generation than it was previous ones.
Terms: Aut | Units: 3 | UG Reqs: WAY-SI | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
Instructors: Roth, A. (PI)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nobel monument inscription ceremony: Columbus Ave and W. 81st Street tomorrow

I'll be teaching in California and unable to attend, but if you are near the Museum of Natural History at 5PM tomorrow, Sept 23, you could see what is apparently "the only monument in New York City parks which features the names of living persons"
"Every year, the names of the American Nobel Laureates from the previous year are inscribed onto the monument and unveiled at an annual ceremony."

The event will be in Theodore Roosevelt Park, adjacent to the American Museum of Natural History. The invitation letter says "This is the location of the Nobel Monument, raised in 2003 to honor Alfred Nobel and all American recipients of the Nobel Prize, who along with you now number 332."

I was in NYC on 5/17/2014 and took a walk with Itai Ashlagi and Jacob Leshno to see the monument.
(There aren't so many opportunities to see your name in stone:)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Golden Goose Award, postscript (and video)

The Golden Goose Award was fun, in a circle the wagons kind of way, since the Congressmen who support federal funding of science are clearly feeling beleaguered.  Of course it's not just science funding that is under pressure these days: here's the NY Times headline for a vote that took place at the same time as the awards ceremony (so that Congressmen came to the ceremony then ducked out to vote and then returned to tell us about the difficulties they face): House Republicans Pass Deep Cuts in Food Stamps 

But it was an upbeat meeting, and there was a video made from interviews done beforehand, about how basic research is a good investment.  The (8 minute) video starts with the part of the award given to me, David Gale and Lloyd Shapley, and the speakers are me and Joel Sobel at UCSD who was a student of Gale's. Here it is on vimeo: Golden Goose Awards 2013 video

Different places have different cultures, and the modest luncheon we attended before the ceremony was a buffet, I gather in order to allow the members of Congress who joined us to keep within the limits set by the Ethics committee: Food or Refreshments of a Nominal Value (Attendance at Receptions)

Here's my pre-ceremony post on the GG event

Friday, September 20, 2013

Conflicts of interest in caring for candidates for kidney transplants

Harvey Mysel has posted the following (reproduced in its entirety) here:

How Conflicts of Interest Negatively Impacts a Patients Chance to have a Kidney Transplant

Patients who need a kidney transplant expect their dialysis clinic and/or their transplant hospital to provide them with information on the best medical options available. CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) requires dialysis companies and transplant hospitals to provide this information. These companies may “technically” abide by these rules however, the information is often vague and not very useful.
The Conflict for Dialysis Companies
CMS requires dialysis companies to ask: “Has the patient been informed of kidney transplant options?” A Yes/No box needs to be checked. A dialysis company’s mission is to dialyze patients, not to educate them about kidney transplants. It’s a conflict of interest for the dialysis company. Once a patient receives a kidney transplant, they don’t need the services of the dialysis company. What company will educate their customer to an option that will result in losing their customer?
From the statistics you can see there is a problem in the dialysis community. There are over 400,000 people on dialysis but only 98,000 are on the kidney transplant waiting list. By some estimates, 10% of all dialysis patients die every year. Many dialysis patients were good candidates for a kidney transplant when they first started dialysis, but after years of treatments their health deteriorates and the majority is no longer healthy enough to recover from a kidney transplant.
The Conflict for Transplant Hospitals
CMS requires transplant hospitals to tell their patients they can register at more than one transplant hospital. The primary reason to register at another transplant hospital is to be on a shorter waiting list. Providing this information to their patients is a conflict of interest for the hospital. A hospital might tell their patients they could register somewhere else, without letting them know the benefit of doing so. There are regions in the U.S. where the wait for a deceased donor kidney is 5-­-10 years, while in another area, which might only be a 1.5 hour drive, the wait time is only 12 months.
There’s another conflict that can develop for the transplant hospital. Patients are given excellent advice and encouraged to find a living kidney donor. There are many benefits of a living donor kidney versus one from a deceased donor.
The biggest benefit is a kidney from a living donor lasts on average twice as long as one from a deceased donor. Statistics show about one-­-third of all potential donors who are evaluated are not compatible with their intended recipient. Potential donors could have an incompatible blood type or the recipient has certain antibodies, also referred to as being sensitized that will result in rejecting this person’s kidney. High levels of antibodies can develop as a result of a previous transplant, a blood transfusion or for some women giving birth.
Better anti-­-rejection drugs and Kidney Paired Donations (KPD) also called paired exchanges, chains or swaps allow these incompatible donors to help their intended recipient by donating to another recipient who also has an incompatible donor. KPDs have the potential of adding thousands of kidney transplants a year if a centralized national program is developed and all incompatible pairs are registered in the same pool. Unfortunately there isn’t one centralized program, but many different KPD options. To read more about KPDs go to:
Since there are many KPD programs, the likelihood of being matched with another incompatible pair is increased when you join other KPD programs. It’s a numbers game. There are exceptions to this, if there are many pairs with rare blood types or when a pool contains many difficult pairs to match due to the recipient being sensitized. To read more about the paired exchange conundrum go to:
Here’s the conflict. Hospitals are under no obligation to tell their incompatible pairs about the benefits of registering with other KPD programs. This could result in a patient going to another hospital to receive a transplant. What company will educate their customer to an option that will result in losing their customer?
Kidney dialysis and kidney transplants are very profitable for these institutions. It costs approximately $83,000 a year to provide dialysis services for one patient and a kidney transplant can generate approximately $125,000 for a hospital.
What could be done to help patients understand their options and remove these conflicts of interest?
For the dialysis companies, CMS could authorize an independent company to educate the dialysis patients about kidney transplants. There’s no shortage of organizations that are qualified to provide these services.
For the transplant hospitals, CMS and/or UNOS could also authorize an independent company to educate patients about registering at other transplant hospitals and include the options patients have when a potential donor is incompatible.
A kidney transplant, whether from a deceased or living donor is a life changing and complicated process. Patients who are in need of a kidney transplant need much more help in understanding the options available to them.
Harvey Mysel is a two-­-time kidney transplant recipient and Founder of LKDN (Living Kidney Donors Network) a nonprofit organization that offers workshops and webinars to educate people in need of a kidney transplant about living kidney donation. LKDN also helps prepare those in need to effectively communicate their situation to family members and friends. LKDN’s website is and Harvey can be reached
For a printable copy, click here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

David Gale and Lloyd Shapley and I share the Golden Goose Award

Today I'm in Washington DC to accept The Golden Goose Award made jointly to me, to Lloyd Shapley, who won't be able to attend, and to the late David Gale, whose death kept him from the Nobel celebration of his work with Shapley last December.

As I understand it, the award is for funny sounding  ("seemingly obscure," "wacky title," "left field") research that was supported by federal funds and eventually proved to be useful:


What: The purpose of the “Golden Goose” award is to demonstrate the human and economic benefits of federally funded research by highlighting examples of seemingly obscure studies that have led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact.  Such breakthroughs include development of life-saving medicines and treatments; game-changing social and behavioral insights; and major technological advances related to national security, energy, the environment, communications, and public health. Such breakthroughs may also have resulted in economic growth through the creation of new industries or companies.
Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) originally conceived of the Golden Goose award as a means of educating Members of Congress and the general public about the value of federal funding of basic scientific research. The name of the award is a play on the “Golden Fleece” awards issued between 1975 and 1988 by Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), which targeted specific federally funded research grants as examples of government waste. The name also alludes to the fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Researchers who have used federal funding to make their research breakthroughs constitute the “goose,” and the innovations stemming from their work are the “golden eggs.” The Golden Goose Award explicitly links the two.
Who: The Golden Goose Awards will be announced three to four times a year, with an annual awards event in Washington to honor awardees. Honorees will be selected from a pool of potential nominees developed by a partnership of founding universities, think tanks, and businesses led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Breakthrough Institute, the Progressive Policy Institute, The Science Coalition, the Task Force on American Innovation, and United for Medical Research. The criteria for selecting awardees are:
  • Nominees must have received a federally funded research grant within the past 60 years that contributed to an important discovery or breakthrough (Grant agencies include, but are not limited to, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Energy.);
  • Nominees’ research must already have led to demonstrable, significant human and economic benefits (the Golden Goose Award is not intended to honor current research that might lead to breakthroughs in the future);
  • Research teams are eligible to receive a nomination for their work;
  • Individuals may be nominated for their work posthumously, but only if an individual or organizational representative is available to accept the award at an event;

We’ve all read stories about the study with the wacky title, the research project from left field,” Rep. Cooper said. “But off-the-wall science yields medical miracles. We can’t abandon research funding only because we can’t predict how the next miracle will happen.”

This is only the second time the award is being given, and this year's awards will go to Dr. John Eng, whose study of the poisonous venom produced by the Gila monster led to a drug helps treat diabetes, to microbiologist Thomas Brock and glycobiologist Hudson Freeze for their studies of bacteria that thrive in very hot water that yielded a key to the technology of the polymerase chain reaction,  and to David and Lloyd and me. Here's the announcement about our part of the prize, which mentions the funding we received from the NSF and the ONR.
AWARDEES: Alvin Roth, David Gale, Lloyd Shapley
FEDERAL FUNDING AGENCY: Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation
The part of the work that I'm being honored for is in fact a team effort: I've been lucky in my colleagues (Utku Unver and Tayfun Sonmez are named in the press release, and some of the others are shouted out to here).

I think the part of our work that is mentioned and that best fits the storyline of "obscure research makes good" is the line that begins with the 1974 paper by Shapley and Scarf in the first issue of the Journal of Mathematical Economics. They proposed a model of exchange of an indivisible good, without the use of money, and called the goods "houses." Since we are obviously able to use money to buy houses (I just bought one and can testify that it cost money), this was funny-sounding research that might have attracted the ire of Senator Proxmire. But playing with toy models is how economic theory gets ready to deal with unanticipated problems. They introduced Gale's top trading cycle algorithm (ttc), which Andy Postlewaite used to further explore the model in a 1977 paper. In a 1982 paper I showed that ttc makes it a dominant strategy for players to reveal their true preferences. Atila Abdulkadiroglu and Sonmez later generalized the mechanism in ways that, when it came time to organize kidney exchange, made it easy to propose that it be organized in a ttc way involving cycles and chains, with the dominant strategy property being an important piece of the puzzle. Whilettc isn't how we eventually helped organize kidney exchange (we had to start with just pairwise exchanges for logistical reasons), the practice of kidney exchange has been evolving in the direction of cycles and (long) chains, in ways that Itai Ashlagi and our surgical colleagues have been working to understand and build upon.  So, what started with a model of exchanging houses without money has evolved into exchanging kidneys in a way that's become a standard part of transplantation in the U.S. in the last few years.

This is an opportunity to remind Congress and the public of the importance of investigator-initiated, peer reviewed research.  Go NSF! (NSF posts on kidney exchange are here and here.)

If you're a fan of science as a public good, you might be glad to know if your congressman is one of those involved:
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA)
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA)
Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL)
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fires and the market for fire fighters

We are winning our ancient battle against fire: it turns out that fighting fires with fire fighters, and with fire-resistant construction is working, and big urban fires are becoming increasingly rare.  Leon Neyfakh of the Boston Globe has the story.

Plenty of firefighters, but where are the fires? As ‘emergency’ changes its meaning, some critics are arguing it’s time to revisit a century-old system

"as a recent Globe story reported, city records show that major fires are becoming vanishingly rare. In 1975, there were 417 of them. Last year, there were 40. That’s a decline of more than 90 percent. A city that was once a tinderbox of wooden houses has become—thanks to better building codes, automatic sprinkler systems, and more careful behavior—a much less vulnerable place.
As this has happened, however, the number of professional firefighters in Boston has dropped only slightly, from around 1,600 in the 1980s to just over 1,400 today. The cost of running the department, meanwhile, has increased by almost $43 million over the past decade, and currently stands at $185 million, or around 7.5 percent of the city’s total budget.
"FIRE USED TO routinely devastate America’s towns and cities. It wiped out almost all of Detroit in 1805, a vast swath of Chicago in 1871, and much of Boston’s downtown in 1872. Boston, as it happens, was the site of the first volunteer firefighting force in the New World: A group of about 20 neighbors who pledged in 1718 to protect one another’s homes as part of a so-called Mutual Fire Society. More formal volunteer organizations started cropping up after 1736, when Benjamin Franklin founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia. Before long, many American cities were home to multiple volunteer fire crews, which competed to be first on the scene to collect bonuses from local governments and insurance companies. According to historians, these bonuses ultimately proved to be the undoing of the volunteer firefighter movement. By the mid-19th century, street brawling between rival companies became so common that cities started shutting them down and replacing them with professional, municipally operated fire departments."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gibson Lecture at Queen's University in Kingston Ontario

I'll be speaking today at Queen's University in Kingston

What have we learned from market design? 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
4:30 PM 
Grant Hall, Queen's University
43 University Avenue, Kingston, ON
**Light refreshments to follow:  Room 145 Robert Sutherland Hall, 138 Union Street

2012 Nobel Laureate
Alvin Roth

Alvin Roth is the Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics at Stanford University. Roth has made important contributions in many fields of economics, including axiomatic bargaining theory and experimental economics, but his contributions in matching and market design have been especially highly regarded, as exemplified by the Nobel Prize in 2012, which was awarded to him together with Lloyd Shapley. Prof. Roth has been involved in the design of the National Resident Matching Program for U.S. doctors, school choice systems in New York City and Boston, the New England Program for Kidney Exchange and the Market for Gastroenterology Fellows. He is a Sloan fellow, a Guggenheim fellow, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the Econometric Society and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.  

The talk will address recent developments in market design, focusing particularly on kidney exchange, which has begun to flourish in Canada as well as the United States. It will also cover some general lessons that market design teaches us about markets and marketplaces. Finally, the talk will address how some transactions (like selling organs for transplantation) are regarded as repugnant, despite the fact that there are people willing to engage in them.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The market for medical schools... the subject of this Bloomberg news story by Janet Lorin, that focuses on for-profit Caribbean medical schools: DeVry Lures Medical School Rejects as Taxpayers Fund Debt 

On the one hand, those schools offer a path towards a medical career to students who are not admitted to American schools. On the other hand, that path can be risky and debt-ridden, and changes the model by which students get clinical experience to one in which for-profit schools pay hospitals to take their students on 'clerkship' rotations.

The article focuses this and federal loan guarantees.

"DeVry’s pay-for-play model has drawn the ire of the American Medical Association. In June, the state of Texas passed a law prohibiting foreign medical schools from sending students to the state.
Congress needs to examine the law that makes foreign for-profit medical schools eligible for federal loans, says Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from DeVry’s home state of Illinois.
“These schools are taking advantage of an offshore loophole that allows federal funding to be released to students attending a medical school that is not accredited in the U.S.,” Durbin says. “Until Congress acts, these schools will stop at nothing to keep the American taxpayer dollars flowing.”
Students at the four schools -- the two DeVry schools, along with St. George’s University School of Medicine and, since July, Saba University School of Medicine -- are also eligible for tuition benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs."

In a recent post I noted that U.S. medical school enrollment is increasing faster than residency positions. This will squeeze the offshore schools, as the number of graduates of American schools more nearly fills the available residencies.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Payday loans (and other high interest lending) as repugnant transactions

In poor communities there is a profitable business of making very high interest rate loans to employed but "unbanked" workers. High interest rates (between lenders and apparently willing borrowers) have been repugnant transactions for a long time, and payday loans are no exception: here's a story from Pro Publica on the controversy in Missouri. The Payday Playbook: How High Cost Lenders Fight to Stay Legal

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kidney allocation changes expected by end of 2014

Kidney Allocation Changes Approved

The board approved substantial amendments to OPTN policy for deceased donor kidney allocation. Implementation of the policy is expected to occur at the end of 2014.
Features of the policy include the following:
  • prioritization of kidneys with longest estimated function to a limited number of candidates expected to benefit the longest
  • wider geographic allocation of kidneys with shorter potential function, to increase utilization for candidates facing a significant mortality risk remaining on dialysis long-term
  • definition of waiting time expanded to include time a patient spent on dialysis prior to waiting list registration
  • a sliding scale of priority for candidates with high PRA, as well as matching of blood subtype A2 and A2B offers for candidates with blood type B, and
  • elimination of the kidney payback system and existing kidney allocation variances.
- See more at:

Some background on the origins of this policy change are in this Oct 2012 post.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The econometrics of many-to-one matching: Nikhil Agarwal and William Diamond

It turns out that you can get a lot more information about preferences from many to one (or many to many) matching than from one to one matching, because e.g. something about your employer's preferences (and why they wanted to hire you) can be deduced from who else they hired.

By Nikhil Agarwal and William Diamond

Abstract: We study estimation and non-parametric identification of preferences in two-sided matching markets using data from a single market with many agents. We consider a model in which preferences of each side of the market is homogeneous, utility is nontransferable utility and the observed matches are pairwise stable. We show that preferences are not identified with data on one-to-one matches but are non-parametrically identified when data from many-to-one matches are observed. This difference in the identifiability of the model is illustrated by comparing two simulated objective functions, one that does and the other that does not use information available in many-to-one matching. We also prove consistency of a method of moments estimator for a parametric model under a data generating process in which the size of the matching market increases, but data only on one market is observed. Since matches in a single market are interdependent, our proof of consistency cannot rely on observations of independent matches. Finally, we present Monte Carlo studies of a simulation based estimator.

Here's my post on Nikhil's defense.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Advice to those seeking a kidney donor

I occasionally get emails from kidney patients seeking advice about transplantation. Often they are seeking a donor. I don't have much help to offer when I correspond with them, but perhaps the generic form of my response will be useful to others. I'm assuming in what follows that the advice is for a kidney patient who is already registered on the deceased donor waiting list and with an American hospital that does a lot of kidney transplants.

Sometimes people write to me with questions related to kidney exchange, on aspects of which I've written many blog posts. For someone who is looking for a living donor, kidney exchange means that the donor you find needn't be compatible with you, he or she simply needs to be healthy enough to donate a kidney, and willing to donate one so that you get one. One of the several kidney exchange networks can take it from there; it is probably best to work with the one that your transplant center has the easiest working relations with, although you can find the links to the ones I work with the most as you sort through my posts.

When I write to someone who already has a donor I write more than this about kidney exchange, but if you don't have a donor, you need to think about how to get one.

If you are not already registered on the deceased donor waiting list, talk to your docs about getting on the list, since time on the list plays an important role for kidneys.  But the waiting lists are organized by region, and the wait is much longer in some regions of the country than in others. (That's why Steve Jobs, who lived in California, got a liver transplant in Tennessee.)

A new organization that helps people register on the waiting lists of regions where the wait is shorter (even if that isn't where the patient lives) is OrganJet (which I've blogged about here). They are mostly involved in helping arrange transportation (since you have to be able to travel for checkups etc. at the distant hospital at which you are registered in addition to your local hospital). But their website has an app that identifies transplant centers with  shorter waiting times, and that might be a good way to start, since this is a case in which there may be a conflict of interest between you and your local transplant center.

But a living donor is likely better as well as quicker, if you can find one. Here's a link suggesting how to organize a campaign for a living donor:
 Living Kidney Donor Network founded by Harvey Mysel.

There are various kinds of kidney matchmaking sites, like, and more specialized sites like and Renewal.
My impression is that quite a few donors come from faith based organizations, so if you are a member of some kind of congregation, you might let them know of your search for a donor.

There are other options that I don't recommend, but here's a post with a link to an article by the Harvard Law professor Glenn Cohen that seeks to shed some light on overseas markets for kidneys, some less black than others.

Glenn Cohen on Transplant Tourism: purchasing organ transplants internationally

(There's a legal market for kidneys in Iran, but I believe you have to be an Iranian citizen to participate in it.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is market design like synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is concerned with the creation of new kinds of cells and organisms, and an interesting blog post by the economic sociologist/sociologist of science Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra at LSE riffs on some possible connections between synthetic biology and market design: Will the Real Engineers Please Stand Up

He concludes:
"Talking with the language of design provides, as Martha Poon rightly pointed out, a more productive approach to the study of markets. But it also makes possible imagining a bolder version of market design than that currently advocated within economics. While the markets created by Roth and Milgrom are truly feats, much more can be done. Indeed, market design need not be a type of ‘consultancy economics’. Rather, it can follow an alternative metaphor that is pragmatic, perhaps even civic, an image of the future closer to that of the (biological) engineers who today work away in their labs redesigning the fundamental building blocks of nature."

Pardo-Guerra is working in the emerging sociological/science-studies tradition of "performativity". Here's his paper Making markets: infrastructures, engineers and the moral technologies of finance which tracks the development of electronic financial exchanges through the electronic order book:

"How do markets change? Conventional sociological accounts answer this question by stressing the weight of social structures on the transactional core of  the marketplace. This paper provides an alternative approach. Market change is identified as an infrastructural transformation in which novel market devices and classifications are defined as the legitimate platforms for exchange. Rather than focusing on the traditional subjects of sociological enquiry, this study looks at the developers of market infrastructures in order to appraise the evolution and reinvention of markets. Empirically, the paper focuses on four historical episodes relating to the invention and dissemination of the electronic order book, a device that is central to global financial capitalism. These show how infrastructural work was implicated in creating the politics and structures of modern finance by criticising established institutions, mounting competitive challenges against incumbent institutions, establishing expansive projects of marketization and integrating otherwise disconnected marketplaces."

He also has coauthored an interesting looking paper on high frequency trading (that I haven't yet read, only the abstract is on his site):  Drilling Through the Allegheny Mountains: Liquidity, Materiality and High Frequency Trading

(it will be interesting to compare the work of economic sociologists with that of market designers on this topic, see e.g. this recent post Budish, Cramton and Shim on The High-Frequency Trading Arms Race)
He and his colleagues seem to be bringing some thought about market design into the discussion of the sociology of markets.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Citation collaboration

"Impact factors" have become important to journals, and efforts to manipulate them come to light from time to time. Here's a Brazilian story from the journal Nature: Brazilian citation scheme outed
Thomson Reuters suspends journals from its rankings for ‘citation stacking’.

"Mauricio Rocha-e-Silva thought that he had spotted an easy way to raise the profiles of Brazilian journals. From 2009, he and several other editors published articles containing hundreds of references to papers in each others’ journals — in order, he says, to elevate the journals’ impact factors.

"Because each article avoided citing papers published by its own journal, the agreement flew under the radar of analyses that spot extremes in self-citation — until 19 June, when the pattern was discovered. Thomson Reuters, the firm that calculates and publishes the impact factor, revealed that it had designed a program to spot concentrated bursts of citations from one journal to another, a practice that it has dubbed ‘citation stacking’. Four Brazilian journals were among 14 to have their impact factors suspended for a year for such stacking. And in July, Rocha-e-Silva was fired from his position as editor of one of them, the journal Clinics, based in São Paulo."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Are behavioral results more likely to be exaggerated than biological results?

That's the claim (reported in the blog Retraction Watch) of
"a new paper in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that it’s behavioral science researchers in the U.S. who are more likely to exaggerate or cherry-pick their findings.
1,174 primary outcomes appearing in 82 metaanalyses published in health-related biological and behavioral research sampled from the Web of Science categories Genetics & Heredity and Psychiatry and measured how individual results deviated from the overall summary effect size within their respective meta-analysis.
And while studies
whose outcome included behavioral parameters were generally more likely to report extreme effects, and those with a corresponding author based in the US were more likely to deviate in the direction predicted by their experimental hypotheses, particularly when their outcome did not include additional biological parameters.
But they didn’t find the same to be true for non-behavioral studies.
Although this latter finding could be interpreted as a publication bias against non-US authors, the US effect observed in behavioral research is unlikely to be generated by editorial biases. Behavioral studies have lower methodological consensus and higher noise, making US researchers potentially more likely to express an underlying propensity to report strong and significant findings.
So where might this predisposition come from, ask the authors?
A complete explanation would probably invoke a combination of cultural, economic, psychological, and historical factors, which at this stage are largely speculative. Our preferred hypothesis is derived from the fact that researchers in the United States have been exposed for a longer time than those in other countries to an unfortunate combination of pressures to publish and winner-takes-all system of rewards (20, 22). This condition is believed to push researchers into either producing many results and then only publishing the most impressive ones, or to make the best of what they got by making them seem as important as possible, through post hoc analyses, rehypothesizing, and other more or less questionable practices (e.g., 10, 13, 22, 26). Such a pattern of modulating forces may gradually become more prevalent also in other countries currently and in the near future (18, 20, 21)."
"And Fanelli was also quick to point out that this kind of exaggeration doesn’t seem to be exclusive to the U.S.
The US are an ideal subject because they are relatively homogeneous and yet very big and scientifically productive, so it was easy for us to compare the US to the rest of the world. And of course the US-effect was especially interesting, since it helped us exclude classic explanations, such as editorial biases and simple file-drawer effects. But we suspect that with higher statistical power we would observe specific biases in other countries, in Europe and elsewhere, possibly limited to specific fields and periods in time.
Before opening the floor to what we hope will be a robust discussion, we’ll close with lovely description of science that opens the paper:
Science is a struggle for truth against methodological, psychological, and sociological obstacles."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

German kidney transplant surgeon on trial

Prosecutors in Germany have accused a transplant surgeon of attempted murder, for allegedly manipulating the waiting list to obtain organs for his patients, and thus victimizing those who should have been ahead of them in line to receive the organs in question

Google translate renders the headline as "He killed without being a murderer"

"The surgeon Ayman O. is on trial. He is said to have manipulated information to patients to transplant organs to them. The prosecution sees this as attempted murder, he had taken the death of the other into account. The process in Göttingen will make the system of organ allocation to the test."

HT: Rosemarie Nagel

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In Taiwan, most registered organ donors are women

Women far more willing to donate organs, numbers show

"Taipei, Aug. 25 (CNA) Of the 620,000 people on Taiwan's organ donation list, 65 percent are women, which one expert says proves woman have bigger hearts than men.

"Wu Ying-lai, secretary general of the Republic of China Organ Procurement Association, made the remarks as her association released a report on trends in local organ donation to mark its 20th anniversary on Sunday.

"The trend is more pronounced in the largest demographic of organ donors, those aged 21-50, which features 2.2 times more women than men, Wu said, based on an analysis of the 223,250 people who have signed up for the national organ donation program in the past 10 years.

"Looking at the data more closely, the largest groups of donors are women aged 31-40, followed by women aged 41-50, women aged 21-30, men aged 31-40, and men aged 41-50, she noted."

Friday, September 6, 2013

A sociologist looks at the design of electricity capacity markets

The discussion among sociologists of the "performativity" of economics is taking more sophisticated note of market design.  Here's a recent paper from the journal Social Studies of Science.

Designing a market-like entity: Economics in the politics of market formation
Daniel Breslau
Department of Science and Technology in Society, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA

Abstract: Recent work on the relationship of economics to economic institutions has argued that economics is constitutive of economic institutions, and of markets in particular. In opposition to economic sociology, which has treated economics as a competing disciplinary frame or an ideology, the ‘performativity’ literature takes economics seriously as a set of market-building practices. This
article demonstrates the compatibility of these perspectives by analyzing the role of economics
in the politics of market formation. It presents a case study of the formation of a new institution:
capacity markets connected to wholesale electricity markets in the United States. The case
demonstrates how economic framing shapes the politics of markets by imposing a specific set of
terms for the legitimate conduct of the struggle over market rules.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Project Renewal: Kidney donation in faith-based communities

It appears that many American non-directed kidney donors (perhaps a third, judging from informal evidence from the programs with which I deal) come from faith-based communities. (I understand that policemen and firemen are also well represented among nondirected donors.) Non-directed donors are particularly important because they can initiate chains of donations among patient-donor pairs waiting for kidney exchange.

A Jewish organization that has contributed many non-directed donors is Renewal, founded by Mendy Reiner.

Here's an article about Renewal, by Rabbi Boruch Wolf, which focuses on the big effect of these living donors from the religious Jewish community, and contrasts it with the reluctance of members of that community to sign deceased-donor registration cards, because of concerns among other things about what is involved in deciding that someone is deceased.
Do Chareidim Contribute Their ‘Fair Share’ of Organs?