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What I Learned from a Year Spent Studying How to Get Policymakers to Use Evidence

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The past year I was a senior research analyst at Northwestern University's Global Poverty Research Lab on a study of evidence-based policy. Specifically, our goal was to work on a question often on researchers' minds: how can I get my ideas acted upon?

To do this, I dug through a number of bodies of evidence on how science influences policy. One area I looked at is what is called "implementation science" in medicine, which looks at how to get doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators to adopt evidence-based practice. Another was a series of papers by social scientist Carol Weiss and her students on how policymakers in government agencies claim to use evidence. There is also a small literature on how to implement evidence-based policy in public schools, and a little work on policymaker numeracy. I've included a bibliography below that should be helpful for anyone interested in this topic.

Most of my year was spent on delving into attempts to scale up specific pol…

How I'm Voting in California's Overwhelming June Primaries

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I've finished going through the June 5th California primary election for Oakland, and below are my picks. If anyone disagrees with my choices, please make your case—most of these I do not feel strongly about, and I did not have time to thoroughly research all of them.

In general, the issue I care most about is opposing or at least not supporting animal agriculture. In most cases that's irrelevant, as I could not find any relevant positions. The rare exception is incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein, who spearheaded the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which is disqualifying. On top of that, she's historically supported mass incarceration and has buckled under to Trump until she started fearing primary challengers. Senator Feinstein deserves to lose badly. Everyone should vote for her most plausible opponent from the left, Kevin DeLeon, both now and in November. On top of that, if you can state publicly that you voted against her because of the AETA, that would be powerful.


As …

I'm Not Running a Marathon Because #YOLO

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A few months ago, I posted on my Facebook wall that I was considering running a marathon and asked for advice. I'd started training low-key in October for no particular reason. I've been a runner since I was eleven or twelve, and one day after going for a slightly longer run than normal, my fiancé Lucas and I talked about how cool it would be if I ran a marathon, so I decided I'd give it a try.

Then one day, again for no particular reason, I researched the health effects of running a marathon. I expected to find that it was positive, at least mildly. Instead what I found were articlesuponarticles pooh-poohing marathons as unhealthy wastes of time. Now as much as I appreciate science writers for spreading important findings, I also know they frequently get things wrong. So I searched Google Scholar, and I found roughly the same thing. I'd decided to do the marathon for no particular reason except that it would be an achievable accomplishment with presumably only positive…

Cheers for Animal Charity Evaluators

Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) released a long-overdue report on protest effectiveness. I'm biased because I'm quoted there, but I thought I would take the occasion to note how much I think ACE has grown in the past few years. I'm tremendously grateful to ACE's founders, but when ACE started out (as "Effective Animal Advocacy"), its advice was rudimentary, based on little science, and made by a very small staff. I'm struck by the careful and nuanced conclusion the report reaches:

Overall, we would like to see the animal advocacy movement invest slightly more heavily in protests. Protests currently receive a tiny portion of the movement’s resources and, given the limited evidence we do have, it’s plausible they are at least as cost-effective as interventions that receive much more of the movement’s resources, such as leafleting. Moreover, we think that the use of protests contributes to the diversity of tactics in the movement, which can help attract a gre…

Rewatching West Side Story: Four Things I Noticed

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I watched West Side Story this weekend for the first time in years, and I'd really forgotten what a gem it is. I'd always liked the movie, but I'd mostly seen it as a top-notch adaptation of an already excellent musical and not a unique work of art in its own right. In this viewing, I realized what a special piece it is, and there were four things that stuck out to me:

1) Visual Storytelling



It seems paradoxical, but musicals can in some way rely more on visuals to tell their stories than non-musicals can. Because music exists on its own, untethered from specific visuals, musical sequences in some ways resemble silent film more than sound film. I was struck by the use of gestures, dance, and camera techniques to tell a story without dialogue, particularly in the opening sequence.

2) The Interplay of Camera and Dance



Cinematography and choreography are challenging art forms; combining them is even more difficult. I was struck by how the camera deftly moves with the motion witho…

What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening to:

Reading:
Can It Happen Here?—A collection of essays on whether fascism or something like it can come to America. It's not all about Trump, but envisions a lot of different scenarios.

Audiobooks:
Jane Eyre—Regarded as one of the first psychological novels, it follows a young woman's journey through 18th century England. I find it remarkably similar to Wuthering Heights by Brontë's sister and also found antecedents of parts of recent works (Harry Potter and Beauty and The Beast).
The Bhagavad Gita—I've been meaning to read the great works of the world's most common religions. The Bhagavad Gita is captivating in its beauty and wisdom. From my lay understanding, it seems to anticipate a lot of modern ideas in psychology and physics.

TV:
How to Get Away with Murder—I love this show. How had I not seen it yet? The plot is salacious, and the characters pop off the screen. 

Film:
Love, Simon—Finally a gay movie with a happy ending. I had hoped Call Me By Your Name would be it, but…

The Holocaust Analogy for Animal Agriculture Matters—And It Drives My Activism

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I can remember where I was the first time I learned that a man named Hitler had killed members of my family. It was on a hill in the Bay Area that we drove up to get to our house. I drove on it a few months ago and remembered the conversation. My great-grandfather loved me and always showed care to me in the few years I knew him, and it shocked me to learn that his brothers, sisters, and parents were murdered.

Like most Jews of my generation, I grew up with this legacy on my mind. In every history class I had that covered the 1940s, I would wonder when and how they would talk about the Holocaust. (It wasn't until high school that we did.) I did not know how the Holocaust happened until I was in fourth grade, when I overheard a friend describing how Hitler would get Jews to go into showers and then gas them. My friend clearly found it wrong, but he did not feel the outrage of if it had been done to him. I felt personal outrage. I could see that image in my head viscerally forever af…